College Gladiators

College Football game

When football was beginning to take root in our society, it was a far more violent game than it is today.  The first recorded football game at Penn was on December 9, 1871, as eighteen seniors challenged any eighteen younger students to take them on at the Philadelphia Cricket Grounds.  There was no crowd and there were no uniforms.  At first football was not very popular, and few people knew much about it.  However, as the rugby rules used at the time evolved into a version of football that began to look more like the modern sport, people took interest, and over the next couple of decades, interest in the sport skyrocketed.  Soon football was no longer an unobserved game which gave the senior class a chance to assert their dominance at the Cricket Grounds.  Instead, it was a vicious sport which caused a growing number of casualties, and attracted a growing number of fans.

Gladiatorial combat in Rome has much more in common with college football than first meets the eye.  The first recorded gladiatorial combat in Rome took place at funeral games in 264 B.C.E.  These games had modest beginnings as well and took place in the forum.  The accommodations for spectators were temporary wooden bleachers.  By 80 A.D. the Colosseum was built.  Competitions which demanded that athletes put their lives on the line were clearly as popular in the ancient world as they were in the early 20th century.  In the book Gladiators and Caesars, Eckhart Köhne, Cornelia Ewigleben and Ralph Jackson argue that while Formula 1 drivers are the modern equivalent of chariot racers, there is no modern athlete who can be compared to a gladiator.  They must not have been familiar with early college football.