Overall: 16 x 11 3/16 x 9 1/2 in. ( 40.6 x 28.4 x 24.1 cm )
signed: proper left front corner: "JOHN ROGERS/ 14 West 12 St./NEW YORK" inscribed: center front of base: "FOOTBALL"
Among Rogers' last works, Football embodies the artist's lifelong quest to create sculpture that was affordable, of high artistic quality, and embraced subjects that resonated with American life. The young sport of football, derived from English rugby, became increasingly popular on college campuses such as Princeton and Harvard in the post-Civil War years. In 1875 the first intercollegiate games were played. The sport was further developed at Yale in 1879 by Walter Camp, a player and coach who is credited as the father of American football. In 1878 Rogers wrote to his sister Ellen that his young sons had a football match the following morning, observing, "Football seems to be the great game now." All five Rogers boys later attended Yale University after Camp's tenure there, and although they did not play football (they excelled at rowing), they were well aware of the university's close ties with the sport. It is said that three of Rogers' sons posed for the sculpture, along with William Herbert Corbin, captain of Yale's undefeated 1888 team and All-American center. Ever the adept marketer, Rogers released the group in time for the 1891 fall football season. Though the game was becoming widely known, Rogers still felt it necessary to explain the action: "The ball has been passed to the 'half-back' and he is trying to break through the opposing line, but has been tackled around the waist by a man whose hold he is trying to break by pushing his head down, and by another man who clings to his shoulders. As these two are likely to throw him down soon, he passes the ball back to a confederate, who will carry it farther towards the goal." In keeping with the early development of the game, the players do not wear pads, helmets, or protective equipment. As play grew more aggressive, serious injuries and even deaths began to occur, and in the early twentieth century regulations and protective equipment were introduced. Though the sculpture was criticized as an inaccurate representation of the new game, apparently it was sufficiently admired that John W. Boteler & Son of Washington, D.C., immediately offered it as a prize for the 1891-92 amateur club champions. It was also praised for Rogers' mastery of human anatomy. One writer declared, "He shows here an intimate knowledge of the human form. One can see the sturdy muscles of these young Titans standing out firmly beneath their rough clothing." The complicated interweaving of arms and legs suggests the influence of the famous Hellenistic sculpture Laocoön. Rogers was familiar with antique sculpture, and his compositions had been compared with the iconic work nearly two decades earlier: an article from 1873 referred to the Laocoön when praising Rogers' complex figural groupings.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 1, New York Historical Society. Daily Evening Transcript, Boston, Nov. 7, 1891, p. 16. Partridge, William Ordway, "John Rogers, The Peoples Sculptor," Feb., 1896, Vol. XIII, No. 6, pp. 705-21. Barck, Dorothy, "Rogers Group in the Museum of the New-York Historical Society", New-York Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 3, October, 1932, p. 74. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 162, 166-7, 268, 295, 297. Rhodes, Reilly, ed., Sport in Art from American Museums: The Director's Choise: Inaugural Exhibition of the National Art Museum of Sport, New York: Universe, 1990, p. 60. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 218-9.
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.