Skip to main content
Original Issue


No one has ever been able to figure out how old the sport of football is, except that it goes back at least 2,000 years, which means that the Chinese may have invented it, and therefore they also may have come up with the first traditional rivalry: the Hoys vs. the Hos for possession of the Old Oaken Egg Roll, or something like that. What we do know is that Princeton and Rutgers played the first American version of the game exactly 99 years ago this November, and that, even then, as people watched from their frost-coated buckboards in New Brunswick, N.J., the collegiate sport had something extra that no other athletic endeavor would ever have—something that reaches mysteriously beyond exercise for its own sake, or honorable shin splints.

That first game, of course, was hardly anything to compare with the slick perfection of 1968. It was 25 guys to a side removing their waistcoats and playing Kick the Groin with periodic time-outs to reinflate the pig bladder. Still, it furnished seeds for lasting contributions. Uniforms, for example. Rutgers wore red turbans. Cheers, for another example. Princeton's students gave the first football yell: some vague sort of chant they remembered from a few years earlier when New York's Seventh Regiment marched through town on its way to that great bowl game with the Confederacy. More important, however, Princeton and Rutgers initiated the custom of competing for more than the score.

The stake was a cannon. The Old Oaken Cannon? Well, no. It was just a Revolutionary War cannon that the two schools had been fighting over for a long time. The football game, they decided, would be a better way to determine who got it annually. After a few years Princeton got smart and cemented the relic in a bed of concrete, and this must have been the first football prank. But a point had been made. Football had tradition the moment it began.

Now skip a century. Leap over a pile of Walter Camps and Knute Rocknes—all of those men who have given sweep and technique to the game—and we come to a sport so colorfully aged by tradition and sustained by rivalries that a mere 30 million ticket buyers live and die with it every year regardless of who's No. 1, who's undefeated, who's All-America, or which Notre Dame player is winning another Heisman Trophy.

College football has become a geographical, historical and social event, and sometimes all three. Every fan has somebody he especially likes to see beaten. The week of their game Oshkosh feels about St. Norbert the way Army feels about Navy. Beneath the breast of every Michigan tuba player, it was once said, lies a hatred for Minnesota. Turn a UCLA man around three times and he'll stagger straight to the USC campus with a couple of buckets of blue and gold paint. Give a Texas oilman two drinks and he'll bet you every offshore well he's got (and some he hasn't got) that the Longhorns will whip Oklahoma.

Tradition and rivalry are words that belong almost exclusively to the vernacular of college football—right in there with Grange, Gipp, pursuit, three-deep, Harmon, Bear, Darrell, Roverback, O.J. and all that kind of thing. Old as the two words are, they are irreplaceable, for it is what they suggest that specifically separates the college game from that of the pros. Sophisticates, with their double drag-outs and their post-and-gos, may not like it, but college football is Michigan playing Minnesota for the Little Brown Jug, a street brawl in downtown Dallas the night before the Texas-Oklahoma game, a thousand white Annapolis caps wheeling into the air above Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium and that annual Wall Street Block Party and Raccoon Coat Parade known as the Yale-Harvard game.

There are many types of rivalries, all of which help any college season keep its hip pads up. There are intrastate rivalries, border rivalries, crosstown rivalries and interservice rivalries. These can be classed as natural rivalries. The most common, and perhaps by now the most overrated, are the intrastate rivalries. Any football-minded boy of 7 can name the most noteworthy of them: Alabama-Auburn, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Purdue-Indiana, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, Michigan-Michigan State, Texas-Texas A&M, LSU-Tulane and so on; games which made popular that wonderful old notion, "Boy, hidy, you can throw out the record book when...."

In most cases today you can throw out the whole rivalry, because it has been replaced by something better. Major enemies have spread in college football like probation sentences. Sweet victories and sad upsets on both the conference and national levels tend to refocus the fan's attention.

Consistently good teams of long standing such as Notre Dame, Alabama, USC and Texas discover one day that their important rivals have not only changed but increased. For a time, Notre Dame's big games were with Army and USC. The Irish still have the Trojans, but they have added Michigan State and Purdue. USC also underwent a psychological shift: from Stanford and Cal in the old days to Notre Dame and UCLA today. In the South, Alabama and Tennessee would rather beat each other any day than Auburn and Vanderbilt, who are generally happy to beat anybody. And it has been 30 years since the Texas-Texas Aggie game has been as vital to its followers as the Oklahoma Saturday every October in Dallas, a contest that is college football's equivalent of a prison riot—with coeds. What has most helped these particular rivalries along is a rare season like 1968, in which most of the teams involved are rated among the Top 20 and how they fare against each other has a great deal to do with settling the national championship.

