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 Page 14 

THE MAY 2011  



By Carlton Hendricks


16 pages - 16,521 words - 33 photo pages

Pg. 1 Pg. 2 Pg. 3 Pg. 4 Pg. 5 Pg. 6 Pg. 7 Pg. 8
Pg. 9 Pg. 10 Pg. 11 Pg. 12 Pg. 13 Pg. 14 Pg. 15 Pg. 16

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Harvard Square and  University grounds

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Leavitt & Peirce 

Tobacco Shop

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Basketball Hall of
Fame, Springfield MA

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Harvard University Sports Trophies at Murr Center

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Yale Univ. Trophy Room
at Payne Whitney Gym

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Museum of 
Fine Arts Boston



 Part 3 

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I've assembled a fair early football research library over the years; so I thought I'd try to read up on the first game referenced on the engraving between Harvard and the Montreal Foot Ball Club. No date was indicated for that game so the only clue was that it took place before the later referenced Yale Princeton game on Thanksgiving day 1876. I dusted off three cornerstone books I thought might have something pertinent. 1. The H Book of Harvard Athletics, copyright 1923. 2. Athletics at Princeton, copyright 1901, and 3. The Yale Football Story, copyright 1951.


Reference Works

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Left, Athletics at Princeton, 1901 

Center, The H Book of Harvard Athletics, 1923

Right, The Yale Football Story, 1951


I started with the " H Book of Harvard Athletics". Which is an extensive tome of Harvard football history and the history of American football collectively...It is one of  the most valuable tools for  researching American football's beginning. There is in-depth discussion of many of Harvard's early football games; beginning in 1827 with their Frosh-Soph inter-school matches.



The book had an itemized list of Harvard's intercollegiate football games starting in 1872....but there was no game listed with the Montreal Foot Ball Club which was made up of McGill University and other college players from Canada....All the historical accounts I'd ever read indicated Harvard played their first Rugby game with McGill University but I had never heard anything about Harvard playing a Montreal Foot Ball Club...I was baffled and a little irritated it wasn't easily found in the itemized list since I was anxious to address the ball and move on to other relics in the Yale Trophy Room...So I had to do it the old fashion way...dig. Sure enough I found an account of the game on page 372.


In the latter part of October of this year (1875) the Harvard team had gone to Montreal and played a team picked from all Canadian colleges winning by a score of two goals and two touchdowns to nothing. In this game Harvard played for the first time fifteen men on the team, the number being increased from eleven at the earliest solicitation of the Canadians who thus strengthened the McGill team by adding the best players from other centers of learning. This game was played under rugby rules and with a rugby ball. 


Martin L. Cate, Harvard Class of 1877

Page 372, The H Book of Harvard Athletics



This was no doubt that first game referenced on our ball. Notice the engraving states "Representing all Canada". The very ball we are discussing is addressed in the last sentence. This game was played under rugby rules and with a rugby ball. That rugby ball was "thee" ball we are examining.


See where the engraving states PRESENTED BY HARVARD TO PRINCETON....notice the word "PRESENTED"...then notice the ball was "WON" in the other two games...That's because Harvard and Princeton never played each other till 1877....So why didn't they play and why did Harvard "present" it? Well, I found some pretty good information on that in my copy of Athletics at Princeton...Below is an excerpt from that book which serves as a clarifying reference. Moreover it provides a rare and very detailed glimpse into the planning and politics of how, when, and where football changed from Association football (soccer) to rugby in 1875-1876. I apologize for it's lengthiness, as I post it in full; in order I fully persuade this pivotal occurrence.


