Tag Archives: Football

THANKSGIVING AND FOOTBALL

turkeyballOne of my favorite cartoons about the First Thanksgiving shows several Pilgrim and Wampanoag women in the foreground setting a table for a huge feast, while in the background their husbands (both Native American and Pilgrim) are playing a rousing game of football.  Obviously worn out from cooking, one woman turns to another and says “I sure hope this doesn’t get to be a tradition!”

So how old, really, is the connection between Thanksgiving and football?  A lot older than most of us would guess.  As early as 1928, the Saturday Evening Post cover below suggested the centrality of football to America’s Thanksgiving.  Notice the almost perfect symmetry between the two figures.

From the November 24, 1928 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

From the November 24, 1928 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

The cartoon below suggests that the Thanksgiving-football connection is even older, however.  This very busy cartoon by Samuel Ehrhart appeared in Puck in the year 1912.  (Puck was a popular national humor magazine published between 1871 and 1918.)  Notice how the crowds are flocking to see the advertised football contest pitting “Ye Pilgrims versus Ye Indians” at 2:00 p.m.  Even before WWI, then, Americans had come to take for granted the link between Thanksgiving and football, and the cartoon’s gag consists of imagining our ancestors from the 17th century as enjoying the same pastime.

03749v

But the Thanksgiving-football connection actually goes back much further than this.  One hundred thirty-eight years ago—in 1876—the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association (with all of four member schools) determined to hold its first championship game in New York City on Thanksgiving Day.  In no time at all the annual Thanksgiving Day championship game had become the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.

From Harper's Weekly, December 20, 1879

From Harper’s Weekly, December 20, 1879

In 1891, a writer for Harper’s Weekly observed that in New York “a great and powerful and fascinating rival has come to take the place of the Thanksgiving Day Dinner . . . the Thanksgiving Day Game.”  Soon big “rivalry” games were becoming Thanksgiving traditions in Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.  Significantly, they were also spreading into southern cities, and it is no exaggeration to say that the growing popularity of Thanksgiving Day football helped to reconcile southerners to the Yankee holiday.  By 1893 the tradition was so entrenched that the New York Herald could lament, “Thanksgiving Day is no longer a solemn festival to God for mercies given. . . . It is a holiday granted by the State and the Nation to see a game of football.”

Football wasn’t the only option for those inclined to pleasure on this once “holy day,” however.  By the end of the century there were car races in Chicago; bicycle races in Los Angeles; balls, parties, golf tournaments, and theater matinees in the nation’s capital.  While a West Coast journalist insisted that “the mingling of sports with prayer harms no well-regulated normal community,” a Chicago newsman predicted that “the churches will have to devise some more attractive program . . . if the religious feature of Thanksgiving Day is to be preserved.”

The year of this warning was 1897.

THANKSGIVING IN PICTURES

Just a few images of Thanksgiving that come to my mind today as I read about current events.  They don’t add up to a clear historical narrative–just food for thought.

“Home to Thanksgiving,” George H. Durrie, 1861. As late as the Civil War, homecoming was probably the most common theme of Thanksgiving images. For supporters of the holiday, Thanksgiving was “supremely the home day,” with “the gathering together of the family its most charming feature.”

“Home to Thanksgiving,” George H. Durrie, 1861. As late as the Civil War, homecoming was probably the most common theme of Thanksgiving images. For supporters of the holiday, Thanksgiving was “supremely the home day,” with “the gathering together of the family its most charming feature.”

 

"Football Match between Yale and Princeton," Harper's Weekly, 1879. In 1876 the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association held its championship game on Thanksgiving Day in New York City, and in short order the annual Thanksgiving Day contest had evolved into the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.

“Football Match between Yale and Princeton,” Harper’s Weekly, 1879. In 1876 the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association held its championship game on Thanksgiving Day in New York City, and in short order the annual Thanksgiving Day contest had evolved into the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.

