Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.

–Bill Shankly

Football in the United States is more properly called gridiron football, for the vertical yard lines that mark the field. Closely related to two ancient English sports—rugby and soccer—gridiron football originated at universities in North America, primarily the United States, in the late 19th century. On November 6, 1869, players from Princeton and Rutgers held the first intercollegiate football contest in New Brunswick, New Jersey, playing a soccer-style game with rules adapted from the London Football Association.

While a number of other elite Northeastern colleges took up the sport in the 1870s, Harvard University maintained its distance by sticking to a rugby-soccer hybrid called the “Boston Game.” In May 1874, after a match against McGill University of Montreal, the Harvard players decided they preferred McGill’s rugby-style rules to their own. In 1875, Harvard and Yale played their first intercollegiate match, and Yale players and spectators embraced the rugby style as well.