IN THE FIELD of spectator sports, which we have seen becoming more and more important toward the close of the century, the world of fashion also showed a lively interest. If it paid little attention to baseball, it rubbed shoulders with the roughest elements of the sporting world at horse-races and prize-fights. But above all else it turned out en masse for intercollegiate football. The games of the Big Three, which still provided the grand climax of the football season, were fully as much social as sporting events in the 1890's. In New York a parade of coaches would make its stately way to the playing-field. No small part of the crowd, after lunching on chicken sandwiches and champagne, watched the game from atop tally-hos.
"The air was tinged with the blue and the orange and the black as the great throngs poured through the city over the bridges, invaded Brooklyn and swept like a rising tide into Eastern Park," the New York Tribune reported after one YalePrinceton game. "They came by the railroads, horsecars, drags and coaches and afoot. Coaches, drags and tally-hos decorated with the blue or the orange and black wound through the thoroughfares and quiet side streets in a glittering procession, freighted with jubilant college boys and pretty girls, who woke the echoes of the church bells with the cheers and tooting of horns. In an almost endless procession they inundated the big enclosure, and when it was 2 p.m. the sight was that of a coliseum of the nineteenth century, reflecting the changes and tints of a panoramic spectacle."
The great crowds attracted by football-totaling thirty and forty thousand -- were naturally not entirely made up of those in the higher social brackets. The game had a wider appeal, as the tremendous publicity given it clearly proves. At the time of the Yale-Princeton game in 1895, the New York Journal published a full two and a half pages of news and sketches-running accounts of the game, a full page of technical descriptive comment by James J. Corbett, signed stories by the captains of the teams, and a feature article entitled "The Journal's Woman Reporter Trains with the Little Boys in Blue." 36 But despite this furor of publicity, football was a sport for the classes rather than the masses. It largely reflected the interests of the college world.
It was dominated by the eastern universities. In one season Yale had a championship team -- with such great players as Heffelfinger and Hinkey -- which won thirteen games and piled up a season's score of 488 while its own goal-line was uncrossed. But colleges throughout the country were now taking it up and playing increasingly better football. By the late 1890's the ArmyNavy game had become an established annual feature; among southern colleges, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Washington and Lee, had well-known teams; in the Middle West there was already fierce competition among such colleges as Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and the new University of Chicago; Leland Stanford stood out among Pacific Coast teams. Even though Walter Camp might not have to look much beyond the Big Three for his famous All-American teams, there were signs that the East's supremacy would soon be challenged. Intercollegiate football had become a nation-wide sport.
Bitter criticism had marked its progress. The attacks made upon football overemphasis in the 1890's make comparable comments in the 1920's and 1930's appear mild and innocuous. The preference accorded football-players in their college work, undue absorption in the game through long training-seasons, the prevalent spirit of winning at any cost, and the open hiring of star players awoke a resentment which echoed throughout the country. The Nation was foremost in these early onslaughts: it saw all the worst elements of American character reflected in the game. "The spirit of the American youth, as of the American man, is to win, to 'get there,' by fair means or foul," it declared caustically, "and the lack of moral scruple which pervades the business world meets with temptations equally irresistible in the miniature contests of the football field." Although far more sympathetic, the special sports writer of Harper's Weekly was fully as outspoken against the rising tide of professionalism. It was prevalent among the eastern colleges, but even worse in other parts of the country. No one could have any conception, Caspar Whitney wrote in 1895, "of the rottenness of the whole structure through the middle and far West. Men are bought and sold like cattle to play this autumn on 'strictly amateur' elevens."
The brutality of the game awoke even fiercer attacks. It was the day of flying wedges, tackle-back tandems, and other mass plays. And the injuries these tactics inevitably caused were supplemented by casualties arising from the frequent slugging and free-for-all fights which the referees were powerless to control. A fair-minded English observer was horrified at the roughness of the games. And his impressions of it were amply confirmed in a report he quoted from The Nation on the Harvard-Yale game of 1894. It declared that one-third of the original combatants had had to be carried off the field. "Brewer was so badly injured that he had to be taken off crying with mortification. Wright, captain of the Yale men, jumped on him with both knees, breaking his collar bone. Beard was next turned over to the doctors. Hallowell had his nose broken. Murphy was soon badly injured and taken off the field in a stretcher unconscious, with concussion of the brain. Butterworth, who is said merely to have lost an eye, soon followed. . . ."