Football Team Loses… in the late 1800s

the football team on November 27, 1885 in New York, before losing to Yale 61-0 (from Wesleyan Special Collections & Archives)

the football team on November 27, 1885 in New York, before losing to Yale 61-0 (from Wesleyan Special Collections & Archives)

Wesleyan isn’t really known for its athletics, despite our sports teams being pretty good. (I think… why–when I know nothing about sports–do I keep doing this?) This year’s scheduling probably isn’t helping matters: homecoming has been conveniently scheduled during fall break. In any case, in honor of tomorrow’s homecoming game against Amherst, wherever you are to experience/ignore it, here’s a look into Wes Football’s (pretty embarrassing) early history, including a spectacular 136-0 loss to Yale and a triumphant 26-0 win… against New Haven High School.

Oh yeah... our school color used to be lavender. It was changed in 1884... right when we started getting bad at football. coincidence??

Oh yeah… our school color used to be lavender. It was changed in 1884… right when we started getting bad at football. coincidence??

Back when college football was being established (“in the days before the invention of the forward pass,” says Wikipedia), Wesleyan was a leading player. Andrus Field is actually the oldest continuously-used collegiate football field in the U.S. The first season of Wesleyan football was in 1881: we played one game each against Amherst (a loss) and Williams (a win). Things went pretty well for a few years. In 1883, we even played and beat U of Michigan! By the fourth year of our football history, though, other schools had started to surpass us in size and ability. In 1885, we beat Amherst, U of Pennsylvania, and Trinity, but lost to Yale three times, and Princeton once.

In 1886, we won only two official games: against Amherst (47-0) and Lafayette. The freshman class did, however, beat New Haven High School, so that’s something. The Argus was congratulatory, suggesting that the freshman team “ought to increase the number of their victories by defeating the Hartford H.S. by a good round score.”

Just a week after that victory, however, came our record-setting loss to Yale: 136-0. The Argus was initially confident in our prospects, urging students to come out and support the team (full article below on the left). After the loss, they said merely that “Yale played the best game ever seen in New Haven.”

The 1886 Argus editors were a confident bunch, apparently. Before the Nov. 6 game with Harvard (final score: 34-0), they noted that Wesleyan was a worthy opponent:

…if Harvard beats Wesleyan this year the victory will not be an empty one, but the down-easters will have a respectable plume in their caps, which they may call “macaroni,” or any more modern name that “culture” may suggest.

Wesleyan vs. Amherst in 1958 (from the old Wesleying)

Wesleyan vs. Amherst in 1958 (from the old Wesleying)

So. I guess Wes students have always been up on our pop “culture” references.

From 1882 to 1913, we played–and lost to–Yale 40 times, only scoring against them in 3 separate games.

seriously... beat the Lord Jeffs

seriously… beat the Lord Jeffs

Our record with Harvard is slightly more respectable: we beat them once, in 1884. Our records are similarly dismal with the other Ivies, most of whom we had stopped playing by WWII.

There’ve been two seasons–111 years apart–in which we failed to win any games at all: 1894 and 2005. Since Coach Mike Whalen ’83 started in 2010, though, we’ve been getting better, so don your lavender red and black tomorrow and cheer on Wesleyan as we play the Amherst Lord Jeffs! Or enjoy your break off-campus.

See the gallery below for more Argive fun from the fall of 1886.

4 thoughts on “Football Team Loses… in the late 1800s

    1. kitab

      The Michigan-Wesleyan game was played in Hartford, so Wes didn’t have to commute. The Michigan team probably came via train, I would think.

  1. Guest

    But Wesleyan has a winning record against the University of Michigan!!

    GAME-BY-GAME FOOTBALL RESULTS
    WESLEYAN vs. MICHIGAN

    Record: 1-0

    SeasonDateLocationScoreW/L/T1883Nov. 19
    Hartford, CT
    14-6W

  2. Ben Cohen '10

    Wes was originally part of the “Intercollegiate League” (precursor to the Ivy League) in the 1880s and 1890s, along with Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Penn (IIRC), hence their recurring presence in the schedules of the early days. That ran concurrent to the Triangular League (Amherst, Williams, and Dartmouth); Wes replaced Dartmouth in 1899, and after Amherst rejoined the group in 1910 (after exiting in 1902), the Little Three was born.

    #nostalgia

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