The original game of football looked nothing like what it does today. From its early beginnings in the 1800s until now, the game has changed dramatically and it has become the most popular sport in America.
Before 1869, there were a few football-like games being played. Most were similar to rugby but involved unlimited numbers of players on opposing teams. By the late 1860s, most Ivy League universities were playing what would become known as football. In 1869, the very first college football game was played when Rutgers faced Princeton. That game involved 25 players on each team and the teams attempted to score by kicking a ball into their opponent’s goal. Rutgers won 6-4.
Rise of the College Game
Football was becoming extremely popular in cities and towns across the country. Walter Camp was one of the most influential figures in the game’s development. He helped establish the first set of uniform rules. Eventually, the number of players was reduced to 11 per team and Camp introduced things like the line of scrimmage and the quarterback-center exchange.
The game was questioned at the turn of the century because of its violence. In 1905, 19 players died while playing football. This brought about the creation of the NCAA. President Theodore Roosevelt, a big fan of the game, met with representatives from the various schools that were playing football. The meeting led to the formation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which would become college sports’ governing body.
The Professional Game
The American Professional Football Conference was formed in 1920 with 14 teams. It was the first professional football league in America and just two years later it would rename itself the National Football League. The great Jim Thorpe was the league’s first president. The NFL was nothing like it is today serving more or less as an agreement among the teams to play each other and declare a champion at the end of the season.
By the 1950s, the pro game was becoming more popular and when the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium at the end of the 1958 season, the game’s popularity really took off. The game happened to be the first NFL game to go to overtime and it was broadcast live on NBC.
Just two years later, the American Football League formed to rival the NFL. In 1970, the two leagues agreed to merge forming today’s NFL with the American Football Conference (the old AFL) and the National Football Conference (the original NFL).
Love of the Game
There are a number of reasons why football has become so popular in America and one can be traced back to the origins of the game. There are a number of traditional rivalries the fuel fans’ passion for the game. Harvard and Yale, for example, have played 134 times dating back to 1875, the first true college rivalry in America.
Each and every year, games like Alabama-Auburn and Ohio State-Michigan draw huge crowds and even bigger television crowds. It is the same in the NFL where rivalries like Dallas and Washington and Pittsburgh and Cleveland date back several decades.
The fact that college and pro teams play schedules that only include 12 to 16 games is another big factor in football’s popularity. Each week counts and every week culminates with a game unlike other sports where there may be hundreds of games in a season.
Football is loved for its traditions as well. There are the annual Thanksgiving Day games not just in the NFL, but high school teams around the country play too. The Super Bowl, now in its 52nd year, is an annual spectacle that is always one of the most watched events each year. These traditions are a part of American culture and are another of the reasons we hold the game of football near and dear to our hearts.