A Thanksgiving Day game defined American football

A Thanksgiving Day game defined American football
21 years later, the Princeton-Yale game: first one captured on moving-picture cinema camera. 1903. Library of Congress video, YouTube

[Ed. – But no, it wasn’t Redskins-Cowboys 1974.  Spoiler: the “downs” did it.]

A group of students from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City on April 28, 1882 and made an unambiguous decision: The United States was declaring its independence from British football.


In the 1881 Princeton-Yale game, played at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, Princeton used the touch-in-goal to retain possession for most of the first half. Yale similarly stalled in the second.

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“In an extra inning,” Weyand wrote, “Princeton kept possession of the ball until darkness terminated the farce.” It was another 0-0 tie.

A group of British expatriates then started a movement to kill America’s nascent effort to form its own brand of football. …

That Thanksgiving [1882], Princeton and Yale played again at the Polo Grounds. It was not a tie. Yale was leading with little time left — but then Princeton mounted a final drive.

“Yale made a magnificent stand on the three-yard line, but the ball was pushed over,” reported a history of Princeton athletics published in 1901.

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