1873-1874 Association Foot Ball Summary

by Melvin Smith

There were two important decisions made during this season. In the fall, representatives of four varsity foot-ball colleges consolidated their similar kicking game rules of association football. In the spring, Harvard decided to go outside the country to play an intercollegiate carrying game of foot-ball with McGill University of Montreal, Canada. As in the 1871/72 season, America was still playing the two different forms of foot-ball, the kicking game and the carrying game, under the single name of American football.


On October 19, 1873, Princeton, Yale, Rutgers and Columbia agreed to meet at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City. Princeton was pushing for the formation of a foot-ball league, but it did not come to pass. The delegates from Columbia did not show, but Columbia did agree to follow the consolidated rules. There were twelve common kicking game rules drafted. The rules came basically from the London Football Association code of ten years earlier.

England had passed the first consolidated football association, kicking game rules in 1863. Scotland formed a football association March 13, 1873, and accepted and pushed for the acceptance of the English 1863 London code. America was the third country to consolidate their kicking game rules at this meeting in New York City. These rules were essentially taken from the 1863 English code. Wales would consolidate their rules in 1875 and Canada, in 1876, using some of Scotland’s versions of the 1863 rules. Ireland did it in 1881.

There were four games played during the season under the Football Association Rules of 1873. Below are the summaries of the four teams with total goals scored (GF) and those goals scored against (GA):

                     1873 RULES                   ALL GAMES
    TEAM       RECORD    GF     GA          RECORD    GF      GA 
Princeton      1-0-0     3g      0          2-0-0     4g       0
Columbia       1-1-0     8g     8g          2-1-0    10g      9g
Yale           1-1-0     3g     4g          2-1-0     5g      5g
Rutgers        1-2-0     9g    11g          1-2-0     9g     11g

Yale College played an Eton College School (England) Alumni team on December 6, 1873. It was played with eleven men to a side. Yale would then push for the next several years to bring down the number of players on a team from twenty kicking game players and then fifteen carrying game players, to eleven in 1879.

The Stevens Tech varsity team was not included in the consolidation rule meeting, but had a good 3-1-0 record. Their only loss came from Columbia College by one goal; 1g-2g. Two other varsity teams, City College New York and the New York City University (NYU) each lost a game to Stevens Tech. Princeton College beat the Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) again. PTS had never won a game over a Princeton varsity team from 1857 through 1873, so the PTS students apparently deemphasized after this game and did not play any Princeton varsity teams again until 1895 in football and 1913 in soccer. Those 1895 and 1913 PTS games are the only ones officially accepted at the present time by Princeton University.

There were three varsity college association football teams in Virginia this season; Washington & Lee University (4-0-0 record), the University of Virginia (0-0-2 record) and the Virginia Military Institute (0-4-0 record). Washington & Lee looked to be the strongest.

There were at least nine different colleges with twenty-five different teams playing interclass and student club foot-ball games this season. None of these teams, however, played a game with any outside teams.


A Charlottesville, VA, English Team played a tie game of foot-ball, 1 goal–1 goal, with the University of Virginia on January 8, 1874, and the New Jersey Athletic Association of Ridgewood, NJ, lost to Stevens Tech on Thanksgiving Day 1873, 0-2 goals.

The Philadelphia Irish Nationalists, PA, beat the Wilmington Knights of the Red Branch, DE, at Oakdale Park, Philadelphia, PA, on August 25, 1873. The New York Athletic Club played the New York Caledonians at the 180th Street Track in Harlem, New York City, on Thanksgiving Day, 1873. The score has not been found.


A Harvard varsity team was formed in the fall and they immediately lost to the Holworthy Dormitory team in October. A Harvard alumni team was played on Thanksgiving Day at the Boston Common The varsity played better and may have won this game. There were many noise complaints from the citizens of Boston and the college was asked not to play there again. Harvard’s games were to be played on campus in the spring.

Harvard was originally asked to join the meeting with the four colleges in October, but they said their game was ‘so at variance with that played at other institutions that no advantage could come from their attendance’ (Parke H. Davis, ‘Football: The American Intercollegiate Game’ (1911), page 59).

When spring came, Harvard received an invitation from the McGill University captain, David Rodger, to play a game of foot-ball. The Harvard captain, Henry R. Grant, accepted to play two games in Cambridge, MA. The first game was played using the Boston rules and the second game under McGill’s All-Canada rugby rules. The first game was won by Harvard, 3 goals to 0 on May 14, 1874. The second game, played May 15, ended in a 0-0 tie.

The Harvard varsity ended the season with a 2-1-1 record. Three games were played using the Boston rules and one using the All-Canada rugby rules. Harvard quickly became very interested in the rugby game, but would not find any local teams to play the rugby game for another year. It was not until June 1875 before Tufts College would come forward and beat Harvard in the first intercollegiate varsity game using the rugby rules.

Many Tufts College students had attended the May 1874, Harvard-McGill games and they went back to their campus and immediately began to practice the rugby game. There may have been a frosh-sophs’ class game using the rugby rules in the late spring of 1874.

Several Boston rules games were played by the Harvard class teams during the fall and spring. Football activity changed from using the Boston Common in the fall to the Jarvis field on the campus in the spring. The Harvard 1877 Frosh team probably did not play a proposed game with the Phillips Academy of Andover.


The Phillips Academy of Andover did not play a proposed game with the Harvard 1877 Frosh team. The newly-founded (1872) Adams Academy of Quincy, MA, played carrying games of foot-ball on their campus this season.

College Football Historical Society, Vol. XXIV, #1, November 2010

Last update: August 20, 2011

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