The First Game, New Brunswick
On November 6, 1869, The College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton, sends 25 male students to face Rutgers in the first intercollegiate football game. The Rutgers student periodical, The Targum, reports that Princeton’s first goal was scored “by a gentleman whose name we don’t know.” Rutgers wins 6-4, but not before an exasperated --and prescient? -- professor waves his umbrella at the players and shrieks, “You will come to no Christian end!”
The First All-Americans, Princeton
The year is 1889 and 10-0 Princeton places four players, including quarterback Edgar Allen Poe (the writer’s cousin) on the inaugural college football All-America team. Other Tigers named are fullback Knowlton “Snake” Ames, who sets an unofficial record with 62 touchdowns, tackle Hector Cowan, and halfback Roscoe Channing, who will later serve with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.
Robeson Sits, New Brunswick
On October 14, 1916, Rutgers hosts Washington & Lee, which refuses to play unless the home team sits the “Negro” on its roster. Rutgers complies this time, but never again. The player, Paul Robeson, will go on to become the first African-American to make Walter Camp’s All-American team, doing so in both 1917 and 1918. He will then go on to be a world-renowned actor and singer.
First NFL Team, Orange
On September 29, 1929, the Orange Tornadoes, the original N.J.-based NFL franchise, make their debut versus the New York Giants. The game ends in a 0-0 tie. The Tornadoes will move to Newark for the 1930 season and then out of the league altogether.
Winged Helmet Makes Its Debut, Princeton
In 1935, Tiger coach Fritz Crisler orders leather helmets bearing a distinctive painted wing design for his team. Princeton finishes 10-0 and quarterback Pepper Constable finishes fourth in the first Heisman Trophy balloting. Three years later, Crisler takes the job at Michigan, where he will introduce that helmet design to much greater renown.
Coaching Colossus Collision, Englewood
In its final game of the 1943 season, undefeated St. Cecilia High School, led by a brusque 30-year-old coach named Vince Lombardi, meets Brooklyn Prep, whose quarterback is a wiry youth named Joseph Paterno (the game program misidentifies him as “Taterno”). St. Cecilia wins and is proclaimed the top high school team in the nation.
Giannantonio’s Record Day, Netcong
In November of 1950, Netcong High School’s John Giannantonio, wearing a leather helmet with no facemask, gallops for a national high school-record 754 yards against Mountain Lakes. The 137-pound sophomore scores nine touchdowns in the 61-0 win.
Kazmaier’s Mastery, Princeton
On November 24, 1951, quarterback Dick Kazmaier leads the Tigers to a 13-0 defeat of Dartmouth, the finishing touch on a second consecutive 9-0 season. Kazmaeir later wins the Heisman Trophy, the first and only Garden State-based player to do so, but passes up a career in the National Football League in order to attend Harvard Business School.
The Fumble, East Rutherford
On November 19, 1978, comes the most ignominious finish in NFL history. The Giants, who had moved from Yankee Stadium to the Meadowlands two years earlier, have a 17-12 lead and the football with 30 seconds remaining, and their opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, are out of timeouts. On third down, Giant quarterback Joe Pisarcik attempts to hand the ball off to running back Larry Csonka, but the exchange results in a fumble. Eagle safety Herman Edwards scoops up the ball and returns it 26 yards for the winning touchdown.
Seeing Stars, East Rutherford
Super Bowl XLVIII will not be the first professional football championship game to be staged in East Rutherford. On July 14, 1985, the Baltimore Stars defeat the Oakland Invaders, 28-24, to win the third --and final --United States Football League (USFL) championship game.
The Clock Play, East Rutherford
The Dolphins trail the New York Jets, also tenants in the Meadowlands, 24-21 with 30 seconds remaining on November 27, 1994. Miami has the ball on the Jets’ eight yard-line, however, and quarterback Dan Marino yells, “Clock! Clock! Clock!” indicating that he will spike the ball to stop the clock. The Jets defense, including rookie cornerback Aaron Glenn, relaxes. Marino takes the snap, fakes a spike, and instead throws the game-winning touchdown pass to Mark Ingram. The Jets lose their three remaining games and coach Pete Carroll, who returns this Sunday as coach of the Seahawks, is fired.
Strahan’s Sack, East Rutherford
In the final game of the 2001 season, Giant defensive end Michael Strahan secures the NFL single-season sack record (22.5) against the Green Bay Packers. Strahan’s record-breaker was dubious as Favre, a three-time league MVP, appeared to intentionally slip and allow Strahan to fall on top of him. The NFL recognizes the legitimacy of Strahan’s record... if not his co-hosting prowess alongside Kelly Ripa.
Butt Fumble, East Rutherford
On Thanksgiving Day, 1992, Jet quarterback Mark Sanchez turns the wrong way after taking a snap. Sanchez attempts to return to the line of scrimmage and slide, but dashes head-first into the derriere of 300-pound teammate Brandon Moore. Sanchez fumbles. New England Patriot safety Steve Gregory recovers the football and returns it for a touchdown. Sanchez’s career has yet to recover.