1874 Harvard vs. McGill football game

The 1874 Harvard vs. McGill football game was a two-game series between the Harvard Crimson and the McGill Redmen held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 14 and 15, 1874.[1][2]

First "Boston rules" football game played in the United States
1 Total
McGill 0 0
Harvard 3 3
DateMay 14, 1874
StadiumJarvis Field
First rugby football game played in the United States
The second game, played under the rugby rules. Harvard players at left, in white shirts
123 Total
McGill 000 0
Harvard 000 0
DateMay 15, 1874
StadiumJarvis Field

With the first game being played under the Harvard's "Boston game", the second one was the first rugby-style football game played in the United States.[3] It used three periods or "games" and ended in a scoreless tie.[4][5]

A Princeton vs. Rutgers football game had been played five years earlier (in 1869), but under a variation of England's The Football Association rules, closer to contemporary soccer than American football.

The Boston game rules were developed by the first organized football team, the Oneida Football Club, founded in 1862. Many of its members went on to found, and play for, the Harvard team.


After the two games in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard travelled to Montreal to play a third game.

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.[3]

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.[3][6] The next day, the two teams played under "McGill" rugby rules to a scoreless tie.[3] The first game featured a round ball instead of a rugby-style oblong ball.[6] McGill used a bladder covered by leather instead of a rubber ball as did Harvard, which was much more difficult to kick.[7]

The game drew about 500 attendees, most of whom were students.[2] This series of games represents an important milestone in the development of the modern game of American football.[1][8] 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.

At this time, the try 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.[9][10][11]

See also



  1. ^ a b "THIS DATE IN HISTORY: First football game was May 14, 1874". mcgill.ca. May 14, 2012. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "THIS DATE IN HISTORY: First football game was May 14, 1874". mcgill.ca. McGill University News. May 14, 2012. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d "No Christian End!" (PDF). The Journey to Camp: The Origins of American Football to 1889. Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved January 26, 2010.
  4. ^ "Foot Ball". Boston Post. May 16, 1874. p. 3. Retrieved March 29, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  5. ^ DeLassus, David. "Harvard Yearly Results". College Football Data Warehouse. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  6. ^ a b Parke H. Davis. Football, the American intercollegiate game. p. 64.
  7. ^ "Out-Door Sports". Boston Post. May 11, 1874. p. 4. Retrieved March 29, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  
  8. ^ "Parke H. Davis '93 On Harvard Football". Princeton Alumni Weekly. 16: 583. March 29, 1916 – via Google books.  
  9. ^ MacDonald, D.A.L. (November 27, 1970). "Montreal's Cup Float recalls how McGill started grid mania". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  10. ^ "Early Football". San Jose Evening News. November 13, 1915. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  11. ^ MacDonald, D.A.L. (December 22, 1933). "McGill and Harvard Have Been Rivals for 59 Years". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved August 22, 2014.