TigerTurf Articles >> Turf Sports: The History of American Football

Many of the more popular sports developed in the United States are actually altered versions of games that had been popular in Europe for centuries. American football is a derivative of the game of rugby and American football has become one of the most popular sports in North America. With successful professional football leagues in Canada and the United States, the popularity of American football continues to grow. In many parts of the United States, all levels of football are focal points of local life and millions of American children dream of becoming stars in the National Football League. But how did American football become so popular, and why has it had such staying power in the United States? The story of American football starts on a college rugby field and has evolved into one of the biggest sports stages in the world.

Early Games

Throughout the 1800s, football was played by large groups of people and involved scrums for possession of a ball. The game began on Ivy League college campuses such as Yale and Princeton, where students would beat each other to bloody messes as they chased around a lemon. Toward the middle of the 1800s, a Yale graduate named Walter Camp created the line of scrimmage and developed the concept of a group of players gaining yards for downs. In 1869, Camp's new rules were put to the test when Princeton faced Rutgers in the first organized football game. The ball was round and the game was still a bit of a free-for-all, but it established the growing popularity of the game. In the early days, each college campus had its own football rules. But in 1873, Princeton, Rutgers, Yale, and Columbia school representatives established a set of common rules that represented the first organized American football league.

College Football

In the earliest days of American football, college football was the only game being played. By 1905, the mob approach to American football had become so dangerous that it was crippling players and even resulting in player deaths. College football rules changes in 1906 resulted in the first-ever forward pass being thrown by St. Louis University quarterback Bradbury Robinson. The iconic American football coach Glenn "Pop" Warner established a successful career as a college football coach as college football become one of the more popular sports in the United States.

Professional Football

In the early days of professional football, there were regional athletic clubs that played against each other in spirited and popular contests. The first paid professional football player was an offensive guard named William "Pudge" Heffelfinger who was paid $500 to play for the Allegheny Athletic Association in one game against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The first version of the National Football League was actually started in 1902 by baseball teams that wanted to also play football. By 1920, American football had become so popular that a professional league called the American Professional Football Conference was started with 22 teams. In 1922, the league decided to change its name to the National Football League and became the dominant professional American football league.

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