What Sport Has Changed The Most Since It Was Created?

What Sport Has Changed The Most Since It Was Created

All of our favorite sports have seen plenty of evolution, but none more drastically than American football. From the rules, to the players, to the ball itself, the game of football is barely recognizable when compared to its humble beginnings. While it has become the best-loved sport in North America, it is only just starting to gain popularity worldwide, and it’s safe to assume we’ll watch it evolve further over the next century. Below we’ll take a look at the transformation the game has undergone from the 1800s to the 2000s.

Mob Football

Long before rugby and American football became fan favorites, they drew their inspiration from Mob football. Mob football was invented in eighth-century England and remained popular throughout the 1800s. Villagers would form two teams to throw and kick a spherical, inflated pig bladder (hence the term “pigskin”) to their respective “goals” at either end of the village. There were no uniforms, no limit on the number of players, no standardized ball, and next-to-no rules. The game was wildly crowd-pleasing, but also known to be incredibly violent. The one universally agreed-upon rule? No murder. 

Rugby and the First American Football Game

The year 1869 marks the creation of the first game to resemble American football. It was played between rival universities Rutgers and Princeton, with 25 players per team, and rules from the Football Association in London. The game was pivotal for American sports, with historians referencing it as both the first football and first soccer game.

With players unable to pick up, throw, or carry the ball at this point, the game was still a far cry from modern-day football. University matches began popping up all over the nation, and the game’s evolution included running with the ball and playing smaller, quicker, more regulated games.

Evolution of Football

Here is a more in-depth look at how football has evolved over the years:

1869: The first football match on record occurs between Princeton and Rutgers.

1875: The number of players per team is reduced to 11, the number we still play with today. The ball too, receives an update, now as a heavy, rugby-style, watermelon shape.

1876-1882: Walter Camp (recognized as “The Father of American Football”) captains Yale University’s team and helps further refine the game’s rules with additions including:

  • The Line of Scrimmage
  • The Point System
  • The Snap
  • Field Dimensions
  • Number of Players
  • Quarterback Positioning

1894: The first college football conference, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) is founded.

1906: The first legal forward pass occurs. For the first 30 years, football was played entirely with kicks, and then only backward and lateral pitches. The addition of the forward pass helped differentiate football from rugby. The ball is adjusted to better accommodate grip and throwing accuracy.

1906: Several Western universities, notably California and Stanford, switch their football programs to rugby union because of safety concerns.

1922: The National Football League is established, and footballs are standardized with the introduction of the Spalding JF-V, a more aerodynamic cowhide ball that resembles the one used today. 

1958: The game grows rapidly in popularity through the, and in the 1958 championship between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, fans deem it “the greatest game ever played.” 

1970: The rival NFL and AFL decide to merge, culminating in the Super Bowl we know today. The NFL adopts some of the rules that the AFL pioneered, like the two-point conversion, and the league begins resembling the landscape we know today as it enters the era of modern football.

1974: The NFL makes a number of rule changes to improve the intensity and opportunities for various plays during the game, including:

  • Moving the goalposts to the end line at the back of the end zone.
  • Making all field goals missed beyond the 20-yard line result in a turnover at the line of scrimmage.
  • Moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line.
  • Stopping offenses from moving downfield on a punt until the ball is kicked.
  • Reducing some yardage punishments for certain penalties.

1977: The NFL expands to a 16-game regular season, with a four-game preseason starting in 1978.

1980: The NFL adds rule restrictions limiting contact to the head, neck, and face.

1986-1991: The NFL experiments with instant replay, but eventually removes it from the game.

1994: The two-point conversion is added as a possibility after touchdowns.

1999: Instant replay returns to the league after being improved and supplemented with a challenge system.

2002-Present: The NFL institutes a number of rules to improve player safety, including banning helmet-to-helmet contact, horse collar tackles, chop blocks, and other dangerous plays.

2021: The NFL expands to a 17-game regular season.