Written by By By Byline Yee, CNN
Ed Herbert, a 150-year-old American football player, entered the field to roaring applause as the San Diego Chargers played the Pittsburgh Steelers in a third exhibition match on Sunday, providing a fascinating chapter in the story of a sport that grew out of the formation of the amateur U.S. Army in the middle of the 19th century.
Playing alongside a wide circle of fans who gave him a roars of approval, Herbert actually caught only one pass — a 22-yard release — but the crowd obviously appreciated his contributions on the ground — he had 37 carries, averaged 16.3 yards and scored two touchdowns, both on runs of 13 yards.
San Diego held on for a 16-10 victory over Pittsburgh and now stands on the verge of matching the Super Bowl victory that thrust it into the NFL, as per public convention.
In fact, it’s possible that the cheers that greeted the game’s kick-off were for Herbert, who is turning 200 this year, since he was believed to be the only man to ever score against football in America.
Back in 1895, Herbert led a five-man squad of amateur players to the center of the field, and scored the first points for the U.S. Army team, which is renowned to this day for its forward movement and discipline. It won the first modern game ever played in America.
However, when the game was later evaluated by the New York Times, which played a small role in the founding of the sport in America, the figures showed that only one and a half points were scored (all points tallied were real). The paper had placed Herbert on the team and observed that “his experience and his success as a scholar should breed among Americans a sense of patriotism and strength of character that merit our encouragement.”
The ‘Human Chariot’ Read more
The Times issued its verdict after evaluating the services of Herbert, a physicist and longtime partner of Thomas Edison, a lumberjack, a watermelon farmer and founder of the Fisher Electric Company, who had added a chisel to his back pocket to play the score-book in the game against the Amateur Football League, and who was also a formidable player in regular American football.
The game was held in Lincoln, Nebraska, not far from the birthplace of U.S. President William Howard Taft, who had a football team back in the day. Herbert’s team played fast and furious, scoring repeatedly with running passes, all the while going to their line of scrimmage with determination and confidence.
Thoroughly efficient with their techniques, Herbert’s team won 31-6. The Times told its readers to “remember that (Herbert) played the game beautifully and with great skill, and looked like the one man who could contribute something to the progress of football.”
In 1905, the Times believed that there would be a “widespread interest” in football, and added that most fans would “find the full appeal of the game even if they had never ever seen it before.”
Lincoln, Nebraska, where the game was played, is located near the headquarters of University of Nebraska-Lincoln, long considered a college football power.