Buffalo Courier – November 16, 1889
One hundred twenty-five years ago this month, the citizens of Buffalo, NY were introduced to their very first “inter-collegiate” football match. Cornell University played the University of Michigan at Olympic Park located at East Ferry & Michigan Avenue in the city.
Why a Cornell/Michigan game in Buffalo, NY? The two rival teams were anxious to compete against each other but would only agree to a game if it was played at a neutral site. Buffalo, NY was settled upon as an acceptable location.
The game was organized by the Buffalo Athletic Club with short notice. The citizens of Buffalo knew little of collegiate football. The only variety of football with which Buffalo had known prior to the game was association football.
The Buffalo Express newspaper described college football as “… a rough-and-tumble, free-for-all, go-as-you-please fracas, intermingled with a little collar-and-elbow wrestling and an occasional slugging match mixed in” but it was also described as “highly interesting as well as exciting, and no lover of out-door sports should fail to take in the game.”
Close to 2,000 fans watched Cornell beat Michigan 66-0 on November 16 1889. A Cornell newspaper noted that a large majority of the spectators knew nothing whatever about the game, but were greatly pleased to see the rough and tumble part of it. (see “Wolverines Worsted” The Cornell Daily Sun – 18 November 1889.)
The Buffalo Courier and Buffalo Express newspapers declared the event a success noting that all parties were favorably impressed by their stay in Buffalo, and it was likely that more college football games would be arranged for Buffalo in the future. But the Buffalo News was less than enthusiastic with the game calling it a poor modification of the game played ten years ago and much preferred the game of rugby. (see “Talking About Football” Buffalo News, 17 November 1889.)
But the seed was planted and in 1890 the New York State Intercollegiate Football Association was formed with Union College, University of Rochester, Syracuse University and Hamilton College represented. By the end of the next decade, the popularity of the game explode in upstate New York as the University of Buffalo, Canisius College, Colgate, St. Bonaventure University, and others, all entered collegiate football to varying degrees.
For more information on football at the University at Buffalo, visit the UB Sports History Collection website.
TALKING ABOUT FOOTBALL
Presumably the mass of the citizens who witnessed yesterday’s contest between the Cornell and Michigan University football teams knew little or nothing about the game.
The “Cornell, I yell, yell, yell, Cornell,” and the extended “Rah,’rah,’rah, Mich-i-gan, Mich-i-gan” contingents did understand. It was the first football exhibition under the intercollegiate rules ever given in this city. It was a one-sided game, as the local accounts will show. It is a poor modification – in system – of the game ten years ago, as any old collegian will testify.
There was a time when the game — one of the grandest for the exercise of pluck, running power, muscle and above all endurance — had two marked divisions in system. One of them remains practically unchanged to this day. That is the Association game, which deals with kicking and “dribbling” moving the ball gently so as to prevent another’s turn at it. The use of the hands constitutes a foul. The other system, illustrated so vividly in “Tom Brown at Rugby” was called the Rugby game. It allowed picking up the ball and running with it and had a series of rules not to be summarized within short limits of space. it also allowed “hacking” — shin-kicking would be a plainer description — and tripping. This was properly esteemed brutal and there succeeded Rugby Union rules, which made “hacking,” “scragging” or tripping cause for disqualification of a player on the field. Like the Rugby game, it was played with fifteen men and the “close scrimmage” formation of “forwards” prevailed. Then there came a new development. Instead of all the forward players crushing into a scrimmage there was an “open formation” style which lined the rushers across the point where the ball is declared “live.”
The Rugby Union game is as much * * and as such more affordable opportunity for individual and * * that this ** intercollegiate game is, as cheese is better than chalk for eating purposes. In the broad football field fifteen men are better than eleven, a fight for the ball in a scrimmage is better than a privilege given to the side one whose representatives manages to throw his body over the ball first.
— Buffalo News, November 17, 1889