When I think about the fall, many things come to mind: leaves changing colors, mowing the lawn for the last time before spring, school starting back up, and a million other things. But the thing I look forward to the most is definitely football. Most football fans have a preference of high school, college or NFL. I do not. I love football. Period. I remember a commercial a while back that first aired at the start of football season that pretty much sums it up for me. A man is telling his wife he vows to only watch football on Saturday. And Sunday. And Monday night. And sometimes on Thursday. That’s how I feel, too.
My own two children have adopted my love for the game and will watch and cheer on our favorite teams with almost as much intensity as I do. Almost. I am an avid University of Oklahoma fan, to say the least. I try to warn people who watch an OU game with me for the first time to be prepared for some intense screaming, cheering and all around mayhem. Of course, I don’t realize how passionate I get about my teams, I’m simply watching the game the only way I know how. Well, my boys and I were watching an OU game last season and Jacob, 5 years old at the time, fell asleep as only a 5 year old can. At one point Nicholas, then 7 years old, looked at me and said “Dadda, I don’t know how Jacob can sleep with you yelling so loud!” I have to say I agree.
With the rapid approach of all things football, I decided that an article about football, its history and how to play was in order. As I started writing the article, I realized that there is too much for just one article. So this week we will look at a very brief history of the sport. Then next week we will discuss how to play and some ways you can enjoy football in your own backyard. I hope that you are able to take a little something away from what is written below and can enjoy watching and playing football as the season unfolds over the next several months.
A Brief History
The birth date of American football is generally regarded as November 6, 1869, when teams from Rutgers and Princeton Universities met for the first intercollegiate football game. In those early games, there were 20 players to a team and football still more closely resembled rugby than modern football. There were few rules and many injuries.
Walter Camp, a coach at Yale University, is widely considered the father of American football. In the 1880s, he helped begin the final step in the evolution from rugby-style play to the modern game of American football. Under Camp’s direction the number of players on a team was cut from fifteen to eleven and the size of the playing field was set at one hundred ten yards (later changed to one hundred yards). Camp also introduced the system of downs. After first allowing three attempts to advance the ball five yards, in 1906 the distance was changed to ten yards. The fourth down was added in 1912.
Even after Camp’s attempts to make the game safer, there was still a lot to be done. After several decades of very few formal rules and several serious injuries that led some colleges to ban the game from campus, President Theodore Roosevelt created a committee in 1905 that formed what would later become known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA. The committee instituted several rules that made the game safer and more standardized.
One of the biggest changes that the new committee first made was the legalization of the forward pass, which resulted in a redesign of the ball (it used to be almost completely round) and a more open style of play on the field. The rough mass plays, which once caused so many serious injuries, were prohibited by the committee. Also prohibited was the locking of arms by teammates in an effort to clear the way for their ball carriers. The length of the game was shortened, from seventy to sixty minutes, and the neutral zone, which separates the teams by the length of the ball before each play begins, was also established. Over the years, many more people have been involved in the evolution of the game, instituting more rules to make the game safer, more organized and more fun to watch and play.
There is an absolute wealth of information about the history of football out there. This article attempts to only give you the briefest glimpse into how the sport was formed. I encourage all of you to get online or go to your local library and read the full history – it is quite fascinating.
Until next week,
Today’s Fun Fact: If you played football in 1883, a touchdown would have been worth 2 points, a field goal worth 5 points and an “extra point” kick worth 4 points.