For many, fall’s crisp air beckons the arrival of one very important ritual—watching the game. The glare of the television can be seen, and shouts and cheers can be heard as friends and family gather in living rooms across the country to enjoy America’s time-honored tradition of football.
September to January, the season for watching tackles, fumbles, throws, and touchdowns, has come to define what it is to be American; but we actually have the United Kingdom to thank for inventing what we call football. Originating from a form of unorganized rugby or “mob football” played at universities across the pond in the early 19th century, when the game reached American campuses violence and injury dominated the sport, and by about 1860 it had been banned by most schools. Groups such as the Oneida Football Club—arguably the first organized football club in the United States formed in 1862—continued to play a safer hybrid form of kicking and carrying the ball known as the “Boston game.” Subsequently, football returned to American college campuses, albeit in a modified form, and on November 6, 1869—in what is considered the first intercollegiate football game—Rutgers University beat Princeton University in a home game by a score of 6 to 4.
New rules for the game were formalized when a group of representatives from Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale met on November 23, 1876 at the “Massasoit Convention.” Among them was Walter Camp—a Yale alumnus and coach. Known as “Father of American Football,” Camp is credited with some of the most significant changes in the evolution of the American football game including the introduction of the line of scrimmage in 1880, and down-and-distance rules in 1882. By the beginning of the 20th century American football became increasingly popular, resulting in the college football tradition of bowl games, which today, more than ever, successfully captures the competitive spirit of rival academic institutions.
A variety of early college football collectibles are available ranging from uniforms and print memorabilia to pennants and commemorative plates. Sources include auction houses like Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, and websites such as SportArtifacts.com, AntiqueAthlete.com, and CollectableIvy.com. Below is just a sampling of what you can collect to show your team spirit!
Clockwise from top left: Riddell high-top football cleats, 1930s-40s (SportsArtifacts.com); Harper’s Weekly woodcut engraved print, Princeton vs. Orange Athletic Club, Tuxedo, New York, 1890 (SportsArtifacts.com); leather rain-cap style helmet, c. 1900-1905 (AntiqueAthelete.com); football pants, 1890s (AntiqueAthelete.com); Yale University football mug by F. Earl Christy, 1900-1910 (AntiqueAthelete.com); University of Pennsylannia vs. Michigan program, 1914 (Heritage Auction Galleries); Princeton letterman’s sweater, 1920s (SportsArtifacts.com); Harvard University pennant, c. 1900-1910 (Gaseline Alley Antiques); Harvard University football plate, 1900-1910 (AntiqueAthelete.com); Spalding NCAA football guide edited by Walter Crane, 1909 (SportsArtifacts.com); and moleskin and leather flat-top football helmet, c. 1900 (AntiqueAthelete.com).
Have a favorite football collectible or a source for vintage football gear and memoriablia? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below.
Image: Photograph of Princeton’s 1879 football team. Princeton University Archives, Seeley G. Mudd Mnauscript Library.