American-style intercollegiate football emerged from the English sport of rugby during the 1870s and 1880s. Almost immediately, African Americans distinguished themselves on college gridirons.
Black Pioneers at Predominantly White Colleges, 1889–1919
William Henry Lewis and William Tecumseh Sherman Jackson were two of the first blacks to play football at a predominantly white college. Both of these Virginians played for Amherst College from 1889 through 1891. Jackson was a running back, while Lewis was a blocker. In 1891 Lewis served as captain of the Amherst squad. After graduation, he attended Harvard Law School, and because of the lax eligibility rules of the time, played two years for Harvard. In 1892 and 1893 Yale coach Walter Camp named Lewis to the Collier's All-American team at the position of center. After his playing days, Lewis became an offensive line coach at Harvard, the first black coach at a predominantly white college. He left football when President William Howard Taft appointed him as U.S. assistant attorney general in 1903.
William Arthur Johnson, George Jewett, and George Flippin were other early black players. Johnson appeared as a running back for MIT in 1890. That same year, Jewett was a running back, punter, and field-goal kicker for the University of Michigan. Flippin, who played running back for the University of Nebraska from 1892 to 1893, was an intense athlete who would not tolerate foul play. The press reported that in one game he "was kicked, slugged, and jumped on, but never knocked out, and gave as good as he received" (Ashe, vol. 1, p. 91). Flippin went on to become a physician. Other African Americans who played in the 1890s included Charles Cook (Cornell), Howard J. Lee (Harvard), George Chadwell (Williams), William Washington (Oberlin), and Alton Washington (North-western).
After the turn of the century, numerous blacks played football for northern and midwestern schools. Two of the most talented stars were Edward B. Gray of Amherst and Robert Marshall of the University of Minnesota. A halfback and defensive end, Gray earned selection to Camp's All-American third team in 1906. Marshall was another skillful end and field-goal kicker who played from 1903 to 1906. In 1904 Minnesota defeated Grinnell College 146–0. Marshall scored 72 points in that contest, a record that still stands. He was named to the second All-American team in 1905 and 1906.
As intercollegiate football gained in popularity during World War I, two black players won national acclaim. Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard entered Brown University in 1915. By mid-season, the 5'6" freshman had excelled as a kicker, runner, and defensive back. He helped take his team to the second Rose Bowl game in 1916, a 14–0 loss to Washington State. The following year also proved successful. Pollard starred in games against Rutgers, Harvard, and Yale, scoring two touchdowns in each contest. In naming Pollard to the All-American team in 1916, Walter Camp described him as "the most elusive back of the year, or any year. He is a good sprinter and once loose is a veritable will-o'-the-wisp that no one can lay hands on" (Ashe, 1988, vol. 1, pp. 102–103).
The son of a Presbyterian minister, Paul Robeson of Princeton, New Jersey, enrolled at Rutgers University in 1915 on an academic scholarship. Tall and rugged (6'3", 225 pounds), he played tackle and guard as a freshman and sophomore. In his final two seasons he was switched to end, where he gained All-American honors. Walter Camp described him in 1918 as "the greatest defensive end who ever trod a gridiron" (Chalk, 1975, p. 219). Besides football, Robeson lettered in track, baseball, and basketball. He also excelled academically, earning election to Phi Beta Kappa. Although he was excluded from the college glee club for racial reasons, he was named to Cap and Skull, a senior society composed of four men "who most truly and fully represent the finest ideals and traditions of Rutgers." After graduation, he played professional football to finance his way through Columbia Law School. He also began an acting and singing career that brought him international recognition.
Almost all of the pioneer African-American players experienced both subtle and overt forms of discrimination. Pollard was forced to enroll at several universities before he found one willing to let him play football. Often black players were left off their squads at the request of segregated opponents. And football, a violent game at best, provided ample opportunities for players to vent racial animosities at black players. Paul Robeson, for example, suffered a broken nose and a dislocated shoulder as a result of deliberately brutal tactics by opposing players. Despite the drawbacks, there probably was no venue of major sporting competition of the era that had as few impediments to black participation as major collegiate football.
Pioneers at Black Colleges, 1889–1919
The first football game between black colleges occurred in North Carolina in 1892 when Biddle defeated Livingstone, 4–0. Owing to inadequate funding, it took nearly two decades for most black colleges to establish football programs. On New Year's Day in 1897, as a forerunner of the bowl games, Atlanta University and Tuskegee Institute met in what was billed as a "championship game." But major rivalries eventually developed between Fisk and Meharry in Tennessee, Livingstone and Biddle in North Carolina, Tuskegee and Talladega in Alabama, Atlanta University and Atlanta Baptist (Morehouse), and Virginia Union and Virginia State. By 1912 Howard and Lincoln in Pennsylvania, Hampton in Virginia, and Shaw in North Carolina had organized the Colored (later Central) Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA).
The black press began to select All-American teams in 1911. Two of the players on that first team were Edward B. Gray, a running back from Howard who had played the same position from 1906 to 1908 at Amherst, and Leslie Pollard, older brother of Fritz, who had played halfback for one year at Dartmouth before resuming his career at Lincoln University. Two other standout athletes who played for black colleges were Floyd Wellman "Terrible" Terry of Talladega and Henry E. Barco of Virginia Union.
Pioneers: Black Professionals, 1889–1919
Charles Follis of Wooster, Ohio, is credited with being the first African-American professional football player. He was recruited by the Shelby, Ohio, Athletic Club, where he played professionally from 1902 to 1906. One of his teammates during the first two years was Branch Rickey, who would, as general manager and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, desegregate major league baseball by signing Jackie Robinson. A darting halfback, Follis often experienced insults and dirty play. In one game in 1905 the Toledo captain urged fans to refrain from calling Follis a "nigger." By 1906 the abuse had become unendurable and Follis quit the game. He died of pneumonia in 1910, at the age of thirty-one. Three other blacks appeared on professional club rosters prior to 1919. Charles "Doc" Baker ran halfback for the Akron Indians from 1906 to 1908, and again in 1911. Gideon "Charlie" Smith of Hampton Institute appeared as a tackle in one game in 1915 for the Canton Bulldogs. And Henry McDonald, probably the most talented black professional during the early years, played halfback for the Rochester Jeffersons from 1911 to 1917. In one game against Canton in 1917, Earle "Greasy" Neale hurled McDonald out of bounds and snarled, "Black is black and white is white … and the two don't mix" (Rathert and Smith, 1984, p. 217). Racial incidents and segregation would become even more severe in the interwar years.
Black Stars at Predominantly White Colleges, 1919–1945
Following World War I a number of blacks gained national celebrity for their football skills. John Shelburne played fullback at Dartmouth from 1919 through 1921. During those same years, Fred "Duke" Slater was a dominant tackle at the University of Iowa. In the early 1920s Charles West and Charles Drew played halfback for Washington and Jefferson (in Washington, Pennsylvania) and Amherst, respectively. West became the second African American to appear in a Rose Bowl game. After their football careers, both men became medical doctors. Drew achieved international acclaim for perfecting the method of preserving blood plasma. Toward the end of the decade, David Myers appeared as a tackle and end for New York University and Ray Kemp played tackle for Duquesne.
