History of American Football : Past and Present
American football emerged from the European game of Rugby in 1879. Walter Camp, a player and coach of Yale University, is recognized as "The Father Of American Football" as the early rules of the game was instituted by him. However, previous to that, the students of Princeton were already playing a game called "Ballown". It was about fisting the ball and then using their feet to advance the ball past their opponents. There were no hard and fast rules that applied and could be stated as the easiest form of football at it's early times. However, the physical aspect of the game was immense and often it turned violent.
At Harvard too, a football-type game was being played on the first Monday of the school year. This game was so much physical that the day it was played was often mentioned as "Bloody Monday". The year 1865 was very important for American Football. The Civil War had ended and football started gaining popularity in the colleges. It was in this year that some basic rules for the game were established and the game got its patent for the first time. Thus on 6th November, 1869 the first inter-collegiate football was played between Rutgers and Princeton where Rutgers won by a score of six goals to four.
In 1873, the Intercollegiate Football Association was formed by the representatives of Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, and Yale. Till then, the increasingly popular game was being played with many different rules. The association brought into effect the first set of rules of intercollegiate football which allowed fifteen players in each team. However, it was Walter Camp, a coach at Yale, who began the final process of evolution from rugby like game to what we know today as the American Football. The number of players was reduced to eleven and the standard size of the field was set to hundred and ten yards. A little later downs were introduced and tackling below the belt was legalized.
However, the violent physical challenge that the game demanded, caused many serious injuries and deaths in the next few years. As a result, though still gaining popularity, football was banned in many colleges. In 1905, under a directive from President Theodore Roosevelt, Yale, Harvard and Princeton setup a couple of meetings between schools and formed a seven member Rules Committee which was later came to be known as National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA.
The development of professional American Football
The first professional football player is thought to have been Yale-man William Heffelfinger, who accepted money to play for the Alleghery Athletic Association against their rivals, the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, in 1892. However, the first professional league was not established until 1910. Between 1910 and 1912, the administration of professional leagues was disorganised to say the least. Players had little incentive to remain loyal to a single team, and often acted as ‘freelance’ athletes, selling their services to a team temporarily before moving quickly to another club.
By 1920, it was decided that it would be in the best interests of the sport to develop a body that would oversee a major football league and bring some organisation to the game. It was with this intention that delegates from major teams came together in Canton, Ohio, to discuss the future of the sport. They formed the American Professional Football Association, renamed the National Football League (NFL) by 1922. The representatives drafted a constitution and made a number of important decisions, including a motion that would reduce the constant movement of players and encourage team loyalty. Jim Thorpe, who had found fame as an athlete and as a football and baseball player, was the first person to be elected President of the new organisation.
The NFL flourished in the remainder of the 20th Century, and American Football became increasingly popular, even stepping outside of the shadow of baseball in the years following World War II. This massive increase in popularity owed a lot to technological developments, most notably in 1939, when the game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Eagles made history as the first to be broadcast on television. Indeed, although over six hundred NFL players had fought for their country and twenty-one had been killed, the sport recovered quickly from the disruption imposed by the War, and an increasing number of Americans began to enjoy games, as more families began to purchase television sets.
However, in 1959, the sport faced one of its greatest challenges yet. Frustrated by the NFL, Lamar Hunt resolved to create a serious rival to the NFL; the American Football League. The 1960s were dominated by squabbles between the rival leagues over players and television rights. The AFL even took their grievances into the court room, claiming that the NFL were unfairly dominating television coverage and players. The court eventually ruled in favour of the NFL, but it was becoming increasingly clear to players, coaches and fans that something would have to be done to curb the belligerence that was beginning to pervade the sport.
In 1966, senior figures from both leagues agreed that the AFL and NFL should merge in time for the beginning of the 1970 season, thus eliminating arguments about players, sponsorship and air time. Since 1970, therefore, one major football league, still known as the NFL, has existed in the United States. The league is divided into the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference, the champions of which meet each year in the eagerly anticipated Super Bowl. The fact that NFL games are closely followed by American Football fans across the world to this day reflects the successful compromise between the AFL and the NFL.
American Football has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. With the advent of cable television, the game have crossed the boundaries of America and spread its wings all over the world. Dozens of games both collegiate ad professional are aired almost every Friday and Saturday afternoons and Sunday and Monday nights during the football season. The super Bowl, that decides the national champion, has become the most watched sporting event of all times