The sport of modern American football is believed to have originated in Europe, from what is now known as "Medieval football" or "mob football." The main object was to move a ball from one end of a village to another. There were originally very few rules, and almost any method of moving the ball from was permitted, as long as it didn't kill anyone. Because there were also no limits on the maximum number of players, it was a common sight to have entire villages participating in these heated, high-stakes games. Needless to say, they became bloody, violent, and chaotic pretty quickly.
In the late 19th century, certain standards of play became set in place. The need for standardized rules stemmed from the fact that although intramural games of football were becoming increasingly popular on college campuses, each school had its own distinctive rules of play. This made competitive football matches were almost impossible to organize. Finally, on November 6, 1869, Rutgers University and Princeton University jointly drafted a set of football rules, based on a mix of rugby and soccer, that the two schools agreed to play by. Today, this is widely regarded as the first intercollegiate football match.
Rules of Play
A few years later, in 1876, intercollegiate football players from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia convened for the Massasoit Convention. Led by Walter Camp (who is today referred to as the Father of American Football), the members wrote a formalized set of rules that would be adopted and followed by all participating universities. The cornerstones of football, such as the snap, the line of scrimmage, and the "three downs per ten-yard rule", were introduced here by Walter Camp, and he is considered by many as the "inventor" of American football.
Birth of Professional Football
Professional football was officially introduced on November 12, 1892, when the Allegheny Athletic Association (AAA) football team paid William "Pudge" Heffelfinger $500 to play for them in a match. This is the first direct evidence of an individual being offered financial compensation for playing on a football team, and hence, the concept of professional football teams was born.
In the early 1920s, college football remained a lot more popular than professional football. Independent team owners were suffering financially, and had come up with the idea to assemble a strong league, like baseball had. With that, the first professional national football league was founded, the American Professional Football Association (APFA), and had Jim Thorpe as its president. In 1922, the still struggling league renamed itself to "National Football Association" (NFL). Although the name was already the same, that league was far, far away from the NFL as we know it today.
The NFL had many rival leagues throughout history, none as successful as the NFL until in 1959 Lamar Hunt, having his request of founding a new team in Texas denied, founded the American Football League. The AFL and the NFL would get into bidding wars over the best college prospects, and the rivalry intensified.
With both leagues suffering from the competition, the idea to merge came up in the late 1960s. On June 8th 1966 the AFL and the NFL announced an agreement that would transform both leagues in one, with plans of expansion to unrepresented markets. The leagues also agreed to keep separate schedules until 1969, and to play a winner-takes-all final type game where the champions of both leagues would face each other, the Super Bowl. The merge brought into the league popular teams such as the NY Jets, the Oakland Raiders, and the New England Patriots.
Rule Changes in the NFL
In 1933, the NFL proposed its own set of rules of play that were better suited for high-performance competitions, rather than continuing to follow the collegiate rules. The major changes included the introduction of hash marks and goal posts, as well as the legalization of the forward pass, as long as it was made from behind the line of scrimmage.
The Super Bowl
The first Super Bowl was played January 15, 1967, between the NFL champions the Green Bay Packers and the AFL champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, owned by AFL founder Lamar Hunt. The Packers beat the Chiefs 35-10 in the LA Coliseum. At the time, NFL teams were considered to be immensely superior than AFL teams, and it was no surprise when NFL teams won both Super Bowl I and II. However, in Super Bowl III (first to officially use the name), the AFL's New York Jets (who were huge underdogs) beat the NFL's Baltimore Colts in what is considered one of the greatest games in the league's history. That win drew the public's attention, and made the newly merged league very popular, making the NFL as we know it today.
Today the Super Bowl has grown to become one of the most highly watched annual sporting events worldwide. Currently, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots are tied for holding the highest number Super Bowl wins, at a total of six wins each.