How the First Thanksgiving College Football Game Kicked Off a Holiday Tradition

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Seven years after battling Rutgers in what is considered the first college football game, Princeton met Yale on November 30, 1876, in the first college game played on Thanksgiving. Fewer than 1,000 fans—mostly alumni and students—watched Yale win, 2-0, in Hoboken, New Jersey, in a game that resembled rugby.  

Less than five years later, as college football’s popularity surged, the rivalry had become a major event on the social calendar, with thousands of fans filling stands. 

In 1873, as college campuses in the Northeast incubated the sport, students from Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Columbia formed the Intercollegiate Football Association. The league standardized rules and set schedules that included an annual Thanksgiving game in New York between the teams with the best records from the previous season.



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