When McGill first challenged Harvard University to a game of football in the 1870s, the term had varied meanings. McGill played a game based on British rugby rules with some differences in scoring, which were distinctly Canadian. Harvard’s version of football was known as "the Boston game" and was closely related to what we today call soccer. To ensure fairness, McGill and Harvard played two games, the first by Boston rules and the second by Canadian rules.

First international football match between Harvard and McGill by G. Gaspard; from the Canadian Illustrated News, 1874. MUA PR014529
The first game, on 14 May 1874, ended quickly because McGill was so woefully inept at Harvard’s game. The second, played the next day, was more exciting for McGill fans. The Harvard team learned the new rules quickly and proved worthy competitors: the game, which ended in a draw, thrilled spectators.

Harvard came to McGill in October 1874—the first time an American collegiate team had competed on foreign soil—and beat McGill handily in a match, again played by Canadian rules, which was even more wildly popular than the first had been. The seeds of a new game had been sown in the United States. Later that fall, Tufts University also adopted "the McGill rules", and in 1875, Harvard played Yale under the new rules, and sold that university on the new form of rugby.

The new football quickly became the standard throughout the United States.




Notman composite McGill-Harvard football game, 1874. McGill University Archives, PL007034


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