A little more than 137 years ago, Rutgers played Princeton in the very first college football game.
As I was sitting in the press box during Monday’s BCS championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium, it occurred to me the game hasn’t changed much since then.
Unless you want to get picky.
History tells us that Rutgers beat Princeton, 6-4, in that game, played before several hundred thoroughly confused spectators in New Brunswick, N.J. Heck, even the players were pretty muddled. Accounts of the game suggest that a Rutgers player tried to kick a field goal through his own goal posts, only the kick was blocked. Think about that one for a minute. Sounds like a Cardinals intrasquad game, huh?
Of course, hours after the game, several New York sports writers opined that the outcome of the game only underscored the immediate, desperate need for a college football playoff system.
There’s no question that the game has evolved much since those students, none of whom were on a full-ride athletic scholarship, took to the field in New Jersey.
Just about everything about the game has changed since then.
Oh, the field is still 100 yards long and the grass is green, except in Boise, where it’s blue. That’s about it, though.
As dramatic as those changes have been, they pale compared to the atmosphere that has grown around the game. It has become a spectacle and Monday’s game, perhaps appropriately, was the height of excess.
For starters, Monday’s game was played at a stadium that features not only a retractable roof, but a retractable field. They would have settled for indoor plumbing in New Brunswick back in the day.
At 2:30 p.m. Monday, four hours before kickoff, the stadium’s large parking lot on the west side of the stadium was crammed full of fans. There must have been 25,000 people milling about in that parking lot, and most of them were Ohio State fans. I estimated Buckeyes outnumbered Gators by a 4-to-1 ratio, which is not an easy thing to do. Only the Huns travel better than the Buckeyes, apparently.
Although the pregame ceremonies didn’t commence until 5:45, fans began to stream into the stadium at 3:30 to gawk at its state-of-the-art splendor.
Further comparisons to that game played in 1869 are left most to conjecture, mainly because news reports were minimal. Of course, unlike Monday’s affair, there weren’t 1,400 credentialed media at that game, so it’s understandable.
But it’s a fair guess that the Rutgers-Princeton pregame did not include a flyover by a B-1 bomber. One of the flight crew told me it took the bomber 30 minutes to make it from Abilene, Texas, to Glendale, which probably means no in-flight beverage service.
I also doubt that the first college game featured a “fly-in’’ by a bald eagle. “Challenger,’’ touted as the first bald eagle trained to “free fly’’ into a sports stadium, circled the field after the playing of the national anthem. Challenger was raised in captivity and is said to be too familiar to humans to be released into the wild. So he’ll spend the rest of his life visiting sports stadiums. Not a bad gig, huh? His handlers say Challenger thinks he’s a human. I wonder how they concluded that, though. Maybe Challenger thinks he’s a boomerang, for all we know.
Both the Florida and Ohio State bands played during the pregame. It’s possible that Rutgers and Princeton had bands, too, so that’s not so unusual.
But I am still mystified by the reaction of the Ohio State fans when their band spells out “OHIO’’ in script. They go nuts. Funny, huh? I mean, it ain’t a hard word to spell, after all. If Mississippi State’s band spells out Mississippi, well, that’s one thing. But Ohio?
The tourism folks estimate that the three bowl games played here in the Valley over the past couple of weeks will pump an estimated $300 million into the local economy, not that regular folks like you and me will see any of it.
I doubt the Princeton-Rutgers game did much for New Brunswick’s economy.
As for people watching, well there’s not much of a comparison there, either.
A crowd of 74,628 attended Monday’s game. More than 20 million households watched on TV.
Princeton-Rutgers was not a TV game.
Which meant no TV timeouts.
Ah, the good old days.