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The Archivist's Angle: The Story of NYU Football

From the First Kickoff to Getting Sacked

1893 Violets Football team.

By Julianna Monjeau (CAS '09)

As college campuses around the country celebrate the season of football, homecoming, and tailgating, we should be reminded that NYU was once home to one of the earliest established college football teams in America. The NYU Violets, originally known as the "Violet Eleven," played their first intercollegiate football game in 1873 against Stevens Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, the Violets were bested by Stevens six goals to one. The Violets were the fifth college football team established in the United States and were predated only by Princeton (1869), Rutgers (1869), Columbia (1870), and Yale University (1872). The football program got off to a slow start with only one or two opponents each season until 1889. The first game played on Ohio Field in the University Heights campus in the Bronx took place on October 10, 1896. By this time, growing student interest in football increased the schedule to nine games a season.

1899 Violets Football team.

Henry Mitchell MacCracken, NYU's sixth Chancellor, deserves credit for spearheading the movement for uniform regulations and safety measures in college football. At the turn of the century, football players were not required to wear helmets and often ran unsafe plays such as the "hurdle play," in which a player carrying the football would be hurdled over the defensive line. On November 25, 1905, William R. Moore, a 19-year-old right half back on the Union College team, collapsed on the field after being tackled. He died later that evening in Fordham Hospital from a cerebral brain hemorrhage. Moore was one of 20 football players in both the college and high school level who died from football related injuries in October and November of 1905. Shortly after hearing of Moore's death, Chancellor MacCracken sent a wire to the influential president of Harvard, Charles Eliot, requesting a meeting of university and college presidents to discuss the reformation or elimination of college football. Despite Eliot's refusal to attend, MacCracken called a conference on December 9, 1905 with 19 other colleges against whom NYU competed in football. Rather than eliminate college football, a move was made to establish a ruling body to regulate and promote safety within the sport. The conference reconvened a month later as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States with 65 colleges represented. This association was later renamed the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The Violets playing the Georgia Bulldogs on November 9, 1929.

The 1920s marked the "Golden Age" of NYU football, led by John Francis "Chick" Meehan who served as head coach from 1925 to 1931. Under Meehan's leadership, the Violets gained 49 victories, four ties, and only 15 losses. Meehan's coaching and his lineup of all-star players, including Pro Football Hall of Famer Elmer "Ken" Strong, gained the Violets national notoriety as the team to beat. The Violets lost some steam in the 1930s, but continued to recruit powerful players, including running back Ed Smith who later became immortalized as the model used by sculptor Frank Eliscu to create the Heisman Trophy. The NYU football program ground to a halt in 1942 when the football season was suspended due to the economic pressure and loss of personnel caused by the United States' entry into World War II. When the program started up again in 1944, it was an uphill battle to regain the power and prestige the program once had. Unfortunately, the Violets would never reclaim the success they had during their golden years under coach Meehan. The football program was discontinued indefinitely in 1953 by Chancellor Henry T. Heald, citing the disproportionate amount of money required to sustain a football program, which was already running a $100,000 deficit that year. NYU football had a brief resurgence in 1964 with the founding of the New York University Football Club Team, which was started and run by students and funded by the university. After funds were discontinued in 1967 due to lack of interest, the Club Violets was disbanded.

The final record of the Violets stands at 199 wins, 226 losses, and 30 ties.

A souvenir program from a Fordham vs. NYU game in 1932.

 

The final record of the Violets stands at 199 wins, 226 losses, and 30 ties.

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