Meanwhile, a couple of fairly familiar schools named Yale and Harvard will play their game—the game, so far as they're concerned—oblivious to anything as banal as the settling of a national championship in this day and time. They did that bit already.

Yale and Harvard compete in a league called the Ivy, the championship of which, they now claim, is important enough. If this is true for them, it is because they had a 50-year head start on almost everybody else. The Crimson and the Bulldogs began playing football back in 1875; they were, one could say, the original traditional rivalry. Until the mid-1920s few teams outside of a small, select group of Eastern schools—Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Penn, mainly—ever impressed Walter Camp enough to gain a rating among his Big Four at the season's end. Walter Camp was the original AP poll.

One reason Yale and Harvard may have quit competing in the big time is that they grew weary of turning out legendary names. Yale, after all, produced Walter Camp himself, "the father of American football," who gave us the down system, the idea of 11 players to a side and modern scoring. Yale also produced Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pudge Heffelfinger, T. A. D. Jones, Ted Coy, Bill Mallory, Bruce Caldwell, Albie Booth, Larry Kelley and Clint Frank, along with an occasional Archibald MacLeish and John Hersey.

Harvard was just as busy. Coming out of Cambridge were the likes of Charles Daly, Hamilton Fish, Charlie Brickley, Eddie Mahan, Edward Casey, Barry Wood and a guard with the most perfect Ivy League name of all: Endicott Peabody. There were also a few Kennedys along the way. One of them, U.S. Senator Edward, scored Harvard's only touchdown in the 1955 loss to Yale.

Times have changed for the game. Fifty years ago, even 40, even 30, the men who played were considered the noblest examples of manhood. There was nothing bestial about them. They were gentlemen of courage, bravery and daring who lured 70,000 into The Bowl at New Haven. A star was instantly taken into the social élite, and the old grads liked nothing better than to sit around the fires of their private clubs and dredge up memories of the day in 1913 when Charlie Brickley booted five field goals to beat Yale 15-5, or discuss, cut by cut, every scamper of Albie Booth.

Now it seems different. The nostalgic hero for today's students is more apt to be men like Charlie Yeager, the Yale manager of 1952 who slipped into the game, as preplanned, to catch a pass for a conversion against poor Harvard. It is someone like the impulsive young girl in 1960 who dashed into the end zone to embrace Harvard's Charlie Ravenal as he scored his last touchdown in a rout. And it is someone like the Harvard student who arranged to let loose several greased pigs in the Yale Bowl during the 1953 game—and did.

For all of its deterioration as a game of importance to the outside world, there is still a color and an atmosphere to a Yale-Harvard weekend that few other rivalries can match. For example, there are intercollegiate competitions between the two schools on all levels—varsity, junior varsity and freshman. There are also tackle games between all dorms. Thus, more than 700 students participate in football either Friday or Saturday, and there is soccer and touch football going on. It is difficult to walk down a street in either New Haven or Cambridge without being thrown a pass. And then on Saturday afternoon, between fraternity parties, with class reunions going on in candy-striped tents all over the parking lots, the two varsities get down to the more or less important business of the game...oops, the game.

If Yale vs. Harvard can best be described today as an intellectual rivalry, the Texas-Oklahoma game is just the opposite. It is raw, rugged and deadly serious. Fights frequently break out in the stands as well as on the field. It features some of the most aggressive hitting in the sport. At the moment of the kickoff the players are jumping up and down, as if they've swallowed something from the chemistry lab, and waving their arms in the manner of John Wayne leading his troops in a charge out of the trenches. The bands are simultaneously bursting forth with The Eyes of Texas and Boomer Sooner, and more than 75,000 maniacs, pretty evenly divided, are standing and screeching. This is fairly amazing, for most of them are awfully hung over from the night before when they just turned downtown Dallas into a garage. A couple of years ago a new record total of 352 Texas and OU rowdies were jailed for disturbing the peace in a No Man's Land known as the corner of Commerce and Akard streets, a plot of ground separating the Baker and Adolphus hotels the evening before the big game.

