The first full weekend of college football has arrived, with games from coast-to-coast kicking off the 20th season of the 21st century.
Some schools have been at it a little longer than others.
This fall, Heritage Auctions will offer the oldest known University of Michigan football program, a simple piece of thin cardboard that’s expected to sell for $20,000 or more. It’s one of fewer than five known surviving examples and the highest quality of those.
More of a lineup card than a program, it’s what was handed out to a crowd of about 600 fans who stopped at Hamilton Field in New Haven, CT to watch Yale take on the new club from the west on November 2, 1881. Yale came away with an 11-0 win that day.
While Michigan had fielded “football” teams in 1879 and 1880, the rules were more akin to rugby and most feel the 1881 season was the school’s first true season of the American game and the Yale game the second under American football rules. Programs from the first game—or the four before it in 1881—are non-existent to this point.
“It can be forcefully argued that this stands as the most significant Michigan football program on Earth.”
Michigan played its entire 1881 schedule over a five-day period during a trip to the east, where football had gotten its start several years earlier. The Wolverines lost all three by a combined score of 28-4.
The day after the October 31 game against Harvard, which was played in heavy rain, the Boston Journal reported it was the first time an Eastern college team had played a school from another part of the country.
The 5 ½” x 4 ¼” program is in near perfect condition, suggesting it was likely tucked inside a book or safely out of the light for most of its life.
Bidding in the Heritage Fall Sports Memorabilia Auction is expected to open September 25.