American football, a sport that seems to defy its very name, involves a curious mix of feet and hands, yet its nomenclature has perplexed many. To those unfamiliar with its origins, the question looms: Why is American football called football?
In this comprehensive exploration, we will delve into the historical roots of this sport and uncover the fascinating journey that led to its enduring title.
Origins of Football in England
The story of American football’s name begins across the Atlantic, in the heart of England.
The mid-19th century was a time of transformation for the sport.
Football, in its earliest iterations, was a chaotic and often violent game played in open fields and streets.
With an array of local variations and no universally accepted rules, it was ripe for standardization.
In the 1860s, England embarked on the arduous task of standardizing football rules.
It was in this crucible of change that the term “football” first began to gain prominence.
The early standardization efforts emphasized a game played with a round ball that could only be kicked with the feet, setting the stage for the term’s enduring connection to the sport.
The Split Between Soccer and Rugby
As football rules began to coalesce, a significant schism occurred.
The divide centered on a fundamental question: should handling the ball with one’s hands be allowed?
This contentious issue ultimately led to the creation of two distinct sports, soccer and rugby.
The former, soccer, retained the original name of “football” and embraced the restriction of using only feet, while the latter, rugby, allowed for handling the ball, which would come to define American football in its unique way.
Spread of Rugby Football to America
Across the Atlantic Ocean, in the mid-19th century, rugby football made its way to the United States.
It was in the 1860s that the game began to evolve independently, with American universities interpreting the rules in their own distinct manner. It was during this period of experimentation that the essence of American football began to take shape.
One pivotal moment in American football’s evolution occurred in 1869, when Rutgers and Princeton faced off in a historic game.
This contest featured a mix of both kicking and handling an oval-shaped ball, signifying a departure from the strict adherence to the English rugby rules.
The game marked a significant step in the development of American football.
Evolution of American Football
The transition from rugby-inspired chaos to the structured game of American football was far from straightforward.
In 1875, a game between Harvard and Yale, closely watched by Princeton officials, played a pivotal role in refining the sport’s rules.
This contest solidified the idea of using an oval ball and a more organized approach, although the sport still bore many resemblances to rugby football.
Walter Camp, a figure of paramount importance in the evolution of American football, left an indelible mark on the sport.
His contributions included establishing the concept of an 11-player team, introducing the line of scrimmage, and shaping other essential rules that continue to govern the game to this day.
Camp’s influence was instrumental in crafting American football into a distinct sport, separate from its English predecessors.
Why It Remains “Football”
Despite the significant divergence in rules and playstyle from its English progenitors, American football retained the title of “football.”
This curious naming convention finds its roots in the sport’s origins in rugby football, brought over from England.
The term “football” remained firmly anchored, serving as a testament to the sport’s historical connection.
It’s essential to note that, even today, kicking continues to be a vital aspect of American football, alongside the more prevalent aspects of passing and carrying the ball with one’s hands. This enduring emphasis on kicking harkens back to the sport’s roots and the English game of football, which was primarily about using one’s feet to maneuver the ball.
In conclusion, the enigmatic name of American football is a testament to the sport’s complex and evolving history.
Emerging from the early standardization efforts in England, the sport’s journey to the United States and the contributions of key figures like Walter Camp, it has carved a unique identity while retaining its original name.
The enduring title of “football” serves as a historical reminder of the sport’s heritage, even as it continues to evolve in the modern era.