African-American athletes changed the game of football. Who? How? and When? are the questions answered in this volume devoted completely to the African-American's participation in football. It has the stories and records of club, college and professional players, as well as coaches including the achievements of athletes in the traditional black colleges. The text and reference materials for this book were taken from the three-volume set, A Hard Road to Glory, and combined into this single volume.
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The Beginnings to 1918
Football has existed in some form for thousands of years. Team games involving round solid objects, later made of rubber or leather, have been played since ancient Egypt. The game evolved along with the urbanization of Western Europe. In rural medieval Europe, neighboring villages frequently held games with as many as a hundred players to a side. There were no uniforms, no standard set of rules, no referees, and no playing fields per se. The performers just felt a need to play some form of team competition where local pride was at stake.
Gradually, the playing of the various forms of the game became a nuisance as far as monarchies were concerned, and they passed laws to regulate it. During the Hundred Years' War between England and France in the 1300s, King Charles complained that the peasants were playing football, which did nothing to teach the arts of bearing arms. English King Edward III said football was useless and declared it unlawful. Edward then went even further and mandated that every man should use only bows, arrows, pellets, and bolts in sports. The Scottish Parliament in 1467 condemned both "futeball" and "golfe." Nevertheless, the games continued.
Nearly a century later, in 1555, Oxford University banned it for undergraduates. But schools formed natural teams, whether between classes of students or between different schools. The peasants continued playing their big games on Shrove Tuesday, and upper-class students played every day. In the 1700s some rudimentary rules were devised in England, which made their way to America almost intact. By 1800variants of the sport were a staple of life in New England, with the kicking style predominating.
One day in 1823, so the story goes, William W. Ellis, a student at the Rugby School in England, picked up the ball and ran with it during a game. His opponents gave chase and brought him down. Thus the sport rugby was born. This schoolboy version of football was much tamer than the cruder village games. Four years later at Harvard University in Boston, the freshmen-versus-sophomore-class annual games began with twenty to thirty players to a side on the first Monday of the school year. The day became known as Bloody Monday because of the injuries. Officials called a halt in 1860.
In 1862, G. Smith Miller formed the first American club, the Oneida Football Club. They did not lose a game for three years. This aggregation played the soccerstyle or kicking version, like their English counterparts. Five years later the first patent was granted for an air-filled canvas and rubber ball. But after the Civil War, American college football wound up as rugby style, which allowed the ball to be carried in the arms or hands. Yale University eventually prevailed with its "Boston" or rugbystyle rules, partly because, from 1872 to 1909, it had a record of 324 wins, 17 losses, and 18 ties. Yale, in the interim, persuaded Princeton and Columbia Universities to play its style, and the game took off around the country.
By the 1880s the Thanksgiving Day game was already a tradition Fans and sports writers began clamoring for rule changes to make it better. The most influential rule tinkerer and the man who is called "the father of football" was Walter Camp. Camp, a former Yale student, devised the "line of scrimmage," the position of quarterback, the team size of eleven, the field size of I 10 yards by 53 yards, the concept of "downs," and the pattern of field stripes that gave the word gridiron to the playing area itself.
Black Players at White Colleges
Football was so popular at New England colleges that Walter Camp came up with a brilliant idea in 1889: the All-American Team. It was featured in Collier's magazine and later in Harper's Weekly. These mythical eleven were Camp's and Caspar Whitney's opinions of the best players at every position. The first black All-American was William Henry Lewis of Amherst College.
Lewis was born in Berkeley, Virginia, on November 28, 1868, the son of free mulatto blacks before the Civil War. He finished Virginia Normal and Industrial (now Virginia State University) and enrolled at Amherst at the suggestion of Virginia Normal's president, John Langston. In the fall of 1889, the five- foot-seven- inch, 180-pound Virginian began five years at the center-rush position. (It was standard practice by then for some black colleges to establish relationships with certain white schools to accept their graduates.)
Lewis' black teammate on that Amherst squad was William Tecumseh Sherman Jackson of Alexandria, Virginia. Jackson was born on November 18, 1865, and attended the famed "M" Street School (now Dunbar High) in Washington, D.C. He also went to Virginia Normal before Amherst. As members of that first Amherst team, Lewis and Jackson, who played halfback, helped their school to a 3-5-2 record. The ease with which Lewis and Jackson seemed to make the Amherst squad suggests they had played before, for Ivy League colleges were using rather complex strategy by 1890.
In 1890, Amherst improved to a 5-6-1 showing, and Lewis was elected captain of the team. Said The New York Times of December 21, 1890, "The election of Lewis, '92, a colored man, to the football captaincy for next year does not cause much comment, owing, to the democratic spirit of Amherst. Lewis is undoubtedly the best man for the place, having played a very strong game at centre rush the last two years."
After the Harvard game in 1890, the Harvard Crimson noted, "For almost all his effectiveness rushing, though his tackles gained some ground with the ball, he, Captain Lewis, had to rely on halfback Jackson, whose play all around was as skillful as any on the field." In 1891 Amherst finished with a 6-4-3 record, for a three-year total of 14-15-6. After this season Jackson graduated and became an instructor in Greek and Latin....