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The Virginia Cavaliers football team represents the University of Virginia in the sport of American football. The Cavaliers compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Established in 1888, and playing local YMCA teams and other state teams without pads, the Virginia football program has evolved into a multimillion dollar operation that plays in front of 61,500 fans at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Cavaliers have three major rivals in football: Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech. The ACC's longest series is the South's Oldest Rivalry between Virginia and North Carolina. The Cavaliers also compete for the Commonwealth Cup against Virginia Tech and play in the Beltway Brawl against Maryland. While Virginia has played North Carolina more times (116) than any other rival, all of these programs—Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech—consider Virginia to be their longest-standing rival.
Former University of Virginia President Edwin Alderman Robert Kent Gooch in 1912
The story of football at UVA actually begins in the fall of 1886, when two graduate students at the University, former Yale student Charles Willcox who was attending medical school at UVA, and former Princeton student, Richard Reid Rogers who matriculated to the law school, introduced the sport at Mr. Jefferson's University. After seeing the success of Princeton and Yale during their undergraduate careers, these two men brought a wealth of knowledge about this burgeoning sport to an area of the country that had no college football teams: the South.
Students at UVA were playing pickup games of the kicking-style of football as early as 1870, and some accounts even claim that some industrious ones organized a game against Washington and Lee College in 1871, just two years after Rutgers and Princeton's historic first game in 1869. But no record has been found of the score of this contest. In 1874, University students were introduced to the sport of rugby when they played to a scoreless tie against a team of Englishmen from Albemarle County. Eight years later, in November 1883, a football club was reorganized, a constitution drawn up, and officers elected. 75 men competed against one another, but not against another collegiate club.The University Magazine describes how "pluck is cultivated by throttling one's competitor and violently throwing him to the ground."
Finally, in the fall of 1887, Willcox and Reid, after garnering interest in their fellow students throughout the year, helped Virginia put its first regularly organized team in the field. But, being the first, and only, collegiate team in the South, they had had no one to play. Fortunately, Pantops Academy, a boys' school founded just up the road from the UVA Grounds, agreed to a game on November 13, 1887. After playing to a scoreless tie, a rematch was scheduled for March 1888. The historic first touchdown was scored by quarterback Herbert Barry and the University won 26–0.
The following season, on December 8, 1888, UVa would play their first intercollegiate game, a 26–0 loss to Johns Hopkins. The loss did not dampen their enthusiasm for the sport. Virginia returned the favor with a 58–0 drubbing of Hopkins the following season when they went 4–2, with a 180–4 margin in its victories and two close losses to an eight-win Lehigh team and Navy.
Work began in 1901 on 21-acre (85,000 m2) Lambeth Field, propelling sports development at UVA. Lambeth Field was named after William Lambeth, a professor at the University of Virginia, and one of the participants in the major rules committees that were enacted to make football a safer sport. The trend was not welcome in all corners, however, according to University historian Philip Alexander Bruce, who wrote disparagingly of the arrival of "professional athletes in disguise" from all over the country. School President Edwin Alderman, though a tireless proponent of college football, was significantly alarmed to appoint an investigating committee in 1904, and a strict athletic code was written in 1906.