The History of American Football

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The History of American Football

Football, as well as rugby and soccer, is believed to have originated from an ancient Greek game known as Harpaston. Harpaston is mentioned quite frequently throughout classical literature, in which it is referred to as a “very rough and brutal” game. The rules of this ancient sport were simple: a team would be awarded points when a player would move the ball across the opposing team’s goal line by either kicking the ball, running with it across the goal line, or throwing it across the line to another player. The only objective of the other team was to stop the ball from crossing their line, by whatever means possible. There was no specific field length, no side line boundaries, no specified number of players per team, only a highly entertaining lack of rules. Throughout this paper will be discussed the following topics; the early origins of the game, some of the founding fathers of the league, a summary of the standard equipment, the excitement of the Super Bowl, and what the NFL means to people today. Though football’s ancient roots are in Harpaston, more modern versions of football are believed to have originated from England, and the actual beginning of American football is believed to begin with a surprisingly humorous story. It was during the 19th century in England when a soccer player, frustrated at using only his feet to manipulate the ball, decided to simply pick it up and run with it. Though this action was clearly against the rules of soccer, players and fans soon found this new form of “playing” soccer appealing, and thus, rugby was born.

Rugby was spreading across the world faster than anyone would have guessed. People found the sport quite appealing due to the hard-hitting nature of the game, and as rugby gained popularity, it soon found its way to the United Sates. Almost as soon as it came into America, nearly all of the northeastern colleges began their own rugby programs. It was not long before Harvard University and Yale University met in Massachusetts in 1876 to formalize the rules to rugby that were similar to those in England. Though the colleges made the rules almost identical to the originals, there were some notable changes. For instance, rather than using a standard round ball, they decided to use a more, oval, egg shaped one, and the name was changed from rugby, to football. To finalize the meeting, an organization called the Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) was created to direct the Americanized sport.

Due to the lack of necessary rules and protective equipment, football became, for a time, a savage sport full of fights, brawling, even fatalities. Knowing that this could not continue the direction it was heading, football players grudgingly accepted the wearing of protective equipment. Step-by-step, players braved being called sissies to wear pads of various types that in just a few years would be considered essential. The first of this protective gear was the hip, thigh, knee and shoulder pads, which were just thin layers of pliable foam. The final installment, and without a doubt the most important, was the helmet. George Barclay is the man credited for the invention of the first football helmet. He designed a headgear which had three thick leather straps forming a close fit around his head, made by a harness maker. It became known as a head harness. It slowly began to take more of the appearance we recognize today when around 1915 more padding and flaps were added, along with ear holes for better on-field communication.

The next innovation came in 1917, a design intended to "cradle" the skull away from the leather shell. Straps of fabric formed a pattern inside the helmet. They absorbed and distributed the impact better, and they allowed for ventilation. It was a breakthrough. They were first known as "ZH" or Zuppke helmets named after the Illinois coach who came up with the design. Rawlings and Spalding, two...
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