Here’s your comic history trivia question of the day: When was the first time that Lucy Van Pelt held a football for Charlie Brown? Answer: November 16, 1952. Peanuts appeared in print in October of 1950.
I’ve lost the attribution to that little factoid, so maybe call the Schulz museum if you have one lifeline left, but I’m pretty sure that’s correct.
UPDATED: Mike Lynch picks up the story about the history of Charlie Brown, Lucy and the reoccurring football pull away gag. He reports that in on page 268 of the Fantagraphics COMPLETE PEANUTS book you can see the inaugural gag. He also links to a web page maintained by Derrick Bang called The Football Gags which documents each time the gag was used and the date. A quick look at the numbers indicate that Charles used the gag 43 times and after 1956 it was an annual gag always in the fall (September through November). He skipped a couple of years during the ’80s. Derrick also indicates that the first time the gag was used was actually in November 14, 1951 but it was Violet who pulled a way the ball being worried that Charlie Brown would kick her hand. Mike has posted a photo of the 1952 gag with Lucy on his blog.