This Day In History: November 6

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On November 6, 1869, Rutgers beats Princeton, 6-4, in the first college football game. The game, played with a soccer ball before roughly 100 fans in New Brunswick, New Jersey, resembles rugby instead of today's football.

Even off the playing fields, the rivalry between the New Jersey schools, located 20 miles apart, was heated. At the time, Princeton was known as the College of New Jersey.

"For years each had striven for possession of an old Revolutionary cannon, making night forays and lugging it back and forth time and again," recalled Rutgers' John W. Herbert, who played in the first game, in a 1930 newspaper feature. "Not long before the first football game, the canny Princetonians had settled this competition in their own favor by ignominiously sinking the gun in several feet of concrete."

In 1866, Princeton walloped Rutgers, 40-2, in baseball. Wanting to even the score, Rutgers challenged Princeton to a three-game football series for 1869. Each school had 25 players. Every score counted as a "game"—the contest was supposed to end when the teams combined for 10 "games." Rutgers finished with six games to Princeton's four.

"To describe the varying fortunes of the match...would be a waste of labor for every game was like the one before," wrote Rutgers' student newspaper, The Targum. "There was the same headlong running, wild shouting, and frantic kicking."

Princeton won the rematch, but the expected third game never was played. Both teams finished the 1869 season with a 1-1 record. 

In 2019, Rutgers theater students reenacted the first game to commemorate college football's sesquicentennial.

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