Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Earliest Football Games Played in Pelham

For years I have pursued the Quixotic quest of documenting the earliest years of the sport of baseball in the Town of Pelham.  See, e.g., Mon., Dec. 22, 2014:  Rare 1889 Photograph of Baseball Players Playing on Pelham Field (and links therein to 36 additional articles on the topic).  The earliest documented reference to baseball being played in Pelham, so far, involves a game between the Uniteds of Westchester and the Nonpareils of City Island that was played in October, 1865.  See Fri., Mar. 28, 2014:  Earliest Evidence Yet! Baseball Was Played in Pelham Only Months After the Civil War Ended.  

Football, in contrast, was not as popular in Pelham during the 19th century.  It most certainly was not played in Pelham as early as was baseball.  Nevertheless, research reveals that by the mid-1890s, the young men of Pelham and the surrounding region were playing an early version of football.  I have written about a pair of 1895 football games, one played Thanksgiving Day,  between the Pelham Manor Athletic Club and the Mount Vernon Football Club played on Travers Island.  See Thu., May 08, 2014:  Thanksgiving Day Football Game in 1895 Between Pelham Manor and Mount Vernon Teams.

Nineteenth century football was a particularly brutal sport played by competitors with virtually no padding or safety equipment.  Moreover, the sport became even more violent during the 1890s.  According to one account published in 1894, in 1893:

"a new style of game was developed, known as the 'momentum' play, where a number of players -- perhaps five or six -- bunch together some distance behind where the ball is down, and start on the dead run before the ball is put in play.  They run toward the rush line and as they near it the ball is put in play and passed to some one who follows in the wake of the group of running interferers."

Source:  NEW FOOTBALL RULES, The Chicago Tribune, Sep. 3, 1894, p. 11, col. 7.  

As one might expect, these "Flying Wedge" or "Flying V" formations involved large masses of young men running at one another and colliding at full speed resulting in monumental injuries.  Indeed, the violence of the sport attracted a great deal of national attention in 1893 and 1894.  In 1894, the Harvard-Yale game -- a game that became known as the "Hampden Park Blood Bath" -- involved "crippling injuries for four players."  Due to similar violence in 1893, the annual Army-Navy football game was suspended from 1894 to 1898.  

Despite the violence, by late 1894, the young men of the Town of Pelham were playing football.  Brief accounts of matches played in Pelham, however, made clear that the sport was no less violent even if only played locally.  One account describing a game between two City Island football teams, the Invincibles and the Pliables, on Thanksgiving afternoon in 1894 noted that although neither team played in "colors," once the game was "well under way" the color of both had become "blood red."  

Clearly in 1894 football was a sport in its infancy in the Town of Pelham.  For example, one account of a game played between a City Island football club named "The Pelhams" and the Mount Vernon High School football team on December 15, 1894 stated that about two hundred spectators watched the match.  It further noted that many of the spectators "had never seen a game before."  

Engraving Depicting a Late 19th Century Football Game.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The game played on Thanksgiving afternoon, 1894, seemed to be more of an exhibition than a true competition.  The Invincibles and the Pliables were described as "two impromptu local football clubs."  The same account noted that "no score was kept" and, thus, the two teams would still be "at odds until one year hence."

The football game played on Saturday, December 15, 1894 was a much more formal affair.  The Mount Vernon High School football team played the City Island football club named "The Pelhams."  According to one account, the game was played "on the grounds in Pelham Park" with about two hundred spectators present.  (It is not clear where "the grounds" were located, but Pelham Bay Park at the time was located within the Town of Pelham.

The Mount Vernon High School football team was the visiting team and, consequently, was allowed to choose its end of the field.  Of course, it chose "the down grade" -- i.e., it began the game facing downhill on the sloping field so The Pelhams would have to battle up the hill.  In the first half of the game (referenced as the "first half inning"), Mount Vernon scored three "goals" for a total of 18 points and maintained possession of the ball for the entire half.

In the "second half inning" of the game, Mount Vernon picked up where it had left off and marched the ball to the opposing goal where The Pelhams stopped the scoring drive.  The Pelhams then drove the ball to the center of the field when time expired with Mount Vernon on top, 18 to 0.  

Only a few weeks later, The Pelhams played a New Rochelle football club on Christmas day.  The brief account of the game is rather confused.  It states in its entirety as follows:

"The Pelhams were disappointed in their game of football with the New Rochelle boys on Christmas day, but, being full of fight, they succeeded in raising a scrub team, which, to the average observer, seem to have given them a pretty close rub.  The correct score shows a victory of four to nothing, which means the Pelhams secured a touchdown but not a goal."

Detail from Box Top of 1894 Parker Bros. Football Board
on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Hopefully further research will reveal even earlier football games played in the Town of Pelham or played by Pelham football teams.  For now, the earliest football game yet identified in Pelham seems to be a game played on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1894.

Immediately below is the text of a number of articles on which today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog is based.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.  


The Invincibles, and the Pliables, two impromptu local football clubs met in earnest combat Thanksgiving afternoon, to determine which was the superior.  Throughout the game, an earnestness equaling that of the Yale or Princeton teams was quite manifest, and so mixed up were the teams at times that it was impossible to tell which was getting worsted.

Neither team had selected its colors until well under way, when it became firmly established that both had adopted blood red as their emblem.  So furious was the onslaught at times that a high mound of human beings graced the field.  And, when it was not considered high enough outsiders added to its volume.

No score was kept, and the teams are still at odds until one year hence."

Source:  THANKSGIVING FOOTBALL, The City Island Drift, Dec. 1, 1894, p. 4, col. 1

"The Pelhams expect to play the Mt. Vernon High School at a game of football today at Mt. Vernon.  The team will probably line up as follows. [Paragraph Ends Here Wiith No Further Information.]

On Christmas, they expect to play a team from New Rochelle High School on these grounds.

Smith Center.
Ross Right Guard
Boule Right Tackle
Bell Right End
Hogan Right Tackle
Anderson Left Guard
Lemascue Q Back
Booth Left End
Rohlf R Half Back
Carey L Half Back
Stratton Full Back"

Source:  [Untitled], The City Island Drift, Dec. 22, 1894, p. 2, col. 1.  


The interested centered in the football game last Saturday [December 15, 1894], was quite manifest by the attendance on the grounds in Pelham Park.  About two hundred were assembled, many of whom had never seen a game before.  The teams lined up as follows:

Mt. Vernon
High School.


Right Guard
Right Tackle
Right End
Left Guard
Left Tackle
Left End
Q Back
R Half Back
L Half Back
Full Back

The visitors had the choice and took advantage of the down grade.  In the first half inning the visitors made three goals, scoring 18 points.  The Pelhams fought bravely, but were beaten well, not having the ball in their possession after it had been put in play.

The second half inning showed that the boys were warming up.

The visitors nearly reached their goal but the Pelhams being favored by having the ball in their possession more were able to regain the lost ground, earning every inch of it.  Time was called and the Pelhams were left in the center of the field with a score of 18 to 0 against them."

Source:  FOOTBALL LAST SATURDAY, The City Island Drift, Dec. 22, 1894, p. 3, col. 2.  

"The Pelhams were disappointed in their game of football with the New Rochelle boys on Christmas day, but, being full of fight, they succeeded in raising a scrub team, which, to the average observer, seem to have given them a pretty close rub.  The correct score shows a victory of four to nothing, which means the Pelhams secured a touchdown but not a goal."

Source:  [Untitled], The City Island Drift, Dec. 29, 1894, p. 3, col. 1.  

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