When Did Football Start?

There is no exact day when football began. A look at its history will show that it has been subject to progression and innovations instead.


The most likely source of the game was rugby. There are many similarities including running to the end line to score. Rugby was very popular in England and likely carried to America.

What is known is that by the 1820s Princeton students played something like it. The rules consisted of using the hand or feet to carry the ball to the opposing goal. By the 1860s, there are records in Harvard of students playing the game. When football began at Harvard it was called Bloody Monday. It earned the name because it was played on the said date and was very physical.

Collegiate Games & Rule Standardization

After the Civil War, the colleges started organizing these games. It was in 1867 that the basic rules of the game were set. In the 1870s, Walter Camp helped established several rules that remain to this day. Among the most influential was setting the scrimmage line rules and increasing the role of the quarterback.

As more colleges began playing the game, the Intercollegiate Football Association was setup. With the help of Walter Camp, several more rules were set. These included cutting the player number from 15 to 11. 1882 was one of the most pivotal years in the game.

This year marked the addition of the downs and additional tackling, which were not used when football began. In 1905, the NCAA was organized. The champions of the college tournaments would then play in championship games called Bowl games. Among the most popular are the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl.

Origin of the Professional Game

In 1920 the APFA was established. It was the first professional league of its kind in the United States. A year later reorganization took place. Several changes happened, chief among them the emergence of the NFL.

The NFL (National Football League) limited the number of teams initially. The old APFA reorganized too and became the AFL. Initially the NFL and AFL became rivals. In 1970 the two leagues merged. Soon the number of teams and divisions grew. This merger would prove significant and help establish the league and the clubs.

When football began, the game was only watched by a few people. But the NFL would grow in popularity and become of the premiere sports in America.

The Game Today

From its beginnings, the game has developed a tremendous following. High school and college games are now telecast all over the country. The major professional games are now telecast on Sundays and Mondays and draw in millions of viewers. The Super Bowl, where the AFC and NFC collide, is the most watched sporting even in the US. It is also followed by millions of people the world over.

It’s unlikely when football began that anyone could have seen how big it would become. While still primarily an American sport, it’s becoming popular in other countries too.

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