The history of football
Find out how America's favorite sport got started.
Today, American National Football League (NFL) football is a huge spectator sport that uses the latest in technology and even has its own cable channel. With all this modern spectacle, it is hard to imagine that the history of football started with small groups of college kids adapting their own mixture of rugby and soccer.
Football in the 17th Century
As far back as the 17th century, there have been games similar to football played in the United States. None of these were organized games, and no standardized rules existed. In the 19th century, intramural games were played on fields at colleges across the United States, but the game was different at every school. Some resembled soccer, while others were a running game more like British rugby.
Football in the 1800s
In the mid 1800s, Harvard started their own version of the game, known as the "Boston Game." This version combined kicking and carrying the ball, and brought the game closer to what we know as football. Other colleges like Rutgers and Princeton continued to play a game where carrying the ball was not allowed, and the only way to score was to kick the ball through your opponent's goal. After Harvard played a game of rugby with McGill University from Montreal, Canada in 1874, they added the use of the rugby "touchdown" to their football game. Other colleges soon followed suit, and the game came closer to what we see today.
When you talk about the history of football, Walter Camp is considered one of the most important people to the sport and is often called the "father of football." He was an athlete from Yale who was instrumental in standardizing the rules of the game. Among the changes he made from the rugby/soccer hybrid were eleven on a team instead of fifteen, one side keeping the ball until losing it due to their own violations, the line of scrimmage, quarterback and center positions, and making touchdowns worth six points and field goals worth three in 1912. This scoring system is the same today.
Although the game was gaining national recognition, it was so violent and bloody that the Harvard-Yale game was suspended for a few years, as was the annual Army-Navy game. In 1905 there were 19 players killed during football games, which led President Roosevelt to threaten to shut down the game unless it was made more safe. At that time, the forward pass was introduced, in an effort to reduce the number of injuries.
College football's popularity spread from the east coast throughout the United States. The first professional leagues were formed in the 1800s, with today's NFL forming in 1920. It started with fourteen teams. The Green Bay Packers joined in 1921, the only early team to still exist with the same name and in the same city. In the 1930s, play-off games were introduced to determine the national champion. This has since become our modern Super Bowl.
The NFL has gone through many evolutions to get to where it is today. Even though baseball is called America's sport, NFL football is the most widely enjoyed spectator sport in the United States. It's come a long way from small groups of college boys making up their own rules on intramural fields in the Northeast.