Evolvements of Early American Foot Ball: Through the 1890/91 Season
Evolvements of Early American Foot Ball: Through the 1890/91 Season
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This book is a revision/extension to the author's first book. With the recent availability of digitized old newspapers and magazines, much more foot ball data have been found for the 1800s. The games are again divided into three basic forms of foot ball; but now are listed under the actual style names used at the times played. They are the Kicking Game/Association Football (now soccer), Carrying Game/Boston Rules Game/American Rugby Game/ English Rugby Union (now rugby) and the Ball-Control Game/American Collegiate Game/American Rugby Football (now football).Within these basic forms, the games are listed under colleges, independent clubs and high schools. There is a chapter on leagues/conferences and the appendices contain team histories with the types of foot ball played.  

In 2008, there are three basic forms of football called soccer, rugby and football. In 1885, there were three forms of foot ball then called association football (now soccer), American rugby game (rugby) and the American collegiate game (now football). In 1873, there were two forms of foot ball called association football (soccer), and the Boston rules game (early rugby). In 1855, there are variations of one form of foot ball - the kicking game (early soccer).

This book shows the evolvements of these three forms of foot ball in America through the 1890/91 season. Every game written under the double words, "foot ball" or "foot-ball" and the single word "football", found in all available historic, digitized newspapers and magazines through the internet, are included. In the 1800s, the single word, "football" referred to the ball itself, while "foot ball" and "foot-ball" would refer to the games. The majority of the games would be found under the single word after 1900.

Histories of the beginnings of soccer, rugby and football have been written since the latter 1800s. There are historic notations of games etched in stone in northeast America. At this time, historians accept the real start of the soccer game with the American Cup tournament in northeast New Jersey around 1884. The accepted beginning of the rugby game comes in 1872. This date shows up in Harvard's Rugby Football Club web pages on the internet. And, of course, the first American football game is claimed for November 6, 1869 and played between Rutgers College and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton).

The first form of foot ball found is the kicking game and begins whenever the colonists could find the time to play a kicking game of foot ball in the 1600s. By the 1790s, teams made up from two dormitories would play kicking games at Yale College. The class games would start at Harvard University after 1800. The British Isles would see a great increase in their variations of the kicking games up through the 1850s. In London in December 1863, there would be a meeting to consolidate all the variations of the kicking game rules. As time progressed, these rules would become known as the London association football rules. Absolutely no handling of the ball was accepted. The numbers of the kicking games played in America would also increase up to the Civil War era. Right after the war, American colleges would quickly use the rules of the London code of 1863. The name soccer appears in Britain in the 1880s, but this term is not used for the association football game until later in 1905 in America.

The second form of foot ball is the carrying game and is first found in England in the 1820s and 1830s at the Rugby School. Different carrying game rules are introduced by graduates of Rugby and other public (private) schools by the 1850s. The carrying game rules were not accepted in the 1863 London code meeting and were not consolidated until 1871 in England as the English rugby union rules. In America, the first reference found to carrying the ball is found at Harvard in 1858. The public and private schools feeding into Harvard readily pick up this game. Harvard drops the foot ball games in 1860. But the high schools continue to play this carrying game well into the 1860s. When Harvard's administration accepts the restart of this game again in 1871/72, the newspapers call it the Boston rules game. After Harvard and Mcgill Universities play their All-Canada rugby rules games, this game is called the American rugby game because there are almost immediate changes to the rugby union code of 1871. The last college plays this game in 1889, but the independent clubs increase their playing of the rugby union game into the twentieth century. The colleges restart this game again in 1905-1906 as the rugby game.

The third form of foot ball arises in 1882 with the passage of the "series of downs" rule written by Walter camp. It was adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) in the spring of 1882. Old-time rugbeans in New York City formed a rugby union football club and challenged Camp and the IFA to stop changing the rugby rules. The downs' rule was passed on October 14, 1882. The New York Rugby FBC then played two rugby games with the Britannias of Montreal, QC, in New York City in November of that year. The attendances were relatively low. Beginning in November 1882, the first articles about the presence of "three forms of foot ball" are found. For want of a name, the third form of foot ball is called the American college or collegiate game for a a few years. By the middle of the 1880s, the game was called American rugby football. It becomes American football after 1900.

Some interesting points found in the research follow. There were 12 men-to-a-side in a foot ball game played in East Boston, MA, in 1843. First game found with 25 men-a-side came in Cincinnati, OH, in 1855. In 1872, the most players to a side, 150, are found on the University of Michigan campus in an intramural game. A foot ball game is reportedly played on Thanksgiving Day as early as 1857. The first set of foot ball rules found in America appears in Hartford, CT, in 1858. A "colored" teams defeats a "white" team in a game of foot ball in 1881. An early game of rugby style foot ball was played in the Chicago area in 1873. The most mismatched game of foot ball may have occurred in 1876, when 82 freshmen played against 42 sophomores on the University of Michigan campus. 

My research ceased after December 2007. Since more articles are being digitized daily, new football information becomes available. Other people will then increase the knowledge of early foot ball.

Mel Smith is a retired meteorologist. He co-authored and authored many technical reports while in that field. He became interested about 45 years ago in both accepted and unaccepted games of early foot ball. Because of the inception of digitized old newspapers and magazines on the internet during the last five years, much more data became available. Therefore, this book is a revision/extension to his earlier book. He is a member of the College Football Historical Society and the Professional Football Research Association.  

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