Although scores of blacks played football for major colleges, they constantly faced racial prejudice. Some colleges denied blacks dormitory space, thus forcing them to live off campus. Others practiced a quota system by limiting the number of black players on a squad to one or two. Others benched minority athletes when they played segregated southern schools. In 1937 Boston College surrendered to southern custom when it asked Louis Montgomery to sit out the Cotton Bowl game against Clemson. One sportswriter complained that "even Hitler, to give the bum his due, didn't treat Jesse Owens the way the Cotton Bowl folk are treating Lou Montgomery—with the consent of the young Negro's alma mater" (Smith, 1988, p. 270). African Americans also encountered excessive roughness from white players. Jack Trice of Iowa State was deliberately maimed by Minnesota players in 1923 and died of internal bleeding. Finally, minority players were snubbed by white sportswriters. No blacks were named first-team All Americans from 1918 to 1937, including Duke Slater, probably the best tackle of that era.
In the 1930s dozens of black players had outstanding careers. The Big Ten Conference featured a number of gifted running backs, especially Oze Simmons of Iowa and Bernard Jefferson of Northwestern. Talented linemen included William Bell, a guard at Ohio State, and Homer Harris, a tackle at the University of Iowa. Two of the best black athletes at eastern colleges were Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, a rifle-armed quarterback at Syracuse, and Jerome "Brud" Holland, an exceptional end at Cornell. Named first-team All American in 1937 and 1938, Holland was the first black to be so honored since Robeson two decades earlier. In the West Joe Lillard was a punishing running back at Oregon State in 1930 and 1931, and Woodrow "Woody" Strode and Kenny Washington starred for UCLA from 1937 to 1940. Strode was a 220-pound end
with sure hands and quickness. Washington, a 195-pound halfback, was one of the nation's premier players. In 1939 he led all college players in total yardage with 1,370 but failed to win first-team All-American honors.
During the war years, there were five exceptional African-American college players. Marion Motley was a bruising 220-pound fullback at the University of Nevada. Two guards, Julius Franks of the University of Michigan and Bill Willis of Ohio State, were named to several All-American teams. And Claude "Buddy" Young was a brilliant running back at the University of Illinois. As a freshman in 1944, the diminutive, speedy halfback tied Harold "Red" Grange's single-season scoring record with thirteen touchdowns. He spent the next year in the armed services but continued his career after the war. Finally, Joe Perry was a standout running back at Compton Junior College in Southern California.
Black College Play, 1919–1945
Although black colleges lacked sufficient funds for equipment and stadiums, football grew in popularity after World War I. Black conferences sprang up throughout the South, but the CIAA, created in 1912, fielded the most talented teams. In the immediate postwar period, Franz Alfred "Jazz" Bird of Lincoln was the dominant player. A small but powerful running back, Bird was nicknamed "the black Red Grange."
Morgan State University was the dominant black college team of the 1930s and early 1940s. Coached by Edward Hurt, Morgan State won seven CIAA titles between 1930 and 1941. Running backs Otis Troupe and Thomas "Tank" Conrad were the star athletes for the Morgan State teams. In the Deep South, Tuskegee Institute over-whelmed its opponents, winning nine Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) titles in ten years from 1924 through 1933. Tuskegee's team was led by Benjamin Franklin Stevenson, a skilled running back who played eight seasons from 1924 through 1931. (Eligibility rules were not enforced at the time.) In the more competitive Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC), Wiley University boasted fullback Elza Odell and halfback Andrew Patterson. Langston College in Oklahoma, which won four championships in the 1930s, featured running back Tim Crisp. The Midwestern Athletic Conference (MWAC), started in 1932, was dominated by Kentucky State, which topped the conference four times in the 1930s. Its key players were ends William Reed and Robert Hardin, running back George "Big Bertha" Edwards, and quarterback Joseph "Tarzan" Kendall. During World War II, fullback John "Big Train" Moody of Morris Brown College and guard Herbert "Lord" Trawik of Kentucky State were consensus picks for the Black All-American team.
Black Professionals, 1919–1945
In 1919 several midwestern clubs organized the American Professional Football Association, the forerunner of the National Football League (NFL) created two years later. The first African Americans to play in the NFL were Robert "Rube" Marshall and Fritz Pollard. Over forty years old, Marshall performed as an end with the Rock Island Independents from 1919 through 1921. Pollard appeared as a running back with the Akron Pros during those same years. Racial incidents were commonplace. Pollard recalled fans at away games taunting him with the song "Bye, Bye, Blackbird." Occasionally, they hurled stones at him. Even at home games, fans sometimes booed him. Besides playing, Pollard served as the first black NFL coach, directing Akron in 1920, Milwaukee in 1922, Hammond in 1923 and 1924, and Akron again in 1925 and 1926. A pioneer, Pollard was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. Other blacks who performed in the NFL during the 1920s were Paul Robeson, Jay "Inky" Williams, John Shelbourne, James Turner, Edward "Sol" Butler, Dick Hudson, Harold Bradley, and David Myers. Those athletes did not compete without incident. In 1926 the New York Giants refused to take the field until the Canton Bulldogs removed their quarterback, Sol Butler, from the game. Canton obliged. The last three minority athletes to play in the desegregated NFL were Duke Slater, Joe Lillard, and Ray Kemp. An exceptional tackle who often played without a helmet, Slater performed for Milwaukee (1922), Rock Island (1922–1925), and the Chicago Cardinals (1926–1931). Joe Lillard also starred for the Cardinals from 1932 to 1933. He was a skillful punt returner, kicker, and runner, but his contract was not renewed after the 1933 season. Ray Kemp, a tackle with the Pittsburgh Pirates (later renamed the Steelers), met a similar fate.
In 1933 NFL owners established an informal racial ban that lasted until 1946. The reasons for the exclusionary policy are not entirely clear. Probably NFL moguls were attempting to please bigoted fans, players, and owners. In addition, professional football hoped to compete with baseball for fans and adopted that sport's winning formula on racial segregation. Southern-born George Preston Marshall, who owned the Boston franchise, was especially influential in the shaping of NFL policy. A powerful personality with a knack for innovation and organization, Marshall in 1933 spearheaded the reorganization of the NFL into two five-team divisions with a season-ending championship game. Four years later, he moved his Boston team to Washington, D.C., a segregated city. Marshall once vowed that he would never employ minority athletes. Indeed, the Redskins were in fact the last NFL team to desegregate, resisting until 1962.
Other owners implausibly attributed the absence of African-American athletes to the shortage of quality college players. The NFL draft was established in 1935, but owners overlooked such talented stars as Oze Simmons, Brud Holland, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, Woody Strode, and Kenny Washington. Owners also lamely argued that they purposely did not hire blacks in order to protect them from physical abuse by bigoted white players.
Denied an opportunity in the NFL, blacks formed their own professional teams. The New York Brown Bombers, organized in 1935 by Harlem sports promoter Hershel "Rip" Day, was one of the most talented squads. Taking their nickname from the popular heavyweight fighter Joe Louis, the Brown Bombers recruited Fritz Pollard as coach. Pollard agreed to coach, in part, to showcase minority athletes. He signed Tank Conrad, Joe Lillard, Dave Myers, Otis Troupe, Hallie Harding, and Howard "Dixie" Matthews. The Bombers competed mainly against semipro white teams such as the New Rochelle Bulldogs. Pollard coached the Bombers to three winning seasons, but he resigned in 1937 when the team was denied use of Dyckman Oval Field in the Bronx. The Brown Bombers continued for several more years as a road team and then disappeared.
During the war years blacks played professionally on the West Coast. In 1944 both the American Professional League and the Pacific Coast Professional Football League fielded integrated teams. Kenny Washington starred for the San Francisco Clippers and Ezzrett Anderson for the Los Angeles Mustangs. In the Pacific Coast League Jackie Robinson, who would integrate major league baseball, represented the Los Angeles Bulldogs, and Mel Reid performed for the Oakland Giants. The following year the two leagues merged into the Pacific Coast League. The Hollywood Bears, with Washington, Anderson, and Woody Strode, won the title.
