Soccer and Rugby
The game of American football developed out of something like a cross between Association football or soccer and rugby. Rugby grew out of the soccer tradition in England, so soccer is truly at the very core of the sport. But as both games made their way across the Atlantic, they were played both at colleges and universities and out of these two games, football was born. The earliest history of the sport tells us that no single variety of the game was played (see page Sports Evolution). Some schools played essentially soccer, others rugby, while still others played a various combination of the two without any formalized rules. What is commonly known as the first college football game, Princeton and Rutgers played each other on November 6, 1869 at Rutgers and New Brunswick, New Jersey. The game was played under a modified London Football Association rules. For example players could only kick the ball and not touch it with their hands and each score called a goal counted for one point. However unlike soccer, there were 25 players on each side not the usual 11. So the first college game was essentially a soccer game but nonetheless it laid the groundwork for the modern game as we know it today.
It was in 1880 that the sport really began to take shape, thanks to Walter Camp. He was a student at Yale and an avid athlete, playing on Yale's football team from 1977 to 1982. It was at this time that the rules committee began to adopt his rule changes, which included establishing a line of scrimmage, the exchange between a quarterback and a center and awarding six points for a touchdown and three points for a field goal. He also lowered the number of players to 11 a side and the concept of set plays. Even after Walter Camp left Yale as a student, he continued to coach the team and be a regular presence at the rules convention until his death.
His contributions were significant after he already left Yale. He introduced the All American team, a group of players he chose as being the best in college football. His second innovation was that the game of football had spread beyond a few Ivy League schools and traveled through New England and the Midwest. However the sport had also become much more violent, especially because of mass plays. Mass plays featured every member of a side moving together to try to score and to counter them, the defenses would do the same moving as one unit to gang tackle the ball carrier. One particular mass play, the flying wedge was particularly vicious. 10 of the 11 offensive players would form a wedge, while one player, the ball carrier would move behind them before leaping over them to move the ball forward and attempt to score. As a countermeasure the defense would send a man of its own leaping over, colliding with the ball carrier in midair. Injuries were often the best outcome of these plays and 149 serious injuries were recorded from the sport, along with 18 deaths. Action had to be taken and various cries for reform led eventually to the creation of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, which later would change his name to the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA, the body is still governing college sports in the United States. As a representative, Walter Camp was part of the creation of this organization, leading another indelible mark on the game of football.
Camps third innovation is perhaps his most significant and developed out of concerns for safety within the game. The NCAA was created to be the arbiter of sports in general and they felt that by opening up the game and making it more about speed and skill rather than just brute strength and force, the number of injuries would be reduced. Out of this came the rule change allowing the forward pass, in which one offensive player could throw the ball forward to another instead of just backward, which had been the case up to that point. It's important to note that the American Football Rules Committee did not invent the concept of the forward pass. It had been used occasionally in various collegiate games. But it was up until 1906 illegal and by making it legal the game opened up and mass plays were significantly reduced.