American football (or just “football” in the U.S.) is one of the most popular sports in the world, with an estimated 400 million fans in North America, Australia, Europe, Africa, and Asia. This team sport is one of the most-watched competitive events at the professional and collegiate levels. Although it evolved from other sports, it is considered a very American game, having evolved as a professional game in the U.S., and being a beloved sport by many Americans.
American football has roots in association football (now known as soccer) and rugby football, albeit in their early forms. Both association football and rugby have roots in even earlier games that go back to medieval ball games. The earliest game that bears some similarity to American football is a game called Episkyros which was played in Ancient Greece. The game involved throwing a ball while other players are in a scrimmage. At the same time, players also have to avoid tackles.
On Nov. 6, 1869, the first college football game was played by Rutgers University against Princeton University. The sport has since become an integral part of college sports. American football evolved due to major changes implemented in the rules used in association football and rugby. Some of the most notable changes were invented by Walter Camp, considered the Father of American Football. Camp was a football player and a coach himself, and was part of a number of committees that oversaw collegiate football rules. He is credited for creating the line of scrimmage, legalization of blocking and forward pass, and the sport’s system of downs.
During the 19th century and towards the first decades of the 20th century, the game was developed further in terms of play with contributions from respected college coaches. As American football grew in popularity at the collegiate levels, the style of play of college football became the more common version of the sport. It also began to attract national attention. To date, college football is still a very popular sport in the U.S.
It was only a matter of time before American football turned pro. The year 1882 marked the first time a football player was paid to play. The Allegheny Athletic Association paid William Heffelfinger $500 to play for the team. This event is widely considered as the birth of pro football, thus making Heffelfinger the first pro football player.
The evolution of modern professional American football is rooted in the American Midwest and in the Pennsylvania mill towns. In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was founded in Canton, Ohio by representatives of four football teams. The Association was later renamed the NFL or National Football League in 1922. The teams on the NFL initially came from the industrial towns of the American Midwest but eventually spread throughout the country.
In 1932, modern American football is said to have officially begun after several innovations in the gameplay were introduced. A game was also played at the 1932 Olympic Games, followed by the 1933 World’s Fair demonstration game. In 1934, the first College All-Star Game was played. In 1935, the first Heisman Trophy was awarded, an honor named after John Heisman, who was the director of the Downtown Athletic Club. The next year, the first NFL draft took place in Philadelphia to put an end to the aggressive bidding wars in the league.
American football exploded in the mid- to late 20th century, thanks to the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. The legendary game has since been called “The Greatest Game Ever Played” and is credited for increasing interest in the sport.
In 1959, the AFL or American Football League was founded and was operational until 1970, when it was merged with the NFL. It was a rival league to the NFL, which was more established. The merger was called the American Football Conference, which later became the Super Bowl.
The focus and symbol of American football is the ball itself. Technically, its shape can be called a prolate spheroid. In its earliest incarnation, the ball was made using inflated pig bladders. These balls were durable, readily available, but more rounded in shape and form. As the game developed, the ball was covered with leather skin to increase its durability. The laces in these balls were used to close the leather skin. Today’s football still keeps the laces but they are mostly to increase the grip.
The problem with the inflated pig bladders and later rubber versions was that the shape of the balls was not always the same. As better materials and processes were used, the shape, form, weight, and size of the ball were standardized. The changes in gameplay, particularly the forward pass, made the unique shape of the ball necessary. This allowed a better grip and made throwing a spiral pass possible. Today, a standard football must meet specific dimensions. It should measure 28-28 1/2″ (long circumference), 21-21 1/4″ (short circumference), 11-11 1/4 inches (long axis), and should weigh 14-15 oz.
How American Football is Played
American football is a sport played by two teams on a rectangular field, referred to as the gridiron in the U.S. To start a game, team captains perform a coin flip to determine which team performs the kick-off or receives the opening kick-off. The object of the game is for one team to score higher than the other team within an allotted time period. To score, a team must bring the ball down the length of a field, either by running with the ball or passing it to a teammate. The end of the field is the opposing team’s end zone.
A team consists of 11 players, each of which has a specialized position and function. A team has 4 downs or chances to bring the ball forward 10 yards. The down resets when the team passes the 10-yard line. On the 4th down, the offensive team may choose to either punt or try to make a field goal, which can only be made within 40 yards. If, after four downs the team still fails to cover the required 10 yards, they lose the turn to play and the ball is given to the defensive team.
American football consists of four quarters, each of which lasts for 15 minutes. A halftime break is allowed after the second quarter. Each quarter in collegiate football lasts 15 minutes as well, while high school football quarters are shorter at 12 minutes. If the teams are tied after the end of four quarters, they will continue playing for one 15-minute time period. This is called the overtime. The team that scores points is often declared the winner. After the 2011 post-season games, however, rules were set in place wherein a team is given a chance to score points if the opposing team scores a field goal, thereby ending its possession of the ball. If the opposing team makes a field goal, the game is continued, and the team who scores next is declared the winner. If, however, the opposing team scores a touchdown or fails to score, the game ends.
Only a single overtime period is allowed during a regular season. If both teams end up with the same score, the game is considered a tie. During playoffs, teams are allowed to play several overtime periods until a winner can be decided.
The American football field is 110 meters long and 49 meters wide (360 feet by 160 feet). The long ends of the field are called the end zones, each of which extends 9.1 meters on both sides. The area in the center of the end zone is called the field goal. Visible lines run across the width of the field at 10-yard intervals. These lines indicate the distance a team has to traverse to get to the opposing team’s end zone.
The number of points that a team earns will depend on their performance. A touchdown, for example, has 6 points. The team earns 1 extra point after a touchdown if the kicker hits the ball above the crossbar and between the goalpost. The team can also earn two points for a two-point conversion after a touchdown, 3 points for a field goal, and 2 points for safety.
Scoring is done by the offensive team or the team who has the ball. The goal of the defensive team is to prevent the offensive team from scoring or reaching their end zone. The defensive team may stop players from the opposing team, block, or tackle them.
Players in a team are usually divided into three groups of offense, defense, and special positions. The offensive team is tasked with attacking. These players are generally faster, stronger, yet smaller. This group includes the quarterback. The defensive team is responsible for stopping the opposing team’s players from running. These are usually more powerful, stronger, faster, and larger players. The special team players are responsible for punting and kicking, so they are usually stronger, faster, and larger players as well.
Due to the physicality of the game, American football players are required to wear protective equipment. Football gear includes gloves, shoes, shoulder pads, compression shorts or a jockstrap, thigh pads, knee pads, a mouthguard, and a helmet that has a face mask. Players may also wear additional protective gear such as elbow pads, rib pads, tailbone pads, neck rolls, and hip pads. Football equipment is designed to be durable, shock-resistant, and shatter-proof to ensure the safety of the players.
Safety in American Football
American football is a very physical, full-contact game. In fact, many players experience injuries during the course of playing football. These injuries include sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures. A controversy that has hounded American football for years is its association with concussion – a traumatic injury involving the head. This injury is often serious enough to affect the functions of the brain. To address these issues, the NFL has implemented and enforced rules to prevent potential risks for players. Schools, universities, and organizations have also focused on using the right equipment and training, and hiring experienced coaches to help ensure that players are protected and that health risks are minimized.