It’s a running joke that we’ll be watching flag football in fifty years instead of what we watch today as each generation seems to soften, but that joke begs the question: How has football evolved over the years? Where did it begin and how did it gain popularity? Has it always been played professionally? We’ll answer a few of the most common questions regarding the history of one of the most popular sports in the country.
The first football-like game was played in the U.S. on November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The rules were different from those we know today, but were developed by the London Football Association. Football is a hybrid of the popular English sports soccer and rugby. Football isn’t even the right terminology. “Gridiron” football found its name due to the vertical yard lines on the field.
Of course, that all gives the very wrong impression that England is responsible for soccer, if soccer is indeed one of the original ingredients of American football. The Chinese played something similar over the preceding centuries. The English adaptation of games that evolved over time was called football because it wasn’t played on horseback, like other popular games in the 19th century. The rules back then didn’t resemble soccer OR the football we know and love today.
The concept of organization and opposing goalkeeping originated in Scotland in the 20th century, long after the original games were invented. The new style didn’t make its way to Europe until the 1920s, which means, you guessed it: the football-like game first played in New Jersey in 1869 was also very different and lacked rules with which we’re familiar.
This is part of the reason that the European “football” (soccer) and American football grew to become so very different. Our version became popular very quickly. Harvard and Yale played their first collegiate game in 1875. Walter Camp was a student at Yale from 1876 to 1881, and he helped introduce new rules: such as an 11-man team. He was also responsible for giving us a quarterback, signal-calling, scoring, and the line of scrimmage. The rest is history!