Jody Victor: The New York Times published a story about Ohio State's first football game played vs. Ohio Wesleyan May 3, 1890 in Delaware, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Ohio Wesleyan, 20-14.
Saturday, May 3rd, the two schools held a celebration to unveil an historical marker on the Ohio Wesleyan campus commemorating the game. Below is the story that ran in the Times.
On May 3, 1890, a group of Ohio State students rose early, boarded their horse-drawn wagons and made the 20-mile trip along the Olentangy River from Columbus to Delaware, the home of Ohio Wesleyan University, to play what that day's Delaware Gazette described as “the first game of Rugby foot ball.”
Ohio State and Ohio Wesleyan now occupy opposite ends of the college football spectrum. The Buckeyes, whose Columbus campus has an enrollment in excess of 52,000, play in a stadium that seats more than 100,000 and field a team of players with NFL aspirations. The Battling Bishops who draw from a student body of 1,850, play in a stadium less than a tenth the size and offer no football scholarships. But the universities' football programs began together on that spring morning 118 years ago.
The site of that first game was a mystery until last year, when Dick Gordin, a former Ohio Wesleyan athletic director who has studied the history of the university's sports teams, uncovered a letter written by one player in that 1890 game, describing the playing field near a creek called Delaware Run. This weekend, Ohio Wesleyan has scheduled a ceremony to install an historical marker at the site, with dignitaries from both universities attending.
“Ohio Wesleyan, as the first team Ohio State played, is extremely important to our football history,” said Archie Griffin, the Buckeyes' two-time Heisman Trophy winner, who was scheduled to attend the dedication. “They really got it started for Ohio State.”
The teams played for the final time in 1932, when Ohio State won, 34-7, ending the series with 26-2-1 advantage. By then, the Buckeyes were playing Michigan and Wisconsin, and the Battling Bishops were playing Wittenberg and DePauw.
Ohio Wesleyan was an important part of the early days of college football. In 1897, it gave Fielding Yost, a founding father of the sport, his first coaching job. In 1906, it was a charter member of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (later named the National Collegiate Athletic Association). Ohio Wesleyan has played Ohio State more than any other Ohio team.
“The two schools both started out as Midwest football powers in the late 19th century, early 20th century,” Roger Ingles, the athletic director at Ohio Wesleyan, said. “The first game that Ohio State ever played was at Ohio Wesleyan, and we were the first visiting team to play at Ohio Stadium in 1922. A lot of our past has been intertwined.”
At that first game in 1890, the ball was round, forward passes were outlawed, touchdowns were worth 4 points and “goals after touchdown” worth 2. Wedges – plays in which players locked elbows and ran into each other en masse, often causing serious injuries – were commonplace. Players wore no pads.
Gordin said: “In those days, it looked more like a rugby game, where they have the scrums with the players down close to each other and push each other around, and all at once the ball comes out of there. The biggest problem was the number of injuries.”
Those injuries – and professors' concerns that students should focus on their classwork – nearly prevented Ohio State's players from making that trip to Ohio Wesleyan.
“Faculty didn't want players leaving the campus,” Gordin said. “For Ohio State to come up here and play was a big thing.”
It was big enough that an estimated 700 people attended, watching from a hill overlooking the field. Ohio State won, 20-14, with four touchdowns and two goals after for the men of Columbus against three touchdowns and one goal after for the home team.
The Delaware Gazette reported aferward, “The game was a spirited one, and, from the interest aroused, it is safe to say that foot ball has taken a firm hold upon both students and citizens.”