LA GRANDE — Watching football games on New Year’s Day is an American ritual, one dating back more than a century.
This tradition in La Grande may have gotten its start Jan. 1, 1908, when fans gathered to watch a gridiron game between La Grande High School and a city team referred to as the Pickups. The game, according to Observer archives, was one of the first — and possibly the first — documented gridiron contests played on New Year’s Day in this community’s history.
The contest ended in a 0-0 tie with La Grande High on its opponents’s 1-yard line as time expired, according to The Observer’s story on Jan. 2 1908, and was the first football game played in La Grande since at least 1906.
The game was played 46 years after La Grande had what is likely its earliest documented New Year’s celebration.
It took place Jan. 1, 1862, according to the diary of Ben Brown, one of La Grande’s founders. Brown wrote in his diary of a ball that started early in the evening of Dec. 31, 1861.
“At early candlelight, the ball commenced,” Brown said.
The celebration ended just before midnight. He attributed the early break up to a fiddler who grew tired of playing.
“The ball broke up on account of the fiddler giving out or it would have been going yet,” Brown wrote in his diary.
Festivities continued on Jan. 1, 1862, with a “subscription” meal, which everyone helped pay for. Seven people attended the dinner, Brown wrote.
Brown was born in 1831 in Yorkshire, England, and came to the United States in 1852, according to an article in the May 16, 1996, Observer.
He and his wife built one of La Grande’s first homes. This community was originally known as Brown’s Town or Brownsville because of the impact he had in settling it. Brown later lived in Island City, where he was a city government leader.
Brown is buried at Island City Cemetery.