In the beginning of football history, there was a game named harpaston. The NFL history guide defines the ancient Greek game as follows: “In this game there was no limit to the number of players. The object was to move a ball across a goal line by kicking it, throwing it, or running with it. Classical literature contains detailed accounts of the game, including its rougher elements, such as ferocious tackling.”
Sounds like a match to me.
From there, football migrated to England, where it was outlawed by several kings because it took interest away from the post popular military sport: archery. I can’t imagine why. As a result, football split into soccer and rugby, two sports that are still alive and well in the UK today.
American football fused the game back together and developed it into what it is today. And we are forever grateful. Historians believe that the first real game was played on November 6th, 1869, between Rutgets and Princeton. and get this: each team fielded 25 players at a time. Can you even imagine what that would look like?! Luckily, the number continued to decrease (due to the sheer insanity of having 50 people on a field at one time) over the years until the number reached it’s current count, 11, in 1880. It was Yale head coach Walter Camp who set the number at 11, and he also created the quarterback position, AND the down system, so he was pretty much the sharpest knife in the drawer. What a guy.
In this early era of football, it was all college. Professional football existed, kind of, but it wasn’t really popular. The first ever professional game was played in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1895, and the first football league, the American Professional Football Association, was formed in 1920. And then, in 1922, the APFA got a new name. The National Football League. The NFL was born.
(The clouds parted! The angles sang! Ahhhhh!!!!!!!!)
Only two teams in that original league are still in the NFL: the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) and the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals). The Green Bay Packers, founded in 1919, didn’t join until 1922, but do have the distinction of being the oldest NFL franchise under the same name and in the same location. Go Pack Go!
In the years that followed, we got the AFL and the Super Bowl and the wonder of televised sports, among other gifts. (So. Many. Gifts.) It’s really unbelievable that a terribly named gamed played in ancient Greece has become what it is today.
And aren’t we all so glad it did?