Most Colorado colleges boasted intercollegiate football teams by 1890. Colorado Agricultural College didn’t have the student body to field a team until the winter of 1893.
Their first football game was played on January 7, 1893 against Longmont Academy, a small Lutheran college. The game was played in Longmont, Colorado. The Aggies, as the Colorado Agricultural College teams were known then, lost but with a respectable score of 12 to 8. Longmont Academy then came to Fort Collins and, on January 28, 1893, the Aggies had their first home football game and a crowd of 1,000 or so spectators watched the Aggies win for the first time with a score of 24 to 16.
The field was located off campus, on the east side of College Avenue between East Locust Street and East Plum Street but visible from Old Main.
CAC played a third game against the Normal School at Greeley before beginning a tradition with the University of Colorado now known as the Rocky Mountain Showdown. On February 11, 1893,CU traveled from Boulder, Colorado to Fort Collins to play the Aggies. The Boulder Daily Camera expressed their optimism this way: “Today the foot ball giants of the ‘U’ go to Fort Collins to knock out, kick and bruise the husky farmers of the Agricultural College.”
Below is a photograph that is most likely an image of that historic game.
There were three clues to assist in the identification of this photograph. First the image was a cabinet card, a thin image mounted on a stiff backing. Cabinet cards reached their peak in the 1870s through the 1890s and declined significantly after 1900. Second, there is a penciled notation on the back that says “Fort Collins,” an obvious clue. Third, and equally obvious, are the “A’s” that look hand-painted on the back of some of the player’s shirts. Certainly it appears that this is a CAC Aggies football game, probably held in the 1890s. The only thing that allowed me to go further, was John Hirn’s book, Aggies to Rams: The History of Football at Colorado State University.
Hirn’s book includes five photographs of 1893 Aggies home games. This image matches Hirn’s image of the February 11 game against the University of Colorado. While not conclusive, this is most likely a slightly different view of the same game.
In 1893, football was primitive, with few rules, free-for-all fights, and little safety equipment. Injuries were common, from sprained knees to broken ribs. The basic formation was a flying wedge, with the ball carrier behind a triangle formation that flew down the field. The flying wedge was quickly outlawed because of its contribution to serious injury.
The Boulder Daily Camera reported on February 12, 1893, “The University Foot Ball team made short work of the Agricultural college team at Fort Collins yesterday. The victors will return this morning with the score of 74 to 6.” The Aggies dispute this score and say it was 70 to 6, though their official scorer says he stopped counting after 70.
By autumn, CAC was competing against many of the state colleges, with student interest in football equaling or surpassing all other extracurricular activities. Cheers were devised to stimulate school spirit. Here is one of the early cheers recorded in Jim Hansen’s Democracy’s College:
C! A! C! We are! By gosh!
CAC wouldn’t beat CU until 1912, though they did tie 0 to 0 in 1906. But the Rocky Mountain Showdown was underway and would continue, with some gaps, until today.
Sources for this story:
John Hirn, Aggies to Rams: The History of Football at Colorado State University
James E. Hansen, Democracy’s College in the Centennial State: A History of Colorado State University