The Imprints of American Football

American Football is closely related to two ancient English sports: Rugby and Football “Soccer” in North America. The American Football is more properly called “gridiron football” because of the way vertical yard lines mark the field. It is also the way the game was played as a non-tackle football program for kids between 4 to 17 years of age, better known as “flag football”. It originated in North America universities in the late 19th century. Players at Princeton and Rutgers Universities, on November 5, 1869 were the first one to compete in New Brunswick, New Jersey during the first intercollegiate football contest.

They were playing at that time, a football (soccer-type game) with rules adapted from the London Football Association… In lights of this new Superbowl LVII, ready to be played on Sunday 2-12’2023, I wanted to bring back some little facts of history, on a game, we may have forgotten or simply not known. A number of other northeastern colleges joined the tournament years later like Harvard University (1870) which was playing  a rugby-soccer style they called the “Boston Game”. They also extended the game to Canadian universities, inviting in may1874, school like McGill University of Montreal to participate to the competition.

McGill style was adopted by Harvard and soon Yale played their first competitive and intercollegiate game with rules of their own. The style was embraced by other players of Princeton University in 1875 and an inter-collegiate league was created.

In May 1874, after a match against McGill University of Montreal, the Harvard players decided to give preference to the McGill’s rugby-style and created rules to their own. In 1875, Harvard and Yale played their first intercollegiate match. The players and the spectators (including Princeton students) embraced the new rugby style as well. A league was born and a man, named Walter Camp become the “Father of American Football. He attended Yale as an undergrade and went to medical school from 1876 to 1881 and as the captain of the team, he played the tailback position but was considered as the head coach. His leadership allowed him to enforce the rules for a newly formed Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA).

Walter Camp while playing at Yale University as a player-coach.

 As we are in the midst of the next Superbowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, a big event in the country. It lies on the creation of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960 by a group of businessmen who wanted to create their own professional Football franchises while the NFL was unwilling to expand. The AFL became an alternative league and a rivalry started propelling pro Football ahead of Baseball as the most popular sport in the country. In the end of the 1960’s, the commissioners of the AFL league met with the owner of the AFL Kansas City Chiefs to negotiate a merger between the leagues in 1970, with the agreement that the winner of each league would play each other at the end of the season. It was concluded that” Superbowl” would be the name of such event. The involvement of the television with millions of viewers and advertising have made this event, the largest sporting event in the United States.

The game became popular after the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl !!! which definitively gave a certain credibility to the AFL. Once the league merged, the NFL was split into the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference.(NFC) where the teams finishing first in each league will compete in the Superbowl at the end of the season. The Super Bowl game was then scheduled two weeks after the play-off to determine the league champion. In 2022, it was decided to play the game on the second Sunday of the month of February. Prior super-bowls were played Bin the mid-January, on a “Super bowl Sunday”. The Vince Lombardi trophy was decerned to the winner of the game in honor to the first coach to to have won two super-bowls.

The super-Bowl is watched as a single sporting event and command the largest audience among all American broadcast. Commercial airtime during the super bowl is very expensive and each company participating want to expose the best in their advertising. In the early 1900’s, the Super Bowl was played in Pasadena California as part of the Pasadena Tournament  of Roses and later in 1923, it was moved to the Rose Bowl Stadium, similar to the Yale Bow in Connecticut and many contests were created around the nation like the Orange Bowl in Miami, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, the Sun Bowl in El Paso (1935) and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (1937). By this time, the term “Bowl” became familiar to all Americans.

I grew up in Montreal PQ and we learned the rudiments of the game while being a student at the Bourget College in Rigaud. The game was similar but showed some differences in the rules, The ball was larger and more difficult to handle. The same changes pertinent to the game was seen in the Canadian league as well, Football fever in Washington DC was significant during my years of residency in General Surgery and Orthopedics at Howard, I was a Dallas fan and Tony Dorsett, Randall Cunningham etc competed well with Joe Theisman and Riggs, the locomotive. We will not be able to argue about statistics in the present moment.