While the Longhorns and Sooners have been playing since 1900 and while the game has been a special attraction of the State Fair since 1915, it is only since the end of World War II that the rivalry has become intense.

What started it, aptly enough, was a near riot during the 1947 game, which Texas won behind Bobby Layne. A referee's decision caused several thousand beverage bottles to be hurled down onto the playing field—and the State Fair has sold beer and soft drinks in paper cups ever since. Then Oklahoma started to win the game too often under Bud Wilkinson, sometimes winning it with prized recruits from Texas. From '48 through 1957, the Sooners won nine of 10 from Texas. This was during Oklahoma's glory days when Wilkinson coached five undefeated teams and won three national championships. It was only after Texas hired Darrell Royal, a former OU star, that things changed. Royal has now won nine of 11 from Oklahoma. The ironies are obvious, and they add heat to a rivalry that would boil all on its own, thanks to memories of such confrontations as the 1963 game.

A year before Texas had won 9-6 and a gang fight between the two benches had been judged about a tie. Now, Oklahoma was No. 1, just like a few years earlier, but Texas was rated No. 2. The Cotton Bowl was a pandemoniacal sellout as always, with the usual number of people having tried to slip in at dawn and hide under benches or, as a drunk successfully did in 1949, shinny up a light tower, hide and enjoy an aerial view of the game.

Among the '63 spectators was U.S. Senator Clinton P. Anderson from New Mexico, who sat among some OU fans. Early in the game the Senator had to hear a lot about how Bud Wilkinson was going to win another national title this season, which would be his last, and then how easily Bud would win a U.S. Senate seat the following year in Oklahoma. When it was over, Texas had won 28-7, and it was Royal's team that was headed toward a national title. Filing out of the Cotton Bowl, Anderson told his OU friends, "That was the shortest term anyone ever spent in the U.S. Senate."

While it is understandable that Texas and Oklahoma could have become such violent foes, being close neighbors, it is not so easy to understand how another august rivalry evolved: Michigan and Minnesota.

Geography certainly could not have had much to do with it. Ann Arbor is closer to Nashville, Tenn. than it is to Minneapolis. If you want the truth, the Michigan-Minnesota thing for the Little Brown Jug began by accident, although there is probably behind it some seed of the Midwestern ethic, a mutual fondness for wheat fields, silos or duck hunting, perhaps. At any rate, the Little Brown Jug, which is neither little nor brown and never was, has become football's best-known objet d'art, because Michigan and Minnesota have played a lot of big games and turned out hordes of good teams.

The jug, which is 2½ feet tall, was originally an old gray plaster crock that Michigan Coach Fielding H. Yost carried around so that his legions could drink fresh Ann Arbor spring water as they went around beating everybody 60-0. The tradition of Minnesota and Michigan playing for the jug began with one of the most exotic upsets in collegiate football history. It happened in 1903. That year Michigan, with Willie Heston carrying the ball to immortality, arrived in Minneapolis in the midst of a memorable streak. The Wolverines had won 29 straight games, and had scored 1,631 points (56 per game) to a total of 12 for their opponents.

One of football's significant innovations took place that day. Minnesota used a seven-man defensive line for the first time, with the other four players forming an early-day rendition of the umbrella secondary. Prior to this, all defenses had been nine-man lines (there was scarcely any passing), and Willie Heston had always been long gone every time he cracked through the first barrier. Minnesota's defense was designed to give him two walls to get through. He never did. Minnesota clawed its way to a 6-6 tie on old Northrup Field, and the only bigger news in 1903 was when Orville Wright did his thing a few weeks later at Kitty Hawk.

Yost and his team were in such a hurry to leave after the upset that they went off and forgot the crock of water, which led to the immediate joke among Minnesota Swedes: "Jost left his yug." The Gophers kept the jug and said Michigan would have to win it back. They have been fighting over it ever since. If the rivalry has improved with age, so has the jug. It is now painted maroon (for Minnesota) and blue (for Michigan), and the scores of all the games are on it.

The most famous modern contest for the jug came in 1940, a game that was the equivalent of the 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State epic. Both teams were overstocked with stars. Michigan had Tom Harmon, who was busy breaking some of Red Grange's records. He would win the Heisman Trophy. The Wolverines also had four others who either were or would be All-Americas, one of them the noted blocking back Forest Evashevski. Michigan was undefeated in five games and went into Minneapolis, together with 15 train cars of fans, as the No. 1 team. But Minnesota was just as undefeated, ranked No. 2 and had its own lineup of All-Americas, including Tailback Bruce Smith, who would be the Heisman winner a year later, and a sophomore back named Bill Daley, who would lend a footnote to the series by becoming a Michigan All-America in 1943 when he wound up there through the fortunes of war and a naval training program.

