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Origin and History of American Football

Playing field

There is no doubt that, along with baseball and basketball, American football is one of the most popular sports in North America. The son of English rugby, although in Europe it is a sport with little popularity. In the United States, it is one of the disciplines that gathers the most fans. But what is its history, how was it born and why are so many following it?

The rise of American football

American football arises from a mixed application of the game of rugby and English or European football. The sport is more like rugby. Even so, it incorporates certain terms and rules copied in whole or in part from the European football matches. But the history and evolution of American football has been progressive and extensive.

In the mid-19th century, there were many entertainment activities with a ball. And although it seems strange to you, American football and rugby emerged in the same environment. Only that as both disciplines were evolving and acquiring their own rules. And characteristics were distanced to share only one noun: football.

In this specific case, rugby is the father discipline of this sport. Which is passed from England to the United States. This is where it began to evolve differently until it gained a character of its own.

The great changes we are talking about took place from 1880 onwards. Until then, rugby was played under slightly different rules than those imposed by the Rugby Union, with the game being governed by the rules imposed by the American Intercollegiate Football Association (A.A.I.F.).

Almost at the end of the 19th century, rugby was played in North America. But it seemed that some adjustments were needed to make it the perfect sport for Americans. Walter Camp pioneered this change. He was then a student at Yale University, where rugby was quite popular. He graduated in 1891. But by the following year, Camp had already proposed some of the changes. These are the downside system, the snapback from the center, the point system, the safety, and the offensive lines. They are being used up to this day.

The American universities began to apply these at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. And so, giving rise to the birth of American football. But there was an obvious aesthetic difference for that moment. It was not necessary to wear the current uniform, a more modern contribution. It’s because the activity required greater contact between the players.

From the beginning of the 20th century to the present day

The popularity of college football matches increased, and internal competitions had begun. Giving rise to the bowls that are so acclaimed and famous today. In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was born. Two years later it changed its name to the National Football League NFL. Thus, giving rise to the professional emergence of this discipline. It went from a practice carried out in colleges to become a sport with a nationwide hobby.

By 1970, Americans were able to enjoy the first Super Bowl as one of the most watched events in the nation. It is still the most watched sporting event in the country today.

Rules that create American football


Walter Camp, a player from Yale University, has gone down in history as the true father of American football. Camp wrote and made official the first rules of football at a convention in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1876. The sport therefore, be considered the year of the birth of football. 

One of the first rules introduced by Camp was to reduce the number of players from 15 to 11 per team. He also replaced the rugby melee with the scrimmage line to put the ball in play. In addition, the dimensions of the field are reduced from 140 by 70 yards to 110 by 53 yards.

The team also invented the downfield system. Which means certain yards must be advanced to maintain possession of the ball.

In 1888, one of the most important rules were introduced. The form tackle, which is to take the player by the waist to tackle him. This made American football much more violent.

Because of this rule and because of the game itself, it was almost banned in 1906. As there had been about 20 deaths and 160 injured during that season.

It was then that United States President Theodore Roosevelt had to intervene personally to save it. He suggested to the representatives of the different universities that the rules be revised. This is to have a slightly softer game without so much aggression.

The history of American football relied on speed to make runs and score points. In those times, more points were received for a field goal than for a touchdown.

In 1906 the early pass from the scrimmage line was legalized. And in 1909 the points awarded for a field goal dropped from 4 to 3 points. In 1912 the touchdown became worth the current 6 points.

American football was born in the universities. And for many decades, college football would be much more popular among the fans than professional football 

By the year 1922 the games that were held in the universities gathered more than 30,000 fans. While the professional games gathered about 5,000. In fact today some universities like Notre Dame or Nebraska drag more fans than some teams of the NFL.

At present, American football is very popular in the United States. Something that the sport has achieved thanks to its great historical evolution. The great dose of the display makes it an interesting sport for most Americans. It is widely played and disputed in universities. This is why the university leagues have become great mass events. 

That’s how humble rugby traveled from Europe to America to transform itself. It became a new discipline and unleashed a frenzy among millions of spectators. They acclaim American football as one of their favorite national sports. But they are not the only ones. Canadians and Mexicans also have professional leagues of this sport. It is highly acclaimed in those countries.

Outside the US borders, American football has its followers too. There are those who follow it closely to enjoy its intense, action-packed matches. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most intense and exciting versions of football of all times.