Why do we love football? Why do we dedicate a full weekend to a single sport for 19 weeks of the year? Maybe it’s the extravagance of the National Football League (NFL), the traditionalism of college sports, or the thrill of playing two-hand touch with your older brother and his friends in the yard. Americans so adore it we have a whole observance for it — July 19, National Football Day.
American football, or gridiron — not to be confused with “futbol” or soccer — was invented in the late 1800s by Yale graduate Walter Camp. Camp is considered the father of American football. He came up with the concept of the line of scrimmage, down-and-distance regulations (first and 10), and blocking. He used themes from English rugby, adapting the rules for a novel sport.
As early as 1820, Princeton students played a game called “ballown,” which means “battling of the bladder with fists.” Players had to bat a ball with a fist to keep it moving. “Ballown” is regarded as the simplest version of football. It never gained popularity, falling out of style during the Civil War.
The first intercollegiate football game occurred in 1869, putting Princeton up against local rival Rutgers.
Two teams of 25 players lined up as if they were playing rugby but ran plays more commonly seen in the modern game. It was 11-on-12, with the “fielders” needing to stop the “bulldogs” from earning points. Many players remarked how speed, strength, and strategy were crucial in gaining the upper hand on the opposition.
Photo Courtesy Rutgers University
Football — which basically was rugby — wouldn’t become unique until 1882. Once new rules were introduced, they became increasingly popular on college campuses.
Harvard used to have an annual freshman vs. sophomore football game in the mid-1800s. The university’s president believed the game was too violent and essentially a form of hazing. It was called “Bloody Monday” because of how wild it got — less of a game and more of a brawl.
Football’s first professional player was William “Pudge” Heffelfinger in 1892. To think, they used to play with leather caps as helmets! The first televised professional game occurred in 1939, with around 500 people viewing it.
The development of football is synonymous with the development of modern America. Today, people can watch it in various forms: NFL, CFL, college football, XFL, USFL, and arena and flag football. You don’t need pads to play; just play two-hand touch in the yard.
Photo Courtesy Keith Johnston
Celebrate National Football Day with a game of two-hand touch, watch the games when they start in September, or join a local flag team. Fantasy football is one of the most popular ways to enjoy the sport. You can build your team with your favorite players.
Football culture preaches teamwork, camaraderie, and discipline in some people’s minds. Some even considered the sport a religion. In a way, it is. The Super Bowl brings us together with food, drinks, and good times.
College games begin on Aug. 26 this year, as the Navy takes on Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland. The NFL season kicks off on Sept. 7. National Football Day is the perfect time to start planning your parties!