 

“Thanksgiving: A Study in Proportion,” Udo Keppler, 1912. BY the early twentieth century, numerous commentators feared that Thanksgiving had become nothing more than a day for pleasure and self-indulgence. This Puck cartoon shows a pile of large items representing the pleasures of the holiday—a football, golf clubs, a shotgun, a theater mask and, of course, a turkey—towering over a dark and probably empty church in the background.

“Thanksgiving: A Study in Proportion,” Udo Keppler, 1912. By the early twentieth century, numerous commentators feared that Thanksgiving had become nothing more than a day for pleasure and self-indulgence. This Puck cartoon shows a pile of large items representing the pleasures of the holiday—a football, golf clubs, a shotgun, a theater mask and, of course, a turkey—towering over a dark and probably empty church in the background.

 

"First Thanksgiving at Plymouth," Jeannie Brownscombe, 1914. On the eve of WWI, Brownscombe's imaginative recreation of the "First Thanksgiving" helped link Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims 1621 celebration in the public mind. Although full of historical inaccuracies, the artist did rightly portray the feast as a large, public, outdoor event.

“First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” Jeannie Brownscombe, 1914. On the eve of WWI, Brownscombe’s imaginative recreation of the “First Thanksgiving” helped link Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims’ 1621 celebration in the public mind. Although full of historical inaccuracies, the artist did rightly portray the feast as a large, public, outdoor event.

 

"Freedom from Want," Norman Rockwell, 1943. This now iconic portrayal of a family Thanksgiving meal graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the midst of WWII.

“Freedom from Want,” Norman Rockwell, 1943. This now iconic portrayal of a family Thanksgiving meal graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in the midst of World War Two.

 

Thanksgiving Night, 2015? A spontaneous photograph of early Black Friday violence sweeps the internet.

Thanksgiving Night, 2015? This spontaneous photograph of early Black Friday violence has swept the internet.

THANKSGIVING AND FOOTBALL

TWENTY-TWO days to Thanksgiving and counting.  As an alternative to the ubiquitous countdown to Black Friday, each weekday between now and Thanksgiving I will be posting brief essays on the history of the First Thanksgiving and its place in American memory. 

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turkeyballOne of my favorite cartoons about the First Thanksgiving shows several Pilgrim and Wampanoag women in the foreground setting a table for a huge feast, while in the background their husbands (both Native American and Pilgrim) are playing a rousing game of football.  Obviously worn out from cooking, one woman turns to another and says “I sure hope this doesn’t get to be a tradition!”

So how old, really, is the connection between Thanksgiving and football?  A lot older than most of us would guess.  As early as 1928, the Saturday Evening Post cover below suggested the centrality of football to America’s Thanksgiving.  Notice the almost perfect symmetry between the two figures.

From the November 24, 1928 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

From the November 24, 1928 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

The cartoon below suggests that the Thanksgiving-football connection is even older, however.  This very busy cartoon by Samuel Ehrhart appeared in Puck in the year 1912.  (Puck was a popular national humor magazine published between 1871 and 1918.)  Notice how the crowds are flocking to see the advertised football contest pitting “Ye Pilgrims versus Ye Indians” at 2:00 p.m.  Even before WWI, then, Americans had come to take for granted the link between Thanksgiving and football, and the cartoon’s gag consists of imagining our ancestors from the 17th century as enjoying the same pastime.

03749v

But the Thanksgiving-football connection actually goes back much further than this.  One hundred thirty-eight years ago—in 1876—the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association (with all of four member schools) determined to hold its first championship game in New York City on Thanksgiving Day.  In no time at all the annual Thanksgiving Day championship game had become the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.

