19 Fatalities in Football – 1905

Jim Bolinger
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Football Today:  A Tame Game!

This blog provides some insight into the history and evolution of the tame sport of football!  What today seems like a very fierce, “rough and tumble” game of American football…is actually very tame compared to the historical versions.  One year saw 19 fatalities…and nearly a national ban on the game!


In a previous blog, we discussed the history of tailgating at football games with the use of cook-outs, flagpoles, team flags and even personalized, custom flags demonstrating loyalty to a team or school.  (For more tips on tailgating, click here).

  • 1820’s – Princeton and Harvard played different “versions” of a game considered to be a precursor to “modern football”
    • This game came from both rugby and soccer.
    • Had very few rules and a large number of players.
    • One source referred to it as a “mob-style” game.
    • The game was so violent that it led to very serious injuries and was banned at both Yale and Harvard in the early 1860’s.
  • At this point in history, there were either kicking games (like soccer) or carrying games (similar to rugby).
    • The forward pass had not been developed.
    • The rules of “modern football” had not yet been developed.
  • In 1862, the Oneida Football Club was organized in Boston.
    • This club was organized by/for prep school boys.
    • It is thought to be the first formal football club in the United States.
    • This team used, for the first time in history, both running and kicking.
  • In 1869, Rutgers played Princeton in what is usually considered to be the first game of intercollegiate “football”. Although, it was reported to be more like soccer than American football
    • At this point in history, each school continued to have its own rules.
    • The home team’s rules applied for each game.
  • In 1873, rules were first codified for the “kicking version”.
    • Universities involved were Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers.
    • Harvard refused to join them and stayed with the kick and carry game developed in Boston.
  • In 1876, a new set of standardized rules were adopted.
    • These incorporated the “kick and carry” game and the “touchdown” (literally touching the ball to the ground beyond the goal line).
  • In 1878, Walter Camp introduced new rules that moved the game closer to “modern” American football
    • Considered to be the Father of Modern American Football
      • A star Yale athlete
      • Coached the Yale team to a 67-2 record from 1888 to 1892
      • Worked as an executive at a watch-manufacturing firm.
    • Proposed new rules:
      • reducing the number of players from fifteen to eleven,
      • established the line of scrimmage,
      • the quarterback position,
      • the snap from center to quarterback as the starting point for each play,
      • the scoring scale used today, and
      • advancing the ball a minimum of five yards in three plays.
    • In the 1880’s, many athletic clubs in the East and Midwest had a football team.
      • Competition was very intense and each club attempted to attract the best players.
      • Often sought-after players were given various types of “awards” for playing.
      • This led to the unofficial start of “pro-football”.
    • In 1892, pro-football unofficially made its debut
      • A player for the Allegheny Athletic Association (AAA) was paid $500 to play in a game with the Pittsburgh Athletic Club (PAC).
      • AAA won the game!
    • In 1905, 19 fatalities were attributed to both the rules and violence of the game!
      • It is reported that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban the game due to its violent nature
    • In December 1905, 62 schools met to make the game safer through rules changes.
      • The “flying wedge” was banned
      • The “first down” was changed from 5 to 10 yards.
      • The forward pass was made legal
        • It is asserted that this change began the transition to the modern game of football.
      • In 1906, the forward pass was introduced…reportedly to reduce injuries and “open up” the game.
      • In 1913, a Notre Dame victory over Army came to be known, erroneously, as the game that introduced the forward pass and changed the game forever.
        • Notre Dame completed 14 of 17 passes; some of those passes were received by an end called Knute Rockne.
        • In later years, it is said that Knute Rockne actually attempted to “correct the record” with respect to the origin of the forward pass.
      • In 1941, the penalty flag was adopted.
        • The penalty flag is a yellow cloth used to identify and sometimes mark the location of infractions.
        • Until the 1970’s, penalty flags in college football were red.
        • Official adoption of the flag occurred at the 1948 American Football Coaches rules session.

There have been many changes to “American” football over the years.   For additional information, go to the sources listed below.

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  • www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-early-history-of-footballs-forward-pass
  • www.understanding-american-football.com/history_of_football.html
  • www.profootballhof.com/history/general/birth.aspx
  • Wikipedia