“16, 24, 9 – Ready, Set….”
(top) Cleveland Brown Stadium; (row two) The Ancient Greek’s version of football called Episkyros. Hmmm, not much padding on THAT uniform; An 1878 photo of Walter Camp, the “Father of American Football” was the captain of the Yale University football team; And a 1930s Spalding Leather Football Helmet. Not much padding there either. (row three) The great quarterback Otto Graham signed this football. And the great Jim Brown signed this helmet. (row four) This 1893 Harper’s Weekly illustration by Frederic Remington shows the early idea of blocking for the runner. What a concept! (row five) The 1904 Vanderbilt football team suited-up and ready to play. I wonder how many head injuries there were that year? (row six) Otto Graham took Browns to league championships every year between 1946 and 1955, winning seven of them; Bernie Kosar was with the Browns from 1985 to 1993 finishing his career with Dallas and Miami. He won Super Bowl XXVIII with Dallas (DARN, DARN, DARN!!!), beating the Buffalo Bills, on January 30, 1994 (DARN!!!); And Baker Mayfield waiting his turn. (row seven) Here’s a couple ideas I had to spruce-up the ball and the Browns helmets. What do you think? (bottom) Go Get ‘Em, Baker!!!!!!!
Yep, it’s that time of the year when we put away the sunscreen and trunks and pull out the face paint and jerseys. Football season. Kids are running around fields all over Northeast Ohio – (love the little ones with the giant helmets and shoulder pads). Two-a-days, Friday night fever, tailgating, marching bands and get-togethers on Saturdays for our favorite pastime. I saw on television that this year marks the 100thanniversary of professional football, which started not long from here in Canton Ohio. Going back in history, I wanted to see what’s been captured on the early days of the game since we all know the current status of the game. Here’s some fun trivia and knowledge about this great game – enjoy, and of course, Go Browns,(it has been decades since we can say that! Go, Bucs, and Go Rockets!
- In Ancient Greece, men played a similar sport called Episkyros where they tried to throw a ball over a scrimmage while avoiding tackles. Forms of traditional football have been played throughout Europe and beyond since antiquity. Many of these involved handling of the ball and scrummage-like formations.
- These archaic forms of football, typically classified as mob football, would be played between neighboring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people struggling to drag an inflated pig’s bladder by any means possible to markers at each end of a town. By some accounts, in some such events any means could be used to move the ball towards the goal, as long as it did not lead to manslaughter or murder. These antiquated games went into sharp decline in the 19th century when the Highway Act 1835 was passed banning the playing of football on public highways -penalty was forty shillings.
- Each school played its own variety of football. Princeton University students played a game called “ballown” as early as 1820. A Harvard tradition known as “Bloody Monday” began in 1827, which consisted of a mass ballgame between the freshman and sophomore classes, played at The Delta, the space where Memorial Hall now stands. (A poem, “The Battle of the Delta,” was written about the first match: “The Freshmen’s wrath, to Sophs the direful spring / Of shins unnumbered bruised, great goddess sing!” In 1860, both the town police and the college authorities agreed that Bloody Monday had to go. The Harvard students responded by going into mourning for a mock figure called “Football Fightum”, for whom they conducted funeral rites. The authorities held firm and it was a dozen years before football was once again played at Harvard.
- Dartmouthplayed its own version called “Old division football“, the rules of which were first published in 1871, though the game dates to at least the 1830s. All of these games, and others, shared certain commonalities. They remained largely “mob” style games, with huge numbers of players attempting to advance the ball into a goal area, often by any means necessary. Rules were simple, and violence and injury were common. The violence of these mob-style games led to widespread protests and a decision to abandon them. Yale, under pressure from the city of New Haven, banned the play of all forms of football in 1860.
- The game began to return to college campuses by the late 1860s. Yale, Princeton, Rutgers University, and Brown Universitybegan playing the popular “kicking” game during this time. In 1867, Princeton used rules based on those of the London Football Association. A “running game”, resembling rugby football, was taken up by the Montreal Football Club in Canada in 1868.
- Walter Camp is widely considered to be the most important figure in the development of American football.
