Battle on the gridiron

From Cerro Gordo to the Super Bowl

In the fall of 1846, the eyes of America were on the battlefields of Mexico and the territorial war waged by U.S. and Mexican troops. Today, the American public is much more likely to be eyeing weekend battles on the gridiron.

Although separated by more than 160 years, these two topics of interest are related. Through team names, historical figures, and stadium locations, the weekly clashes on U.S. football fields can be directly and indirectly linked to the campaigns of the U.S.-Mexican War.

Still skeptical?

We encourage you to punt away your doubts, tackle the subject, and decide the score yourself.

USMA BlackKnights Logo
"Black Knight - Cape Man" USMA logo

U.S. Army

Army Black Knights

During the World War II era, the U.S. Military Academy produced a series of National Championship football teams. But the cadets of the 1940s owed much to the cadets of the 1840s.

At the time of the U.S.-Mexican War, many Americans wanted to close West Point and eliminate this school for army officers. Military success in the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and other clashes revived support for the military academy.

By 1890, West Point not only had public approval, it also had its first football team. Today, games at Michie Stadium in West Point celebrate both the tradition of college football and the military tradition of the Academy.

Tennessee Vols
Tennessee Vols

University of Tennessee Special Collections


Tennessee became known as "The Volunteer State," as early as the War of 1812, when thousands of men volunteered for military service. But the war with Mexico, in 1846, helped the state keep this title.

More than 30,000 Tennesseans responded to the call for volunteer soldiers - far more than the 2,800 men requested. Today, Tennesseans show a similar enthusiasm for football.

On fall Saturdays, more than 102,000 supporters of the University of Tennessee fill Knoxville's Neyland Stadium to watch their modern-day Volunteers.

Dallas Cowboys helmet
Dallas Cowboys helmet


Dallas Cowboys
They might have been the Cowboys, but would they have been from Dallas? In 1845, residents of northern Texas named Dallas County and the City of Dallas in honor of John Mifflin Dallas, Vice-President of the United States.

As a running mate to President James K. Polk, Dallas supported claims to the Rio Grande as the boundary of Texas - territorial demands that produced war with Mexico in 1846.

The football team that bears his name has peacefully won over supporters in both Texas and Mexico.
49ers Super Bowl ring
49ers Super Bowl ring

Owen Byrne

San Francisco 49ers

The golden helmets and the name of the San Francisco 49ers football club honor the miners who swarmed into California during the 1849 gold rush. But the team also owes much to the year 1848.

In that year, the U.S. and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo to end two years of war. With its surrender of California in this treaty,Mexico opened the door for the 1849 flood of fortune seekers - and the eventual arrival of NFL football.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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