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Small by today's standards, these fellows seem more like band members than collegiate football players. This team was fielded in 1901 or 1902 by Florida Agricultural College (the future University of Florida).
Here's a Stetson University football team sometime between 1898 and 1910. They're flyweights compared to present-day players. Yesterday's gridiron warriors were also not as protected as those today. Leather helmets did come into use during the 1890s, and they were common before World War I. Nevertheless, intercollegiate rules didn't actually require head protectors until 1939. And only after World War II were plastic helmets widely adopted. Also evolving into larger & stronger forms during the 20th century were pads for shoulders, knees, hips, & thighs. In 1951, intercollegiate rules finally legalized face masks, and colleges made mouth protectors mandatory in 1973.
How well dressed these sports fans are! The parasoled baby carriage is a genteel touch too. Dating from 1898, this photo is from an unidentified athletic event at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, not far from Daytona Beach. Perhaps some of these spectators made it to the historic 1901 college football game in Jacksonville.

First Gators Football Game

LONG BEFORE STEVE SPURRIER — Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl in 2005, and the whole world was watching. In 1901, Jacksonville hosted the first college football game ever played in Florida, and only two thousand people showed up.

Played on November 22, the match featured a team that would later evolve into the Gators. It was fielded by Florida Agricultural College, which called Lake City its home. Only about 200 students attended this institution. A few years later, the school would move to Gainesville and become the University of Florida. The head football coach of Florida Agricultural was a pastor from a Lake City Presbyterian church. An English professor served as his assistant. Who were their rivals in the inaugural game of 1901? Stetson University, from DeLand, Florida.

Although the crowd proved miniscule to those in today’s Everbank Stadium, everyone was still hyped up. College yells rang out, fans danced with excitement, and school colors fluttered in the breeze. (The future Gators boasted blue & white, and Stetson, green & white).

After forty minutes of hard play, the baby Gators lost, 6-0. Florida Agricultural could have won on its last drive, but a pass for a sure touchdown hit a tree stump! This obstacle stood in the field of play, near the edge.

The game took place at the fairgrounds on North Main Street, and this locale simply didn’t offer a sports field that was geared toward football. There were also no foul lines or yard markers.

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