American Football History

First, let's clear up what we believe to be a common misconception in understanding football history. Some may think (we certainly did) that the game is called 'football' because the players kick the ball with their feet.

Not so.

'Football' actually refers to playing a game on foot as opposed to on horseback. Point being that it was more a game for peasants than for lords and knights and such who played their games on horseback. You know: jousting and polo and like that.

And then, common wisdom has it that American football history begins with a few tweaks to the British game of rugby. Truth is, folks have been kicking and throwing and running around with some ball-type thing for millennia. Caveman football

Granted, around 1823, rugby apparently made the bold move of allowing players to run with the ball in their hands rather than kicking it around, a feat attributed to one William Webb Ellis (although some consider this little more than an urban myth).

Actually, the ancient Greeks beat Billy Ellis to the punch. Before we get into that, though, let's pause in our football history for a look at the Middle Ages.

If you think a game of football today looks like a mob scene, consider this: in the 5th and 6th centuries, whole towns would participate in these games, which, not surprisingly, were referred to as 'mob football.' The idea was to move an inflated pig's bladder by any means possible to markers set at opposite ends of the town. Ouch!

But getting back to the ancient Greeks' place in football history. They played a game called Harpaston.

Harpaston Greek Football

In Harpaston, points could be scored by moving the ball across a goal line either by kicking it, running with it (so there, Billy boy!), or throwing it across the line to another player.

Sounds a lot like today's American football, yes? Except that there were no other rules. That's right. None at all. No limit to the number of players or the length or width of the field, no penalties. Like mob football in the Middle Ages, the object was to get the ball across the goal line by any means possible!

Okay. Time to give rugby its due.

In the early 1800's, England had seven major public schools, all of which played a version of football. Whereas six of these schools developed the game into what became known as "association football" (soccer for short), one of them, the venerable Rugby school (founded in 1567) moved in the direction of the game named after it.

The eleven-man game we recognize today is the work of Walter Camp, the Yale athlete who became known as The Father of American Football.

And speaking of Yale, no American football history would be complete without a history of football in America.

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