NU Football
Unofficial Origin
Page Created
4/14/03;
Updated
2/2/14

 









by Larry LaTourette


When Chicago football fans think of the great names from the city's gridiron past, Augustus H. Hornsby doesn't exactly flash to the front of the list.  In fact, except for a few small mentions in a couple of football history books written by Alexander Weyand in the 1950s, A.H. Hornsby is now totally forgotten.

A shame, that, since A.H. Hornsby introduced organized football to Chicago in 1875, and is directly responsible for bringing organized football to Northwestern University.

I write "organized football" to distinguish what Hornsby accomplished from what passed for American football in Chicago before 1875.  Yes, football of a sort was being played in the Windy City even then.  As early as the mid 1860s, teams throughout the city were playing the crude soccer-rugby combination that would eventually evolve into American football.  However, the teams were not specifically football teams, but general athletic clubs, playing football as part of a set of games during picnics or field day events. 

Typical of such events is a notice that appeared in the Chicago Tribune on July 18, 1869.  In it, the Trib announced that the Irish Rides (Sheridan Guards) would hold a picnic at Haas Park1 in August.  During the picnic there was to be "a grand game of football between the twelve of the Rides and the same number of Zonaves, the victors to retain the ball."

Hornsby wanted to form a team specifically made for football, and he wanted to play by the rules as they were being developed by schools in the East.  According to Weyand, Hornsby was born in India, and he learned soccer and rugby by playing in England.2  Hornsby was keenly aware, however, of the new game that had been developed by Yale and other schools.  Vital to the new game were matches that Yale played against Columbia in 1872 and 1874.

On October 23, 1875, Hornsby wrote the following plea to the Chicago Tribune3:



On a side note, the mention of the "Harvard College boys" in the text above refers to the now-legendary game that Harvard played against an all-star team in Canada, which was another critical game in the development of the rules of American football.

Hornsby got his wish: readers must have responded, because in a matter of days he had formed the Chicago Football Club and was preparing for what would be the very first organized game of football in Chicago history.  That game, against the Chicago Barge Club, was played in November 1875 and, again according to the Tribune, was a "rather mixed-up affair," since both clubs were still somewhat unfamiliar with the (still evolving) rules.

The Chicago Football Club, again taking its cue from the Eastern colleges, scheduled a Thanksgiving Day football game and beat its second opponent (the name of which has been lost to history) of the season.  Their third game was held on Christmas Day, but was not played against an outside team-- the Club simply played an extended intrasquad practice.  For the third game with an outside team, and its first game of 1876, the CFC chose to play Northwestern on the Washington's Birthday holiday.

To prep for the game, the CFC informed NU of the new rules of football, and NU chose 20 students for its first organized football team.  The student group was led by a team president, Frank F. Casseday.  Casseday, a junior studying Latin and the sciences, came from Evanston and played on the school's baseball team.



Casseday, posing during the 1875-76 school year
with the "NWU" baseball team [NU Photo]

We know of four other members of the original Northwestern football team: senior Walter Lee Brown, who  studied chemistry at NU; Edward Kinman, a classics sophomore from Jacksonville, IL, who played alongside Casseday on the baseball team; and students named E. Monroe and Asher.4

The Tribune ran the following article leading up to the game5:



The article is particularly notable because it lists, for the first time anywhere, the earliest football players representing the city of Chicago.

And so football came to Northwestern on Tuesday, February 22, 1876.   NU hosted the game in Evanston, but the name and location of the field are not known.  The game was a relatively big event, and reporters from several Chicago papers as well as NU's student paper were on hand to cover the game.  The Tribune's account of the game, a three-goal to nothing loss for Northwestern, was as follows:

"Yesterday the Chicago Football Club visited Evanston to play a game against the Northwestern University students.  The game was something new to the University men, and no preparation had been made for the visitors in the way of laying out the playing field.  Added to this, the ground was frozen so hard that neither goal-posts or line-stakes could be set up.  It was finally agreed to let the University play twenty men against the Chicago team of fifteen, and get along the best way possible under the circumstances.

"At 3:15 the game was called, the Chicago Captain kicking off.  The college men were evidently at sea in regard to the game, for they let Hornsby follow the ball up, and his next kick took it across the line, enabling him to get a touchdown.  The try at goal was successful-first to the Chicago.  Time, 1 minute 30 seconds.  The second goal was a longer tussle, but finally Curtis got the ball, and after a good run touched it down.  Hornsby again scored a goal from the place kick.  By this time the home players were picking up some of the points of the game, and their greater number made it difficult for the Chicago men to get through such a crowded field.

