A Brief History of Football

Football is a sport and it is also known as American Football involving two opposing teams of players competing for territory on a football field using a ball and set play with the objective being to get the ball to the goal line of the opposing team by either scoring a running touchdown or kicking the ball over the post and between the uprights of the goal. Football does not have a goal defender like soccer instead it is much similar to Rugby and Australian Rules Football where all team members play a defensive and offensive role during the game.

The Rugby sport which is the predecessor to Football was invented in England during the 1860s although its background is common to soccer and dates back to at least the middle ages when groups of rival villages would compete to score a goal using filled or inflated pigs bladders that were held and run with until the player was tackled and lost control of the ball, a goal was scored when the ball was picked or carried thru to a designated point like the a post erected in the village square.

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In England during the 1860s a number of public schools, universities and working mens clubs got together to form a set of rules that would allow teams from different schools or districts to play against each other. The rules ultimately published were the forerunner of modern soccer but were not accepted by all teams who refused to join the new association and instead chose to create their own code known as rugby that allowed picking up the ball and tackling of opponents.

While the rules of football can be traced back to English parent games, American Football is in fact also indigenous to North America and older versions of the sport were played at Princeton in the early 1800s. The game was called ballown which involved passing and punching the ball along the field and past the opposing team to score. Eventually the game became known as football but the rules changed from time to time as new students took it up.

At Harvard University, a similar game was played on the first Monday of academic year by freshman and sophomore students which was a source of enjoyment for senior students, this game was called Bloody Monday and was considered a good ice breaker for letting new students get to know each other. The name Bloody Monday was no accident but was not a free for all, there was an objective to be met by scoring goals to win.

Shortly after the rules of soccer and rugby had been agreed in England, the US entered a new period of prosperity brought about by the end of the civil war. Rutgers and Princeton independently created their own rules of play and played the very first intercollegiate game of football on 6th November 1869. Princeton lost by two goals scoring only four goals to Rutger’s six goals and college football was born as a result of this.

Not long after intercollegiate games became popular and in 1873 representatives from Rutgers, Princeton, Yale and Columbia met to formulate a set of rules that would be used for future intercollegiate games. They established the intercollegiate Football Association and adopted many of the rules used in rugby, reducing the number of players per team from twenty to fifteen and setting the length of the field to 140 yards.

Football is very similar to rugby and in America had its dissenters namely Walter Camp of Yale who wanted a shorter playing field and less players fielded down to just eleven at any one time. As a senior member of the IFA rules committee Camp was influential and not long after the first rules were drawn up, Camp and Yale got their wish, the field was reduced to 110 yards and the number of players reduced to eleven.

American style football is proved more popular with American players and audiences than the older rugby styled game. Colleges all over the US adopted Camps new rules establishing American Football as the leading football code within a very short time. In 1882 Camp and the rules committee brought in the new system of three downs, it was a further change from rugby that allowed the team with possession of the ball to retain possession until the completion of their set play.

Many colleges banned the game for being too rough and brutal with horrific injuries being reported during the 1890s and despite enlarged rules committee representing over 60 colleges things didn’t improve much until President Roosevelt who was a keen follower of the game called on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) which was the successor to the IFA to eliminate brutality from the game.

The forward pass rule for the game was instituted that almost immediately eliminated the mass scrums that had been the cause of so many injuries and opened up the game to wide running play that is the hallmark of American Football even today. The number of downs was increased to four and the distance of play between downs increased from five to ten yards.

The new changes to American Football were so successful that non college teams based around community athletic clubs formed and began to compete against each other, often players were paid their time and in 1920 the National Football League (NFL) was formed. The rules of play were the same as for college football with the noted difference that players became professional and no longer had to do a separate job.

Professional football and the NFL franchise had begun to dominate with ever increasing viewer numbers and network television broadcasting most major games by the 1950s. A rival association, the American Football League (AFL) started in areas not already serviced by NFL teams and quickly started to compete for the best players, network broadcasting contracts and viewing numbers.

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The merger of the AFL and NFL in 1970 into a 26 team franchise was described as a defining moment in American Football history. A stronger league emerged and created the Super Bowl as its defining championship game but most importantly the revenue sharing model in place has meant that every team has a chance of competing in the Super Bowl, this is in stark contrast to other codes where major teams manage to dominate their league.