On November 6th, 1869, two young football teams would play the first game of a sport that would last more than a century, those two teams were the New Jersey (Princeton) Tigers and the Rutgers Queensmen. This game would become known by many names, one of those names, the Battle at the Birthplace, but the one name symbolic to all fans of the sport, is the first ever college football game. The Queensmen would end up winning 6-4 and would kickstart an American Phenomenon, unlike any other.
Another state that would introduce college football was the Commonwealth of Virginia, Starting in 1881 was the Richmond College Colts (University of Richmond Spiders), they would play their first season on December 3rd, against the Randolph-Macon College Yellow Jackets which also began in 1881, the Colts would beat the Yellow Jackets and technically have a perfect season. The Colts would be renamed Spiders for the reorganized, University of Richmond. They would go to be playoff bound 11 times and win the NCAA D1 Football Championship Subdivision’s National Championship in 2008.
Soon the University of Virginia would begin its own football program in 1887, and played one game against Pantops Academy, it ended in a tie 1-1. In 1888 the young Cavaliers would win against Pantops, 20-0, they would go on to win two of their three games, all in shutouts. On November 20th, the Cavaliers would play their first game against a future D1 school in Annapolis, MD. Navy’s football team would beat Virginia 22-12 in their final game of the season. The 1889, 1890, 1892-1897 teams all claimed Southern championships. The 116–0 drubbing by Princeton in 1890 signaled football’s arrival in the south. The South’s Oldest Rivalry started in 1892, when Virginia split games with North Carolina. The 1897 team had a scoreless tie with Vanderbilt in a game billed as the championship of the South.
Just under the first military school’s football program that began in 1879, Navy Midshipmen of Annapolis, are the VMI Keydets beginning officially in 1891. They previously played in 1873 against the Washington and Lee Generals (1873), but lost 4-2. When they came back, they beat the Generals 6-0. The Keydets would end the season 3-0-1. VMI had two additional undefeated seasons in 1892 and 1894, and a total record of 32–10–2 during the 19th century, setting the tone as being one of the state’s top football schools. Although they were technically undefeated in 1899 by a virtue of a lone win over Washington & Lee, the season was cut short and all cadets were sent home due to an outbreak of typhoid fever. The Keydets biggest rivalry began in 1920 when VMI shutout the Citadel Bulldogs, 35-0, that rivalry would become known as, The Military Classic of the South.
In 1892 another football team came, one that could prove it was the best in the state, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (Virginia Tech) Gobblers. They played their first game against the St. Albans Lutheran Boys School, the Gobblers would beat them 14-10. The first college the Gobblers would play were the Emory & Henry Wasps. In 1895, the Hokies would be in the first edition of the greatest rivalry in Virginia, The Commonwealth Clash. The Virginia Cavaliers would shut out the Gobblers, 0-38. Since then, after its 1970 reestablishment, Virginia Tech would rise up and dominate the older D1 Football Bowl Subdivision school by a staggering 58-37-5 all time record, and recently beating the Cavaliers 14 consecutive matchups after Virginia’s 2003 35-21 victory.
The College of William and Mary is the second-oldest college in the United States, with the first being Harvard. However, their football team is only the ninth-oldest in the state of Virginia. Beginning in 1893, the College of William and Mary Orange and Black (old school’s colors) Football team, lost their first game to the Norfolk YMCA 4-16, they would go on to win two of their three games. They would also go through several name changes during the 1900s, finally ending with the name, Tribe. The newly-renamed Tribe would be playoff bound ten times, win twelve conference championships, and would face their FCS rival, Richmond in the Capital Cup, leading the series, 62-60-5.
