On November 6, 1869, Rutgers University took on the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) in what is considered to be the first organized football game in the country. Without any established rules, the contest was essentially a hybrid of soccer and rugby. But from this rudimentary match played in New Brunswick, N.J., grew to be what is now arguably the most popular sport in the country.
Since the Northeast is the birthplace of organized football, it would only be right for the region to have hosted some of the sport’s most memorable and important contests. And, indeed, this corner of the country has lived up to its reputation. Here are nine of the most iconic football games played in the Northeast.
1890: The First Army-Navy game
United State Military Academy
West Point, N.Y.
In what is now an annual tradition, the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen first took the field against each other in November 1890 on the former’s West Point, N.Y., campus. Future matchups gained added importance as both schools became national football powers for most of the 20th century. While no longer among the sport’s elite, this annual game is still a mainstay on the college football schedule and is usually held in NFL stadiums around the Northeast.
1934: The Sneakers Game
The Polo Grounds
The 1934 NFL Championship game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears took place following a night of freezing rain in New York City. The game provided one of the most memorable moments in football history when Giants players swapped out their cleats for basketball sneakers at halftime in order to get better footing on the frozen field. The move worked, as New York dominated the second half en route to a 30-13 victory. The contest would quickly become known as the Sneakers Game.
1958: The Greatest Game Ever Played
No list of iconic football games could be complete with a contest dubbed, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” This NFL Championship contest pitted the New York Giants against the Baltimore Colts, in a matchup featuring 12 future Hall of Famers. The back-and-forth showdown became the first championship game to go into sudden death overtime. There, in one of the greatest football plays ever, Colts running back Alan Ameches scored the winning touchdown. The nationally televised game is widely credited with ushering in professional football’s massive popularity across the country.
1968: AFL Championship
The 1968 Super Bowl, which saw the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts, is unquestionably the greatest moment in Jets franchise history. But before that could happen, New York had to win the AFL Championship. Played at the recently constructed Shea Stadium, Joe Namath and the Jets came from behind to beat the Oakland Raiders, 27-23, and head to their first NFL Championship.
1992: The Comeback
Orchard Park, N.Y.
Football history was made on a wintry, Buffalo day in January 1993. The Bills had secured a spot in the Wild Card round against the Houston Oilers only to find themselves in a massive 32-point deficit. Undeterred, the team stormed back to tie the game before winning in overtime. To this day, it remains the largest comeback in NFL history.
2000: Monday Night Miracle
East Rutherford, N.J.
Jets fans could be forgiven for turning off the television late on a Monday night as their team trailed by 23 points entering the fourth quarter. Those who didn’t, however, were rewarded with an unforgettable ending. The Jets stormed back against the Miami Dolphins, scoring 23 unanswered points to tie the game before the end of regulation. The comeback was completed when offensive tackle Jumbo Elliot caught a late touchdown, one of the most iconic football plays in recent history. The Jets scored first in overtime to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
2001: NFC Championship
East Rutherford, N.J.
After a conference best 12-4 regular season and playoff victory over the rival Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants took on the Minnesota Vikings for a chance to reach their first Super Bowl in a decade. It proved an easier task than they could have imagined. Dominating from the start, the Giants beat the Vikings 41-0 in one of the largest margins over victory in franchise history.
2002: The Tuck Game
This game all comes down to one iconic (and controversial) play. With less than two minutes left and the Patriots down 13-10, quarterback Tom Brady started to throw the ball before tucking it into his body. During this motion, he was hit and lost control of the ball in the snowy conditions. The play was initially ruled a fumble but changed to an incomplete pass after replay review. The Patriots kicked a field goal to tie the game, before winning in overtime. New England would go onto win the NFL championship game that year, ushering in a period of dominance that included five more titles.
2014: A Cold-Weather Win
East Rutherford, N.J.
Not only was this the first NFL championship game to be played in the Northeast, it was the first to ever take place outdoors in a cold-weather city. The game showcased the recently constructed MetLife Stadium. Despite its precedent-setting backdrop, the game itself was less memorable. The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in one of the biggest blowouts in NFL history.
Football has a long and storied history in the Northeast. Which other iconic football games or moments would you add to the list?
For stadium guides, tailgating essentials and more, check out the Your AAA Northeast Football Guide.