While this might be a little bit difficult to believe among American Football purists, the history of football in the United States actually began in Ivy League universities. In fact the “father” of American Football, Walter Camp, was an athlete at venerable Yale University. Surprisingly, the new game was actually deemed too violent and was banned at many colleges before being taken up by several Prep Schools on the East Coast. (We told you it would be a little difficult to believe.)
In the 1820s and 30s universities like Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth were all playing variations of the game. In those days it was more like rugby and that there were huge numbers of players on the field and not a whole lot in the way of rules. This led, obviously, to a lot of craziness and violence on the field that resulted in all sorts of horrific injuries. By the early 1860s yell and Harvard had already banned the game but, even as that was happening, prep schools were embracing it.
At that point in football’s history the kicking game and running game were paramount and the forward pass, something that has come to define the game in modern times, hadn’t even been invented yet. Also, the rules being used were nothing like what we have today as most prep schools had their own varying set of rules.
In 1873 a set of rules were first put together when the heads of several prep schools met in New York City. At that point football more closely resembled soccer and universities like Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, as well as Columbia, Princeton and Yale will still using this mostly kicking version. Harvard however prefer to stay with their Boston version of football which included kicking and carrying the ball. It was actually at Harvard where the term “touchdown” was first used and, at that point in time, it simply referred to when a player actually touched the football to the ground after carrying it over the goal line. Within a few years most of the other schools began to abandon the more “soccer like” version of football in favor of one that more resembled rugby and, in 1876, a set of standardized rules was adopted by most schools.
It was right around this time that Walter Camp, whom we mentioned earlier as the “father” of modern American Football, introduced a number of rules that are still with the game today. He reduced the number of players down to 11 on the field at one time (they were using 15), as well as introducing the “line of scrimmage”. With this new rule the familiar center to quarterback “snap” was born.
Another rule that Mr. Camp introduced was that each team had to advance the football at least 5 yards within 3 plays, something that has now been changed to 10 yards and 4 plays. The reason for this rule was actually that Princeton university was taking advantage of the new line of scrimmage and slowing the game down to a snail’s pace, something that fans weren’t exactly excited about.
If you think today’s game is violent than you would have been appalled in 1905 when 19 fatalities were actually caused on football playing fields around the country. It was for that reason that in 1906 the “forward pass” was introduced into the game and an effort to reduce injuries and deaths.
Kind of makes today’s NFL look a little wimpy in comparison, doesn’t it?