Historic Development of Football
Both American football and soccer have their origins in varieties
of football played in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century,
and American football is directly descended from rugby football.
Rugby was first introduced to North America in Canada, brought
by the British Army garrison in Montreal which played a series
of games with McGill University. In 1874, McGill arranged to play
a few games in the United States, at Harvard University, which
liked the new game so much that it became a feature of the Ivy
League. Both Canadian and American football evolved from this point.
American football in its current form grew out of a series of
three games between Harvard University and McGill University of
Montreal in 1874. McGill played rugby football while Harvard played
the Boston Game, which was closer to soccer. As often happened
in those days of far from universal rules, the teams alternated
rules so that both would have a fair chance. The Harvard players
liked having the opportunity to run with the ball, and in 1875
persuaded Yale University to adopt rugby rules for their annual
game. In 1876 Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia formed the
Intercollegiate Football Association, which used the rugby code,
except for a slight difference in scoring.
In 1880 Walter Camp introduced the scrimmage in place of the rugby
scrum. In 1882 the system of downs was introduced to thwart Princeton's
and Yale's strategy of controlling the ball without trying to score.
In 1883 the number of players was reduced, at Camp's urging, to
eleven, and Camp introduced the soon standard arrangement of a
seven-man offensive line with a quarterback, two halfbacks, and
On September 3, 1895 the first professional football game was
played, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, between the Latrobe YMCA and
the Jeannette Athletic Club. (Latrobe won the contest 12-0.).
By the 1890s interlocking offensive formations such as the flying
wedge and the practice of teammates physically dragging ball-carrying
players forward had made the game extremely dangerous. Despite
restrictions on the flying wedge and other precautions, in 1905
eighteen players were killed in games. President Theodore Roosevelt
informed the universities that the game must be made safer. To
force them to respond to his concerns, he threatened to pressure
Congress to make playing football a federal crime.
In 1906, two rival organizing bodies, the Intercollegiate Rules
Committee and the Intercollegiate Athletic Association, met in
New York; eventually they agreed on several new rules intended
to make the game safer, among them the addition of a neutral zone
between the scrimmage lines and a requirement that at least six
players from each team line up on them. The most far-reaching innovation
they considered, though, was the legalization of the forward pass.
This was very controversial at the time, much derided by purists.
As an alternative means of opening out the play, Walter Camp would
have preferred widening the field; but representatives from Harvard
pointed to recently constructed Harvard Stadium, which could not
be widened, and the forward pass was adopted; it has come to shape
the whole history of American football, as opposed to its cousins
around the world.
In 1910, after further deaths, interlocking formations were finally
outlawed; and in 1912 the field was changed to its current size,
the value of a touchdown increased to 6 points, and a fourth down
added to each possession. The game had achieved its modern form.