College football birthplace now a parking lot with no marker
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Fans who visit the spot where basketball was invented can pose for a photo with a poignant statue in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Those who are interested in the purported site of the first baseball game will find a tidy, thigh-high stone monument and plaque in Hoboken.
The birthplace of American football is marked by . . . a sign threatening to tow your car.
“Lot 30, Zone A” is for faculty and staff at Rutgers University, it reads. “All others will be towed at owner’s expense.”
That’s it. The hallowed ground where Rutgers and Princeton played on Nov. 6, 1869 is a nondescript parking lot with nary an indicator of its historical significance.
As the sport turns 150 and Rutgers kicks off a season-long celebration of being the cradle — with all festivities taking place across the river in Piscataway — this is a sad omission.
“You would think there would be something there,” said retired Rutgers archivist Tom Frusciano, author of the definitive book on the university’ gridiron history. “This year, there should be something placed there. It’s one of the things Rutgers is known for.”
RELATED: How Rutgers is reenacting the 1st college football game
As detailed in Frusciano’s 2008 book “Rutgers University Football Vault: The History of the Scarlet Knights,” the first game was played in what was an open field at the present-day corner of Senior and Sicard streets in New Brunswick.
“The exact location is (what is now) the parking lot behind the College Avenue Gym,” Frusciano said. “The field probably extended to where the gym is now.”
Good luck to any visiting fans who are trying to figure this out on their own.
The old ‘College Field’
Unlike the invention of baseball, which is shrouded in historical haze, football’s origin story is crystal clear. Seeking revenge for a 40-2 drubbing on the diamond, Rutgers student William Leggett challenged Princeton to a different sort of physical contest.
“He probably invited Princeton to come up, and they accepted,” Frusciano said. “Princeton came up on the train. Rutgers’ players met them at the station, which was pretty much where it is now.”
They played billiards, ate lunch and walked down College Avenue (then almost certainly a dirt road) to the open field.
“I haven’t come across any documentation as to why they chose that spot,” Frusciano said.
After the rules of the game were agreed upon — it would look more like soccer or rugby to modern-day sensibilities — Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 before a throng of spectators. A rematch took place the following week at Princeton, which won 8-0. That set the stage for a much-anticipated rubber match.
“They never held the third game,” Frusciano said. “Professors were too upset about how much attention is was taking up.”
Too late. The sport took off. The first high school football game was recorded in 1875. The professional version sprang up in 1892.
The open field became known as College Field, were Rutgers played its football games until 1890. In 1891 the enterprise moved across College Avenue, a block closer to the Raritan River at the newly christened Neilson Field. That remained the team’s home until 1938, at which point college football was well on its way to becoming a national obsession.
So what happened to the birthplace?
“After the football team went across the street and started playing at Neilson Field, they used College Field for intramurals,” Frusciano said.
That remained the case when the College Avenue Gym went up in 1932, Frusciano said. But a few years later — he’s not exactly sure when — the field was paved over and turned into a parking lot.
A large wooden plaque commemorating the first game was hung inside just the gym’s front entrance, which may or may not lie on the footprint of the original field.
The plaque is still there, and its state is sorry.
A couple of weeks back I masqueraded as a tourist and walked into the College Avenue Gym, inquiring where I could find the plaque. The student-attendants working both the front and back doors were friendly enough, but they didn’t know.
Even if you know where it is, the plaque is hard to spot. It’s on a side wall, faded and dark, badly in need of refurbishment and a more prominent position. You’d sooner notice trophies for the “Phi Sigma Delta Frosh Basketball Tournament” and Rutgers Alpine Skiing before this valuable slice of Americana.
It would be cool if Rutgers and Princeton played a game this fall. Or if Rutgers hosted someone, anyone, the week of Nov. 6. Those commemorative opportunities were missed, at least in part because of forces outside the university’s control.
The absence of a marker at the old College Field is squarely on the state university. The College Avenue Gym’s back entryway is being renovated this month. A new concrete walkway is drying as you read this, right where the old field would have ended. Picture a simple monument there, like Hoboken’s baseball tribute. It could become a bucket-list spot where football-mad fans from around the country pose for photos.
Instead, the actual birthplace of college football is paved over and anonymous.
“I don’t think Michigan would have done that,” Frusciano said.
The good news: It’s a relatively easy fix. The athletic department’s R Fund has done a fine job marshaling alumni support. There have to be donors out there who care about this. Because the place where Rutgers gave football to the world should be marked by more than a tow-away sign.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: College football birthplace is now a Rutgers parking lot with no maker
Source : Link