The Postwar Years: Blacks at Predominantly White Colleges
World War II and the cold war proved instrumental in breaking down racial barriers. After all, how could Americans criticize Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union for racism and totalitarianism when blacks were denied first-class citizenship in the United States? During the 1940s and 1950s blacks worked diligently to topple segregation in all areas, including athletics. In football their efforts met with considerable success.
During the postwar years several minority athletes performed admirably at big-time schools. Buddy Young returned to the University of Illinois and helped lead his team to a Rose Bowl victory over UCLA. Levi Jackson, a fleet running back, became the first African American to play for Yale and was elected team captain for 1949. Wally Triplett and Denny Hoggard became the first blacks to play in the Cotton Bowl when Penn State met Southern Methodist in 1948. And Bob Mann, Len Ford, and Gene Derricotte helped the University of Michigan trounce the University of Southern California in the 1949 Rose Bowl, 49–0.
Blacks continued to make their mark in intercollegiate football in the 1950s. Ollie Matson excelled as a running back at the University of San Francisco from 1949 through 1951. The following year he won two medals in track at the Olympics in Helsinki. Jim Parker was a dominant guard at Ohio State. In 1956 he became the first African American to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation's foremost collegiate lineman. Bobby Mitchell and Lenny Moore starred at halfback for the University of Illinois and Penn State, respectively. Prentiss Gautt took to the gridiron for the University of Oklahoma in 1958, the first black to perform for a major, predominantly white southern school. And Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest running back in the history of the game, debuted at Syracuse University in 1954. There, Brown lettered in basketball, track, lacrosse, and football and was named All American in the latter two sports. As a senior he rushed for 986 yards, third highest in the nation. In the final regular season game he scored forty-three points on six touchdowns and seven conversions. In the 1957 Cotton Bowl game against Texas Christian University, he scored twenty-one points in a losing cause and was named MVP. Brown would go on to have a spectacular career in the NFL.
Literally and figuratively, African Americans made great strides on the gridiron in the 1950s. Yet barriers continued to exist. Dormitories at many colleges remained off limits. Blacks were denied access to most major colleges in the South. They were virtually excluded from some football positions, especially quarterback. And they were not seriously considered for the Heisman Trophy, an award presented to the best collegiate player.
In the 1960s, a landmark decade in the advancement of civil rights, black gridiron stars abounded. Ernie Davis, Brown's successor at fullback for Syracuse, was an exciting and powerful runner who shattered most of Brown's records. As a sophomore in 1959, Davis averaged seven yards per carry and helped lead Syracuse to its first undefeated season. Ranked first in the nation, Syracuse defeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl and Davis was named MVP. The following year Davis gained 877 yards on 112 carries and scored ten touchdowns. As a senior, he had another outstanding season and became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Tragically, he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1962 and never played professional football. He died at the age of twenty-three.
The 1960s produced a number of sensational black running backs. Leroy Keyes of Purdue and Gale Sayers of Kansas twice earned All-American recognition. Floyd Little and Jim Nance proved worthy successors to Brown and Davis at Syracuse. And Mike Garrett and O. J. Simpson, both of USC, won Heisman awards. The decade's greatest breakaway runner, Simpson rushed for 3,295 yards and twenty-two touchdowns in only twenty-two games. Blacks also excelled as linemen, receivers, and defensive backs. Bobby Bell and Carl Eller both won All-American acclaim as tackles with the University of Minnesota. Bell also captured the Outland Trophy in 1962. Bob Brown of Nebraska and Joe Greene of North Texas State also were All-American tackles. Paul Warfield was a crafty wide receiver for Ohio State. And George Webster of Michigan State twice earned All-American distinction as a defensive back. Also from Michigan State was the feared defensive end Charles "Bubba" Smith, who joined the Baltimore Colts in 1967.
In the 1960s bastions of bigotry collapsed. The last three lily-white college conferences—the Southwest, Southeast, and Atlantic Coast—all desegregated. Blacks, too, put the lie to the stereotype that they lacked the intellectual necessities to perform as quarterbacks. Sandy Stephens was voted an All American at Minnesota, and Marlin Briscoe and Gene Washington called signals at the University of Omaha and Stanford, respectively. Yet the NFL showed little or no interest in Stephens, and the other two were converted to wide receivers.
During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, major colleges actively recruited African-American athletes. Considered essential to the success of the football program, blacks at some schools were illegally offered monetary and material inducements. Meager grade-point averages and low graduation rates also brought accusations that universities were exploiting minority athletes. After all, the vast majority of varsity players do not go on to enjoy lucrative professional athletic careers. To blunt the criticism, the NCAA instituted Proposition 48 in 1983. That directive required entering freshman varsity athletes to achieve a combined score of 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and to maintain at least a C average.
Blacks have only slowly been hired as collegiate coaches. The first African-American head coach at a major college football program was Dennis Green, who was head coach at Northwestern (1981–1985) and at Stanford (1989–1991) before being named head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL. By the early 1990s the only African-American coaches at Division 1-A colleges were Ron Cooper at Eastern Michigan University, Ron Dickerson at Temple University, and Jim Caldwell at Wake Forest University. In 1998, Division 1-A schools listed a total of eight black head coaches, an all-time high. Six years later, at the start of the 2004 collegiate season, five black Americans were head coaches at level 1-A, including two (Tyrone Willingham of Notre Dame and Tony Samuel of New Mexico State) who were fired later that year.
Black College Play in the Postwar Era
Although football programs at black colleges continued to be strapped financially, they still produced some superb players and coaches. Eddie Robinson of Grambling, Ed Hurt and Earl Banks of Morgan State, and Jake Gaither of Florida A & M were four of the most successful black college coaches. Each won several conference titles and sent numerous players to the NFL. Morgan State produced three premier NFL players—Roosevelt Brown, a guard with the New York Giants in the mid-1950s; Leroy Kelly, a running back with the Cleveland Browns in the mid-1960s; and Willie Lanier, a linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1967 to 1977—among numerous other stars. Florida A & M yielded Willie Gallimore, a running back with the Chicago Bears (1957–1963), and Bob Hayes, a sprinter who played wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys (1965–1974). Grambling has sent scores of players to the NFL, including quarterback James Harris, running backs Paul Younger and Sammy White, wide receiver Charlie Joiner, defensive tackles Ernest Ladd and Junious "Buck" Buchanan, defensive backs Everson Walls, Roosevelt Taylor, and Willie Brown, and defensive end Willie Davis.
Two of the greatest offensive players in NFL history graduated from black colleges in Mississippi. Former NFL career rushing leader Walter Payton, whose record for total yards rushing was later eclipsed by Emmitt Smith, attended Jackson State before joining the Chicago Bears in 1975, and wide receiver Jerry Rice, the holder of career records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions, among many others, graduated from Mississippi Valley State in 1985. Other notable products of black colleges include defensive specialists David "Deacon" Jones and Donnie Schell from South Carolina State, defensive end Elvin Bethea from North Carolina A & T, wide receivers John Stallworth and Harold Jackson of Alabama A & M and Jackson State, respectively, and guard Larry Little of Bethune-Cookman. Prairie View A & M produced safety Ken Houston and wide receiver Otis Taylor. Maryland State delivered defensive back Johnny Sample and two dominant linemen, Roger Brown and Art Shell. Savannah State yielded tight end Shannon Sharpe.
