The 1869 college football season was the first season of intercollegiate football in the United States. While played using improvised rules more closely resembling soccer and rugby than modern gridiron football, it is traditionally considered the inaugural college football season. The 1869 season consisted of only two games, both between Rutgers and (New Jersey) Princeton. The first game was played on November 6 at Rutgers' campus, and the second was played on November 13 at Princeton's campus. Both games were won by the home team.

The first college football national championship was awarded retroactively to the two teams. Princeton was named the champion by the Billingsley Report and the National Championship Foundation, while college football research historian Parke H. Davis named Rutgers and Princeton co-champions. Various other ratings and retrospectives have rated the teams differently.

The two games were played with rules very different from what is currently understood as American football, and also played under home field rules that differed from each other. In both games there was no running with the ball, each team included 25 players, and the ball was perfectly spherical.

First intercollegiate football game played

Main article: 1869 Princeton vs. Rutgers football game

The first game
(Left): "The Foot-Ball Match", Chronicle of the first game at The Targum, Nov 1869;
(right): plaque on College Avenue on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University identifying the place where the game was played

Modern folklore places the very first game of college football as a contest between teams from Rutgers College and the College of New Jersey, commonly known as Princeton College.[1][2] Rutgers won the game by a score of 6–4.[3] This game in reality was more reminiscent of "soccer" than "football" as known today, where each team fields eleven men, the ball could be advanced by picking it up and carrying it, and play is stopped by physically knocking down the ball-carrier.

The first such game of college football in the United States in this format was played between Tufts and Harvard Colleges on June 4, 1875. This was the first football game played under rules that are now called football. Tufts played Harvard on June 4, 1875 at Jarvis Field in Cambridge, Massachusetts as the first game played. In 2004, Tufts gained national recognition for the historical significance of its game against Harvard.


A rematch was played at Princeton a week later under Princeton rules. One of the biggest differences in rules was the awarding of a "free kick" to any player that caught the ball on the fly. This rule seriously affected the speed advantage of Rutgers that had allowed them to win the first contest. Princeton won the second game by a score of 8 to 0.


The two schools had originally scheduled to meet three times in 1869, but the third 1869 game never took place, reportedly because of the officials at both programs who complained about more emphasis being put on the contests rather than academics and studying.[4] Other sources claim that it may have been canceled due to disagreement over what set of rules to play under.[5] Due to each team winning one game, the inaugural football season ended with Princeton and Rutgers each tied at 1–1, and therefore each received a partial share of the 1869 college football national championship awarded retroactively.

Rutgers players from the first game were honored 50 years later in a ceremony at their homecoming. The last surviving member of this Rutgers team was George H. Large, who died in 1939. The last surviving member for Princeton was Robert Preston Lane, who died in 1938.

Conference standings

1869 college football records
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
Princeton     1 1 0
Rutgers     1 1 0

See also


  1. ^ "Reference at".
  2. ^ "1800s". Rutgers Through The Years. Rutgers University. Archived from the original on January 20, 2007. Retrieved May 16, 2007.
  3. ^ DeLassus, David. "Princeton Yearly Results (1869)". College Football Data Warehouse. Archived from the original on February 13, 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2011.
  4. ^ ""Rutgers - The Birthplace of College Football: The First Intercollegiate Game - November 6, 1869"". Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved October 4, 2014. at, published by the Rutgers University Athletic Department. Retrieved 2014-10-4.
  5. ^ ""NO CHRISTIAN END! The Beginnings of Football in America"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 11, 2014. Retrieved October 4, 2014. published by the Professional Football Research Association (no further authorship information available). Retrieved 2014-10-4.