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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

History sometimes happens unnoticed: First Ever Night Football Game

by Diane Janowski
©2005 All rights reserved.

History sometimes happens slowly and unnoticed. It might not be memorable at the time it happens, but years later you look back and say, “Gee that really was important.” That’s what happened in Elmira, New York on Friday night, November 21, 1902. The Elmira Daily Advertiser and Free Gazette had a big advertisement stating, “Football To-Night, Biggest Game of the Season,” but its significance was much bigger than a just a 50¢ per ticket football game. Special excursion trains were coming from Corning, Waverly, Montour Falls, and Watkins [Glen] with expectations of large delegations of out-of-towners.

What happened in Elmira at 8:00PM that evening changed football, and all sports for that matter, forever.

This professional game was the first to be played with electric lights at night, anywhere.

Baseball's Philadelphia Athletics, managed by Connie Mack, and the Philadelphia Phillies formed professional football teams in 1902, joining the Pittsburgh Stars in the first attempt at a pro football league, named the National Football League. For some reason, their opponents that evening of November 21 over at the Maple Avenue Driving Park was the Kanaweola Athletic Club of Elmira, New York. The Kanaweolas were a bicycling club with an indoor track inside the Steele Memorial Library building. Kanaweola tried really hard, but were way ineffectual against the opposing team. The Athletics easily beat Kanaweola with a score of 39-0 in the first night football game ever played.

On the next day, the newspaper did not report the importance of the electrically lit field. The headlines on the sports page read, “Kanaweola Eleven was Brushed Aside, Great Game Just the Same.” I wonder how many years later before someone asked, “Where and when was the first night pro-football game?”

Author's Note: Back on September 29, 1892 in nearby Mansfield, Pennsylvania, a football game started between Mansfield Normal School and Wyoming Seminary with intentions to be the first ever night football game, but called the game at half time with the score at 0-0. The lighting just wasn’t good enough to play the game.

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