The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration

The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration

The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration

The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration


The Art of Football is a singular look at early college football art and illustrations. This collection contains more than two hundred images, many rare or previously unpublished, from a variety of sources, including artists Winslow Homer, Edward Penfield, J. C. Leyendecker, Frederic Remington, Charles Dana Gibson, George Bellows, and many others.

Along with the rich art that captured the essence of football during its early period, Michael Oriard provides a historical context for the images and for football during this period, showing that from the beginning it was perceived more as a test of courage and training in manliness than simply an athletic endeavor. Oriard's analysis shows how these early artists had to work out for themselves--and for readers--what in the new game should be highlighted and how it should appear on the page or canvas. The Art of Football takes modern readers back to the day when players themselves were new to the sport, and illustrators had to show the public what the new game of football was. Oriard demonstrates how artists focused on football's dual nature as a grueling sport to be played and as a social event and spectacle to be watched.

Through its illustrations and words The Art of Football gives readers an engaging look at the earliest depictions of the game and the origins of the United States as a football nation.


“American football Art” can be no older than “American football,” whose origins, unlike baseball’s, have never been lost in antiquity or embroiled in rival creation myths. On November 6, 1869, Rutgers played Princeton in what everyone has long agreed was the first American intercollegiate football contest. the game played, however, was the soccer version rather than the rugby one that American collegians later adopted and adapted. Both were developed by British schoolboys in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Before that, American boys and young men engaged in various kinds of informal “football,” including slightly more organish,” by which sophomores initiated freshmen at Harvard (on “Bloody Monday”) and Yale. (The “cane rush” at Princeton and Columbia was a similar wild melee fought over a cane, not a ball [see fig. 1].)

The action was rough— more shins than balls were kicked— and frowned on by faculty but beloved among students. These opposing desires collided in 1860, when the Harvard faculty banned Bloody Monday, prompting a mock burial for “Football Fightum,” prematurely deceased at the age of “LX Years.” (In 1872 the faculty relented and reinstated the annual contest.)

Thomas Hughes, the celebrated author of Tom Brown’s School Days and Tom Brown at Oxford, sacred texts for sports-minded American schoolboys, described “the primitive and unscientific” state of interclass football he saw being played at Cornell on a visit to the United States in 1871:

It having been settled after a good deal of confused talking
that the class of ’72 should play those of ’73 and ’74, all

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