Site Navigation

Hallowed Grounds

Friday, September 21, 2007

Courtesy: Tony Guadagnoli, Special to ESPN SportsTravel

The essence of college football is found in three stadiums that stand as time pieces in a roughly 300-mile labyrinth of Interstate 95 between Philadelphia and Boston.

They no longer draw the nation's largest crowds and rarely do their participants go on to play on NFL Sundays, but Penn's Franklin Field, Harvard Stadium and the Yale Bowl stand as monuments to the past.

Yellowed photographs hint at their history, but they tell only part of the story. What those photos don't reveal is how visionaries turned a bloody mess of a game into the nation's most popular sport.

Almost every aspect of the modern game had its roots in those stadiums -- from the set of downs and the game being broadcast on radio and TV to sideline mascots, halftime entertainment and screaming from the upper deck. No wonder, then, that they are the top three schools in wins in Division I-AA. Yale has 839 all-time wins, Harvard and Penn each have 782.

Franklin Field, Harvard Stadium and the Yale Bowl have undergone renovations -- the latter two in just the past couple of years -- but the essentials remain unchanged, mostly through carefully planned projects.

Fortunately, all have kept their excellent sightlines for fans. And for the first time, night vision will debut at Harvard Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 against Brown. Harvard's recent renovation includes a domed bubble for year-round use.

In its beginnings, football was more like going into a mosh pit -- a mass of shoving and pushing, sometimes with 40 players on the field at the same time.

Walter Camp, an 1880 Yale graduate who lettered in every sport the school offered, helped revolutionize football and move it away from this rugby scrum. Among his many contributions were the line of scrimmage; downs and yards-to-go; 11 players per side; the quarterback position; and the standard formation of seven linemen and four players in the backfield.

He is credited with starting All-America teams and wrote more than 30 books on football and amateur athletics. He also coached Yale to a 67-2 record from 1888 through 1892.

American football in the early 1900s was a popular but brutal game with several severe injuries, broken bones and deaths. In 1904, 21 players died and more than 200 suffered serious injuries, followed the next year with 18 players killed and 149 seriously injured, according to reports of the day. Football was so rugged that even the original Rough Rider, President Teddy Roosevelt, a Harvard graduate himself, considered banning it nationwide.

In late 1905, Harvard coach Bill Reid -- chosen by football antagonist and Harvard president Charles Eliot -- was part of group of representatives that later became the NCAA.

Reid, Roosevelt and others worked with the newly formed committee to establish standardized rules for football, with an eye toward eliminating roughhousing. Reid informed his constituents that unless these new rules were adopted Harvard would not be playing football in the future. The rules were adopted, making the game more cohesive and putting to rest its rudimentary start.

Sometimes, as in the case of Harvard Stadium, the game was changed literally by design.

To read Tony Guadagnoli's story in its entirety and view the photo gallery as found on, please click here.