The First Ever Night Football Game Looked A Lot Different From What We Know Today

Modern football fans are so accustomed to watching games played at night that they don't think anything of it. Of course, there had to have been a first night game. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first National Football League played at night happened on November 6, 1929. It was a game between Providence Steam Roller (who played just seven seasons in the NFL) and the Chicago Cardinals.

Providence was in the midst of a scheduling nightmare when rain rendered their home stadium, the Cyclodrome — a bicycle racing track — useless, causing them to schedule four games in just six days. One of them was the tilt with the Cardinals that drew 6,000 fans to Providence's Kinsley Park Stadium, maybe just for the game's novelty factor. The stadium had a fresh set of floodlights that were put to good use, and the ball was painted white to increase its visibility, though one writer compared it to a giant egg.

Providence lost 16-0, and while the game is remembered fondly in the annals of NFL history, it's not the first instance of a football game being played at night. There was an attempt — emphasis on attempt — made more than 30 years earlier.

American football originated in colleges

The first intercollegiate American football game on record took place on November 6, 1869 (November 6 is proving to be an important date on the football calendar), between Rutgers University and the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University, per NCAA. While the version of football played that day was quite different and may have only resembled the modern game if you squinted hard enough, it nonetheless set the sport's wheels in motion.

From there, football evolved as colleges and universities swapped rules, with some even traversing international borders, as when Harvard University nicked a set of rugby-inspired rules developed by players at Montreal's McGill University. Their set of rules became the basis for the sport that spread to campuses around the country, according to History. In 1892, it was time for a new innovation to enter the sport: a football game played under new-fangled eclectic lights.

The first football game under lights was supposed to showcase new technology

The 13th Annual Tioga County Agricultural, Mechanical, and Industrial Fair was held in Mansfield Pennsylvania in 1892, and it was like most country fairs seen today. According to the NCAA, a local newspaper published a rundown of what happened at the fair. The report included things like a cattle and horse show, musical instrument booths that drew consistent crowds, and a quick note about how "The peanut man sang himself hoarse, but he sold peanuts just the same." Also listed was something that the paper mentioned wasn't a normal county fair attraction: 'The foot ball game by electric light was a novelty not often seen at fairs," it said.

Incandescent lighting had been around since the early 19th century, but only commercially since the 1870s. This meant that some folks making their way to the fair in northern Pennsylvania were possibly seeing the technology for the first time. To help showcase what it was capable of, the General Electric Company partnered with the Mansfield University football team to put together an exhibition match against Wyoming Seminary.

According to a 1992 program released by Mansfield University called "It Happened At Night: The Centennial of Night Football," football's brutality was seen as a way of rebelling against Victorian customs, and the violent nature of the sport, coupled with the technological advancements on display, was sure to make for quite the spectacle.

The game itself went -- well, at least they tried

The inaugural night football game was slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. on September 28, 1892, but kickoff was bumped up to 6:45 p.m. to take advantage of the last remaining hours of daylight before the lights were turned on and the crowd's jaws collectively dropped in amazement at the technological wonder of electric light (via It Happened At Night: The Centennial of Night Football).

There were a lot of problems with the game. The field was in the middle of the fairgrounds, so it was full of less than ideal features like rocks, holes, and as contemporary reports so eloquently put it, "animal residue." It was a county fair, after all. Another problem was that despite lots of lights being set up for the game, they weren't powerful enough to provide adequate lighting. Once darkness fell, the game lasted just 20 minutes, with teams running a total of 10 plays and not scoring any points. Players running into the light poles that had been installed for the occasion was also an issue.

In 1992, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the game, General Electric produced a commercial (the 90-second version is posted on YouTube) that does a pretty good job of giving an idea of what it would have been like to go to the game. There were considerably more top hats than at modern college football games. In 2013, Mansfield played just its second home night game when it took on Princeton University to kick off its Collegiate Sprint Football League schedule.