How did American football develop?
American football, while a relatively young sport, has a long history of development and evolution. While we tend to think of it as a uniquely American sport, its origin and history is complex and varied.
Beginnings of Football
Ball games or games involving an object a player possesses while others try to tackle or wrestle have a long history. We know of games such as Harpastum, which was Roman ball game probably similar to a Greek ball game called Episkyros. We don't the ext rules for each of these games but it seemed to involve a ball where two teams would try to score or place the ball in a position that would register the game's points while the other team would tackle and try to prevent the other team from scoring. In essence, the basic concept is the same as sports such as rugby and American football. Additionally, already the idea of using an air-filled ball had developed. Later in the Middle Age, in Europe, a type of ball game developed that had towns or cities competing with one another. In this game, which likely had different rules in various places, teams would form and a ball would be used where the goals were likey similar to Harpastum. This was a type of mob ball or mob football, where towns would try to have bragging rights by beating their rival towns. A few images from the Medieval period show it was a type of team activity.
Up until the 19th century, many version of what can be called mob football existed. In fact, this variety may have inspired alternative ideas about the development of American football, although the formation of American football was ultimately tied to the development of rugby. Older American universities, particularly Harvard and Yale, had developed student traditions. These games initialy had few clear rules except masses of students would play together and two sides would compete to possess a ball and try to achieve some points with this ball. The games were more likely soccer but much more violent. In fact, some places began banning the sports due to the excessive violence. Things began to change, however, by 1869, when Rutger and Yale played what effectively became known as the first intercollegiat football game. This game was still very different from American football but was a watershed because it standardized the game, with rules being set prior to the match. Scoring involved kicking the ball and the two teams each had 25 players. In 1876, an association of Harvard, Columbia, and Yale formed a group that formalized rules, although kicking was the way in which a team would score points. This was a form of rugby that was slightly different than its British counterpart. Throwing the football first occurred in 1895, which only emerged as a team was desperate to score before time ran out. By this time, many universities in the east coast and increasingly in the west coast began to adopt the emerging game of American football. However, this was still considered an illegal move and it was not until 1906 that the forward pass was formally adopted. By 1905, what became the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which helped to not only organize games around the country but helped establish more formal rules. Even the concept of the halftime show emerged by 1907 in Champaign, Illinois.
In 1909, a touchdown worth six points and field goal worth three were introduced. At this point, American football developed more greatly as the game was opened up more. In fact, as more universities adopted football, it also became an interest for universities to protect their players and students. Thus, many of the rules were intended to protect players but they also helped radically change the game. It may seem ironic but it was finding new rules to protect players that allowed American football to begin to look even more different from its rugby counterpart. In particular, rules protecting the passer became of greater importance. Rules for catching the ball and who can catch the ball downfield were made easier by the 1910s.