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Today's Tidbits... The 1903 Columbia-Penn Checkerboard
One of these days, I will put together a list of my ten favorite football images. This shot of the 1903 Pennsylvania-Columbia game at the Polo Grounds will be among them because it communicates so much about football at the time.
Played at the third version of the Polo Grounds, 10,000 people attended the game, with most arriving via the subway cars seen just beyond the stands on the far side of the field. Another several hundred people watch the game from Coogan's Bluff. They are at the top of the image above the gap in the fence.
The crowd in the foreground includes a few ladies with fine hats and a bunch of guys with bowlers. Several people stand on the far side of the field, including a cheerleader holding a megaphone.
The game was played on October 22, 1903. The New York Giants called the Polo Ground home in those days, but they came in second place and did not go to the World Series. Their last home game was September 7 since they played their last seventeen games on the road. That gave the grounds crew time to sod the infield for the football season, so the grass in the base paths and the infield appear lighter than the rest of the turf. The sodded area comprises a good portion of the field between the 25-yard lines.
The field is marked in a partial checkerboard during the only season with those markings. (The field was a gridiron in 1902 and again in 1910. Between 1904 and 1909, the checkerboard covered the entire field.) The 55-yard line intersects with the batter's box, but the most interesting aspect of the field markings are the sideline and goal line extensions near the bottom of the image. These identify the "touch in goal" area in each corner. (The “touch in goal” area will be covered in tomorrow’s Tidbit covering 1876 IFA Rule #21.)
To the kicker's right is the chain gang, two guys holding shoulder-high white poles five yards apart. The assistant linesman standing at the 28-yard line has his pole partly obscured, but his partner at the 23-yard line stands in plain sight. A few photographers prepare for the kick along the near sideline as well.
The players on the field prepare for an attempted field goal on a free kick. The situation is apparent from the defense standing ten yards back from the ball, some of whom prepare to rush the kicker as soon as the holder places the ball on the ground. (Newspaper reports confirm that Penn fair caught a short punt from the 3-yard line during this game.)
The holder uses the over-under technique and is ready to pull out the lower hand to place the call on the ground at the kicker's command. Meanwhile, the referee squats nearby, prepared to drop his raised right arm when the ball drops. Doing so confirms for Columbia that they can rush the ball.
And for those who were wondering, the kicker missed the field goal attempt, and Columbia went on to an 18-6 victory.
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