Friday, September 4, 2020

Going Back - Way Back

This is the third installment of the "Going Back" series, where TigerBlog is writing the blog he would have written had it existed when these games were played.

That means prior to 2009, when he started doing this every day.

For the first two, he didn't have to back all that far, first to 1996 (NCAA men's basketball against UCLA) and then 2004 (women's soccer against Harvard). Those games were games he attended.

Today, he's going back to a game that he was not at; in fact, he was not even born when this one was played. Actually, it was nearly 100 years until he would be born when this one was played.

He's wondered if he would write these as if he had been at the game, and he thinks he will, at least for this one. He'll try at least.

With that, here's what TigerBlog would have been on Monday, Nov. 8, 1869:

TigerBlog decided to take the train to New Brunswick Saturday afternoon to see what all the fuss was about.

A challenge had been thrown down to the College of New Jersey by the men of Rutgers College for a game of what they're calling "football." It had been played unofficially in Princeton for years as a release from the tedium of endless studying, with very little else on campus for a distraction.

Actually, even the people playing the game had no idea what it was and what the rules were. This was largely due to the fact that there were no actual rules.

It wasn't the football that was being played in England, where touching the ball was strictly forbidden. It also wasn't the other game being played with a ball in England, the one that started in the town of Rugby, in which carrying the ball wasn't just legal, it was the whole point.

The students at the College of New Jersey didn't care about the rules. They just loved to have something physical to do beyond simply going for long walks, or, for those who could afford it, horseback riding.

It was a far cry from before the war, when all such outdoor activities were prohibited on campus. And if they weren't exactly approved of by the administration now, at least they were tolerated.

Besides, it was all an extension of the Greek ideal of the healthy mind and the healthy body. And clearly, it fomented a school spirit that had been lacking.

And so it was only a matter of time until the team from TCNJ played a team from another school. And that time came this past Saturday.

It was a rainy morning, which led to a sloppy field in New Brunswick, but the weather dried as the day went along. By the time the game started at 3, TB was on the sidelines, along with a few dozen others, curious as to what he would see.

And what exactly was it that the teams played?

If nothing else, it was confusing. The goal was, well, to score goals. The teams agreed to a set of rules beforehand, including that the game would be played until there were 10 goals scored. Whoever had more would be the winner.

In the end, that would be the Rutgers College team, who scored six to Princeton's four. 

That was the only clear part of the day.

The game was incredibly violent, that's for sure, as full contact was permitted. There were 25 men on each side, which made for too crowded a field. 

No man was allowed to possess the ball with his hands, but it could be touched and even batted forward. TCNJ had more size than Rutgers and was much more physical, but Rutgers had a much better strategy for spreading its men out on the wings and for advancing the ball up the field.

In the end, it was a Rutgers win, followed by cordial handshakes and greetings and even a meal for the two teams with some singing by both sides. There was also the promise for a rematch back in Princeton this coming weekend.

Is there a future for this game? 


If there is, it has to figure out what it's trying to be. Does it want to be English football or rugby? 

It also needs fewer players. And a ball that isn't exactly the same as the English football one. 

There was no denying the spectacle of the day. It's certainly not a game for the weak or men who lack the courage to play it. 

Perhaps that alone can make this into something that sticks.

TB would like to think that what he saw Saturday in New Brunswick wasn't a one-time thing. He'd like to think that this game could catch on.

Maybe he'll be right about this one.

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