Progress Publishing Co.

 Football History


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Football History


Early football history

The history of modern football

Evolution of the football rules


Early football history

The football history in the United States started in 17th century. There is a record of a football game between two towns that took place in Massachusetts in 1685. The college students were playing the game regularly at the end of the 18th century.  In 1840s the football games at Yale University were very popular competitions among students. The similar games were played at Harvard. Even the schoolboys in Boston at that time also became interested in football. The football rules in those days allowed throwing and striking the ball with the hands, which was not allowed in English soccer. In 1875 Yale at Harvard played under the new rules, which both teams had agreed upon. According to these rules every team had 15 players including 8 forwards and 3 fullbacks. These rules were changed in 1880 on suggestion of the Yale player Walter Camp. The changes decreased the number of football players from 15 to 11, the scrimmage was introduced and after a runner had been downed, the offensive team kept possession to restart the play with the snap. These rules gave the early football game the structure close to the modern football. That’s why many football historians consider Walter Camp a father of the modern football.

Walter Camp - the "father of modern football"

The history of modern football

At the end of the 19th century American football was a very rough game. It was so brutal Harvard banned students from playing football to avoid injuries. In 1893 Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Pennsylvania changed the rules, which allowed only 3 offensive players to advance after the snap of the ball. The new rules did not help with the injuries to football players. In 1905 as many as 18 high school football players were killed. After that the public demanded to reform or abolish the football. In 1906 the Intercollegiate Athletic Association was formed and new rules were created. Among other changes the neutral zone was introduced, the forward pass was legalized, the first down was increased from 5 to 10 yards and the number of football officials grew from 2 to 4. The rules’ changes did not stop football players’ injuries. In 1909 more than 30 college football players died. That led to more changes. In 1912 new rules were added and football started to resemble its present form. The length of the football field was decreased from 110 yards to 100 yards. The offensive football team had four downs instead of one to advance 10 yards. The 10 yard end zones were established. The 20-yard limit on the forward pass was eliminated. A forward pass could cross the scrimmage line anywhere provided the passer was 10 yards behind the scrimmage line. The touchdown was counted for 6 points instead of 2, 4 and 5 points in the previous years. The field goal went down to three points instead of 4.

In the early 1900s the era of professional football had begun. Previously football had been an amateur sport promoted by the colleges and athletic clubs. The football players were local athletes. As soon as the organizations started to use monetary incentives to bring in outside athletes the football got his chance to turn into a professional sport. Finally, in 1920 the American Professional Football Association consisting of 13 teams was formed. In 1922 it was reorganized into National Football league. In 1926 the first football franchise was established in New York City. By 1926 National Football League expanded to 22 teams. In 1946 another league – All-American Football Conference (AAFC) – was established. It was in direct competition with NFL. In 1950 NFL and AAFC merged. In 1960 another league – American Football League (AFL) – showed up on the football scene. NFL and AFL merged in 1970.

Evolution of the football rules

1877: Football teams consist of 15 players including one quarterback and 2 fullbacks. The duration of the game is 90 minutes.

1878: Pants and jackets replaced tights and jerseys.

1880: The number of football players on the team is 11. The size of the football field went down to 110 by 53 1/3 yards from 140 by 70 yards.

1881: the 15-minute overtime period was introduced to break the ties.

1882: the 5-yard requirement for downs was accepted.

1883: the number of football officials rose to three – one referee and two judges.

1884: football scoring system changed – a touchdown scores 4 points, a field goal scores 5 points and 2 points for a safety and a goal after touchdown.

1888: new rules for football tackling and blocking; tackling must be above the knees and no blocking with extended arms.

1894: the duration of the football game went down from 90 minutes to 70. Laying the hands on the player without the ball was prohibited.

1897: football scoring changed; a touchdown scores 5 points and 1 point for a goal after touchdown.

1904: a field goal scores 4 points.

1906: the number of the football officials rose to 4; the duration of the game went down to 60 minutes; forward pass was introduced; 10-yard requirement for downs.

1908: the numbers for football players were used for the first time.

1909: a field goal scores 3 points.

1910: the football game was divided into four 15 minutes quarters with 1-minute intervals between quarters and 30 minutes break between two halves.

1912: touchdown scores 6 points; the length of the field goes down to 100 yards; the teams are given 4 downs to advance 10 yards; the kick off is done from 40-yard line instead of 50-yard line.

1927: 30 seconds time limit was introduced for putting the ball into play.

1941: free substitutions of the football players except last two minutes of the half.

1943: National Football league adopts free substitutions.

1946: the number of time-outs increases from 3 to 4.

1947: new blocking rule requires football blockers to keep fists against the chest.

1948: the use of the plastic tee to support the football on the ground is allowed.

1949: National Football League begins to use plastic helmets.

1955: the sudden death rule is tried for the first time.

1965: the bandages on the forearms and hands are permitted to protect from injuries.

1972: in-bounds lines are established on the football field 70ft 9in. from the side lines.

1976: the football players are prohibited from making initial contact with the mask of the opponent during tackling and blocking.

1980: the defensive football players are prohibited from blocking below the waist during kick offs, field goal attempts and punts.

Copyright Progress Publishing Co. 2006

Selected References:

John Scarne  New Complete Guide to Gambling The Gambling Times Guide to Winning Systems
Kelso Sturgeon  Guide to Sports Betting Alice Fleming  Something for Nothing/A History of Gambling
Carl Sifakis  The Encyclopedia of Gambling Alan Wykes   The Complete Illustrated Guide to Gambling
Edwin Silberstang  How to Win Big in Football, Baseball etc. Bert Randolph Sugar  Sports Book of Betting
Diagram Book   Rules of the Game Ralph Hickok  The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History
Dave Ominsky and P.J. Harari  Football Made Simple Charles Fellows   Football Rules Illustrated