In the Beginning
The story of football began sometime during the 19th century in England when a soccer player, frustrated at using only his feet to manipulate the ball, decided to simply pick it up and run with it. Although it was clearly against the rules of soccer, other players soon found the new way of playing soccer appealing and thus, the sport of rugby was born.
The new sport soon became a world-wide success that found its way into America by the mid-1800s. Played by many northeastern colleges, it was not long before Harvard University and Yale University met in Massachussetts in 1876 to formalize the rules to rugby that were similar to those in England. There were differences however: instead of playing with a round ball, the schools opted for an egg-shaped and the game’s name was changed from rugby to football. To finalize the meeting, an organization called the Intercollegiate Football Association(IFA) was created to preside over the Americanized sport.
Football was still mainly American rugby–much different from the popular sport known today. Over the course of three years starting in 1880, Yale player Walter Camp eventually convinced the IFA to change a series of rules in football to create a game that is very similar today. For that, Camp is considered by historians as the father of modern football.
Nationalizing the Game
College football matured through the 1800’s in a league of its own until the beginning of the twentieth century when professional football teams began appearing. By that time, college sports fell under the newly-established National College Atheletic Association(NCAA) so the rules of professional football were derived from the collegiate organization’s guidelines.
When 1920 arrived, there more than 10 professional teams across the United States. Organizers from the teams decided to meet in Canton, Ohio to form the American Professional Football Association(APFA) which later became the National Football League(NFL). The NFL further changed the rules as football began to solidify as an all-American past time.
Becoming a Popular Sport in America
From the time of the NFL’s establishment, football made head-way in popularity with the population. The games played by the Chicago Bears versus teams like the Los Angeles Tigers and the New York Giants featured Harold (Red) Grange, the fresh-out-of-college rookie star who helped draw record numbers of fans into the stands. After the NFL divided into two divisions, the culmination of the best teams from those sections played the first NFL championship game in 1933.
As football became a favorite with Americans, many leagues soon followed the NFL in trying to establish their own franchise. The NFL’s dominance was so pervasive that many did not even last beyond four years. Under millionaire Lamar Hunt, however, the American Football League (AFL) was the only lasting follow-up league that was able to keep up with the NFL. Soon thereafter, both leagues fought to draft star college players, television contracts, and other perks generated from football’s popularity with the NFL often besting the AFL most of the time.
In another historic moment in football history, representatives from both the NFL and the AFL met in 1966 to agree on merging both leagues, but keeping the NFL name. Within the new league which actually began in 1970, two conferences were created that reflected the NFL’s origins: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference(NFC). From then on, those two sides of the NFL were to play its best teams in a championship game later named the Super Bowl starting with the champions from the NFL and the AFL.
One of the top sports in America, football has come a long way from the rebelling college students who want to play something that was more fun. With the introduction of the television which greatly increased football’s accessibility to more parts of the United States and the merger of the NFL and the AFL, football would become the most-watched television show as well as being very profitable. The titanic flood of fan interest generated billions of dollars by the 1990s for the profession which eventually trickled down to the players’ salaries.
If change was how football began, it is change that has kept the sport’s popularity high. Continually, the rules governing football have evolved throughout the years to generate fan interest. For example, newly enacted rules in the 1970s that promoted the risky throwing of the ball as opposed to running with it. In 1994, a greater emphasis was drawn from field goals to the two-point conversion. Completing the full circle, modern football still places fun as its top priority.