The roots of American football go back more than a century. As you enjoy this season’s games in high definition, check out some amazing facts about the humble start to the grid.
Canada helped shape the rules
In May 1874, an Ivy League school was created to pit players from a Canadian university in two rugby games. The first match was played under conventional rugby rules; the second was done under some adjustments aimed at Canada, including the use of an oval instead of a round ball, tackling and maintaining fall control. Later, American coach Walter Camp wrote an official list of regulations, and schools began to adopt soccer rules.
The oval ball was an accident
There was no main design theory behind soccer’s unique oblong shape. When two rival schools clashed in an 1869 game, repeated attempts to adequately inflate the ball failed. Fed up, the players simply played with the strangely inflated object. The shape would be refined in the coming decades, with a major overhaul in 1906 to accommodate the introduction of the forward pass.
FIRST PLAYER PRO won $ 500 for a game
Soccer was largely treated as an amateur competition until November 12, 1892, when the Allegheny Athletic Association (AAA) took over the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. AAA went against the rules of fair play and paid one player, William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, $ 500 to join his team. Previously, desired players would receive prizes, jobs, or other benefits to avoid getting paid immediately. At Heffelfinger’s wages, the game began to become a professional pursuit.
It was extremely dangerous
Eager to demonstrate their toughness to parents and grandparents, many of whom had fought in the Civil War, young people who played soccer in the early 20th century accepted a high level of risk. Bodies and heads collided regularly, but helmets were not yet part of the game. In 1905, 18 players died as a result of injuries sustained on the field.
The intention was to train future soldiers
Many universities have treated soccer as a metaphor for war, believing that students who could resist the punitive physicality of a game would be psychologically prepared for any future conflict that would enlist them. Some coaches even used military-inspired exercises during training camps.
Players could change teams in a fraction of a second
The early professional players did not have iron contracts that prevented them from jumping from one ship to another team and offering a better deal. As a result, many players have moved from one organization to another. In 1920, team leaders formed the American Professional Football Conference to try to mitigate these problems.
Not everyone played at school
Professional teams found talent whenever they could. One of the best moments, Johnny McNally, played the game only briefly before being expelled from college. He signed up with a professional team and spent 15 years in the business.
They had protective gear where they could
Before professional equipment manufacturers emerged, players isolated themselves from damage with what they had available. One player admitted covering thick magazines around his shins to prevent damage from someone else’s boots, while others sewed pillows to create some of the earliest primitive shoulder pads.
TEDDY ROOSEVELT SAVED THE GAME
With soccer condemned in the media for being too brutal, President Theodore Roosevelt chimed in. In 1905, he called together representatives from major universities and asked them to add safety measures that would reduce the number of injuries to players. It took until 1906 before they listened, with intercollegiate authorities abolishing massive formations that could crush players and cause more serious injuries.
College football was bigger than professional baseball
American fans were so passionate about the tough game of college football that the crowd generally tripled compared to baseball’s national pastime: in 1905, tens of thousands would be present at the former, while a baseball game could see 3000 in the stands.