Let the Games Begin: The First Collegiate Football Teams and their Colors

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Rutgers University and Princeton University were the first schools to host a college football game in 1869. While this game marked the beginning of a new era for collegiate sports, the match itself was strange. Since there was no formal collegiate football guidelines in place, the teams played based on London Football Association rules. These European guidelines prohibited picking up and throwing the ball, which meant the game looked almost akin to soccer and rugby more than modern football. 

Despite the strange rules, Rutgers University and Princeton University had officially become the birthplace of collegiate football. However, these universities carry much more in common than their athletic history; in fact, they also rivaled each other in claiming the same uniform colors. 

With this new rivalry, came a new era of choosing colors in athletic clothing.

The Prince of Orange

While it’s known by most fans that orange and black adorns Princeton’s academic and athletic gowns, most do not know the history or thought behind these bright colors. In 1867, Princeton debuted their iconic orange uniforms during a baseball game with Yale University. The idea to use orange and black as school colors came from George Ward, a Princeton freshman. Since Princeton’s first building was named after William II of the House of Nassau, also known as the Prince of Orange, Ward suggested that the school’s colors pay homage to his Dutch legacy. Princeton’s baseball team was the first to wear orange ribbons with black letters as an official athletic uniform. In 1896, the Board of Trustees officially registered orange and black as Princeton University’s athletic and academic colors. 

The Scarlet Knights

Similar to Princeton’s Dutch roots, Rutgers University also sought to represent the Prince of Orange. Since Rutgers University was named after Revolutionary War hero, Colonel Henry Rutgers, students felt orange was the only color to properly represent Rutgers’ Dutch heritage. However, Princeton University had already debuted their school colors as orange and black in 1867. Orange flags were also inaccessible and hard to obtain in the New Brunswick area.  

Students were motivated to find new school colors. Rutgers’ school publication, The Targum, was the first to suggest the school wear scarlet because of its better availability and strong, striking color. Therefore, Rutgers’ players proudly debuted scarlet colored handkerchiefs against Princeton’s orange ribbons during the first collegiate football game ever played. In 1900, the Board of Trustees officially adopted scarlet and white as Rutgers University’s official school colors. Since scarlet can still be found in the Prince of Orange’s family coat of arms, students were satisfied. Today, they are known as the Scarlet Knights and wear their striking jerseys with pride. 

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