A Gridiron Milestone

College football celebrates 150th anniversary this season

Since its beginnings in a matchup between a pair of East Coast schools, college football has had a long history intermingled with efforts to make the game safer. Here are highlights from the sport’s first century and a half.

Nov. 6, 1869

The first intercollegiate football game is played between Rutgers and Princeton. Rutgers wins 6-4 in front of about 100 spectators. Both teams have 25 players on the field, and the game looks more like rugby or soccer than modern football. The game ends each time a team scores, and a total of 10 games make up the contest.

Nov. 23, 1876

Walter Camp Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Representatives from Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Yale meet at the Massasoit House in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the first rules of American football are proposed. Walter Camp, the legendary father of American football, is one of the central figures at the gathering. Camp created the line of scrimmage, established the center-to-quarterback snap, developed a system of downs and proposed rules such as 11 players on the field. It would take four more years before all the rules were adopted and American football as we now know it would begin to take shape.

March 31, 1906

The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States officially is formed after representatives from several universities met with President Theodore Roosevelt to discuss the number of deaths in collegiate football games.

Jan. 1, 1916

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Fritz Pollard, who played halfback at Brown, is the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl. In 1921, he would become the first African American NFL head coach, and in 1923, he would become the first African American to play quarterback in the NFL.

Oct. 7, 1916

Georgia Tech beats Cumberland College 222-0 in the largest margin of defeat in a football game. Georgia Tech scores 32 touchdowns, and Cumberland commits 15 turnovers.

Oct. 8, 1921

Pittsburgh beats West Virginia in the first college football game on the airwaves. The game is broadcast on KDKA-AM radio.

Oct. 19, 1936

The first NCAA Associated Press rankings are released. The rankings include 20 teams.

Sept. 30, 1939

Fordham and Waynesburg play the first televised college football game. Fordham wins 34-7 on NBC.


The NCAA adopts the “full ride” grant-in-aid based on athletic ability.

Nov. 16, 1957

The second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners drop their first game in four years, 7-0 to unranked Notre Dame, ending a 47-game win streak. It is still the longest winning streak in Division I Football Bowl Subdivision history.


In an attempt to increase scoring and maintain the balance between offense and defense, the 2-point conversion is added to the football rules book. During the season, major college football teams opt to go for 2 a whopping 51.4 percent of the time.

Dec. 6, 1961

Ernie Davis becomes the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.

Dec. 7, 1963

A 1,300-pound instant replay machine is used in a game between Army West Point and Navy. Commentator Lindsey Nelson warns television viewers: “Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again!”


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Florida develops a sports drink combining water, carbohydrates and electrolytes and tests the beverage during Gators football practices. It would become known as “Gatorade.”

Nov. 19, 1966

No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State play to a famous 10-10 tie. Fighting Irish head coach Ara Parseghian chooses to let the clock run out and settle for the tie after his team gains possession at its own 30-yard line with 1:10 left in the game. Parseghian would be criticized heavily for not trying to win the game. However, Notre Dame would preserve its No. 1 ranking with the tie and be voted national champion in the two major polls of the time.

Nov. 14, 1970

Marshall’s football team faces devastation when a plane carrying 37 players and eight coaching staff members crashes. The team won an inspirational home-opening game against Xavier 15-13 the next year.

Jan. 13, 1973

The NCAA places an athletics scholarship limit of 105 in Division I football. Before this cap, schools were allowed to grant as many football scholarships as they wanted. The number of players receiving financial aid would be reduced to 95 in 1978 and to the current 85 in 1992 for teams that play in what is now known as the FBS. Football Championship Subdivision teams now are allowed 63 scholarships, and Division II can have a maximum of 36. Division III does not allow athletics scholarships.

Aug. 6, 1973

The NCAA splits its membership into three divisions: Divisions I, II and III. Louisiana Tech would win the inaugural Division II national title, and Wittenberg would win Division III.

Dec. 2, 1975

Ohio State running back Archie Griffin becomes the first to win the Heisman Trophy in back-to-back years.

Dec. 16, 1978

The first champion in Division I-AA (known today as the FCS) is crowned when Florida A&M defeats Massachusetts 35-28 in the national title game.

Nov. 28, 1981

Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant becomes the NCAA’s all-time leader with 315 victories. He would finish with 323 wins and six national titles.


The NCAA adopts the Injury Surveillance System, which provides information on injury trends in all college sports.

Nov. 20, 1982

After Stanford takes a 20-19 lead on a field goal with 4 seconds left, California wins in unimaginable fashion. In what became known as “The Play,” the Golden Bears kickoff return team uses five lateral passes and weaves its way through the Stanford band to secure an incredible 25-20 win.

Feb. 25, 1987

The SMU football team receives the “death penalty” and is suspended for one year for repeated violations.


The NCAA adopts concussion protocol guidelines after its assistant director of sports science, Randall Dick, publishes an article finding concussions account for at least 60% of collegiate head injuries.

Oct. 18, 1997

Liz Heaston, a placekicker for Willamette, kicks two extra points against Linfield, becoming the first woman to score points in a college football game. Willamette competed as an NAIA member at the time but is now a Division III school.

Dec. 13, 1997

Michigan’s Charles Woodson becomes the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.


The Bowl Championship Series is integrated, laying out five games between 10 top-ranked teams, including a championship between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams. In the first BCS championship game, Tennessee defeats Florida State 23-16 to win the national title.


Amid concerns about the impact and prevalence of concussions in football, the NCAA funds a long-term concussion study. It would be published in 2003.

Aug. 30, 2001

Jacksonville State university photo

Ashley Martin of Jacksonville State kicks three extra points, becoming the first woman to play and score in an NCAA Division I football game.

Dec. 17, 2005

Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater play in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl for the first of seven consecutive meetings in the Division III national championship game. Over those seven years, Wisconsin-Whitewater would win four titles, while Mount Union would take home three. The two powerhouses would face each other again in the 2013 and 2014 title games, with Wisconsin-Whitewater winning both.

May 29, 2014

President Barack Obama announces a partnership between the NCAA and U.S. Department of Defense to fund a three-year, $30 million concussion study.

Jan. 1, 2015

The 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and Notre Dame hold the first College Football Playoff at the FBS level. Ohio State would defeat Oregon 42-20 Jan. 12 to capture the first College Football Playoff title.

Dec. 17, 2016

Northwest Missouri State beats North Alabama 29-3 on a snow-covered field, claiming its record-breaking sixth Division II title.

Jan. 8, 2018

Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

Alabama coach Nick Saban ties Paul “Bear” Bryant’s national championship victory total with six.

Jan. 5, 2019

North Dakota State beats Eastern Washington 38-24 to secure an FCS record seventh national championship.

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