On May 14, 1874, the first inter-collegiate “foot-ball” game was played on the Harvard Law School campus, near Langdell Hall. The Crimson emerged victorious over McGill by a score of 3-0. A rematch the next day, played under rugby rules, ended 0-0. Harvard’s first game against Yale was played the next year. The Harvard Stadium wasn’t completed until 1903, nearly 30 years after the historic double header. Here are a few highlights quoted from a 2019 article in The Athletic.

“Around that time, the captain of McGill’s rugby team, David Rodger, writes a letter to the captain of Harvard’s team, Henry Grant, challenging Harvard to a game,” writes journalist Michael Weinreb. Two games, actually: One to be played with Harvard’s “Boston rules,” and the other under McGill’s Canadian rugby rules. … Admission is 50 cents, with the money going to an “entertainment fund” for the visiting players.

“Up to then, the Harvard players wore their oldest clothes to play football, preparing for the inevitable onslaught of dirt and blood. But here, they settle upon the first semblance of a uniform: dark trousers, a white gauze undershirt and magenta handkerchiefs tied around the head. … Harvard wins that day’s match 3-0.”

“The next day, though, there’s the rematch under Canadian rugby rules — believed to be the first organized rugby game played on U.S. soil. … This time, the match ends in a scoreless tie. … This was the moment rugby became the primary influencer of American football as we know it, instead of soccer,” Weinreb writes.

Other accounts of the game are available on the McGill website and in a 1915 article in The Evening News.

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