The History of American Football: How Pro Football Was Born

The History of American Football: How Pro Football Was Born

You've been watching football for years or decades, but have you ever stopped and wondered where the sport originated? It might seem like American football has been around forever. People who feel this way may be shocked to learn that the concept of professional football is relatively new. The catalyst for American football was a fateful showdown in the late 19th century between the Allegheny Athletic Association and Pittsburgh Athletic Club. Curious to learn more about what happened on this momentous day and how the circumstances of one ordinary game shaped the rest of American football history? Here's the history of American football: how pro football was born.

Where Did Football Come From?

The kind of football you see on television and in big stadiums across the country is a variation of some of the earliest versions of rugby football and association football. These two forms of football, which were based on simple ball games from the medieval era, were extremely popular in the United Kingdom throughout the mid-19th century.

What led to the creation of American football was a series of rule changes—including the introduction of the line of scrimmage, down-and-distance rules, and the legalization of forward passes and blocking—that were instituted by Walter Camp, the "Father of American Football.” These rules distinguished American football from rugby and association football and transformed it into its own unique sport.

William Heffelfinger, The First Professional Player

You can’t talk about the history of American football without mentioning how the very first professional football player came to be. On November 12, 1892, the football team from the Allegheny Athletic Association defeated the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. It was, to the ordinary eye, a completely uneventful game. That’s because it wasn't the game itself that mattered, but rather, the circumstances surrounding a specific player. William Hefelfinger was openly paid $500 by the AAA to participate in the game. This simple exchange of money for athletic prowess is what cemented him as the first professional football player.

The Modern Era of Football

In the years after the game between the Allegheny Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, several crucial developments occurred in the world of professional football. The most important was in 1880, when Walter Camp pioneered a number of crucial changes to the rulebook.

By the late 1880s, professional football teams had become all the rage, with most athletic clubs featuring one. In hopes of beating out the completion, these clubs would shell out tempting amounts of money in order to secure the best players.

The NFL, which is one of the first things that comes to most people’s mind when you mention American football, wasn't founded until 1920. It was originally called the American Professional Football Association (APFA) but changed its name to the National Football League (NF) in June of 1922. The NFL quickly became the largest professional football league in the United States, a title that it retains today. Since then, the NFL has given us hundreds of unforgettable games and some of the greatest football players to ever live.

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