A brief history of American football

Stanford 1950s
Photo from Stanford Athletics.

The game we know today as American football came into being, borne out of the English sports of soccer and rugby. What was created in the late 19th century is now incredibly popular with millions watching games, betting on games, and scrambling the internet to find the NFL playoff odds. It is incredible to think of how quickly this game grew so much.

When, only in the late 19th century were elite Northeastern colleges taking up the sport, playing a soccer-styled game with rules adopted from the London Football Association.

Intercollegiate matches began to spring up in schools such as Rutgers, Princeton, Harvard and so on. Rugby-type rules ended up becoming more preferential among school and spectators alike, and from here the game grew.

The father of American football

A man named Walter Camp is considered to be the most important person in the development of American football. As a youth he excelled in many sports. Following the introduction of rugby styled rules to American Football, he became a fixture at the Massasoit House conventions, where rules were debated and changed. Dissatisfied with what seemed to him to basically be a disorganized mob, he proposed his first change at the first meeting he ever attended in 1878: which was a reduction in the number of players from 15 to 11.

However, the motion was initially rejected at that time, however it passed three years later. The effect was in idea to open up the game and emphasize speed over strength. His most famous change however was the establishing of the line of scrimmage and the snap from center to quarterback, which is still one of the coolest parts of the game to this day. This motion was also carried in 1880.

He changed the rules of football, and innovated the game into what we recognize as football today. Though this was long ago and many things have still changed since, he revolutionized the sport and brought much change that made it less like soccer and rugby, and its own, unique sport which we all know and love.

Growth of professional football

Professional football started to grow even more in the early 20th century, as the general population in the U.S. started to slowly fall in love with the sport. It became the subject of intense competition and rivalries.

Then in 1920 we saw the American Professional Football Association founded, in a meeting at a Hupmobile car dealership in Canton, Ohio. Jim Thorpe was elected as the league’s first president and after several more meetings the league’s membership was formalized.


In the early years of the league, it was little more than a formal agreement between the teams to play one another and declare a champion at the season’s end. And teams were still permitted to play non-league members.

The league expanded quickly. In 1921 several more teams joined, increasing the membership to 22 teams altogether, among these were the Green Bay Packers, which is the team with the record for the longest use of an unchanged name.

While the NFL was founded in 1920 the AFL was founded in 1959, and so began a rivalry that ended in 1970.

The Merger (1970)

That brings us to 1970, the merge that ended the issues between the AFL and NFL. The two leagues decided to merge in 1970, leading to the creation of the NFL we know today. The AFL and NFL changed their names to the NFC (National Football Conference) and the AFC changed their name to the AFC (American Football Conference). The NFL continued to grow, adopting some innovations of the AFL, including the two-point conversion. It also expanded several times to reach its current 32-team membership, with 16 teams in each conference.

Each of these two conferences has four divisions, north, east, south, and west, and each division homes four teams.

Since the NFL merger that created the sport we know and love today, it has grown incredibly. The Super Bowl has become a cultural phenomenon across the country, and even across the world, and it is also one of the most popular events televised in the United States. It is also a major source of advertising as well. The NFL has grown from a tiny idea, contributed to by many, and fathered by people with a dream in the 19th century, to an incredibly popular spectator sport.

However, it is safe to say that it is doubtful that the sport would have reached the incredible heights it has today without the intervention of the 1970 merger that brought the NFL and AFL together to create the countrywide NFL that brings the whole country together in an unforgettable season of sport.

Football we know today

The sport we know and love today was born a very long time ago, and some may even say that cultures before the America we know today, played similar sports, however, what we know as American football, and the rules and way it is played, was carefully formulated by many masterminds.

The sport was influenced by many, which can be seen in the game today, rules chosen and crafted by the father of football Walter Camp. The merger of the AFL and NFL in 1970, which changed the rivalry and made the sport even bigger. Vince Lombardi – the coach of the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two Super Bowls and ended up having the trophy named after him in his passing.

The rise of this sport took less than two centuries in the making, and now it is the biggest sport in the U.S. In fact, it is estimated that in 2021 the franchise of the NFL is almost priceless. The most valuable teams have net worth in the billions, such as the Dallas Cowboys at $6.5 billion, and the New England Patriots at $5 billion.

No matter how it began, and how long it took, we know you will be bouncing for this season’s Super Bowl, and so will we. As we thank everyone involved in the creation of this incredible sport.

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About Sam Cox 703 Articles
Sam is a widely published freelance writer, covering basketball, baseball and a range of other sports. He's still trying to decide if he prefers a rundown shot block or a smooth double play.

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