In America, Super Sunday is almost a sacred holiday. It’s that one Sunday out of the year when the best of the best line up to battle it out on the field for the title, the rings and the prestige. Fans all over the country celebrate, root and even taste a little bit of defeat as two teams face off in a game that has become as American as apple pie, ice cream and Old Glory. But, when questions about who invented football and just how this sport evolved into to its present-day pitch are posed, the answers lie on another continent entirely.
While football might be considered one of the defining sports of America, its roots lie across the pond. When the question of who invented football is posed, the answer that is most commonly given is the British.
As an old story goes, a British soccer player in the mid-1800s became frustrated with the limitations imposed on him by the rules of the game. Tired of only moving the ball with his feet, he picked it up and ran with it. While the story that backs up the British being the answer to who invented football is often seen as a folk legend, many historians agree that the American version of the game was strongly influenced by both British soccer and rugby, but it wasn’t completely created by them. The British sports, by the way, were influenced by other older games played elsewhere in the world.
Despite the international connections, ask an American enthusiast who invented football and the answer is likely to be Walter Camp. This man was a sports writer and later went on to become a football coach. The New Britain, Connecticut, native and Yale graduate was credited by the age of 33 as being the “Father of American Football.” By 1892, it is said he had made this sport diverge so much from those that inspired it that it stood on its own.
Camp’s contributions to American football did, in fact, make the game a force of its own. His contributions to tailoring the sport include such things as:
Adding the line of scrimmage;
Employing down and distance rules;
Introducing the safety;
Touting the sport at the collegiate level (particularly at Yale);
Defining the standard offensive line.
What began as a spinoff of Britain’s two favorite sports became a truly American game in the hands of Walter Camp. His creation would be picked up by other legends and turned into a game that would soon have the entire country talking. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, college coaches like Glenn “Pop” Warner, Knute Rockne and Amos Alonzo Stagg would take this sport to the next level. In 1920, the American Professional Football Association came into being. Two years later it would take on its present form as the National Football League.
Now, more than a century after Camp put his own spin on the game, football is one of America’s most popular sports. While the question of who invented football can be best answered on foreign shores, the American version owes its heart and soul to Walter Camp.