The NFL in the Postwar Years
The democratic idealism of World War II and the emergence of a rival professional league, the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), proved instrumental in the toppling of the racial barrier in 1946. That year the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL hired Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, and the Cleveland Browns of the AAFC signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis. Washington and Strode were beyond their prime, but Motley and Willis were at their peak. They helped lead the Browns to the first of four consecutive league championships. Both athletes were named first-team All-Pros, an honor that became perennial. Both would also be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The success of the Browns prompted desegregation among other teams, especially in the AAFC, which lasted until 1949. The football New York Yankees signed Buddy Young and the gridiron Brooklyn Dodgers took Elmore
Harris of Morgan State. The Los Angeles Dons recruited Len Ford, Ezzrett Anderson, and Bert Piggott. Ford would go on to star as a defensive end for the Cleveland Browns. The San Francisco 49ers, originally an AAFC team, in 1948 signed Joe Perry, who would, in his second season, lead the league in rushing. After the 49ers joined the NFL, he became the first back to amass back-to-back thousand-yard rushing seasons, in 1953 and 1954.
Among NFL teams, only the Rams, the New York Giants, and the Detroit Lions took a chance on African-American athletes in the 1940s. The Lions signed Melvin Grooms and Bob Mann, and the Giants acquired Emlen Tunnell, one of the sport's greatest safeties. In the early 1950s the Giants also obtained Roosevelt Brown, a superior tackle. The Baltimore Colts acquired Buddy Young from the Yankees, and the Chicago Cardinals signed Wally Triplett, Ollie Matson, and Dick "Night Train" Lane. Matson was a crafty runner and dangerous receiver who rushed for 5,173 yards and caught 222 passes in fourteen NFL seasons. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972. Dick Lane, another Hall of Fame inductee, excelled as a cornerback for the Cardinals and Lions. The Washington Redskins, the last NFL team to desegregate in 1962, acquired Bobby Mitchell from the Cleveland Browns for the draft rights to Ernie Davis. Mitchell was a gifted wide receiver and an explosive kick returner. He, too, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Jim Brown, Lenny Moore, and John Henry Johnson were all premier running backs in the 1950s and early 1960s. In nine seasons with Cleveland, Brown led the NFL in rushing eight times, amassing 12,312 yards and 126 touchdowns, a career record. He was selected Rookie of the Year in 1957 and MVP in 1958 and 1965. He was also voted to nine All-Pro teams. At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Brown ideally combined power, speed, and endurance. Lenny Moore was the epitome of a runner-receiver. He gained 5,174 yards as a halfback and another 6,039 yards as a receiver. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1956 and helped propel the Baltimore Colts to NFL championships in 1958 and 1959. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975. John Henry Johnson, a powerful running back and ferocious blocker, played for San Francisco, Detroit, and Pittsburgh (1954–1966). In thirteen seasons, he totaled 6,803 yards on 1,571 carries.
The formation of the American Football League (AFL) in 1959 presented opportunities on the new teams for scores of African Americans. Prior to its merger with the NFL, the AFL produced many exciting black players. Carlton "Cookie" Gilchrist of the Buffalo Bills became the league's first thousand-yard rusher in 1962. Other excellent running backs included Abner Haynes of the Dallas Texans, Paul Lowe of Oakland, Jim Nance of Boston, and Mike Garrett of Kansas City. Lionel Taylor of Denver, Art Powell of Oakland, and Otis Taylor of Kansas City were all gifted receivers. Willie Brown and Dave Grayson were prominent defensive backs for Oakland. And three future Hall of Famers all played for Kansas City: Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell, and Willie Lanier.
Minority athletes also excelled in the NFL during the 1960s. Roosevelt Brown of New York and Jim Parker of Baltimore were frequent All-Pros on the offensive line. The successful Green Bay teams were anchored on defense by Willie Davis at end, Herb Adderly at cornerback, and Willie Wood at safety. Other defensive standouts were Roger Brown and Dick Lane of Detroit, Abe Woodson of San Francisco, Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier of New York and Los Angeles, and Carl Eller and Alan Page of Minnesota.
Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears was probably the most electrifying offensive star of the 1960s. A graceful back with breakaway speed, he won Rookie of the Year honors in 1965, scoring twenty-two touchdowns. The following year he led the NFL in rushing with 1,231 yards. After leading the league in rushing for a second time in 1969, injuries ended his career. The decade also yielded two superior pass receivers: Paul Warfield and Charlie Taylor. Playing thirteen seasons for Cleveland and Miami, Warfield caught 427 passes for 8,565 yards. Another Hall of Famer, Taylor played his entire thirteen-year career for Washington, totaling 649 passes for 9,140 yards.
The 1970 merger of the AFL and NFL set the stage for the emergence of professional football as America's most popular spectator sport. Since the merger the NFL has been split into two divisions, the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). During the era of the unified league, African Americans have managed to topple virtually every existing sports barrier. In football they have continued to dominate the skill positions of running back, receiver, and defensive back. In the 1970s Orenthal James "O. J." Simpson became the dominant back. A slashing and darting runner for the Buffalo Bills, Simpson led the AFC in rushing in 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1976. In 1973 he shattered Jim Brown's single-season record by rushing for 2,003 yards. In eleven seasons he rushed for 11,236 yards and caught 232 passes for 2,142 yards. Walter "Sweetness" Payton became the game's most statistically accomplished running back, establishing an NFL record of 16,726 yards during his thirteen seasons with the Chicago Bears. A durable player who missed only four of 194 games, he also established new records for most thousand-yard seasons (10), most hundred-yard games (77), most yards rushing in a single game (275), and finished his career second to Jim Brown for most touchdowns (125).
A number of blacks have gained recognition as receivers. Possessing both blocking and pass-catching ability, Kellen Winslow, Ozzie Newsome, Shannon Sharpe, and John Mackey have served as model tight ends. Mackey was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991—an honor long overdue and probably denied him earlier because of his union fights against management and the NFL office. Notable wide receivers have included Otis Taylor, Paul Warfield, Harold Jackson, Cliff Branch, Drew Pearson, Mel Gray, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Isaac Curtis, James Lofton, Charlie Joiner, Mike Quick, Art Monk, Al Toon, Andre Rison, Andre Reed, John Taylor, Ahmad Rashad, Mark Duper, Mark Clayton, Michael Irvin, Sterling Sharpe, Jerry Rice, and Randy Moss.
Blacks have also distinguished themselves as defensive backs, interior linemen, and linebackers. Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Bob Brown, Leon Gray, Reggie McKenzie, Anthony Munoz, and Larry Little all have excelled on the offensive line. Little was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. A frequent All-Pro selection, Dwight Stephenson of the Miami Dolphins became the first outstanding black center in the mid-1980s. Claude Humphrey, Leroy Selmon, Joe Greene, Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Charlie Johnson have all been standout defensive linemen. Defensive backs include Ronnie Lott, Mel Blount, Lem Barney, Jimmy Johnson, Emmitt Thomas, Donnie Schell, Louis Wright, Mike Haynes, Albert Lewis, Ron Woodson, Deion Sanders, and Charles Woodson. And some of the best linebackers in the game have been minority athletes such as George Webster, David Robinson, Willie Lanier, Robert Brazille, Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Cornelius Bennett, Seth Joyner, Hugh Green, Andre Tippett, Derrik Thomas, Vincent Brown, Junior Seau, and Rickey Jackson.
