The Birth of American Football

American football is a sport that’s not much like the football we know. They’re similar in certain ways; teams have 11 players each on the field and the sport involves kicking the ball. 

However, what’s known as football in the rest of the world is called soccer in the U.S. and football has predominantly been used in the US to refer to this popular American sport. 

Remember when this meme was a huge hit on Facebook?

While the debate might be still alive, let’s find out how this American sport came into existence.

History of American Football

The first ever game that was played was on the 6th of November, 1869 in New Jersey. The match was between the two colleges, Princeton and Rutgers. The game was a mix of Rugby and Association Football (Soccer). 

Each team had 25 players and picking and carrying the ball was not allowed. Instead, the aim was to kick or bat the round ball, with any part of the body into the opponent’s goal. This college sport started gaining more popularity as more matches were played in the following years. 

Owing to the violent playing style, the game was also dubbed Mob Football and was banned in some cities from being played on the road or public playgrounds. 

A standard set of rules came into existence on October 19, 1873 when representatives from Princeton, Rutgers, Yale and Columbia held a conference. Harvard backed out of this meeting as they favored a more rugby-style game where carrying the ball by hands was allowed. 

In 1875, Harvard played with Yale under the rugby-style rules which two athletes from Princeton found quite interesting. This led to the formation of the Intercollegiate Football Association comprising Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. Soon, Yale also joined the association to change the rules forever.

Evolution of American Football

Under the new rules, the shape of the ball had been changed from round to oval. The number of players had gone down to 20 (later 15) players in each team and the field dimensions were set to 122m x 76m. 

However, with the association of Yale, a player from the school, Walter Camp changed the rules even further. A method known as Scrum, where players pack their heads close down to the ball to take possession of it was changed to a new method called Snap. 

Walter CAmp

Under Snap, the players had to pass the ball backwards while starting the game. This reduced the injuries and the chaos the previous method entailed. The number of the players had also been reduced again, to 11 in each team. 
All these changes, along with a new point system were instituted formally in 1880 and by 1892, Camp was given the title as the Father of American Football.

Fun Fact

The Father of American Football is also responsible for the Daily Dozen Set-up, a set of 12 exercises (that have to be performed within 8 minutes) designed to get soldiers ready for serious physically demanding activities. It was introduced by Camp during World War 1, when he was the advisor for the military.


American Football is a well-received sport across the U.S, and one of the most successful leagues in the world. However, it hasn’t found the same level of success in other parts of the world. 

The International Federation of American Football or IFAF is the governing body for international American football. World cups are held every 4 years with the upcoming one set to happen in 2025 in Germany.


Tags: Football
Pratheek Suryadev