This year Trousdale County can celebrate 100 years of football! We have, undoubtedly, one of the longest-running football programs in the state.
The game itself is much older!
Games similar to football can be traced back to "merry olde England." Indeed, football, rugby and soccer all descend from an Anglo-Saxon game of kicking a ball all the way from one town to another. That original game had a tendency to be violent and bloody.
The early settlers in Virginia played a ballgame of a similar nature, and over the years, as our country evolved, so did the game. It was still, however, a brutal sport.
It became more or less organized on college campuses where the students were always eager to take part in an athletic competition. By 1820, Princeton students were playing a football-type game.
Other colleges had similar games. These early games were confined to the individual campuses; that is, they were played between teams of fellow students.
There were few rules in those days, and if someone could go back in time and watch one of those early scrimmages, there would be little to recognize...except for the occasional bloody nose. Games so often ended in brawls or fistfights that for awhile they were banned by college administrations. Yale was prevented from playing in 1860 and Harvard in 1861.
The game persisted in East Coast prep schools despite the college bans. A prep school is a fancy private high school that is supposed to prepare or "prep" a young man for college. From the prep schools gradually rules and a less violent style of playing emerged. Teams either kicked or ran with the ball. Passing the ball was not allowed!
By the late 1860's, the game was once again on college campuses and once again it was played between fellow students. It wasn't until 1869 that a game was actually played between two colleges. In that game, Rutgers played Princeton. Each college had its own rules, and the visiting college had to use the rules of the home school! There were 25 players on each team...on the field! The first team to score six goals won.
In the 1870's rules became more standardized; that is, more and more colleges used the same rules and regulations. In 1874 Harvard played the Canadian McGill University. McGill tackled the Harvard players and they scored by either kicking or running the ball over the goal line. Harvard liked these techniques so much they began using them, and soon other colleges followed. The Intercollegiate Football Association was formed in 1876. The association made new rules that reduced the team to 11 players, and the "line of scrimmage" was established.
Finally, having organized rules helped the game to catch on. In 1880 only eight colleges had teams. By 1890 there were 43 college and university teams.
Despite the popularity of the new rules, the game could still be deadly...literally. Because the ball could only be advanced by running (passing was only allowed if it was "lateral," or side to side, because forward passing was illegal), teams would form a "flying wedge" and charge down the field. Players who tried to block were trampled into the dirt!
In 1905 there were 180 serious injuries and 19 fatalities on the playing field. And you thought today's games were rough!President Teddy Roosevelt had to step in. Even though we say today that we don't need the government to meddle in our affairs, the game clearly needed better regulation. Roosevelt threatened to outlaw the game if more rules were not established that would end the carnage.
So, rather than lose the game, team coaches and players met and made changes. For one thing, team formations like the "flying wedge" were outlawed and the "forward pass" was made a part of the game. It wouldn't be until 1910 that players were prevented from "interlocking" their arms to create a defense!
Of course, in countless back yards and cow pastures across the country, young boys had been playing their own versions of the game, keeping up with rules and rule changes. It was only after 1906, and the new regulations that made the game safer, that small towns in rural America began to have their own football programs.
And that's where we come in. We were one of the first high schools in the state to form a team...as we'll see in next week's article!