"L.H. Sullivan secured another touchdown, a good long run, but Hornsby failed to get the ball between the goal-posts.  Before another goal was scored half time was called and ends changed.  After this the original twenty players of the University team increased so alarmingly in number that getting through with the ball was an impossibility, and loose scrimmages took place over the entire field, but mainly in the University half.

"C.J. Williams at last scored a goal from a free kick opposite goal.  A second time the same player essayed a free kick, but from a more difficult position, and he failed, owing to the wind carrying the ball off. 

"The game was prolonged a quarter of an hour over the hour agreed upon, and when called the score stood 3 goals for Chicago, to nothing for the University.  The latter, though beaten, have some good material to make a team from if they will practice the game under the rules. . . . "6

The Chicago Times7 reported that the NU players were given the choice of goals to defend and chose to kick with the wind.

The school newspaper The Tripod8 later reported that the NU team "intend to give those representatives of 'Old Rugby' [the Chicago Football Club] a hard time to beat them in a scrimmage when they come here again."

It is unlikely that the CFC and NU met for a rematch.  The CFC continued to play during 1876, but nothing is recorded of them afterward.  Another Chicago Football Club appeared in the early 1880s, but this was a soccer club that was unrelated to Hornsby's group.  As for Northwestern, the players did not face another team from outside the university that year.  In 1878 they made several attempts to play an intercollegiate game, but did not do so.  NU did play a couple of games against high schools in 1879 and 1880, all unofficial.  Finally, in 1882 the school played its first intercollegiate game against Lake Forest, and this is where the official history of the team begins.



NU football team, 1889, the earliest known image of the team.  Photo from NU Archives.

By the early 1900s, when the school began to keep historical records of the team, the 1876 game had already slipped from memory.  Walter Paulson does mention the game in his book,
The Tale of the Wildcats.  Paulson, NU's sports publicity director, wrote the book in conjunction with the school's centennial celebration in 1951.  In that book, Paulison writes:

"The first evidence of any football activity at Northwestern appeared in an article in The Tripod of Feb. 24, 1876, which said: 'The trial game of football on Tuesday last enthused the boys so much that they formed a Football Association and intend to give the representatives of "Old Rugby" a hard time in a scrimmage when they come here again.'  Just who the representatives of 'Old Rugby' were is not known. . . ."9

While Paulson found and noted the Tripod account, he was clearly unaware of the Chicago Times or Tribune accounts of the game, which told exactly who played for the Chicago Football Club and showed decisively that the game was an organized event with a Northwestern team selected to represent the university against a functioning football club.

The account in Paulson's book is also given on the NU Archive's football history webpage.  Again, looking only at the Tripod article, it is not clear if  'Old Rugby' was an organized team, nor if the game played at NU was truly "football" at all.  However, given the other sources, it is clear that NU did, indeed, play a verifiable American football game, against a team from Chicago in February 1876. 

That the opponent was not another college should not matter: NU officially records its games with other amateur teams during the 1880s and '90s 10.  If  the 1876 game is eventually recognized by the University, this would push back the official origin of NU football over six years, three years before Michigan's heralded debut on the field, and would give NU the claim as the oldest football team in the Big Ten, if not the midwest.


In fact, one source does consider Northwestern the oldest team in the midwest.  ESPN released its College Football Encyclopedia in 2005.  ESPN does recognize the 1876 game with the Chicago Football Club, and it lists (on page 1138) Northwestern as the sixth college (among FBS or FCS schools) to take up football.  Only Princeton, Rutgers, Columbia, Yale, and Harvard have older histories.



Drawing of how football was played around the time of the Northwestern-
Chicago Football Club game in 1876.


1. Note that this does not refer to the current Haas Park in Logan Square, but to a much older Haas Park.
2. Weyand, Saga of American Football, 1955.
3. Text image taken from the October 24, 1875 Chicago Tribune.
4. Student information from Northwestern University Catalog, 1876-1877 school year.
5. Text image taken from the February 20, 1876 Chicago Tribune.
6. Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1876.
7. Chicago Times, February 23, 1876.
8. Northwestern Tripod, February 24, 1876.
9. Paulison, Tale of the Wildcats, 1951.
10. Cf. NU official records for NU vs. Chicago Wanderers, 1889; NU vs. Denver Athletic Club, 1893; NU vs. Chicago Athletic Club, 1896 and 1898.