From Harper's Weekly, December 20, 1879

From Harper’s Weekly, December 20, 1879

In 1891, a writer for Harper’s Weekly observed that in New York “a great and powerful and fascinating rival has come to take the place of the Thanksgiving Day Dinner . . . the Thanksgiving Day Game.”  Soon big “rivalry” games were becoming Thanksgiving traditions in Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.  Significantly, they were also spreading into southern cities, and it is no exaggeration to say that the growing popularity of Thanksgiving Day football helped to reconcile southerners to the Yankee holiday.  By 1893 the tradition was so entrenched that the New York Herald could lament, “Thanksgiving Day is no longer a solemn festival to God for mercies given. . . . It is a holiday granted by the State and the Nation to see a game of football.”

Football wasn’t the only option for those inclined to pleasure on this once “holy day,” however.  By the end of the century there were car races in Chicago; bicycle races in Los Angeles; balls, parties, golf tournaments, and theater matinees in the nation’s capital.  While a West Coast journalist insisted that “the mingling of sports with prayer harms no well-regulated normal community,” a Chicago newsman predicted that “the churches will have to devise some more attractive program . . . if the religious feature of Thanksgiving Day is to be preserved.”  The year of this warning was 1897.

THANKSGIVING AND FOOTBALL: IT’S AN OLDER TRADITION THAN YOU THINK

turkeyball

One of my favorite cartoons about the First Thanksgiving shows several Pilgrim and Wampanoag women in the foreground setting a table for a huge feast, while in the background their husbands (both Native American and Pilgrim) are playing a rousing game of football.  Obviously worn out from cooking, one woman turns to another and says “I sure hope this doesn’t get to be a tradition!”

So how old, really, is the connection between Thanksgiving and football?  A lot older than most of us would guess.  As early as 1928, the Saturday Evening Post cover below suggested the centrality of football to America’s Thanksgiving.  Notice the almost perfect symmetry between the two figures.

From the November 24, 1928 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

From the November 24, 1928 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

The cartoon below suggests that the Thanksgiving-football connection is even older, however.  This very busy cartoon by Samuel Ehrhart appeared in Puck in the year 1912.  (Puck was a popular national humor magazine published between 1871 and 1918.)  Notice how the crowds are flocking to see the advertised football contest pitting “Ye Pilgrims versus Ye Indians” at 2:00 p.m.  Even before WWI, then, Americans had come to take for granted the link between Thanksgiving and football, and the cartoon’s gag consists of imagining our ancestors from the 17th century as enjoying the same pastime.

03749v

 

But the Thanksgiving-football connection actually goes back much further than this.  One hundred thirty-eight years ago—in 1876—the newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association (with all of four member schools) determined to hold its first championship game in New York City on Thanksgiving Day.  In no time at all the annual Thanksgiving Day championship game had become the country’s premier sporting event, drawing crowds upwards of forty thousand by the early 1890s.

From Harper's Weekly, December 20, 1879

From Harper’s Weekly, December 20, 1879

 

In 1891, a writer for Harper’s Weekly observed that in New York “a great and powerful and fascinating rival has come to take the place of the Thanksgiving Day Dinner . . . the Thanksgiving Day Game.”  Soon big “rivalry” games were becoming Thanksgiving traditions in Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.  Significantly, they were also spreading into southern cities, and it is no exaggeration to say that the growing popularity of Thanksgiving Day football helped to reconcile southerners to the Yankee holiday.  By 1893 the tradition was so entrenched that the New York Herald could lament, “Thanksgiving Day is no longer a solemn festival to God for mercies given. . . . It is a holiday granted by the State and the Nation to see a game of football.”

Football wasn’t the only option for those inclined to pleasure on this once “holy day,” however.  By the end of the century there were car races in Chicago; bicycle races in Los Angeles; balls, parties, golf tournaments, and theater matinees in the nation’s capital.  While a West Coast journalist insisted that “the mingling of sports with prayer harms no well-regulated normal community,” a Chicago newsman predicted that “the churches will have to devise some more attractive program . . . if the religious feature of Thanksgiving Day is to be preserved.”  The year of this warning was 1897.

FTcover