Blacks, too, have dispelled the myth that they lack the intellectual gifts to play certain positions, especially quarterback. In 1953 the Chicago Bears signed a black Michigan State signal caller appropriately named Willie Thrower. He appeared in several games but did not distinguish himself and was released at the end of the year. George Taliaferro of Indiana University appeared as a quarterback for Baltimore in 1953, but he also failed to make an impression. Two years later, the Green Bay Packers signed Charlie Brackins from Prairie View A & M, but he was used sparingly. Marlin Briscoe of the University of Omaha quarterbacked several games for the Denver Broncos in 1968 but was released the following year and became a wide receiver for Buffalo. James Harris of Grambling took snaps for Buffalo in 1969 and led the Los Angeles Rams to a division title in 1974. Joe Gilliam played adequately for Pittsburgh in 1974 but lost the job to Terry Bradshaw, who became the offensive leader of the Super Bowl champions.
The performance of Doug Williams for the Washington Redskins in the 1988 Super Bowl against Denver demonstrated that a black possessed the athletic and intellectual necessities to direct an NFL football team. In Super Bowl XXII Williams captured the MVP award by completing 18 of 29 passes for a record 340 yards and four touchdowns.
In 1988 Randall Cunningham demonstrated dazzling running and passing ability and directed the Philadelphia Eagles to their first division title since 1980. Warren Moon, leader of the high-powered "run and shoot" Houston Oiler offense, was one of the most accomplished passers in football. In 1990 his receiving corps of Haywood Jeffries, Drew Hill, Ernest Givens, and Curtis Duncan each caught more than sixty-five passes, an unparalleled gridiron feat. The later successes of quarterbacks Steve Mc-Nair, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, and Donovan Mc-Nabb has continued to demonstrate the competence and skill of many African Americans in leading their team's offense on the field.
While distinguishing themselves at every playing position and earning salaries commensurate with their performances, blacks remained a novelty in terms of football management positions. For much of the twentieth century, there were no black owners and few African Americans in NFL front office jobs. Minority head coaches were rare, even though by the 1990s 60 percent of the players were black. Art Shell was named head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989, becoming the first black NFL coach since Fritz Pollard. After the 2003 Super Bowl, the Black Coaches Association was formed to work with the NFL to promote the hiring of minorities in professional football. At that time, the league's only black head coaches were Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, Herman Edwards of the New York Jets, and Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The status of African Americans in football in recent decades has been impressive, though many problems remain. Their entrance into leadership roles has been slow. In the past, high-salaried minority players have been criticized for being aloof. In part, blacks have been reluctant to speak out for fear of alienating the white majority. But highly visible minority athletes are increasingly speaking out on social issues in order to improve the human condition for athletes and nonathletes alike.
Ashe, Arthur R., Jr. A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete, 1619–1987. 3 vols. New York: Warner, 1988.
Carroll, John M. "Fritz Pollard and the Brown Bombers." The Coffin Corner 12 (1990): 14–17.
Chalk, Ocania. Pioneers of Black Sport. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975.
Chalk, Ocania. Black College Sport. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1976.
Edwards, Harry. "Black Athletes and Sports in America." The Western Journal of Black Studies 6 (1982): 138–144.
Henderson, Edwin B. The Negro In Sports. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, 1949.
Henderson, Edwin B. The Black Athlete: Emergence and Arrival. New York: Publishers Co., 1968.
Johnson, William Oscar. "How Far Have We Come?" Sports Illustrated 75 (August 5, 1991): 39–46.
Pennington, Richard. Breaking the Ice: The Racial Integration of Southwest Conference Football. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1987.
Rathert, Mike, and Don R. Smith. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Presents: Their Deeds and Dogged Faith. New York: Balsam Press, 1984.
Roberts, Milton. "Black College All-Time, All-Star Football Team." Black Sports (June 1976): 47–50.
Smith, Thomas G. "Civil Rights on the Gridiron: The Kennedy Administration and the Desegregation of the Washington Redskins." Journal of Sport History 14 (1987): 189–208.
Smith, Thomas G. "Outside the Pale: The Exclusion of Blacks from the National Football League." Journal of Sport History 15 (1988): 255–281.
Spivey, Donald. "The Black Athlete in Big-Time Intercollegiate Sports, 1941–1968." Phylon 44 (1983): 116–125.
thomas g. smith (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005
During the course of the nineteenth century, the United States faced the transition from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, industrial one. Immigrants flooded the overcrowded cities, threatening the political power of American nativists. Women threatened men as they clamored for greater independence, suffrage, education, and a semblance of equal rights. By the end of the era, the country contended with Great Britain and European nations for international power; but first Americans had to heal sectional strife after the Civil War and establish their own national identity. One of the ways in which the United States addressed these issues proved to be a new game: football.
In the years following the Civil War, rapid industrialization caused many men to lose their independence and become employees for wages, a blow to their selfesteem. The concomitant lack of a war, in which men traditionally proved their manhood, also caused them to question their waning masculinity. For middle-class and wealthy young men who didn't perform manual labor, football began to serve as a surrogate form of war to prove their bravery. Choking, tripping, and punching an opponent were all part of the early game, and flying-wedge plays and aerial attacks later associated the game with military purposes. Charges of brutality persisted for years, and big hits continue to fascinate spectators today.
Origins of American Football
Kicking games had been played for centuries in Europe, usually among young men within a community or in opposition to nearby villages. Schoolboys adopted such games for their leisure time, and the games were transported with colonists to America. Harvard students used soccerlike games as an excuse for intramural mayhem in the 1820s. Yale students became so unruly during such affairs that school administrators banned the games in 1860, but Boston high school boys initiated play during that same decade.
Different versions of the games evolved: one in which players were allowed to kick the ball only, and another in which players were able to advance the ball by running with it. In 1869, Princeton met Rutgers in a series of the soccer-style games. The initial match on November 6 is considered the first intercollegiate football game to be held in the United States, and the game's first rivalry. Columbia joined the competition the following year, and Princeton codified ten rules in 1871. Harvard began playing by rugby rules in 1872, and Yale used as many as twenty players. The lack of uniformity led to a rules convention, which was held in New York in 1873. The meeting would eventually become an annual affair, with revisions that produced the modern game of football over the next fifty years.
In 1874, Harvard played a series of games with McGill University of Montreal. Though victorious, Harvard favored the faster-paced rugby style of its opponent and adopted the game as its own. In a further break from the British concept of amateurism, Harvard handpicked its best players in an attempt to win, judging the outcome more important than the exercise. Spectators were also charged 50 cents, thus leading to the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics.
The Harvard rivalry with Yale, which began in 1875, necessitated compromise, as both teams played by different rules. The top college teams agreed on use of the rugby rules the next year, but they disagreed on the number of players, with Harvard favoring fifteen rather than eleven.
High school boys followed the lead of their older counterparts and began organizing formal games as well. By the late 1870s, the game had spread to high schools in the Philadelphia and Chicago areas. The college players introduced equipment innovations as well, adopting canvas jackets and pants for protection but also greasing them to foil tacklers. Players wore their hair long for added protection from head blows until the advent of headgear and nosepieces, the forerunners of face masks, in the 1890s.
As the intensity of rivalries grew, school and community pride fostered a need to win. American competitiveness further distinguished the nation from the British, who played for the love of the game. The American emphasis on winning led to strategic innovations as well. In 1879, Princeton introduced the rise of interference to protect the ball carrier from tacklers, as well as the onside kick to retain possession of the ball (the onside kick occurs when one team, during the kickoff, kicks the ball only a short distance in hopes that they can recover the loose ball before the other team can; it is often used late in games when one team needs to get the ball to try to score quickly). Walter Camp of Yale chaired the rules committee in 1880 and led that regulating body through significant revisions until his death in 1925. Camp initiated the scrimmage line in 1880, divorcing football from the rugby scrum and requiring separate offensive and defensive strategies.
