Football, not to be confused with Soccer, which is called football in the rest of the world outside of North America, is played in both Canada and the United States. You are probably familiar with the differences between the two versions of football - the three downs vs. four downs, 110 yard field vs 100 yard field, the single point (rouge) etc. For the most part, the two versions of Football don't intersect. Canadian teams play in Canada using Canadian rules, and American teams play in the Unites States using American rules. But every now and then over the years, the two solitudes do meet. This article is a (probably incomplete!) attempt to chronicle some of those meetings.
The myth, or at least the Canadian version goes that it was Canada that introduced the United States to football at the university level. The story goes that a team of McGill football players went down to Harvard in 1874 to play a game on May 14 against the Ivy League school. Apon arrival, the two universities found out they were not using the same rules, and the story goes on to say that they played one game under Canadian rules and one half under American rules. It is all kind of vague as to what the differences in rules actually were. One account I have read about the game is that it was not so uch a difference in rules, but a difference in games. To Harvard, the word Football mean the game with the black and white round ball that you can't pick up with your hands. To McGill, the word Football meant Rugby, the game with the ovoid ball that you could pick up with your hands and run with it until someone gave you a good smashing. The story goes on to say that Harvard so liked the Canadian game of Football (Rugby), that they adopted it and it spread to the other Ivy League schools and eventually to universities across the United States. Over time, rugby in North America morphed into the modern game of Football. That morphing process happened just a bit differently in the United States and Canada and resulted in the tow similar but distinctly differnt flavours of Football.
The Canadian account doesn't seem to jive with what those at Harvard remember. Harvard claims to be the starting point for football in the United States, citing the 1874 game against McGill. Ivy League rivals Princeton and Rutgers claim they played the first game of football in 1869. They also cite the formation of the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1873 which included Yale, Princeton, Rutgers and Columbia but not Harvard who declined to join. Harvard contends that what the other Ivy League schools were playing was really soccer.
Harvard Says It Was First In Football
Leaving behind that first mythical game(s) between Canadian and American teams, the interaction between the two versions of football has taken three forms:
The following is a picture of a plaque in the Profession Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio that lists some (but not all) of these games.
The plaque, however, is not complete. The earlies (?) case of two Canadian teams playing a game using Canadian rules in the United States happened on December 11, 1909 when the Hamilton Tigers and the Ottawa Rough Riders played a game in New York.
American Experts are Dividied in Their Views of Canadian Game - December 13, 1909 - Ottawa Citizen
Another account of the game is found in the New York Herald on December 12, 1909.
Hamilton vs. Ottawa - New York Herald - December 12, 1909
The game would have resembled rugby more than modern football as teams prior to 1921 played 14 men on a side and the forward pass didn't become part of the game until 1929. You might also be wondering about the name of the Hamilton team. Hamilton didn't adop the name Tiger-Cats until 1950 when the Tigers merged with another Hamilton team, the Wildcats.
Of course the 1909 game was between two Canadian teams, but what about the first game between an American team and a Canadian t eam? The Canton plaque lists the 1950 game between the New York Giants and the Ottawa Rough Riders, but there were games before then t hat didn't make the list.
Ihe first game between an American professional team and a Canadian team seems to have happened nine years earlier in 1941 (thanks to Chris Sinclair for sending me this). On August 26, 1941, the Columbus Bulls of the AFL lost to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers by a score of 19 to 12 in Winnipeg. The teams played two other games that year, with Columbus winning the tother two. On September 1, 1941, the Bulls beat the Blue Bombers 6-0 and on September 10, 1941 Columbus crushed Winnipeg 31-1. Both games were in Winnpeg. Here is an account of that first game.
The account of the game doesn't address the rules problem, but the line-up included have 12 players, so presumably Canadian rules were used.
Winnipeg played two more exhibiton games against American teams in 1941. The Blue Bombers played a home and home series with the Kenosha Cardinals. On October 4, 1941, Kenosha beat Winnipeg in a close 18-16 game at Winnipeg. On November 2, 1941, Kenosha won the game in Kenosha 35-6. You can read an account of the second game via the following link.http://manitobia.ca/cocoon/launch/en/newspapers/WPT/1941/11/03/articles/157.pdf/iarchives
The Kenosha Cardinals were an independent football team, one of many in the United States prior to World War II. Some of these independent teams were on a par with the NFL teams and played them in exhibition games. Kenosha lost to the Green Bay Packers in a game a week after the Bomber game by a 65-2 score. If you are interested, here is an excellent article on that era and the independent teams.
Another game missing from the Canton list is from August 19, 1948 when the Montreal Alouettes played the Brooklyn Dodgers. No, they didn't play a baseball team. Back then, there was a football team in the AAFC (All Amercian Football Converence) named he Dogers. The AAFC teams eventually were incoroporated into the NFL with the Dodgers merging with the New York Giants in 1950. There is a baseball conneciton to the game, however, as the Dodgers kicker was Pepper Martin, now in the baseball HOF. For more information on this game, check out the following links. The preview features a John Collins cartoon.
Montreal vs Brooklyn Preview - Montreal Gazette - August 19, 1948
The actual report on the game was downplayed in the paper as it was overshadowed by the funeral of Babe Ruth.
Alouettes are Beat by Brooklyn Pro Dodgers 27-1
Still another game missing from the list on the plaque in Canton is a game between Ottawa and Hamilton played in Philadelphia in 1958 which you can read about via the following link:
Ottawa Vs Hamilton in Philadelphia 1958
For an account of the Pittsburgh - Toronto game in 1960.
Steelers Defeat Argos: Rote and Carter Hurt
One of the few victories for the CFL clubs agains NFL opposition was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats beating Buffalo 38-21. Check out an account of the game below.
Hamilton 38 Buffalo 21
Here is the program cover from the Montreal Alouettes - Chicago Bears game in 1961. It was drawn by John Collins (1917-2007) who was the editorial cartoonist for the Montreal Gazette from 1937 to 1973.
For an account of that 1961 game click on the following link:
Montreal vs. Chicogo 1961