Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics

By Ronald A. Smith | Go to book overview

VI

From the Burial of Football
to the Acceptance of Rugby

WELL BEFORE HARVARD AND YALE lifted an oar together or Amherst and Williams faced each other with bat and ball, collegians were playing football on the various campuses. College football, an outgrowth of upperclassmen's hazing and initiation rites imposed upon freshmen, was a well-established ritual on most college campuses when intercollegiate crew and baseball arose in the 1850s. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a writer of some renown, reminisced about Harvard in the days before intercollegiate rivalries: "I can recall," wrote Higginson of the 1840s, "the feeling of exhilaration as one drew near to the 'Delta,' on some autumn evening, while the game was in progress,—the joyous shouts, the thud of the ball, the sweet smell of crushed grass ... [and] the magnificent 'rush.' It seemed a game for men and giants...." 1 But there weren't all shouts of joy, for the nature of the game led to its extinction on several campuses. The kicking game, as one contemporary described it, was played with a degree of "violence & brutality." 2 Football died by the hand of the faculty and was buried on more than one campus. It was, though, reborn in another form and was elevated, god-like, by the latter 1800s, and on Thanksgiving Day even worshipped.


The Burial of Freshman-Sophomore Inter-Class Football

The social and academic life of the mid-nineteenth-century collegian was centered around his academic class. This was seen no

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