- Following the introduction of rugby-style rules to American football, Camp became a fixture at the Massasoit House conventions where rules were debated and changed. Dissatisfied with what seemed to him to be a disorganized mob, he proposed his first rule change at the first meeting he attended in 1878: a reduction from fifteen players to eleven. The motion was rejected at that time but passed in 1880. The effect was to open up the game and emphasize speed over strength. Camp’s most famous change, the establishment of the line of scrimmage and the snap from center to quarterback, was also passed in 1880. Originally, the snap was executed with the foot of the center. Later changes made it possible to snap the ball with the hands, either through the air or by a direct hand-to-hand pass.
- Camp was central to several more significant rule changes that came to define American football. In 1881, the field was reduced in size to its modern dimensions of 120 by 53 1/3 yards (109.7 by 48.8 meters). Several times in 1883, Camp tinkered with the scoring rules, finally arriving at four points for a touchdown, two points for kicks after touchdowns, two points for safeties, and five for field goals. Camp’s innovations in the area of point scoring influenced rugby union’s move to point scoring in 1890. In 1887, game time was set at two halves of 45 minutes each. Also in 1887, two paid officials—a referee and an umpire—were mandated for each game. A year later, the rules were changed to allow tackling below the waist, and in 1889, the officials were given whistles and stopwatches.
- The last, and arguably most important innovation, which would at last make American football uniquely “American”, was the legalization of interference, or blocking, a tactic which was highly illegal under the rugby-style rules. Interference remains strictly illegal in both rugby codes. The prohibition of interference in the rugby game stems from the game’s strict enforcement of its offside rule, which prohibited any player on the team with possession of the ball to loiter between the ball and the goal.
- At first, American players would find creative ways of aiding the runner by pretending to accidentally knock into defenders trying to tackle the runner. When Walter Camp witnessed this tactic being employed against his Yale team, he was at first appalled, but the next year had adopted the blocking tactics for his own team. During the 1880s and 1890s, teams developed increasingly complex blocking tactics including the interlocking interference technique known as the Flying wedge or “V-trick formation”, which was developed by Lorin F. Deland and first introduced by Harvard in a collegiate gameagainst Yale in 1892. Despite its effectiveness, it was outlawed two seasons later in 1894 through the efforts of the rule committee led by Parke H. Davis, because of its contribution to serious injury.
- From its earliest days as a mob game, football was a very violent sport. The 1894 Harvard-Yale game, known as the “Hampden Park Blood Bath”, resulted in crippling injuries for four players; the contest was suspended until 1897. The annual Army-Navy game was suspended from 1894 to 1898 for similar reasons. One of the major problems was the popularity of mass-formations like the flying wedge, in which a large number of offensive players charged as a unit against a similarly arranged defense. The resultant collisions often led to serious injuries and sometimes even death.
- Meanwhile, John H. Outland held an experimental game in Wichita, Kansas that reduced the number of scrimmage plays to earn a first down from four to three in an attempt to reduce injuries. The Los Angeles Times reported an increase in punts and considered the game much safer than regular play but that the new rule was not “conducive to the sport. Finally, on December 28, 1905, 62 schools met in New York City to discuss rule changes to make the game safer. As a result of this meeting, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, later named the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), was formed. One rule change introduced in 1906, devised to open up the game and reduce injury, was the introduction of the legal forward pass. Though it was underutilized for years, this proved to be one of the most important rule changes in the establishment of the modern game.
- As a result of the 1905–1906 reforms, mass formation plays became illegal and forward passes legal. Bradbury Robinson, playing for visionary coach Eddie Cochems at St. Louis University, threw the first legal pass in a September 5, 1906, game against Several coaches emerged who took advantage of these sweeping changes. Amos Alonzo Stagg introduced such innovations as the huddle, the tackling dummy, and the pre-snap shift. The division III championship game si called the “Stagg Bowl” today. Other coaches, such as Pop Warner and Knute Rockne, introduced new strategies that still remain part of the game.
- Besides these coaching innovations, several rules changes during the first third of the 20th century had a profound impact on the game, mostly in opening up the passing game. In 1914, the first roughing-the-passer penalty was implemented. In 1918, the rules on eligible receivers were loosened to allow eligible players to catch the ball anywhere on the field—previously strict rules were in place only allowing passes to certain areas of the field. Scoring rules also changed during this time: field goals were lowered to three points in 1909and touchdowns raised to six points in 1912.
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