Origins of American Football


Over the years we have seen the existence of all kinds of ball games evolve. The Romans, the Greeks, and the Chinese had games in which a round object was kicked or carried.

English rugby can be considered the basis of American Football. The origin of rugby and therefore of American Football is thanks to William Webb Ellis. At the beginning of the 19th century, William Webb Ellis – a pupil of the Rugby school in England – caught a ball kicked out of his hand, clamped it under his arm, and walked all over the field with it and then grounded it over the goal line. He scored the very first touchdown and also made the start of ‘Rugby Union Football’. A new sport was born! The cup that is handed over every year to the world champion rugby and American Football was named after this person: “Webb Ellis Cup”.

Then the settlers brought the game to America. It was played on village squares and in village parks. Although the game developed slowly in England, the first football match between two universities was organized in 1869. The very first match played between Rutgers University and Princeton University ended in a draw and because many found the game too rough and dangerous, the decisive match to determine the winner was never played.

In 1879, the rules of rugby were rewritten in America. The name ‘rugby’ was replaced by American Football and the ball had to be changed as well. In American Football, for example, it got an oval shape instead of the well-known round ball.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the rules were once again radically changed, resulting in a sport that is still being played today. Initially, American Football was played as Collage Football. It was not until the rules were in place that more and more professional teams were formed to play this sport.

American Football is played from autumn until early winter, at professional, university (college), and high school level. Until recently, the game was limited to the North American continent and the American Emigrants. Now this fantastic sport is starting to gain popularity all over the world.

For millions of people who follow American Football from the giant stadiums, or at home from the ‘lazy’ seat, this sport is a spectacular form of a strategically well-organized interaction between the players and the coach(s). A gigantic sport in which every action is celebrated as a victory, in short, a sport to enjoy.

Differences and similarities between Rugby and American Football

As mentioned earlier, American Football has its origins in Rugby. Because of this, there are many differences, but also striking similarities! 

The differences

  1. In rugby the team consists of 15 players. These players are all placed on the field in a match and there is a subdivision into 2 groups (8 ‘forward players’ and 7 ‘three quarters’). In American Football a team can consist of 46 players. This is due to the fact that changes can and may take place continuously during the game. Of the 46 players, 11 are always on the field. In terms of positioning and subdivision of this team, a distinction is made between 3 groups (offensive – defensive – special team).
  2. In rugby a match lasts 2 x 40 minutes with a break in half, during this phase the field side is also changed (as in football). In American Football the duration is not determined (e.g. if the ball is thrown on the ground at a pass or a player runs with the ball off the field, the time is stopped). However, there are limitations to not make the game infinite. For example, the game consists of 4 x 15 minutes of effective playing time. This time can be extended by several game moments. If the game ends on a draw after 60 minutes, an extension of 1 x 15 minutes effective playing time is played. If there is no winner after the extension, the game ends on a draw. Between the 2:15 and the 3:15, a longer break will be inserted.
  3. In rugby, the ball may only be thrown backwards to a fellow player. If this does not happen, play is resumed by scrum (both teams face each other). In American Football, the ball may be thrown forward to a team-mate. In any error, play is resumed by putting the ball on the ground and throwing the ball through the legs to the quarterback (snap).
  4. The equipment in both sports also differs enormously. Protective clothing is not mandatory for rugby, but a soft body protector may be used. The only thing the rugby association requires you to wear is a little bit (protection for the teeth). In American Football, on the other hand, the obligatory equipment has been expanded enormously. The following items must be worn: helmet, facemask, chinstrap, bit, neck roll, shoulder pad, shirt, rib pad, elbow pad, belt, gloves, cap, trousers, over pants, leg pads, knee pads, stockings and shoes.

The similarities

  1. The field is rectangular in shape in both rungs. The dimensions and layouts do differ slightly, but the base of the field is the same. At the end of the field you have an “end zone” also called an “in goal area” in both sports. A rugby field measures 100 meters by 70 meters. An American Football field measures 110 meters by 50 meters and is divided into yards.
  2. The goals that can be scored using a field goal are placed in the “end zone” and are originally “H” – shaped. The height of a goal is approximately 5.6 meters (goal may not be higher than 5.8 meters) with the crossbar at 3 meters from the ground. A rugby goal is still ‘H’ – shaped. A goal for American Football is a somewhat deformed ‘H’ which has lost its ‘legs’.
  3. The ball used during the match is oval-shaped, again there are no convincing resemblances.
  4. Scoring can be done by kicking the ball between the 2 goalposts and above the crossbar. Or by getting the ball into the opponent’s “end zone” (“Touchdown” in American Football, “Try” in rugby).

There may be some similarities, but they are not always clear or noticeable. Over the years, American Football has evolved so much that striking similarities with rugby have become minimal. Every resemblance contains some difference!