The Michigan Wolverines toured the east in 1881, playing the first games between western and eastern teams. Michigan played at Harvard on October 31 and at Yale on November 2, 1881, losing both games. The trip was planned to end after the Yale game, however a Princeton representative attended the game in New Haven and challenged Michigan to a game in two days. Michigan's captain and quarterback Walter S. Horton did not want to accept, but the team over-ruled him. Horton then refused to play, and substitute Henry S. Mahon had to fill in for him.
Michigan forward Fred Townsend wrote about the game in 1901, reporting that Princeton scored a goal in the first half on a long kick aided by the wind. Michigan could not score any goals or touchdowns throughout the contest, while late in the second half Princeton scored two touchdowns. A New Jersey newspaper reported: "The Princeton College team were victorious Thursday [sic] in a football match with the team of the University of Michigan after an exciting struggle." The Daily State Gazette wrote: "A finely contested game of football at the University grounds Friday, between Princeton and University of Michigan resulted in a victory for the home team, Princeton 1 goal, 2 touchdowns; University of Michigan 0."