Cuban Athletic Club team (1909)

Cuba: 50 Years of Playing American Football

by Christopher A. Perez, author “Cuba: 50 Years of Playing American Football”

Universidad de la Habana cuba
Photo credit: Havana Collectibles

Cuba has a rich history of athletics. Whether competing domestically or internationally, the Cubans have a huge pride in winning and it is this athletic excellence has become a source of great Cuban nationalism. While the country is better known for their love of their national sport béisbol (baseball) and amateur boxing, unbeknownst to most people is Cuba’s history of playing American football. In fact, Cuba fielded a college football team, the University of Havana (UH) Caribes, before 40 current teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). That would currently place the Caribes program 89th amongst the 128 active FBS college football programs by year established.

From 1906-1956, there were over 50 games that were either played by a Cuban football team against an American opponent or where Cuba hosted an international college football game. While the University of Havana played the majority of those games, the school wasn’t the only Cuban institution that fielded a football team. Athletic social clubs like the Vedado Tennis Club and the Club Atlético de Cuba (Cuban Athletic Club), a police sports club, and several branches of the Cuban military each established football teams that competed with America universities.

Cuban Athletic Club team (1909)

Cuba’s close proximity to the Unites States made it attractive for college teams within the two neighboring countries to play. The 90 miles that separates the U.S. and Cuba was often a shorter distance for an American college team to travel then it would be to play an opponent in another state. Furthermore, the United States and Cuba had developed longstanding diplomatic ties and Cubans often associated more with their neighbors to the north than their Caribbean neighbors. This is evident in the sports that Cubans chose to play. Cubans played sports that are popular in North America and participate less in sports that are more prevalent in the Caribbean such as soccer and cricket. American football seemed like the next logical athletic endeavor that the Cubans would like to try their hands at after trying baseball and basketball.

University of Havana vs University of Miami (1926)
University of Havana vs University of Miami (1926). Courtesy of the Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida

The aftermath of the Cuban Revolution in the mid- to late 1950s marked the end of football in Cuba. Fidel Castro believed that Cuba had become too Americanized and wanted the country to distance themselves from the United States in every aspect. As part of his cultural cleansing of Cuban society, Castro abolished American football from ever being played again. During the relatively short time that football was played in island, Cuban football teams played over 20 different opponents. The majority of the teams were comprised of universities from the South. Five of their opponents would eventually go on to win a NCAA Division I Championship and they include: Louisiana State University (LSU), University of Alabama, University of Florida, University of Miami, and the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).

Cuban football
Photos courtesy of the Stetson University Library Archives

With America slowly reestablishing relations with Cuba, will football make its way back on the island? No one knows for certain but subtle signs seem to point that that they will. In October 2015, it has been rumored that the National Football League (NFL) was considering hosting a future game in Cuba. The NFL, which has tried to expand their brand internationally, has never played a game in the Caribbean country. NFL executives would love to add 11 million more fans to their ever popular league. In March 2016, LSU football head coach Les Miles made national headlines when he visited the island. Other universities have traveled to Cuba to compete against Cuban universities in baseball and basketball. Hopefully the normalization will lead to Cuba playing fútbol Americano once again.

About Christopher Perez:

Christopher Perez studied at the University of Miami and graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences and English Literature.

The book is a coffee table-styled book and has plenty of pictures to go along with the wonderful story. Purchase the book on Amazon.

Cuban Athletic Club team (1909)
Cuban Athletic Club team (1909)
Cuba: 50 Years of Playing American Football was last modified: July 14th, 2016 by Contributor