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The first football card depicts Yale star Captain Edward Beecher in 1888.

Football Forever!

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We’re down to the college football national championship game next week and the NFL playoffs are just around the corner. It’s a perfect time to check in with “Football Nation” author Susan Reyburn as she chooses favorite items from the Library’s collections. This article is slightly adapted from the January-February issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.

The First Football Card

Tobacco companies produced the first sets of sports cards, which were packaged with cigarettes and other tobacco products, to encourage repeat purchases from consumers wanting to collect complete sets of featured cards. Captain Edward Beecher, who played quarterback for Yale, then the nation’s dominant college team, was the great nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher. He had the distinction of appearing on the first football trading card, produced by Old Judge and Gypsy Green Cigarettes in 1888.

Sheet music cover, in brown with a black sketch, showing player with a leather helmet running with a football, with the title and songwriters listed.

‘On, Wisconsin!’

Written by William T. Purdy and Carl Beck in 1909 at the height of the Tin Pan Alley era in popular music, the University of Wisconsin fight song is among the most highly rated examples of the niche musical genre. The lyrics specifically address football prowess, such as “plunge right through that line,” and hundreds of high school bands nationwide have borrowed the instantly recognizable tune — with revised words — for their own use on game night.

Black and white photo of handful of girls, wearing shorts, numbered jerseys and leather helments, in the middle of a football play, with #11 running the ball toward the camera

The ‘Powder Puff’ Game

Aided by terrific blocking, team captain Alice Shanks cuts through the line, leading the upper-class women to a 13-6 intramural win over the sophomore-freshman team at the Western State College Powder Bowl in Gunnison, Colorado, in 1939. That season, Spalding & Bros. published “American Football for Women: Official Rules,” and “powder puff” games associated with homecoming festivities grew in popularity. Women’s informal tackle football first appeared on a few college campuses in the 1890s, and various professional and semipro leagues have operated since 1965 to the present day.Colorful map of the U.S. with college pennants and illustrations


Albert Richard All-America Football Map

Waving banners, smiling players and dancing mascots flash across the United States in this cartographic depiction collegiate sports conferences by F.E. Cheseman in 1941. The map also lists the NFL’s 10 professional clubs, offers a key to referee signals and provides recent team records and bowl game results. Viewed today, the map is a visual celebration and record of the major college conference system that is now undergoing dramatic change.

Black and white team football picgture, with many autographs at bottom.

1958 New York Giants

This New York Giants team lost in sudden-death overtime to the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 NFL championship game, known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The core of that team featured two future Hall of Fame coaches (assistants Vince Lombardi, third row, second from left, and Tom Landry, third row, far right) and notable players such as Pat Summerall (88), Rosey Grier (76), Sam Huff (70), Don Maynard (13), Charlie Conerly (42) and Frank Gifford (16). Future New York congressman and 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, who played on the Giants’ taxi squad, signed the image but doesn’t appear in the photograph. The photo comes from the Kemp papers in the Library’s Manuscript Division.

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Comments (2)

  1. As our tenacious Buffalo Bills rush to Win The Super Bowl this year (2024), this delightful Pigskin pertaining article is most appreciated!

  2. Susan’s ‘Football Nation’ is the best general-readership book on the sport since the ’60’s. Funny, that Beecher’s card would have a red ‘Y’ ..

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