Excerpt from Athletics at Princeton, 1901, Pages 278 & 280


....But the situation demanded more serious consideration than this. J. Potter '77 writes: "In the early fall of 1876 a small number of us began to study the problem and quickly came to the conclusion. ( I ) that the Rugby Union game, all things considered, was better than the Association game in discipline and strategy ; ( 2 ) that it was the only game which the larger colleges could possibly be united, and ( 3 ) that Princeton must lead the way in a movement for a championship union, since her record of victories entitled her to do so. Upon first agitating the matter we were met by determined opposition on the part of a majority of the students and alumni. The staple argument of the conservatives was that Princeton now held the foremost place among the colleges at football, and therefore stood to lose much and gain little by the change. ' Let Yale and Harvard come and take away our championship on our own grounds at our own game, they said. But the larger view gained support and we soon felt strong enough to call a mass meeting of the students to vote upon the question. It was held in the old Geological Hall on November 2, and was a lively "scrimmage" . I remember very well making several vigorous speeches, with noisy demonstrations from both sides, and standing as the target in a bombardment of sarcasm from the conservative and timid, including some recent graduates who essayed to dominate the meeting. As to the eventual adoption of the Rugby rules there was little opposition; the serious question was the advisability of playing under them this year. By a very narrow majority, resolutions were passed inaugurating the reform movement and calling on the colleges to join it. The late W. Earl Dodge, '79 (captain of the victorious '78 team), was appointed with myself as a committee to draft and send out a call to Yale, Harvard and Columbia to attend a meeting for the purpose of forming a football association under modified Rugby Union rules. Favorable responses were received promptly from the three colleges, and Mr. Dodge and I went to Springfield, Mass. on November 23, as delegates to attend the convention. 

At this time Harvard and Princeton were upon terms of exceptional friendliness, while there had been some passing friction with Yale. As a consequence the eight delegates found themselves ranged upon two sides on many questions, Columbia acting throughout with Yale. The method of procedure adopted was to take up seriatim the Rugby Union rules, and to discuss and modify them with the purpose of creating a more orderly and systematic game, with stricter penalties for foul, umpired by independent officials, instead of, by the captains. Many difficult situations arose requiring tact and good temper, in which Mr. Dodge and myself, as representing the college responsible for the convention and most determined to realize it's objects, endeavored to harmonize the factions and bring about definite results. On most matters Yale, like the conservative element at Princeton, stood by the traditions of the old Association game-for twenty men on a team, for a method of scoring, in which goals only should count, etc. Harvard stood for a score by touchdowns alone. Fifteen men were finally decided upon as the strength of a team (soon reduced to eleven in 1880), and the score was determined by touchdowns, a goal counting for four touchdowns. Many changes were made in the Rugby Union rules, and that these were wise seems to be indicated by the fact that further changes and modifications, due to the experiences of latter years, have been largely in the same direction. "

In anticipation of the results of the convention a game under the new Rugby rules had been agreed upon with Yale for Thanksgiving Day. Thru the courtesy of Harvard the game with them was postponed until the spring of 1877, when after some practice, Princeton might meet Harvard under more equal terms. Yale had begun practice under Rugby rules early in the fall, and had canceled her schedule of Association games. The position of Princeton as holders of the championship did not permit of such a course, and they faithfully fulfilled their entire schedule of games with all challenging colleges up to the end of the season, winning the championship without loss of a goal.


Pages 278 & 280, Athletics at Princeton,1901



By the above excerpts we see reference YaleFBStoryStitchTitled_75.jpg (408122 bytes) to the last game on the engraved plate, plus confirmation Harvard didn't play Princeton until the spring of 1877...and why. Moreover we see that Harvard and Princeton were on exceptionally friendly terms during this period and that Princeton had not even played by the new Rugby rules and needed time to practice them before taking anyone on. It's not said but I speculate Harvard gave or "presented" the ball to Princeton just like the engraved plate says; most likely out of good will between them, as well as for a more practical reason.... Probably Princeton simply needed a rugby ball...they had been playing the old Association (soccer) game, (and continued playing it the remainder of 1875)..and they probably didn't have a rugby ball to play or practice with....Which of course is consistent with the engraved plaque. I'll endeavor to not tire readership much more, however if you click the photo on the right you will receive further confirmation on the balls history, even that Harvard bestowed not one but two rugby balls to Princeton.


WalterCamp1876.jpg (21579 bytes)What started out as casual research brought to light, what I feel, may be the single most historically important American football memorabilia extant. Not only is it from the game's birth timeline; I point out Walter Camp the Father of American Football played with this ball in the 1876 Yale Princeton game his rookie year.




Continue to part 4




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