Who Invented Football? A Look Back at Walter Camp and the History of Football

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A clear photo of the inventor of football, Walter Camp. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-ggbain-00838)

Walter Camp invented football. Camp was a rugby player for most of his time at Yale University, and he was a good one at that, but he was looking for a different way to play the game. In 1880, he presented a group of rules and advocated for a safer game, which the new rules imposed would help with.

After hours of research, I took a deep dive into what the invention of football led to, including the creation of the NFL and the firsts of football, even looking at the first ever professional football game played.

In this post, I’ll be breaking down every major event that occurred once Walter Camp invented the sport.

When did Football Start?

1823. The first ever known invention of football was traced to an Englishman by the name of William Webb Ellis. During a school soccer match, Ellis decided to pick up the ball and run with it.

He defied the rules at the time after he came up with a new style of play that people opened up to. A ball was only to be kicked or thrown, so someone running with a ball was something new to people in the 19th century.

Where was Football Invented?

New Jersey. Many argue the place where football was invented, but I think from my research it was created in a game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. The game resembled rugby more than modern-day football.

Players were restricted to one kick per possession, and the forward pass was nonexistent. There was a point limit where the game would then be ended if a team passed it, set at 10. The game ended with Rutgers taking home the win at 6-4. This is recognized as where football was invented since the first game played truly birthed the sport.

When was the NFL Founded?

Football players stretching before the game starts up again

The NFL was founded in 1920 in Ohio. The first president of the NFL, Jim Thorpe, actually played in the league. The NFL was responsible for implementing the rules and using game schedules to structure the sport. The name ‘NFL’ came about 2 years after in 1922.

The NFL’s mission statement is “We unite people and inspire communities in the joy of the game by delivering the world’s most exciting sports and entertainment experience”.

The statement relates to what their original goal was, which was to have a structured game where a set number of teams would play to decide which was the best team for that season.

How Did Football Get Its Name?

The name originated from soccer. Europe refers to soccer as ‘football’ and American football desperately needed a name for the new game. They took inspiration from England and decided to name their sport ‘American Football’ a variation of the traditional game that they played.

At the time, no one cared much, but the sport has gained a lot of traction since then, and these days, it looks as if Europeans and the rest of the world don’t like the fact that Americans use the term ‘soccer’ to avoid confusion with football.

What was the First NFL Team?

The NFL actually had its first season in 1920, but it included a total of 14 teams, and there wasn’t one single team that formed before the others.

There were four founding teams, which were the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Tigers, and Dayton Triangles. There were also 10 other teams outside of the founding teams who joined to essentially create the NFL and to be able to play a full season.

The other 10 teams were the Buffalo All Americans, Chicago Tigers, Columbus Panhandles, Decatur Staleys, Rock Island Independents, Detroit Heralds, Hammond Pros, Muncie Flyers, Rochester Jefferson, and Chicago Cardinals. 

Some teams suffered financial difficulties, but the NFL was still able to increase the total number of teams playing in the following season to 21.

The Chicago Cardinals, now known as the Arizona Cardinals, and the Decatur Staleys, now known as the Chicago Bears, are the only two original teams from the 1920 season that remain in the NFL today.

Who Won the First NFL Season?

Players lined up for a play and waiting for the referees whistle

The Akron Pros won the first NFL season in 1920. They ended the season with 8 wins and 3 draws and didn’t suffer a single loss. The Decatur Staleys were runners-up and kept it competitive the entire season. They finished with 10 wins, 2 draws, and 1 loss.

The NFL champion was determined by win-loss percentage, and even though the Staleys outperformed the Pros in wins and overall performance, they couldn’t take home the championship since their win percentage was lower.

The win-loss percentage rule stayed in the NFL until the 1931 season. It was only in 1932 that a playoff game had to be played to determine the champion. The Chicago Bears had to play the Portsmouth Spartans to declare a winner for the season. The Bears took home the championship, winning 9-0.

The following season, the NFL split into two divisions, and a championship game must be played by the division winners to determine the champions for the season.

The First Ever Superbowl Game

The first superbowl game took place on January 15, 1967. The game was played between two rival teams, consisting of the Green Bay Packers (NFL) and the Kansas City Chiefs (AFL).

NFL teams were considered far superior to AFL teams, so fans and critics favored the Packers to take home the Super Bowl. It proved right as the Packers dominated the Chiefs, winning 35-10.

The Super Bowl was created as part of a merger agreement in 1966. The NFL and AFL (the competing league at the time) wanted their best teams to compete for a further championship so they could establish who the best overall team was.

The game turned out to be a huge success, with more than 60,000 people turning up for the championship game. It shaped football, and the sport grew rapidly, spreading around the country and other parts of the world.

The First Professional Football Game

November 12, 1892. This is the date that the first professional football game was played. The Allegheny Athletic Association defeated the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, but it wasn’t as significant as you’d think; in fact, not many people cared for it.

A player called William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was paid a staggering $500 to compete in the game, which is over $16,000 in today’s money. An accounting sheet showed the payment made from Allegheny to Heffelfinger after he performed in the game.

The First Professional Football League

A player loading his throw up so he can throw it accurately

You may think that the NFL was the first football league that was created, but it wasn’t. There was another league named the NFL (National Football League) that was completely unrelated to today’s NFL.

The league was formed in 1902 and was only a regional league, staying in the state of Pennsylvania. There were a total of three teams, comprising the Philadelphia Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The league dissolved in 1902 after not getting enough people to show up to games, which subsequently led to financial difficulties. The baseball wars, which were the reason for the formation of the football league, ended the following year.

Is Football International?

Yes, in fact, football is most popular in Germany (outside of the US). Many people thought that rugby would be the preferred sport throughout Europe, but football had gained a mass following in Germany and the UK. The second most popular sport in Germany is, in fact, football, and it seems to be a growing sport in Europe.

It extends outside of Europe too. Japan, in particular, has welcomed the sport. Football is now one of the most played sports in their country since their introduction to it in 1930. Countries like New Zealand don’t seem to open up to football as they prefer rugby, and it looks like that won’t change in some countries.

Final Thoughts

Walter Camp implemented the rules of football, and he’s now seen as the father of American football since the rules he suggested are still in today’s game. What he did led to the creation of organized football with schedules and competitive games between professional teams. The NFL was created soon after in 1920, and the rest is history.

Did you know that England were not the first ones to play soccer? Check out Who Invented Soccer.

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Hi, This is Daniel's Sports Blog. I have been a Sports Fan for as long as I can remember and have grown up watching all types of sports including Basketball, Soccer, Football, Wrestling (WWE specifically), amongst many more! I have not only been watching sports but I have also been competing in a range of sports and I bring my skills and experiences to writing this blog so I can help other sports fanatics understand and appreciate the art of sports.

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