The Earliest College Football Games

History tells us that the first college football game played in the United States was an all New Jersey match. Rutgers University took on Princeton in 1869. The game was played on a “common” between College Avenue and Sicard Street near Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  The teams met again the following Saturday at Princeton’s Conover’s field. Rutgers then took on Columbia University in 1870. Cornell organized its football association in 1870.


The first game between ivy league colleges was in 1872 when Columbia played Yale. The game was played at the Hamilton Park racetrack oval in New Haven. Yale won 3-0.


1872    Columbia-Yale

1873    Princeton-Yale

1874    Columbia-Princeton

1875    Harvard-Yale

1876    Penn-Princeton

1877    Columbia-Harvard

1877    Harvard-Princeton


The 1875 game between Yale and Harvard was the first one in which the teams wore uniforms specifically for the game. 


In 1876 representatives from Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Columbia organized the Intercollegiate Football Association. “The big three” of Princeton, Harvard and Yale form the games longest running rivalries.  Their players monopolized the first All-American team which was selected by Yale Head Coach Walter Camp in 1889. The only unbroken relationship among the three is the Princeton v. Yale series which has been going on continuously since 1873.


If you are interested in learning more about early Ivy League football games we recommend Ivy League Autumns by Richard Golfstein published in 1996.


2 Responses to “The Earliest College Football Games”

  1. Steve Greene Says:

    I’m doing some research on the 1869 college football season between Rutgers and Princeton.

    The reference on this page as to the second game, held November 13, 1869, as being at “Conover’s field” in Princeton is the first time I have seen that reference to the name of Princeton’s playing area.

    Can anyone elaborate as to where that information came from? I’d like to review the material for my research on the 1869 season. Thanks!

  2. collectableivy Says:

    Steve – the source is Richard Goldstein’s Book Ivy League Autumns. In the first chapter he talks about how Princeton and Rutgers were originally scheduled to play a series of three games. The Princeton players took the train to New Brunswick for the first game. A Rutgers sutdent named William Leggett challenged Princeton to the games looking to avenge a baseball game in 1866 that Rutgers lost badly. He tells of how 100 spectators gathered and watched from buckboard seats. There is a copy of a painting owned by Princeton University that shows the two teams competing on November 6, 1869. The reference to Conover’s Field is on page five of the book. The third game in the series was apparently never played. Good luck with your research. John

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