College football has taken a path not easily talked about… segregation. The first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in Virginia was the Hampton Institute (renamed Hampton University), opened in 1868, it educated former slaves and continued that tradition well into the 1900s, when the football team was created in 1902, however it was not perfect, not much is written about the team’s past, but the Hampton Pirates would go on to win seven HBCU National Championships, nineteen Conference championships, and a fierce rivalry with Howard University in Washington D.C., that even former President of the United States, Barack Obama referenced it in his commencement speech at 2010 Hampton University, “Now, before we get started, I just want to say, I’m excited the Battle of the Real H.U. will be taking place in Washington this year. (Laughter.) You know I am not going to pick sides. (Laughter.) But my understanding is it’s been 13 years since the Pirates lost. (Applause.) As one Hampton alum on my staff put it, the last time Howard beat Hampton, The Fugees were still together.” At the time, Hampton was in the midst of a series long 14 game win streak. Hampton would leave the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in 2017 and will join the Big South Conference to fill in the vacancy created by VMI.
In 1930, William and Mary established a football program for their Norfolk Division school, The W&M Norfolk Division Braves would quickly bury their ties with the College of William and Mary by beating their football team’s freshman players, 13-7. The Norfolk Division Braves would play from 1930-1940, and would be re-established in 2008 as the new Old Dominion University Monarchs. The newly renamed Monarchs would be in the Colonial Athletic Association with their parent school, the College of William and Mary Tribe in the NCAA D1 FCS, they would leave the CAA in 2013 and would join the NCAA D1 FBS Conference USA in 2014, they would go to the Bahamas Bowl in 2016, where they would win 24-20. In 2018, they would achieve their biggest upset against ACC’s Virginia Tech Hokies, winning 49-35 at Foreman Field during their 10th anniversary of the Monarch re-establishment, the upset was so significant that it even received an ESPY nomination in 2019. On April 26th, 2019, Oshane Ximines (Giants) became the first ODU Monarch to be drafted into the NFL, followed by Travis Fulgham (Lions), and having the most players signed into the NFL than all the other D1 schools in all of Virginia (5 players were signed, with the 2 draftees.), they even helped break the 25-year streak of drafted players for Virginia Tech. In 2019, the Monarchs opened their season at their new home (SB Ballard Stadium) against their former FCS rival, NSU, which they have faced since their transition to FBS, the rivalry would be known as, FCS Farewell, the Monarchs are now leading the series 5-0, thanks to the 21-24 victory. the only football rivalry in Virginia to have one team undefeated.
Speaking of NSU, just 14 mins away from Old Dominion University, they also had a long way to go to be where they are today, originally named, Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University, a traditional HBCU, opened its football team in 1938, the NUVUU Bears became independent in 1940, they joined the NCAA in 1958, then went to the NAIA in 1965-1984, they rejoined the NCAA as a Division II school in 1973. During that time they were reorganized into Norfolk State University and found membership in the Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association. In 1997, they became independent as they transitioned to Division I and into the FCS, they would settle in the MEAC and rejoin their crosstown rivals, ODU. Before rejoining the NCAA, the Spartans would win six conference championships, and initiate a famous rivalry with fellow HBCU, Hampton University Pirates, the rivalry would be forever known as, the Battle of the Bay, The Spartans currently lead the famous rivalry, 28-26-1.
In 1972, James Madison University established its football program as an independent. Soon after, the Dukes would go on to win two FCS National Championships, seven conference titles, and reach playoffs fifteen times. JMU would join the NCAA D1 Yankee Conference in 1993, moving to Atlantic 10 in 1996, and finally settled in the FCS Colonial Athletics Association.
The sole surviving Independent football program in the state of Virginia are the Liberty Flames, established in 1973. The Flames would end up going to the non-conference playoffs only once in 2014, achieve a perfect season in 2007, with eight conference championships in the FCS Big South Conference, six as co-champions and two outright, they would become FBS Independent in 2018, joining famous schools, such as, West Point, Notre Dame, BYU, UMass, and soon UConn.
Within the 150 years of college football, the Commonwealth of Virginia has been a part of its history for 138 years. Welcome to the 150th season of college football, here’s to another 150.
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