In 1882, Camp introduced the concept of downs and yardage (originally three downs to gain five yards) to eliminate boring, plodding, ball-control offenses designed simply to keep the ball away from opponents. The emphasis still remained on the kicking game, however, as field goals counted for five points and points after touchdowns counted for four.
Debates over player eligibility ensued as teams sought the best athletes in order to win, and Camp assumed the role of coach at Yale, a transition from the previously student-directed activity. As coach, Camp organized the team along corporate lines and instituted scientific training regimens, position specialization, and alumni boosterism. Along with his rule-making responsibilities, such efforts earned him the nickname "Father of American Football."
Issues of brutality, eligibility, and impartiality led to further rule changes, including the adoption of a referee in lieu of alumni judges in 1885. Additional referees were added in subsequent years. Teamwork, the clocklike precision of plays, and the increasing specialization of player responsibilities reflected the industrial process taking place in the United States, and newspapers promoted greater interest in the sport. By the 1880s, high schools and colleges in the Midwest and South had adopted the game, and play began in California by 1886. Football surpassed baseball as the most popular sport on college campuses by 1887.
The commercialization of football proceeded apace, with the championship game—usually contested between the Big Three of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale—occurring in New York to maximize spectators. The 1893 affair between Princeton and Yale drew 40,000 spectators, and countless others witnessed the four-hour parade that preceded the game; football had become a national spectacle that brought pride, prestige, and money to the team coffers. The largesse derived from such ventures eventually led school authorities to establish greater control over student-run activities and the profits that derived from them.
Star athletes became lionized on campus and received preferential treatment in separate dorms, on training tables, and in the classroom. In 1889, Walter Camp and sportswriter Caspar Whitney further acknowledged their heroic status by selecting the first of their all-American teams. All members of the original unit emanated from the Big Three institutions, further establishing the masculinity, morality, and Anglo leadership of their clientele in the face of the overwhelming immigrant hordes who populated the cities. Such pronouncements also made statements to Great Britain and other powers that the United States was developing a virile leadership as an emerging world power.
Internecine rivalries continued, however, as teams sought national and local esteem by defeating competitors. In the quest for victory, Harvard instituted spring practices in 1889, and devised shifts to gain a numerical advantage or exploit physical mismatches. Both high schools and colleges utilized tramp athletes, some of whom weren't even enrolled as students, to maximize their winning chances. Successful teams were feted with banquets, gifts, and adulation, a practice that led to the birth of professional football.
". . . football . . . embodies so many factors that are typically American . . . virile, intensive, aggressive energy that makes for progress is the root which upholds and feeds American supremacy and American football."
James Knox, Harvard University, cited in John A. Blanchard, ed., The H Book of Harvard Athletics, 1852–1922. Harvard Varsity Club, 1923.
In 1892, Walter "Pudge" Heffelfinger, a Yale all-American and the dominant player of the era, began accepting "expense" money and then outright payment of $500 for his services when he appeared for the Allegheny Athletic Association against a rival Pittsburgh club. Professionalism spread throughout Pennsylvania and as far as Montana within five years. The practice took particular hold in towns and small cities in Ohio, which battled for civic pride as well as commercial and industrial rivalry. By 1920, the professional teams of the Midwest met in Canton, Ohio, to form the American Professional Football Association, which soon changed its name to the National Football League.
High schools, colleges, and pro teams all contended for local, state, and regional championships as football provided the venue for larger societal struggles. By the 1890s, the Midwest vied with the East for cultural leadership, and Chicago fully expected to supercede New York in that respect. Led by the universities of Michigan and Chicago, midwestern schools challenged their eastern counterparts, but they refused to acknowledge such defiance. Differing styles of play and separate rules committees exacerbated tensions, as eastern teams clung to conservative mass power plays to grind out low-scoring victories, while midwesterners favored speed, wide-open end runs, and fast-paced, high-scoring tactics. High school teams decided the issue in 1902 when a Brooklyn team traveled to Chicago to meet its champion and suffered a humiliating 105-0 defeat. When New Yorkers claimed that Brooklyn represented less than their best team, Chicago's new champion administered a 75-0 beating in New York the next year. At the collegiate level, Michigan's "point-a-minute" team scored 501 points while holding opponents scoreless in 1901, then beat Stanford 49-0 in the first Rose Bowl game. The 1905 showdown between midwestern powers Chicago and Michigan became the first of many so-called games of the century. Interstate and interregional play had been well under way by then and became commonplace even at the high school level.
Bowl games and championships required adequate venues if schools were to maximize the commercial potentials of such spectacles. In 1903, Harvard built the first concrete stadium, which seated 40,000. Many others soon followed, and Chicago's Soldier Field, erected in 1924, accommodated more than 100,000. Enormous arenas on college campuses symbolized football's power and its commercial appeal nationwide, and even high schools constructed edifices that far outstripped the town population and hardly rationalized massive expenses for such limited usage.
Schools paid handsomely for winning coaches as well. They especially coveted players from Yale, the most dominant team of the nineteenth century; by 1901, Walter Camp had placed more than 100 of his former protégés around the country. One of them, Amos Alonzo Stagg, one of the original all-Americans, gained faculty status at the University of Chicago in 1890 and a salary exceeding that of many distinguished professors. In 1905, Harvard's twenty-seven-year-old coach, Bill Reid, garnered $7,000 when top professors got only $5,500. That pattern established salary structures still prevalent at collegiate and interscholastic levels.
Schools expected coaches to be male role models as well as tacticians. As girls and young women began playing tennis, golf, and basketball, and infringing on power sports like cycling and baseball, males felt threatened and their masculinity diminished. Football became a refuge for boys and young men, who had labored under the influence of their mothers and female teachers in the elementary schools. Male coaches instilled toughness, aggressive competitiveness, discipline, a strong work ethic, and teamwork, which would benefit them in the corporate world and the civic polity. Coaches enjoyed widespread popularity, and surveys between 1905 and 1907 showed that 78 percent of high schools and 432 of 555 cities fielded football teams.
The emphasis on aggressive masculinity did little to suppress the violent nature of the game. Women protested, but their voices were marginalized. Males even served as cheerleaders for years because men would not allow themselves to be led by women in the masculine arena, where females were confined to their own cheering section. In such an environment aggressiveness reigned and injuries mounted. In 1905, at least eighteen deaths and 159 serious injuries occurred. Harvard alone suffered twenty-nine fractures, twenty-nine dislocations, and nineteen concussions among its players. The death toll rose to thirty-three by 1909.
While players wore their injuries as badges of honor, faculty and administrators interceded, and some schools switched to rugby. President Theodore Roosevelt took it upon himself to save the game he deemed essential to robust masculinity by inviting coaches of the Big Three to the White House in 1905 and eliciting promises of reform. While the coaches effected little change, college authorities formed a governing body in 1906 that eventually became the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Faculty members assumed similar control at the high school level.
In their endeavors to limit the mass plays that caused so many of the injuries, they allowed for the forward pass to open up the game in 1906. An incompletion, however, resulted in a loss of the ball, and the new rules required ten yards to gain another set of downs. Opponents ganged up on the receivers as they awaited the pass, causing even more harm, until further rule revisions in 1910. Notre Dame's stunning 35-13 upset of Army by use of the pass in 1913 confirmed its effectiveness.
