It’s Football Season: A Brief History of America’s Favorite Fall Sport

For many Americans Sundays in the fall are spent with friends and family sitting in front of the TV watching one of America’s favorite pastimes, football. The sport is also very popular among our international students, due to the popularity of the sport here in the states. This popularity comes from the deep roots football has in the United States. The game has been a big part of American culture for many years, 122 years in fact. In 1892 the first game of “professional” football was played between Allegheny Athletic Association and Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The rest, as they say, is history. However, how did one simple game of toss turn into a multi-billion dollar industry? Let’s review.

The Origin of the Game
Where the game of football originated is still uncertain. Some believe that the Native Americans were some of the first to play a ball game similar to that of football. However, others believe modern football originated in Europe.

An Intramural Sport
In the 18th century football began to be played as an intramural sport on college campuses such as Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale. Each campus played the game a little differently, but had overall commonalities. One commonality was the violence level of the game, which lead to protests and an ultimate ban of the game at Yale and Harvard.

The Birth of the Inflatable Ball
In 1855 manufactured inflatable balls were made.The ball was more regular in shape than the homemade footballs of the past. The shape of this new ball made it easier to kick and carry.

“Boston game”
By the middle of the 18th century two kinds of football were being played, a kicking game and a running/carrying game. The Oneida Football Club was the first play a hybrid of the two games called the “Boston game.” This hybrid game began to gain popularity throughout the country during the 1860s. This popularity released the ban of the game on college campuses. Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, and Brown played a kicking game while Princeton played the game according to rules established by the English Football Association.

College Football
The first intercollegiate game of football ever played was by Rutgers University and Princeton University in 1869. 5 years later representatives from Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers met to create an official rule guide to football. Harvard, who still played their version of football called the “Boston game,” refused to attend the meeting. However, after playing against McGill University under the new rules Harvard had a change of heart. In 1876 representatives from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia met to standardize a new set of rules for football. Harvard, Princeton and Columbia went on to form the Intercollegiate Football Association. Yale joined the association in 1879.

Walter Camp
Walter Camp was vital in helping developing the modern rules of football. He was the first to propose reducing the player number to 11. He also established the line of scrimmage and the snap from center to quarterback. All of these changes were approved in 1880. Camp would go on to propose more rules that would revolutionize the game of football forever. He is known for being an important figure in the development of American football.

For the Love of the Game…and Money

The first player to ever be paid for playing football professional was William Heffelfinger.  Heffelfinger was paid $500 to play for Allegheny Athletic Association against Pittsburgh Athletic Club. As time went on it become very common for football players to be paid. However, the ways in which these players were being compensated became quite corrupt. The National Football League (NFL), established in 1920, noticed this problem and aimed to solve it. By 1922  the NFL was established as the premier professional football league.

No Longer a College Affair

Football was a collegiate sport up until 1925 when an NFL team, the Pottsville Maroons, played against a team of Norte Dame all stars. In the 1930s a greater emphasis was placed on the “passing game,” instead of the “running game” which helped establish football as more than a college sport.

Football’s Impact on the World

Baseball may still be the all American pastime, but football is America’s most popular sport. Football also has a significant following in Canada, Mexico, Japan, and European countries such as Switzerland and Germany.


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Nacel Open Door

Nacel Open Door, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to international understanding and language education.

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