“We believe in football; we believe it ought to be encouraged … and that ere long it may become one of the popular games of old.” So said an editorial by a Norwich student in 1882. Eight years later, the first game would be played in a tradition that has been going strong for over 125 years.
When Norwich students began advocating for a football team, the sport was in its infancy. College football rules were first codified in 1873, and the snap and the 11-man roster were introduced in 1880. The year of the editorial quoted above, 1882, saw the addition of the down and the use of yardage lines that made the field resemble a gridiron. It was this development that turned the corner and made football a significantly different sport from its ancestor, rugby.
The first football game was played at Norwich in the fall of 1890. The opponent was a team from a nearby high school that happened to have a few teachers who had played football at Tufts. They invited Norwich to a friendly pickup game to help introduce the sport to both schools.
The Northfield High School principal at the time (possibly a man named Henry Aiken) had played at Dartmouth and offered to coach a group of Norwich men into some semblance of a team. Though word had spread of the new sport, precious few of the students had even seen a football, much less knew how to play the game. Just three days before the game was to be played, he set about conducting physical training and teaching them the basic rules.
Still fuzzy on the details of game play, the Norwich men faced their opponents and were thoroughly trounced. It took a few years, until 1893, for the university to field an official team for the first time.
Since then, Cadets football has become a tradition to be proud of—“one of the popular games of old” indeed! Numerous Norwich players have gone on to play professionally, including Beau Almodobar ’85. Almodobar was a First Team All-American who helped his team to 20 victories in three years, including the Cadets’ first-ever bowl game appearance. He went on to play for the New York Giants.
In 2017, we can look forward to the revival of the Norwich-Coast Guard rivalry, sometimes called the “Little Army-Navy Game,” as we join the same conference as the Coast Guard Academy for the first time since 2003. The first matchup between the two schools took place in 1928.
Information about the history of football from the Professional Football Researchers Association.You can read a reflection by a member of the 1890 football team in the December 1918 Norwich Reveille, available online courtesy of the Norwich University Archives.The Athletics Department Records also document the history of Norwich sports.