In the last 100 years, many things have changed in the world. Flight is commercialized, there are electric cars roaming the streets, and you can carry your encyclopedia, calculator, and watch in your pocket in the form of a smartphone. However, one thing hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years: football. A beloved pastime and a fan-favorite, football has been around for years and is essentially still the same game it was at its inception. This year, the NFL will be celebrating its 100th season with a special program of celebratory events, kicking off with the Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta this year and ending with the Super Bowl LIV in 2020.
American football was initially developed as a combination between soccer, which many other countries refer to as football, and rugby. After both soccer and rugby migrated to the United States, they became popular at universities and evolved into what we know now as football. The rules were refined by Yale graduate Walter Camp, who worked to create what was called the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States. Today, this organization is known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA. This organization was created after many athletes were suffering from serious injuries due to the nature of some of the plays allowed on the field, and Camp felt the need to address the safety concerns.
The first professional game of football is said to have been played by the Allegheny Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club in 1892. This was the first recorded instance of an athlete being paid specifically to play in the game, rather than simply being rewarded with a trophy. In today’s money, athlete William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was paid $12,000 to play. The Pittsburgh Athletic Club signed their first professional player, halfback Grant Dilbert, to a professional football contract in 1893.
In the early 1900s, disorganization led to few leagues controlling which players stayed on which teams, and rules varying from team to team. In 1920, the American Professional Football Conference was formed, representing four teams: the Canton Bulldogs, the Akron Pros, the Dayton Triangles and the Cleveland Indians. The league later expanded to represent more teams, and the name was changed to the American Professional Football Association.
The APFA would later go through another name change and is still known by that name today. In 1922, the APFA became the National Football League, and grew to accommodate 18 teams. Although more organized, many teams joined and left the league throughout the years.
However, college football was ruling the sport. The first ever Rose Bowl game was held in 1923 after construction of Tournament Park in Pasadena, California concluded.
Football continued evolving, with major changes made in the 1930s. The head coach at the University of Chicago changed the original T-formation offensive maneuver. After the change, the center handed the ball directly to the quarterback, a maneuver that is still used in today’s football games. The first televised game also came in the 1930s, when a game between Fordham University and Waynesburg College was shown on September 30, 1939.
The league split in 1933 to accommodate teams from both sides of the country. The Eastern and Western Divisions would now play each other at the NFL Championship game to determine the reigning champion. The Chicago Bears were the first ever winners of the NFL Championship, where they beat the New York Giants 23-21 at Wrigley Field.
Around this time football started to take on even more modern aspects. The shape of the ball was changed to have tapered ends, helmets were made with tougher and more protective materials, and the NFL Draft changed the way teams were formed.
Football has changed a great deal in the past 100 years, but one thing is certain; it’s a whole lot of fun to play and watch, and it is an irreplaceable column of American sports culture.