The History of American Football

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CRACK! You get tackled by a huge man in big bulky pads, the whistle blows and the play ends. You are wearing bulky pads that can weigh around 20 pounds. You're wondering what this game is. This fast paced game is called American football.

American football is a fast-paced contact sport that is played between two teams with eleven players on a rectangular field at once. A rugby-like ball is thrown and carried. The offence tries to move the ball to score, while the defense tries to stop the offence from scoring. In this writing we'll be learning about how football started, the evolution of football, and the equipment required to play.

How did it Start?

Football is a sport that is mixed between rugby and soccer. It is a relatively young sport compared to other sports, such as soccer. Football has an interesting origin from where it came from that has evolved into America's most popular sport of 2017.

The Origin

Football originated from the European game of rugby. At Harvard, a football-like game was being played and the game was so physically demanding, it was referred to Bloody Monday. Harvard University made a football team in 1873 , but had difficulty finding an opponent. They decided to play with Massachusetts, but the other players were playing a different game from the Harvard team. They were running with the ball more like rugby. Harvard soon took a revised form of football to the University of Yale and they sooned agreed to play. That new form of football soon took off and became very popular.

An old photo of Harvard football.

Who invented American Football?

The person who most people call the Father of American Football is Walter Camp. He was a undergraduate and medical student at Yale. He was also halfback and team captain for the Yale football team. He introduced the eleven man team, the quarterback position, the line of scrimmage, the scoring system, and the system of downs. He also invented the enxtra point after touchdown, and the safety.

A photo of Walter Camp.


American football has changed a lot over the 100+ years it has been in existence. Many things have changed as well as the ball and how popular it is. It has gone from an unpopular sport to America's most popular sport, and the Super Bowl is now one of the most important sport events in the world. In Super Bowl 51, 113 million people tuned in to watch the superbowl. Some of the most important changes to American football is the ball and how it has gone from a boy's game to a professional sport.

The Football (the ball itself)

One of the most changed pieces of equipment in American football is the football itself. The football's nickname pigskin fits its history; they used to be made from pig's bladder. Later versions were made from leather skin and were stitched with laces. The ball used to be a round watermelon shape, but as the years passed, the ends became more pronounced. Footballs used in college and high school have white lines painted at the ends, but college footballs only have the lines painted on the top ends.

During the 1930s, the ball became longer and slimmer as the forward pass became dominant. In 1956 white balls were used in night games, while the white stripes were still used during daytime games. A suprising fact about the NFL is that in one game, they use around 48 balls per game.

This is a modern football.

Boy's game to the NFL (National Football League)

At first known as the APFL, but later the NFL, the first president of the NFL was Jim Thorpe. It was founded by a group of men in Canton, Ohio at the Hupmobile showroom of Ralph Hay, who was the owner of the Bulldogs. In 1920, pro football games were overshadowed by college games and as a result the owners of pro teams lost money. One of the biggest events in all sports is the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl was the result of the AFL (American Football League) and the NFL (National Football League) merging together into one league. AFL founder, Lamar Hunt, joking referred to the championship game as the Super Bowl after seeing some kids play with a Super Ball. The Super Bowl is played annually between the AFC and the NFC division champs. The winners of the Super Bowl get a trophy called the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It is named after Vince Lombardi who was the coach of the Green Bay Packers who won the first two Super Bowls.

This is the NFL's official logo.

The Equipment

The equipment in American football is very important because of the physical injuries playing the sport can cause. The players' equipment can help protect against broken bones, torn muscles, and many other injuries. Football is a very rough sport and the average player's career is only 3.3 years. It is most likely because many players can't handle the many risks playing football has. Some important pieces of equipment is the helmet, the facemask, and the cleats.

The Helmet

When football was first played, it looked a lot like rugby; no players were wearing any sort of headgear or any protective gear. Helmets were not made mandatory to wear until 1939, and when watching a game you would see many bare heads across the field. The first helmets made, were made out of mole leather skin and stitched together for players who were worried about their safety. These helmets looked like an aviator's cap with ear flaps, but didn't cover the face. In 1940 a sporting company named Riddell introduced the first plastic helmet. Over time players began painting their helmets to show team spirit, but also made it easier for teammates to spot each other. In the early 1970s Riddell made another upgrade to the helmet and added vinyl pads inside the helmet to provide more padding and absorb more impact. The most common helmet is now the Riddell revolution speed helmet.

This is the Riddell Revolution Speed helmet.

The Facemask

The problem before face masks were that players were getting punched in the mouth, or face. Before the face masks during the 1920's, players wore a nose guard with or without a helmet. The first manufactured facemask came in 1953 and was called the Lucite shield. The Lucite shield was a disaster and shattered upon impact, causing injuries. The NFL soon banned the Lucite shield soon after. This problem led to the single bar Riddell helmet and many other helmets with many other numbers of bars across the helmet for the next 50+ years. In the late 1950's the NFL soon introduced the facemask penalty because more players were starting to use the facemask. The facemask penalty was a penalty against players pulling on other player's facemasks.

This is a helmet with the Lucite facemask which was a disaster.

Shoes (Cleats)

Before the invention of football cleat, players used to run around in boot-like shoes. It was hard for players to run around the field in these shoes. The technology of cleats began when players started attaching metal spikes to the bottoms of their shoes. This eventually led to companies manufacturing shoes with the metal spikes already attached. The football shoe went from a boot like shape to a low cut design that was lighter and much easier for players to run in.

A comparison with old cleats and modern cleats

Generally speaking, football has had a very interesting history and is a very exciting sport. This sport has been around for over a hundred years and probably will still be around in the future for many years to come. As you can see, the history of how football started, the evolution and the history and will change over the years.

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Cite this page

The History of American Football. (2019, Dec 10). Retrieved November 28, 2023 , from

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