I like football. Every year I look forward to the fall season not only because of the cooler weather and the changing color of the leaves on the trees, but also because it means the start of football season. Anticipation builds within me at the thought of seeing my team take the field once again and run for first place in their division.
I have been a fan of the game and the same team for decades. I have seen players, teams and even the football industry evolve and change over time. American football remains one of the most exciting and beautiful games in all of professional sports. For all its appeal, how and where did American football originate? All sports have their beginnings and what I discovered made me appreciate the game even more.
In the early 1800s, a popular game known as rugby, in which a football is kicked and run over a line, had its beginnings at the famous Rugby Boy’s School in England. Around the same time, in the United States, a group of Princeton students played the emergence of a game called “ballown”, similar to Rugby. East Coast prep schools such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Rutgers College also competed in football-type games. At the time, these early games resembled the more traditional style of “mob football” played in England. The rules were simple with large numbers of players trying to advance the ball into a goal area, usually by any means necessary. By 1855, manufactured inflatable balls were being used as football became a game of kicking and running.
Since there weren’t many set rules, violence and injuries were common due to the roughness of the game. The increasing brutality of the game became a public concern due to so many injuries and deaths that some universities banned it. President Theodore Roosevelt even threatened to ban the game and urged Harvard, Princeton and Yale to help make changes or lose the sport. Eventually, representatives from Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton formed the Intercollegiate Football Association to establish a new code of rules based primarily on rugby matches.
The man responsible for shaping American football as we know it today was Walter Camp. He enrolled at Yale in 1876 and headed the IFA’s rules committee. He proposed reducing the number of players from 15 to 11. He helped establish the line of scrimmage and the pass from the snapper to the quarterback. Camp also proposed that teams must advance the ball a minimum of 5 yards three times. More changes were instituted, such as the reduced size of the playing field, scoring rules, and playing time. In 1887, a paid umpire and umpire were ordered for each game and tackling below the waist was allowed. In 1889, officials were given whistles and stopwatches. The forward pass, one of the most important changes to the game, did not become legal until 1906.
Although the rules were changing, soccer was still a violent game in the style of previous mafia games. Changes had to be made to make the game more secure. These changes were discussed on December 28, 1905, by sixty-two schools meeting in New York City. Ultimately, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was formed as a result. More than a century later, college football continues to thrive as one of the most popular college games. After the demise of the IFA, the American Professional Football Association was formed in 1920. The association was later reorganized, renamed the National Football League in 1922.