Cappy Gagnon ('66) | November 17, 2018
Anyone checking crowds at college and pro football games from Thursday through Sunday will have no trouble discerning that football is the most popular sport in America today. Further confirmation comes from TV ratings.
It was not always thus.
Baseball had a 50-year head start on football. The National Association of Baseball Players, the first "major" league, began play in 1871 following more than two decades of development and a few years of various professional teams. The American Professional Football Association began in 1920. It was renamed the National Football League in 1922. As a derivative of rugby, it followed a similar path as baseball.
The first college baseball game — between Amherst and Williams College — took place in 1859, with the Amherst Mammoths winning by the mammoth football score of 73-32. Ten years later, the first college football game occurred between Rutgers and the College of New Jersey (Princeton), with Rutgers winning by the baseball score of 6-4.
Baseball was way ahead of football in building ballparks, so it was common for early football games to be played in baseball venues. Notre Dame was a baseball power, beginning with its earliest intramural days, in the mid-1860s. There were four-dozen players from Notre Dame in Major League Baseball before the founding of the NFL. Football did not overtake baseball as the biggest sport on campus until early in the coaching reign of Knute Rockne, who helmed the Irish from 1918 to 1930.
Yankee Stadium may not be the best baseball stadium, but, along with Notre Dame Stadium, it can make a claim as being the most iconic in its sport. But there is a big asterisk. The replacement of the original Yankee Stadium with a similar one a block north, has changed the aura of today's venue.
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