1874 Harvard vs. McGill football game

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First rugby football game played in the United States
123 Total
McGill 000 0
Harvard 000 0
DateMay 15, 1874
StadiumJarvis Field

The 1874 Harvard vs. McGill football game was the first rugby-style football game played in the United States.[1] The Harvard Crimson played the McGill Redmen on May 15, 1874 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[2] The game used three periods or "games" and ended in a scoreless tie.[3][4] A Princeton vs. Rutgers football game was played five years earlier in 1869, but under a variation of England's Football Association rules closer to contemporary soccer than American football.


On October 20, 1873, representatives from Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City to codify the first set of intercollegiate football rules. Before this meeting, each school had its own set of rules and games were usually played using the home team's own particular code. At this meeting, a list of rules, based more on association football than on rugby football, was drawn up for intercollegiate football games.[1]

Harvard, which played the "Boston game", a version of football that allowed carrying, refused to attend this rules conference and continued to play under its own code. While Harvard's voluntary absence from the meeting made it hard for them to schedule games against other American universities, it agreed to a challenge to play McGill University, from Montreal, Canada, in a two-game series.

The McGill team traveled to Cambridge to meet Harvard. On May 14, 1874, the first game, played under "Boston" rules, was dominated by Harvard, which lead 3–0 after only 22 minutes when the game was ended.[1][5] The next day, the two teams played under "McGill" rugby rules to a scoreless tie.[1] The first game featured a round ball instead of a rugby-style oblong ball.[5] McGill used a bladder covered by leather instead of a rubber ball as did Harvard, which was much more difficult to kick.[6] This series of games represents an important milestone in the development of the modern game of American football.[2][7] A similar game was played a year later between Harvard and Tufts establishing this as the first game between two American colleges played under rules used in today's version of American football.


Harvard quickly took a liking to the rugby game, and its use of the try which, until that time, was not used in American football. The try would later evolve into the score known as the touchdown. In late 1874, the Harvard team traveled to Montreal to play McGill in rugby, and won by three tries in front of 2,000 spectators.[8][9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "No Christian End!" (PDF). The Journey to Camp: The Origins of American Football to 1889. Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved 2010-01-26.
  2. ^ a b "THIS DATE IN HISTORY: First football game was May 14, 1874". mcgill.ca. 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2015-11-19.
  3. ^ "Foot Ball". Boston Post. May 16, 1874. p. 3. Retrieved March 29, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ DeLassus, David. "Harvard Yearly Results". College Football Data Warehouse. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Parke H. Davis. Football, the American intercollegiate game. p. 64.
  6. ^ "Out-Door Sports". Boston Post. May 11, 1874. p. 4. Retrieved March 29, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ "Parke H. Davis '93 On Harvard Football". Princeton Alumni Weekly. 16: 583. March 29, 1916 – via Google books. open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ MacDonald, D.A.L. (November 27, 1970). "Montreal's Cup Float recalls how McGill started grid mania". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  9. ^ "Early Football". San Jose Evening News. November 13, 1915. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  10. ^ MacDonald, D.A.L. (December 22, 1933). "McGill and Harvard Have Been Rivals for 59 Years". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved August 22, 2014.