An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, pt 2: Football

image via wikimedia commons
1900 postcard. Image via wikimedia commons.

We’re another week closer to Thanksgiving!  Time for more historical Turkey-Talk.

Last week we looked at the surprisingly old-fashioned Thanksgiving tradition of merchandisers peddling anything and everything to the American consumer via sales and giveaways.  Click here to check out that post.

Today we’re looking at another “old-fashioned” Thanksgiving tradition: football!  Yep, even way back in the 19th century, school football teams were competing on the gridiron on Thanksgiving Day (no pros back then).  The first intercollegiate football game on Thanksgiving was between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869.  It took place in Philadelphia, and Rutgers won.

The game was a little different back then, too.  According to “There were 25 players to a side and the ball could be kicked or head-butted – but not carried.”  

Sounds a bit crowded on the field, doesn’t it?  We’re talking about two teams of 25 each…isn’t that about the size of a marching band?  But wouldn’t you have loved to see a football player head-butting the ball down the field?

Americans loved their football teams back then, too.  You can tell by the in-depth newspaper coverage, such as this 1907 Los Angeles Herald article, featuring the West Point team:

Los Angeles Herald, 1 Dec 1907.  from Chronicling America, Library of Congress
Los Angeles Herald, 1 Dec 1907. from Chronicling America, Library of Congress


And then there’s this one, from the University Missourian, Nov 20, 1916:

Image via Chronicling America.
Image via Chronicling America.

And, true to the American entrepreneurial spirit, even Thanksgiving football can be used to sell something, as evidenced in these ads (from the same page of the University Missourian):

image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress
image via Chronicling America, Library of Congress

Gotta love it.

Some of you might be asking: “Where are the women?  Cooking and cleaning at home, right?”

Not necessarily.  I leave you with this 1922 magazine cover, from The Flapper (great subtitle: “Not for Old Fogies”): 

Image via wikimedia commons.

That’s actress Billy Dove, dressed in a football uniform.  I wish I could have found a copy of the inside article; I wanted to read what the cover was all about!

Will you be playing or watching any football this Thanksgiving?  Do you think the men should rule the gridiron and the women should rule the kitchen?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,



Want more info on the history of Thanksgiving and football?

Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies: Turkey Day & Football

Thanksgiving Touchdown! Pilgrim Hall Museum

American Football on Thanksgiving. Wikipedia


Chronicling America Links:

Heroes of the Gridiron

Watch These Missouri Tigers (includes the ads)





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8 thoughts on “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving, pt 2: Football”

  1. PatriciaPatricia

    Head-butting and kicking only? Sounds suspiciously like soccer to me.

    Fortunately for me, there will be no football on Thanksgiving day. My hubby has to work that day, so I’ll be home by my lonesome, enjoying some soup no doubt. But, we’ll be having a feast on Friday and no doubt some football will be watched.

    Thanks for another fun and informative post, Kathy. It’s always cool to read your stuff.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  2. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    Kathy – Wow! I didn’t even know that football was played before the beginning of the 20th Century. Shows you how much I’m learning from your blog. ‘Course, they didn’t have NFL Gameday… 😉

  3. Emma BurcartEmma Burcart

    I had no idea football was that old! I learn something new and interesting every time I read your blog. You are turning me into a history lover. 🙂 Sadly for me I don’t live close enough to family (and I don’t have enough time off) to be with them at Thanksgiving. So for me it will just be a day of rest at home, and maybe a trip to the buffet with some friends. But I will more than make up for it at Christmas when I go home!

  4. PhilPhil

    So cool. It seems as if Thanksgiving and football have always been hand in hand.

    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!


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