That game also established Notre Dame as a football power, symbolic of Catholic inclusion in mainstream American culture. Under the guidance of a Norwegian immigrant coach, Knute Rockne, Notre Dame used largely ethnic players, including Poles, Italians, and even Jews, to attain national prominence. Its famed Four Horsemen achieved legendary status as 1924 national champs. Catholic high schools copied Notre Dame's tactics and carried the religious banner against public school, ostensibly Protestant, opponents. Chicago's Prep Bowl featured Catholic and Public School League champs for the city championship at Soldier Field. The 1937 spectacle drew more than 120,000 fans, the most to witness a football game of any kind in the United States.
Football helped to integrate other minority groups as well. William Henry Lewis of Harvard became the first of many blacks to achieve all-American status. He went on to become an assistant attorney general. Fritz Pollard played for Brown in 1916, the first African American in the Rose Bowl and the first to quarterback and coach a pro team in the NFL.
Native Americans learned to play football at residential schools around the country, which were intended to assimilate them into white culture. The most famous of such schools, Carlisle in Pennsylvania, produced Jim Thorpe and a host of star players. Carlisle proved a perennial power and a major attraction, often employing trick plays attributed to their innovative coach, Glenn "Pop" Warner, whose name lives on in the appellation for youth football leagues. Thorpe, who played into the mid-1920s, became the NFL's biggest star and its first president.
Other ethnics found greater assimilation through football as well. George Halas, of Czech parentage, played for an industrial team, which he eventually owned as the head of the Chicago Bears. The fledgling NFL teams employed numerous ethnic and many working-class players who had no opportunities for higher education. By 1920, increasing numbers of working-class children attended high school, where they, too, enjoyed the game. One, Harold "Red" Grange, gained national celebrity as star of the University of Illinois team. His exploits as a Chicago pro attracted more than 70,000 in New York in 1925, which provided some credibility for the young and struggling NFL.
While football brought alternative groups into the mainstream culture, it also assuaged long-held sectional rifts. The American South, left behind by the northern industrial economy and still harboring a lost-cause mentality from the Civil War, found recompense in football. Georgia Tech won the national championship in 1917, and tiny Centre College of Kentucky upset Harvard, symbol of the northeastern elite, in 1921. Led by Alabama, southern teams won numerous bowl games throughout the 1920s and 1930s to resurrect southern pride and restore its honor.
Bowl games, too, brought greater attention to the region. The Sugar, Cotton, and Orange Bowls, along with a plethora of smaller events, drew recognition for southern agricultural products and highlighted southern commercial centers during the Depression of the 1930s. The Grambling College marching band originated in 1926, and its halftime exhibitions often overshadowed the game, eventually winning international acclaim for the small Louisiana school. Its performance set the entertainment standard and established the increasing importance of the halftime show when it appeared at the first Super Bowl in 1967.
In 1935, the Downtown Athletic Club of New York decided to recognize individual achievement on the field by awarding the Heisman Trophy to the outstanding collegiate player each year. Individualism, highly prized in American culture, can still be obtained within the framework of a team, similar to the collective nationalism and patriotism shown by Americans and demonstrated before each game's rendition of the national anthem.
By the 1930s, variations of football aimed to be more inclusive, spreading its benefits to even the smallest communities. Hawaiians played a version of barefoot football on the beach, while six-man football originated in Nebraska in 1934 to allow opportunities for small-town boys. Other states adopted six-man or eight-man rules, and park districts offered Pop Warner football or similar youth programs to ever younger participants. Religious groups, such as the Catholic Youth Organization, installed football teams at the elementary level in inter-scholastic leagues, providing experienced players to its high school forces. The Pop Warner organization enrolled more than 300,000 participants in its programs, and offered national championships in both flag and tackle football, held at Disney World by the 1990s.
The choice of such a site, in Orlando, Florida, is indicative of football's power as an integrative force. African Americans gained entry to northern white teams at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels by virtue of their abilities, but in the South opportunities proved more limited. Segregated black schools began fielding their own teams, with the first game between African American schools taking place in 1892 between Biddle (now Johnson C. Smith) University and Livingstone College in North Carolina. White southern schools refused to play northern institutions that had black players. The northerners often agreed to suspend African Americans for games at southern venues. After 1934, pro football owners, too, banished blacks from the highest levels of play until 1946, when the new All-American Football Conference, a rival to the NFL, signed the best players regardless of skin color (two years before Jackie Robinson had desegregated major league baseball.) In 1947, Harvard brought a black player to Virginia, and Penn State included its African Americans in the 1948 Cotton Bowl, thus beginning the erosion of segregation practices. North Texas State integrated its team in 1959 and won a Sun Bowl berth. By the 1960s, Coach Bear Bryant at Alabama realized that the South could no longer sustain its football prestige without the assistance of black talent. His ensuing recruitment efforts signaled the end of exclusion for other southern institutions.
Football became truly national in 1951 when an Alaskan high school fielded a team, playing its first game against the servicemen at Elmendorf Air Force Base. By 1955, Anchorage High School hosted a team from Huntsville, Texas, in the first Santa Claus Bowl.
The widespread use of television in the 1950s further abetted the spread of the game and brought additional revenue to both college and professional teams. The exciting "sudden-death" overtime for the 1958 championship between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants ensured future television audiences for the NFL. The promise of television profits spawned the American Football League (AFL), which began play in 1960 as yet another rival to the NFL. Competition for players drove salaries even higher, and the success of the AFL engendered the first Super Bowl between league champions in 1967. The rivals merged after the 1969 season, and Super Bowl III assured the growth of the annual extravaganza and growth of the game when brash, young Joe Namath and the New York Jets gave the AFL its first win.
By the 1970s football superseded baseball as the national game, and professional coaches assumed the status of national icons, their star status often equaling that of their players. Vince Lombardi led small-town Green Bay, Wisconsin, to the top echelons of the NFL. In an urban, corporate world, Green Bay represented a vanishing lifestyle for many Americans, but one that could still triumph as a David among Goliaths in the football world. George Allen and Don Shula brought accolades to the nation's capital and Miami, respectively, while Tom Landry made the Dallas Cowboys America's team and Mike Ditka became a civic hero in Chicago.
Buoyed by television income, college programs grew by astronomical proportions as the NCAA, acting as a cartel, negotiated package deals and guaranteed widespread exposure. The adoption of two-platoon football in 1965 afforded even greater specialization into offensive and defensive units and increased scoring, much to the pleasure of fans. Newspapers, too, stimulated interest by national rankings. By the 1980s, the athletic frenzy produced sports channels that broadcast athletic events around the clock.
National rankings included high school teams, usually from football hotbeds in Florida, California, Ohio, or Pennsylvania. But in Texas, high school football paralleled the status of a secular religion. Crowds outnumbered town populations, and an Odessa team built a stadium with artificial turf to seat more than 19,000, at a cost of more than $5 million. Season tickets were contested in wills and divorce settlements. Throughout the state, more than 4 million Texans attended high school games each weekend. The Massillon, Ohio, team drew more than 120,000 spectators in one season, and it had a million-dollar budget and a live tiger for a mascot. Mascots, bonfires, pep rallies, tailgate parties, and elaborate halftime shows and television were all included as part of the game experience. High school football, like its collegiate counterpart, had become big business.
". . . the gentlemen who compose the Yale team have cultivated a habit of losing their tempers, and mauling their antagonists with doubled fists; and though this imparted an increased interest in the game, and seemed to offer exquisite gratification to the cultured spectators, it is not without its drawbacks."
The Tufts Collegian, on the Tufts-Yale game of 1877 in the Harvard Advocate, 24:5 (16 Nov. 1877): 49.
