Football History And Origins

What is the history of Football? What are its origins? Where did Football come from? Who invented it? Here is the history of Football.

Football History

Which Country Started Football?

Despite the fact that the sport is commonly coined ‘american football’ to avoid confusion (soccer is often referred to as football international), football’s early origins can actually be traced to England during the mid-19th century. Back then, however, the sport was essentially a derivative of soccer and rugby that required players to kick the ball in order to score. The game did not exist at the professional level at this time, and was instead a new concept partaken in recreationally.

Who Invented Football?

The variation of american football that exists today can be linked to Yale University graduate Walter Camp. Often labeled the “father of gridiron football,” Camp introduced a number of ideas that revolutionized the sport. These include a line of scrimmage, down-and-distance system and interference rules. Other advancements were rolled out in the following decade, such as the forward pass in order to create a more unique and exciting style of gameplay. Many of the college coaches that were famous at the time (i.e. John Heisman and Glenn “Pop” Warner) are credited with modern advancements within the game of football.

When was Football Established?

American football was officially established in 1876, marked by the championship victory of Camp’s Yale Bulldogs in the sport’s first recorded collegiate football league. 

Football emerged at the professional level in 1892, and was solidified as a widely-recognized sport with the foundation of the American Football Association (later became the NFL) in 1920. 

Football became a popular sport just a few years after the American Football Association was formed. While organized football existed primarily in the Midwestern region of the United States to begin with, it rose to national prominence towards the end of the 1920’s. Popularity only continued to increase with the signing of talented players, whose bold personalities and spectacular on-field performances stimulated merchandise opportunities (i.e. jersey sales and game-worn apparel).

Football History Key Facts and Timeline

For a brief overview of the most important dates and events in the history of football, check out the following timeline…

  • 1876: introduction of first modern rule adaptations, Yale Bulldogs win first ever american football league championship
  • 1892: professional football emerges with offering of first ever player’s contract
  • 1920: foundation of the American Football Association
  • 1922: renaming of the AFA to the NFL
  • 1963: American Football Hall of Fame created in Canton, Ohio
  • 1967: playing of the first ever Super Bowl (champion: Green Bay Packers)
  • 1970: merger between NFL and competing American Football League
  • 1978: creation of playoff format in professional football
  • 1999: highest ever paid-attendance recorded in an NFL season ($20 million)
  • 2002: expansion to the 32 teams that exist today
  • 2008: first ever international NFL game played in London, England
  • 2019: replay reviews for interference calls introduced

Medieval Football

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.

Intercollegiate Football

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 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 merger brought popular teams such as the NY Jets, the Oakland Raiders, and the New England Patriots into the league.

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 to 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 of Super Bowl wins, at a total of six wins each.