Looking through some old files, I came upon a clipping from the Philadelphia Inquirer (that big newspaper downtown) from Thursday, November 18, 1869, which was Thanksgiving Day.
It reported that at half past noon, those two great rivals, the Germantown Cricket Club and the Young America Cricket Club, “now that the cold season had caused them to put away bat and ball,” have copied the latest sports fad of the universities, and arranged to play a match of that new game, foot-ball.
Each club had picked men to compose the teams. They had agreed to follow rules adapted from those used for the strange new sport by the Rugby School in England.
The Inquirer then ran a list of 22 rules. And foot-ball in 1869 was not much like football in 2021. Here’s some of the rules:
The first side to make two goals wins.
The goal posts are two upright poles 20 feet apart, with no cross-piece, on a line that extends to the fences at each edge of the field.
The game starts with a coin toss. The winning team has the choice of goal tending or “kick-off.” These privileges change after each goal.
The kick-off, or mounting point, shall be from the center of the field. Players of the defending side shall not be within 10 yards of the mounting point prior to the kick. Players on the kicking side shall not be in front of the mounting point.
A goal is made when the ball passes between the goal posts, or over the space above them. After the score, the opposing team may acquire the ball and kick it back onto the field.
A player taking the ball on the fly or first bounce may carry the ball, or drop kick it, or may try to carry it over the goal line. If a player, while carrying the ball, is caused to fall, the ball must be dropped.
A player shall not throw the ball, or pass it to another. (That’s right, folks: no passing.)
Of course, it could happen by accident, so another rule maintains: “A player, on catching the ball on the fly or first bound, may carry the ball, and endeavor to reach the opponent’s goal.”
And how’s this for a rule, sports fans: “If the ball shall pass through the goal line, the first player touching the ball has the privilege of placing it on the goal line opposite place of touch, and kicking out. The kick from the goal line must be perpendicular to it and between the two lines of players of the respective sides. The lines shall preserve an interval of five yards, the defending party forming the line nearest to the goal.”
The rules go on: “The player taking the ball on the fly, or on the first bound, has the privilege of a “drop-kick”; in other instances, the ball must be kicked from the ground. If the player, while carrying the ball, is caused to fall, the ball must be dropped.”
And the game was pretty rough. The rules pronounced: ”The privileges of hacking (or kicking) below the knee, tripping, and the use of the arms with elbows squared, in charging or in the scrimmages, will be allowed.”
Somehow, this game became popular, though it changed a little. Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site atjamessmartsphiladelphia.com.
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