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The British effort to kill American football

Terence P. Jeffrey on

"That the conduct of England with regard to America has been altogether unjustifiable."

This was the resolution the Debating Society at Marlborough College -- the British prep school later attended by the current Duchess of Cambridge -- took up on Oct. 23, 1865. Edward H. Moeran argued against the proposition and won -- with 18 judges voting for him and only 8 voting against.

Fortunately, he was not as persuasive when he later tried to terminate American football.

Moeran, born in Ireland, captained the rugby and cricket teams at Marlborough and then attended Trinity College Dublin. In 1870, he moved to the United States.

He was admitted to the bar and practiced law in New York.

In 1882, he worked with a group of British expatriates to launch a crusade against the type of football then played at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

 

Their proximate inspiration was the 1881 Princeton-Yale game.

That game -- perhaps the most tedious in the history of college football -- was a product of Princeton's three-year strategy to maintain what its partisans considered a plausible claim to the college football championship.

The earliest intercollegiate American football games including the two Princeton-Rutgers games of 1869 were more like soccer than the game Americans know today.

Then, in 1876, players from Yale, Columbia and Princeton agreed to make their game more like rugby -- which Harvard had already started playing. "The British Rugby Union code of rules was adopted with a few exceptions," wrote Alexander Weyand in "The Saga of American Football."

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