There was only one thing wrong with what could have been as splendid a game as was ever played. It rained about 400 million Little Brown Jugs full, turning the Minnesota stadium into the world's largest casserole. This hurt Michigan the most, for Harmon, who was fast and fancy, was slowed down to the speed of an arthritic climbing a staircase. He had a miserable afternoon, slipping and sloshing around and missing an extra point that still makes him irritable every time the subject comes up. He did pass for the touchdown that gave Michigan a 6-0 lead, but later on Bruce Smith, on a surprise reverse play, waded 80 yards for a touchdown and Minnesota became the national champion 7-6. Poor Tom, Old 98 he was called, still had a chance to win the game when he drove his team down to Minnesota's goal line in the fourth quarter. There, however, with a hole opened up for him as wide as his home town of Gary, Ind., Harmon slipped in the mud.

"I can still see the hole," says Harmon, a sportscaster now. "It's bigger than a room, but I just can't get there."

The most famous rivalry in all of sport is probably Army-Navy. It is a spectacle with the least provincial appeal of all, having a true national, even worldwide flavor. Battles have been interrupted—well, almost—because generals and admirals wanted to listen to the game around the globe on the Armed Forces Network. In fact, when Army completed an undefeated season in 1944—the first of the Glenn Davis-Doc Blanchard teams—by beating Navy and sewing up No. 1, Army Coach Red Blaik received the following telegram:


The game dates back to 1890. It was originated by a West Point cadet, Dennis Mahon Michie, after whom Army's stadium is named. Cadet Michie organized the game on the parade ground, and 500 people came out to watch halfback-coach-captain-manager-trainer Michie lead his team to a 24-0 loss. On the way to the game the Navy team had come across a goat it named Bill, and after Navy won, Bill was taken home to Annapolis as a mascot. The Midshipmen are now on their 19th Bill.

The series has been discontinued a couple of times because of anger. Very soon after it began, President Grover Cleveland stopped it. It seems that following the game of 1893, a brigadier general and a rear admiral got into such a bitter argument about it that they challenged each other to a duel. There was no Army-Navy game for five years.

The series was begun again only because of some wartime heroics. Four men who had played in the early games, including Dennis Michie, lost their lives in the Spanish-American War. The service academies decided that the men had gained much from their football experiences—they were better men and soldiers—and that the game could be resumed in this spirit.

The immense popularity of Army-Navy—it had the first ticket scalpers—caused it to go on the road. Franklin Field in Philadelphia was the site for many years, and now it has settled in Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium, where more than 100,000 can see it annually. It is the only college game that has been on national television since the tube first blipped.

The game could not have become an American classic, of course, if the two academies had not continually suited out interesting teams and played some storybook contests. One particular game in 1926, before 110,000 in Chicago's Soldier Field, was considered for years as "the greatest game ever played." It was a 21-21 tie, with Navy's Tom Hamilton co-starring with Army's Chris Cagle.

Upsets have been almost as thick as the gold braid in the stands. Two of the most surprising came close together, and they reflect the kind of respect the institutions hold for each other. Army was undefeated in 1948 and Navy had not won a single game, but the Midshipmen somehow managed a 21-21 tie. Two years later Army was undefeated again, ranked No. 1, and a four-touchdown favorite over a Navy team that had won only two games, but Bob Zastrow passed Navy to a 14-2 victory.

In between those two games, however, Army got its revenge, and in more ways than one. Not only did the Cadets whomp Navy 38-0, but they took advantage of some espionage to embarrass the Midshipmen before all of their admirals. An Army officer on duty at Annapolis had learned of a Navy plan to hoist some banners poking fun at Army's 1949 schedule and to parody On, Brave Old Army Team, the West Point fight song. Soon after both student bodies had done their usual pregame march-on, drills and salutes, they took their places across the field from each other and Navy cheerfully sang the parody:

We don't play Notre Dame.
We don't play Tulane.
We just play Davidson,
For that's the fearless Army way.

Then the Midshipmen lofted a huge banner that said: "When Do You Drop Navy?"

Navy was mortified when the Army cheering section immediately unrolled a banner that said: "Today!"

