football players

Princeton Tigers celebrate 150 years of college football

Princeton defensive back Sultaan Shabazz, Class of 2021, rings a bell in celebration of generating a turnover during the Nov. 1 game against Cornell. A new tradition in 2019, the bell is rung every time a Princeton player recovers a fumble or records an interception.

One hundred and fifty years ago, on Nov. 6, 1869, a tradition unlike any other began — college football, first played between Princeton and Rutgers students.

The game was played on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers and more closely resembled what we know today as soccer — and was even played with a round, rubber ball. Rutgers won the game 6-4, while Princeton would go on to win the next 31 rematches.

Ever since I played here, everyone in the program has always talked about our place in having played the first game and taken great pride in it,” said Bob Surace of the Class of 1990, who is Princeton’s Charles W. Caldwell Jr. ’25 Head Coach of Football.

“Now that we’re at the actual anniversary, it’s even more special,” said Surace, a three-time Ivy League Coach of the Year who is one of only two people to have won an Ivy League championship as both a player and a head coach.

Over time, the Princeton Tigers have celebrated many major historic moments of the game while fueling University spirit. Highlights include:

  • Princeton claims 28 national titles between 1869-1950.
  • It is believed that the first time a Princeton team wore orange and black uniforms was 1876, when the football team took the field against Yale.
  • One of the first pieces of protective equipment worn by football players was invented by Princetonian Edgar Poe (named for his uncle, poet Edgar Allen Poe), who invented a nose guard in 1890.
  • In the 1930s, head coach Fritz Crisler introduced winged helmets to Princeton, and, while he took this design to the University of Michigan where they became popular, the Tigers reintroduced the design with the opening of the Princeton Football Stadium in 1997.
  • In 1951, Dick Kazmaier, Class of 1952, became the first Princetonian to win the Heisman Trophy. A statue of Kazmaier is displayed on campus, and his number #42 was retired in 2008.
  • 2019 also marks 100 Years of the Princeton Band, providing energy, spirit and tunes while donning straw hats and orange, plaid jackets.

While the game itself has changed along with the helmets, uniforms, fields and equipment, the feeling of excitement to put on an orange and black uniform remains.

  • black and white painting of a football game

    Painted by William Boyd, Rutgers Class of 1932, this depiction of the first-ever college football game has become the standard as there were no photographs taken at the game itself.

  • archival group photo

    This is one the earliest documented photos of the Princeton football team, taken in 1873.

  • archival printed page of poem: "Sing a song together, boys, Thanksgiving game's been played,/ Forty tousand saw us lay the Yale blue in the shade—/Forty thousand heard us cheer, and saw the touchdowns made,/ While we went marching thro' Eli!/ Nassau! Nassau! now thro' the center go! / Nassau! Nassau! our backs are running low:/ The interfering, now thro' Eli!/Yes, and there were maidens too, who could not understand/How it was that Butterworth was'stopped when e'er he ran,/ How it was that Hinkley, too, ca

    The Thanksgiving Day Princeton-Yale game was arguably the biggest football game of the year nationally in the 1890s. As this poem notes, tens of thousands came to see the Tigers take on the Bulldogs.

  • archival photo of football field

    Opened in 1914 and replaced by the current Princeton Stadium in 1996, Palmer Stadium was the home of Princeton football for over 80 years.

  • football players lift one of their own on their shoulders

    Princeton’s Heisman Trophy winner Dick Kazmaier ’52 is carried off the field by his Tiger teammates after a 13-0 win over Dartmouth in 1951.

  • cover of a football program featuring an illustrated tiger lighting a candle on a cake

    Celebrating the centennial of the first-ever intercollegiate football game, Princeton took on the University of Pennsylvania on Oct. 25, 1969, which featured this lively, colorful program.

  • football being played

    Establishing more than 21 school records during his time as a Tiger, Keith Elias ’94 went on to a professional football career with the New York Giants.

  • Football players celebrating

    Quarterback John Lovett ’19 raises the Ivy League Championship trophy above his head while celebrating with his teammates. The 2018-19 squad went a perfect 10-0.

  • Football team singing school song

    Charles W. Caldwell Jr. ’25 Head Coach of Football Bob Surace ’90 (right) sings “Old Nassau” along with Zach Kelly ’20 after a win over Dartmouth during the 2018-19 campaign.

  • Princeton and Rutgers football reps

    At the Giants vs. Cowboys game on Nov. 4, representatives of Rutgers Football and Princeton Football celebrated the 150th anniversary of college football as well as the 100th anniversary of the National Football League: (From left) Shaun O’Hara, Rutgers Class of 2000; Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Hobbs; Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the NFL Troy Vincent Sr.; Executive Director of the College Football 150th Anniversary Kevin Weiberg; Princeton's Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan '91; and Keith Elias, Princeton ’94.

“I could never put into words what playing football for Princeton means to me,” said running back Ryan Quigley, a senior. “It has been a life-changing experience, and I have met some incredible people along the way.”

Jeremiah Tyler, a junior, shares the sentiment: “It feels like I’m a part of history now. To even be classified as a Princeton student-athlete is unbelievable, I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to play the game I love as a Princeton Tiger."

The Tigers continue traditions that have been going on for decades.

“I love how the players sing to the band after each game,” said Surace of his favorite tradition. “And, of course, the bonfire if we beat Harvard and Yale in the same season … I love how these traditions get passed down from generation to generation of Princeton football alumni.”

Throughout the week, these traditions are being celebrated on and off the field.

On Monday night, Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan, Class of 1991; executive associate director of athletics Anthony Archbald; and former Princeton football player and New York Giants legend Keith Elias, Class of 1994, were recognized along with their Rutgers counterparts as part of the Monday Night Football ceremonies between the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are coached by another Princeton football alumnus, and former teammate of Surace, Jason Garrett, Class of 1989.

On Saturday, Nov. 9, Princeton will celebrate the anniversary of that first game while playing Dartmouth in a one-of-a-kind game at Yankee Stadium. Throughout the game, Princeton will recognize its football history with various on-field moments and videos, while the Princeton Band will play a joint halftime show with the Dartmouth Band.

“We are all so proud to represent the orange and black and this University in Yankee Stadium for the 150th year of college football,” said Quigley.

The game has larger implications for the season, too, as both teams are coming into the game undefeated.

“The team is very excited to play in Yankee Stadium this weekend — but this game will be treated with the same attitude as every other game,” said Tyler. “Each game brings us one step closer to our goal.”

The goal? Another Ivy League Championship — and maybe even back-to-back perfect seasons.

“We’re obviously very competitive and love to win games and championships, that goes without saying,” said Surace. “Mostly, though, I love the fact that every day, I get to see students grow, not only their athletic and academic muscles, but also those that are needed to successfully transition from what we’re doing here into a world that will challenge them and make them draw on what they learned here.”

Get tickets and additional information about the Princeton Football game against Dartmouth at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 9.