American football exists today because of McGill University of Montreal, Canada, and the courtesy of Harvard, the host team at 2 football games in Cambridge, Mass., May 14 and 15, 1874.
At Harvard in the spring of 1871, a group of students got together and started to play, with the permission of President Elliot, what was called the “Boston Game.” It was different from the informal, unorganized kicking game that had been banned by the faculty in the 1860’s in that the ball-round, inflated and made of rubber-could be picked up at any time and the holder could run with it if pursued. It also was different from the game that Princeton and Rutgers played in the first intercollegiate football game at New Brunswick, N.J., Nov. 6, 1869. That game was played under a modification of the London Football Association rules, with 25 men to a side, and was the game of soccer, in which no running with the ball is permitted and the ball may be advanced only by the foot, head or shoulder. Columbia, which joined Princeton and Rutgers in a series of games in 1870, and Yale, which was to enter the intercollegiate lists in 1872 in a game with Columbia, also played association football or soccer, with variations.
When, in the fall of 1873, Yale invited Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Rutgers to a convention at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York to draft a code of rules and organize the Intercollegiate Football Association, Harvard declined to attend. It refused because of the belief that the “Boston Game” was irreconcilable with the game the other 4 were playing.
It has been said that Harvard’s decision was the most momentous in the history of football in the United States-that if it had accepted the invitation and gone along with Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Rutgers in the adoption of the code they drafted in New York, the American game would never have evolved and soccer would have been established as the intercollegiate sport.
The rules drafted at the Fifth Avenue Hotel on Oct. 19, 1873, were based on the “association” style of game. They were patterned upon those adopted by the Princeton Foot Ball Association on its organization Oct. 15, 1871, and the Yale Football Association, formed Oct. 31, 1872.