The Thanksgiving Day Game That Defined American Football

The Thanksgiving Day Game That Defined American Football

A group of students from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City on April 28, 1882 and made an unambiguous decision: The United States was declaring its independence from British football.

“A proposition to adopt the English rugby rules was unanimously rejected,” the New York Daily Tribune reported on May 1, 1882.

The basic concept at the foundation of American football originated in ancient Greece but came to the United States through Britain.

As early as the 12th century, the English were playing “football” games — particularly on Shrove Tuesday.

William Fitz-Stephen wrote a biography of his friend, St. Thomas Becket, which he introduced with a description of London that celebrated the local custom of playing football on the day before Lent.

“After dinner,” Fitz-Stephen wrote, according to a 1772 translation from the original Latin, “all the youth of the city go into the field of the suburbs, and address themselves to the famous game of football.”

But Col. Alexander Weyand, who captained Amy in 1915, described in his 1955 book, “The Saga of American Football,” how American colleges started out playing a game that was neither the English game of soccer nor the English game of rugby.

Yet, they then turned to soccer, and then to rugby, and then created an entirely new and completely American game.

When Princeton and Rutgers played the first game in 1869, he wrote, it “conformed to no recognized European code of rules.”

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But then, in 1873, students from Princeton, Columbia, Rutgers and Yale — but not Harvard — met in New York and adopted rules that Weyand described as “essentially similar” to soccer.

The next year, Harvard played McGill under Canadian rugby rules.

In 1876, Princeton called a meeting with Harvard, Yale and Columbia, which the late Delaware coach David M. Nelson described in his book, “Anatomy of a Game.” It was attended by “only eight students.”

They created the Intercollegiate Football Association, Nelson reported, and adopted rugby rules.

But Princeton’s legalistic mastering of these rules — particularly in its games with…

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