Thinking this had to be coincidence, or incredible bad luck, the Middies quickly tried again with another of their banners. This one said: "Why Not Schedule Vassar?"

And Army countered with a sign that produced one of the biggest laughs Municipal Stadium ever heard. It read: "We Already Got Navy."

A rivalry that produces nearly as many spectators as Army-Navy every year, maybe even more pranks and surely some of the best football, is that between USC and UCLA. It is unique in one sense: two good teams in the same town. The game was brought to the full attention of the U.S. last year when the two schools battled for the national championship on television, and before 93,000 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Since UCLA grew up to USC's stature in the middle 1930s, the rivalry has become a social study. It is USC, the stuffy private school, against UCLA, the booming state institution. The two continuously seem to be able to infiltrate each other's card cheering sections and mess up the messages, to paint campus landmarks such as Tommy Trojan, to sabotage bonfires, kidnap mascots, capture and punish invaders, attempt bomb pranks and generally enjoy a good old-fashioned collegiate hatred.

Since they are located in California's fantasyland, both schools are naturally proud of all the celebrities who have been a part of the series. USC likes to list among its distinguished alumni an ex-tackle named John Wayne, who was Marion Morrison in school; the late Ward Bond, also a tackle; Producer Aaron Rosenberg, who was an All-America guard; All-America Halfback Cotton Warburton, who won an Oscar last year for film editing; and the noted TV commentator, Frank Gifford. For background music, USC can point out that a fellow named Herb Alpert once marched in the Trojan band.

UCLA, meanwhile, has a list of its own that includes Mike Frankovich, an ex-quarterback who is now the head of Columbia Pictures; Actor Gary Lock-wood, who was formerly a tackle named Gary Yurosek; and baseball's famed Jackie Robinson, who was a football hero first and a standout in one of the more memorable USC-UCLA games, the 0-0 tie of 1939.

The teams played eight games in the series before UCLA managed to win. That happened in 1942 when Bob Waterfield led the Bruins to their first Rose Bowl. If UCLA ever had a period when it slightly dominated the game it was during the late Red Sanders' time, 1949 through 1957, when his single-wing teams won six of nine from the Trojans. At that, he lost the big game they played in 1952, when both teams were unbeaten and untied and 97,000 stormed the Coliseum to see USC edge out a 14-12 victory.

Now, with John McKay at USC and Tommy Prothro at UCLA, the rivalry has eased into a perfect dead-even matchup, one which can only keep serving up future thrills. In the three games McKay and Prothro have played as cross-town rivals—and not the best of friends—all have been won in the last few minutes. Prothro, a big, serious man who smokes and drinks Cokes incessantly, won the first two, 20-16 and 14-7. McKay, a quick-witted, outgoing socializer, took last year's, with the help of O. J. Simpson, and took the national championship, too.

National championships, titles, trophies, jugs, mugs and hugs—all of these are things that make up the game's traditional rivalries. It does not really matter if it's USC vs. UCLA or hundreds of St. Olafs taking on hundreds of Carle-tons, for what is really on display is the essence of a sport. No wonder the millions who thrive on college football like to think that it wasn't Columbus who discovered America. Princeton and Rutgers did.



Chris Cagle, elusive 160-pound Army halfback, terrorized Navy for Cadets.

Now the Texas coach, Darrell Royal skirts end for Oklahoma in 1946.

Michigan's Tom Harmon still vividly recalls awful day he slipped and fell.

Jackie Robinson carries the ball for UCLA during classic 1939 USC game that ended in a 0-0 tie.

Minnesota Coach Bernie Bierman with 1936 Co-captain Julius Alphonse.

UCLA's Bob Waterfield, in a typical pose of the times, beat USC in 1942.

Yale never came up with a bigger man than this little one, Albie Booth.

Army's aces, Blanchard (35) and Davis (catching pass), in '46 Navy game.


Top Army threat this season is Charlie Jarvis, here gaining against Navy.

Driving Ron Johnson is best Michigan runner in years.

Wingback Eddie Hinton is the slash and dash in Oklahoma's offense.

Oklahoma must stop two Texans: Bill Bradley (with ball) and Chris Gilbert.

UCLA has speedster Greg Jones, scoring above on 12-yard run against USC.

With UCLA far behind him and daylight ahead, it's all the way with O.J.

Yale's Brian Dowling (10) tormented Harvard last year and may again.