Are you a football trivia or history buff? Regardless of how connected you are with football, when it comes to specific aspects of this historic game, conversations about the subject can extend for hours. As a writer for Sportsbetting-Sites.com, I often find myself in heated debates with football fans over the validity of their references.
References can be of particular importance if you visit Louisville, Kentucky and attend one of Clay Baker’s Trivia Nights. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in an argument about basic football facts, use this guide as a tool to winning the disagreement. Included in this article is a slideshow that displays 20 interesting historic football photos from the Library of Congress that exemplify the diversity of the sport’s early days.
1. Evolution of American football
People always wonder who invented football, but naming an inventor is impossible. Like most sports, they have been around in various forms for centuries, and evolve periodically. The same is true of football. We know that it emerged in its modern form from rugby and soccer in England. In 1869, Princeton and Rutgers universities held their first match, and this is generally referenced as the first official football game in American History. However, the story is not so simple.
At History.com, we learn that the early days of football called it “The Boston Game” and it used a combination of rugby and soccer rules borrowed from the London Football Association. In 1874, the rugby rules were adopted officially during a match at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Starting in 1875, Yale and Harvard were still working through these rugby rules. By the 1880s, the rules used that define the modern game of football were fully developed and implemented. For more complete information, check out the history timeline at NFL.com.
2. History of the Heisman Trophy
The Heisman was first awarded in 1935, and it was called the DAC (Downtown Athletic Club) Trophy. The DAC team in Manhattan, NYC gave the first Heisman to Jay Berwanger, and it has been the most sought-after collegiate football award since. The trophy design has not changed since it was first awarded.
3. FIFA World Cup Soccers’ football history
If football evolved from soccer, then what is the history of soccer? The FIFA World Cup website is quick to quip about the subject and cites 1863 as the year it was invented. Namely, the rugby and soccer associations branched off during that time in England, and the London Football Association was the first governing body of soccer in history.
Before that, games where a ball was kicked around were common. Historians generally cite second and third century Han Dynasty games (called Tsu’ Chu) as the first recorded soccer games. Other older forms of soccer are Rome’s harpastum, Greece’s episkyros, and Japan’s kemari.
4. How the Super Bowl started
Although it started as a collegiate game, professional football eventually emerged in the 1890s. The first person paid to play football was William Pudge Heffelfinger. He received $500 from the Allegheny Athletic Association in 1892 to play against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The NFL was formed around non-collegiate football games and pro players on September 17, 1920.
According to the Football Hall of Fame website, “[The NFL] was first known as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and later renamed the NFL in 1922” by Jim Thorpe. The American Football League was founded in 1959 until it merged with the NFL in 1970. In any case, the formation of the AFL prompted the start of the Super Bowl. On January 15, 1967, the first game between the AFL and the NFL went down in Los Angeles at the Memorial Coliseum.
5. How the football field evolved
From the early 1900s photos of football fields (like the ones in the slideshow in this article), you see that it hasn’t changed much over the years. Whether today or 100 years ago, you can see there are goal posts and the “gridiron” pattern. In 1882, Coach Walter Camp made a rule “requiring the offense to gain at least 5 yards (4.57 m) within three plays; this was later changed to 10 yards (9.14 m) within four plays.” The modern style was finalized in 1933 with two hash marks were added at one-yard intervals were added near the center field. Other minor things that have changed are the grasses used. In 1964, fake grass or “Chemgrass” was first used. The name was changed to AstroTurf after the Houston Astrodome used it in 1966.
6. Football uniforms over time
Football uniforms of the past certainly had their disadvantages. If late 1800s players wore anything, it was looser pants and sweaters in team colors. A Discovery.com article about the topic states that most of the early uniforms were made from wool for durability, but safety features and padding were not yet part of the uniform.
Despite this, there were some early instances of using padding in the early 1900s because the game was particularly brutal at that point. The game was so ferocious that President Teddy Roosevelt insisted a radical rule change that lead to new rules for the 1906 intercollegiate football season. According to History.com, “They legalized the forward pass, abolished the dangerous mass formations, created a neutral zone between offense and defense and doubled the first-down distance to 10 yards, to be gained in three downs. The rule changes didn’t eliminate football’s dangers, but fatalities declined—to 11 per year in both 1906 and 1907.” Starting in the 1930s, you start to see team uniforms for football teams, but padding and brightly colored uniforms did not make their big debuts until the 1960s.
7. Football cleats history
Football cleats can be traced back to King Henry the VIII in England in the 1500s and is summarized best by Livestrong.com. As far as American football is concerned, it was an essential part of the game since it started in the 1860s. In 1925, Adidas and Puma founders developed cleats with removable studs. This invention was made possible due to developments in vulcanized rubber for shoe soles.
8. History of the football helmet
Over the years, the football helmet has had many evolutions. In the 1920s, leather helmets caused football players to be dubbed as “Leather Heads.” The plastic helmet came about in the 1930s, but they were not very protective, and were often used as weapons against other players. In 1948, a different type of plastic helmet was developed, but the NFL banned them because they shattered upon impact. For a complete timeline for the helmet, check out the NFL’s webpage.
9. Invention of the football
Wilson football makers proudly tout that every game with the NFL since 1920 has been with one of their footballs. Officially, the “Duke” has been the official ball of the NFL since 1941. According to the Smithsonian, the “pigskin” was likely never made of pig at all, but cow’s leather instead. The first football game in 1869 was meant to be played with a round ball, but it was impossible to keep inflated and stayed lopsided for most of the game. For this reason, the Smithsonian thinks that this may account for the evolution of the oval-shaped football.
10. Women and minorities in football
Minorities and women, particularly Native American men, played a large role in early football history. In 1907, the top team in the collegiate football scene was the Carlisle Indians. In fact, the founder of the NFL was Jim Thorpe, a leading Carlisle Indians player. As for women, the early history of the game has female teams that were used as half-time entertainment during the 1920s and a women-only league was present in Ohio during the 1930s.
Sadly, until the 1960s, women were not active in football history. Affected by Jim Crow Laws, few Black American football players were on collegiate or professional teams. Notable exceptions are Charles W. Follis who played with teams starting as early as 1904. ProFootballResearchers.org states that the first all-Black American team was formed in 1935 in Harlem. Called the Brown Bombers, they were put together by a Black athletic promoter named Herschel “Rip” Day.