The history of Football in the United States is an intriguing story, especially its climb to become one of the most popular sports in America. But how much do you really know about the sport? Here at Memory Road, we love to explore the nostalgia of the past and nothing gets us more fired up than a good game of football!
Football Origins in America
American football is closely related to two other ancient English sports, rugby and soccer. It was introduced to the United States in the late 19th century. On November 6, 1869, Rutgers University and Princeton University played each other in the first known football game. Since the sport was still relatively new at the time, the two college teams played using similar rules to soccer. They also played with 25 players per team and used a round ball that could not be picked up or carried. The ball could be kicked or hit with any part of the body to move it closer to the opponent’s goal.
Many teams would continue to play football games with made up rules that resembled the rules of soccer, rugby or a combination of the two. It was decided that whichever team was visiting would honor the rules followed by the host school. In 1873, a standard set of rules was created by representatives at Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers to make the game more consistent for all the players. Their established rules limited the number of players to 20 per team and established a smaller football field (400x250 feet).
While these rules did help to make the game more consistent and enjoyable, there were still other elements of the game that created issues. So, in 1880 a Yale player named Walter Camp created an amended set of rules that would later grant him the title as the “Father of American Football”. His rues established elements of the game that are still relevant today: the snap, line of scrimmage, eleven-player teams, and the concept of downs.
Evolution of the Uniform
Throughout the early 1900s, football uniforms were made of wool or cotton sweaters without any type of padding or protection. In 1925, the first cleats were created and gained popularity quickly as they allowed players to move quicker on the field. As the rules of the game evolved to require more physical contact and tackling of players, player safety became a growing concern. Features such as padding, leather, and plastic helmets were added to help protect the players.
Teams quickly moved away from plastic helmets because the shattering plastic was causing further injuries. Then in 1943, sturdier plastic helmets were re-introduced to prevent head injuries. The effectiveness of these helmets soon became a mandatory requirement in all football leagues.
Full color uniforms started developing with the popularity of color TV in the 1960s. Soon after, in 1973, the NFL introduced a numbering system on the jerseys based on the player’s position. This made it easier to identify and communicate to players on or off the field.
As mentioned previously, some of the first ever football teams in America were through colleges and universities. Popular teams, like the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, have had football teams going back as far as 1893. With more colleges establishing football teams, it became imperative to create various football conferences to help determine the winner for each season. Each team would face various opponents within their conference and the ultimate goal was to make it to the College Football Playoff Championship game.
The first game between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869 is widely considered the first College Championship game ever played. Since then, there has been a National Champion ever single year except for 1871. Today, across all football athletic divisions, there are roughly 893 colleges that have a football team. The 5 most popular and recognized college conferences are the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Creating the NFL
Formed in 1920, the American Professional Football Association (APFA) was created to promote the sport and standardized the rules for the game. The NFL would determine champions through end-of-season standings, as a way to keep the game going after the traditional football season ended. In 1922, it was renamed the National Football League, but was still a far cry from the NFL we know today. Back then, the NFL was so small, that most of the teams within it would still play other teams outside the league and those games would count towards their team’s ranking. In 1933, the NFL increased the stakes by implementing a playoff system ended with the NFL Championship Game.
Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, other entrepreneurs attempted to create their own football leagues as competition for the NFL. In 1959, the American Football League (AFL) was created as an alternative pro football league. Their first season in 1960 had a total of 10 teams and their popularity grew quickly.
By 1966, the NFL and AFL agreed to a merger and to celebrate, they held the first Superbowl game on January 15th, 1967. The game featured the AFL season champion, the Kansas City Chiefs, who played the NFL season champion, the Green Bay Packers. At the time though, it was called the “AFL-NFL World Championship game”. Since that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue well (or look good for advertising), Lamar Hunt, owner of the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, was recorded calling the game “the Superbowl” in an interview. Fans and the media alike quickly picked up on the short nickname and by 1970 the championship game was officially renamed.
Fun Facts about the first Superbowl game:
- The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10
- The game was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
- Ticket prices were around $12, which is roughly $106 today
- This was the first and (to date) the only Superbowl game that did not sell out
- The Superbowl games are numbered with roman numerals because a normal football season runs into two different calendar years. This prevents confusion on which Superbowl people or the media are referring to.
Today, the NFL runs 32 teams and is the largest football league in the United States. It also boasts an impressive fan base with 184 million NFL fans. The Superbowl halftime show has also become increasingly popular and features a variety of popular singers, bands, and performers. Between 2001 and 2021, the NFL generated a revenue of 17.19 billion U.S. dollars.
Do you want to learn more about America’s most popular sports?
Memory Road’s Know-It-All KardLets® are the perfect way to learn more about baseball, golf, and other topics. Each KardLet® includes multiple different facts, pictures, and activities within the 24-page light booklet. Our KardLets® also double as a greeting card! There is a place at the beginning where you can personalize a message for the recipient. If you need more room, there is additional space in the back of the book for a special message or note.Pick a category and become a know-it-all in the topic! Or gift it to the know-it-all in your life who you know will enjoy it.