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Football History

American Football: History

Originating from the rules and structure of rugby and soccer, the first game of American football took place between two prominent schools, Rutgers and Princeton, on the fateful day of November 6, 1869. The teams were comprised of 25 players each that could kick and bat the rounded ball from one side of the field to their goal area and back. They were prohibited from carrying or picking up the ball with their hands though their hands were able to bat the ball to another eligible player or to score a goal. When this new version of rugby mixed with soccer came to an end, Rutgers emerged the victor.

While the rules of this new game weren’t cemented with this first official playing of this sport, it did help when Walter Camp, the “Father of American Football,” drew up his own rules in 1880, which laid out the first foundation for football as we would become to know it. In his initial set of rules, he set the rules for using a snap instead of a punt to initiate gameplay, limited the number of players on the field per team, and even developed the concept of downs, or tackles, that would be allowed per holding of the ball. Though the concept of downs didn’t take place until 1882 since the invention and use of the snap caused some issues with one team monopolizing the ball where the other team could only block, leading to multiple tied games with scores of zero on both sides. To counter this, his concept of downs began with an allowance of three downs that must reach five yards or lose the ball to the other team. This actually leads to the markers that are placed upon the field so the teams would know where five yards were, creating a gridiron look, which also gives football its other moniker.

The year of 1882 also brought other changes to the game to shape it more like the game we see today. This includes making the size of the field a total of 110 yards by 53.33 yards, which was a reduction of the original size of 400 feet by 250 feet. The scoring system was also instituted to make the amount of points different based on the type of score one team performed, such as 4 points for touchdowns, 2 points for safety and PAT goals, and 5 points for field goals. Plus, the process of tackling another player below the waist was legalized.

Since American football has one of the highest contact levels in sports, it can lead to several injuries and even casualties for its players. In 1905, there was a record number of 19 deaths, which put President Theodore Roosevelt in the position to consider abolishing the game altogether if the rules weren’t made with the players’ safety in mind. So, in December of that year, 62 colleges and universities converged on New York City and developed the rules to help keep players safer on the field, creating what is known today as the NCAA.

The following years, more rules were created or again revised to fit the growing popularity of the game. 1906 brought the forward pass created by John Heisman, 60 minutes of gameplay instead of 70, an increase in the distance of the first down to 10 yards, and the creation of the neutral zone to reduce the dirty playing and fighting amongst the players on the field before the ball goes into play. Field goals points are reduced to 3 points in 1909. More points are given to touchdowns (6 points to be exact) in 1912 along with the playing field increased to 120 yards to include 20 yards for both end zones, and first down increased to 4 tackles up from its original 3. Penalties for roughing the passer are enacted in 1914 while the ball can be passed to any eligible player upon the field in 1918.

With its popularity among the collegiate level, it didn’t take long for the first professional level game to be played on November 12, 1892 between the athletic clubs of Allegheny and Pittsburgh. This game is significant since it was the first game where a player was actually paid to play the game. With this game, there came an eventual need for a governing body to keep the rules enforced and even an agreement to what those rules were, thus the creation of the National Football League, or NFL. At the time of its creation, it was known as the American Professional Football Association and was responsible for the cessation of the bidding wars over players, the prevention of college players from playing at the professional level, and the abolition of bribery to players so they’ll leave their current team. The NFL rose to the highest rank as the premier professional football league in 1922, becoming legitimate in 1925 with the newly formed team, the Pottsville Maroons, which won against the Notre Dame team in an exhibition game.

1958 was the year that solidified the popularity of the sport and the league with the “Greatest Game Ever Played” between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants as the Colts rising as the victors in overtime with a win of 23-17. However, in just two short years, a new league stood to threaten the foundation of the NFL with the creation of the American Football League, or AFL, in 1960. So in response, the NFL decided to expand its territory to include cities like Minneapolis and Dallas, along with adopting new rules that were part of the AFL’s structure in an attempt to squash the new league. However, the AFL didn’t dissipate as NFL had hoped and eventually they agreed to a merger of the two in 1966, which ended the wars between the leagues as they bid for players to join one over the other. This agreement, however, didn’t go into effect completely until 1970. In the meantime, they decided to test the mettle of each leagues’ teams by pitching the top two teams against each other in the NFL’s championship game, known as the Super Bowl, which we’ve had ever since.