The business of football caused a fissure in the collegiate ranks as top-ranked teams reluctantly shared their television profits with other NCAA schools. In 1976, the major powers formed their own College Football Association to enhance their own income, and won concessions from the NCAA. Notre Dame eventually signed its own network contract, further accentuating the split in college ranks. The quest for football supremacy led colleges to pour increasing amounts of money into athletic budgets, facilities, and services. Recruitment scandals became commonplace, and most teams operated at a deficit, which was considered an acceptable loss in the pursuit of institutional prestige.
At the professional level the NFL conglomerate produced flourishing profits spurred by growing television packages, new and expanding stadiums, increasing marketing of team merchandise, and the globalization of the game. NFL Europe operated as a minor league for the parent organization, and Pop Warner as well as collegiate teams played in Mexico. Worldwide telecasts of football games brought American culture to the rest of the world.
Both boys and girls can begin formal football play as early as age six in community programs. Flag football accommodates both male and female players in older age groups, while others play in wheelchair and semipro leagues. That level of inclusiveness and interest is evidence of the game's long history: its evolution during the coming of age of the United States as a world power, the establishment of its national identity, its ability to foster national unity while celebrating sectional differences, the perception of football as a meritocracy accepting of disparate groups, and the community pride inherent in a winning team. Perhaps more so than any other sport, football portrays the aggressive, competitive spirit, as well as the corporate, commercial character of America.
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Gerald R. Gems
FOOTBALL. The game of American football as played today by high school, college, and professional teams grew out of rugby-style football which in the mid-1870s replaced a largely kicking game known as association football. Although initially played on village greens and on college fields, the first intercollegiate game took place on 6 November 1869 when Rutgers defeated Princeton 6–4 in a soccer-style game. Five years later, Montreal's McGill University playing at Harvard introduced rugby football, which would be rapidly adopted by eastern teams.
For the first fifty years of football, college teams enjoyed a virtual monopoly of what they called the gridiron (the term applied to the football field because of the lines drawn at five-yard intervals). In 1876, students at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale met to form the Intercollegiate Football Association, all agreeing to play by rugby rules. Of the four schools, only Yale chose to re-main an independent. Nevertheless, Yale continued to meet with the other schools and played a crucial role in the adoption of new rules and in the popularization of American football. Beginning in the 1880s, the eastern institutions led by Yale played "big games" before large crowds in the New York and Boston areas. From 1880 to 1888, changes in the intercollegiate rules led to the transformation of British rugby into American football. The possession rule of 1880, which decreed that the team with the ball would keep possession if tackled, led to a series of further changes. The result was a game of physical contact and deception that had progressively less in common with rugby and association football.
The possession rule and the changes that accompanied it were associated with Walter Camp, a player for Yale in the late 1870s. A gifted strategist and promoter, Camp served as a coach or adviser to the Yale team from 1879 to 1910 and as the key figure on various rules committees. Through devices such as his All-America teams, he was also instrumental in making football a nationwide intercollegiate sport. Led by Camp, the handful of youthful rules-makers enacted the yards and downs rule (three downs to gain five yards), numerical scoring, interference in front of the ball carrier, and tackling between the waist and the knees (rather than above the waist). Players could move forward before the snap of the ball (momentum plays), and push and pull the ball carrier through the defense (mass play). As a result of these rules changes, football became noticeably rougher and by the late 1800s was criticized by clergy, newspaper editors, and some older college faculty and administrators for its dangers and brutality.
In the 1890s, football spread rapidly to colleges in every part of the country. Spearheaded by former players or "missionary coaches," the teams closely followed the rules and rituals of eastern colleges, including Thanksgiving Day rivalries such as Michigan and Chicago or Stanford and California. As football gained in popularity with students and alumni, criticism of the game among faculty, college presidents, and crusading journalists grew more shrill, especially at a time when several players were killed or seriously injured each year.
On 9 October 1905, just after the beginning of the football season, President Theodore Roosevelt met with six alumni gridiron advisers from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, including Camp and Coach Bill Reid of Harvard. Roosevelt secured their pledge to draw up a statement in which they would agree to eliminate brutal and unsportsmanlike play. Contrary to a widely held belief, Roosevelt did not issue an edict to the colleges, nor did he have a direct role in reforming the rules. In October and November 1905, football at all levels had eighteen fatalities—three in college play—and 159 serious injuries.
Following the death of a Union College player in a game against New York University, Chancellor Henry MacCracken of NYU called a meeting of nineteen colleges to consider the evils of football. That gathering in early December 1905 of twenty-four delegates led to a second, larger conference, which met in New York late in the same month. The more than sixty colleges represented appointed a reform rules committee. In addition, they organized themselves into the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (ICAA), predecessor of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), to challenge the older, big-college football committee. Meeting together, the two committees agreed to sweeping gridiron reforms, including the ten-yard rule (ten yards to be gained in three downs), six men on the line of scrimmage and a defined neutral zone between the teams, stiffer penalties, and the forward pass. Although the number of injuries declined under the new rules, another round of deaths and injuries in 1909 led to the enactment of more comprehensive rules between 1910 to 1912.
Football in the 1920s and 1930s
After World War I, both college football and the fledgling professional version of the game prospered as a result of the booming economy and the remarkable popularity of major sports. Thousands of gridiron enthusiasts flocked to the newly constructed stadiums modeled after the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton stadiums. In October 1924, Harold "Red" Grange of Illinois became football's best-known player when he ran for five touchdowns and passed for a sixth in a game against Michigan. After his final college game, Grange signed a contract with the professional Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL). He immediately played to overflow crowds in Chicago and New York and agreed to lucrative deals for endorsements and movie appearances. The highly publicized and profitable entry of the "Galloping Ghost" into pro football was a precursor to the wealth of NFL players later in the twentieth century.
Just as football grew at the college level, it also took hold in the high schools. Football had been played at private secondary schools since the 1880s, and some public schools fielded teams in the 1890s and early 1900s. Promising players at private schools and high schools became the object of fierce recruiting struggles by the colleges. In the early 1900s, the emergence of the larger consolidated high schools created a need for football as a means of forging loyalties among large and diverse student bodies. Even before World War I, some coaches became known in high school football before moving up to the college level.
Football was also widely played as an unorganized, sandlot sport, or as a supervised playground recreation. By 1929, many of the serious injuries and occasional deaths in the first three decades of the twentieth century occurred during unsupervised play. Because of the need for protective equipment and adult supervision, youth leagues gradually evolved. What became the Pop Warner Leagues began as a local Philadelphia area football club in 1929. The organization was later renamed for Glenn Scobie "Pop" Warner, best known as a college coach at Carlisle Indian School, the University of Pittsburgh, and Stanford University. Beginning in 1947, the Pop Warner Leagues initiated their own national championship modeled after college and professional competitions in football and other sports.
Professional football had originated in the towns of western Pennsylvania and taken root in the smaller cities of Ohio. In 1920, a group of midwestern teams met to form the American Professional Football Association, changed the next year to the National Football League. In the 1920s and 1930s, NFL teams often went bankrupt or moved and changed names, and professional football ranked a distant second to college football in popularity
and prestige. Only after World War II, with the advent of television and air travel, did the NFL and other leagues challenge the college game.
Post–World War II Football
Television, a medium that rapidly expanded in the 1940s and 1950s, proved well-suited to the gridiron game. After setting records in the first years after World War II, attendance at college football games began to slump from 1949 on. The alarmed NCAA members ceded to their TV committee the right to control or even to ban college football telecasts. In 1951, the NCAA contracted with Westinghouse (CBS) television network to televise one game each Saturday, later broadening the agreements to include several regional games. This cartel would help to strengthen the power of the NCAA, but it would also lead to near rebellion within the association in the 1980s.
Although college football attendance revived, professional football rapidly surpassed its collegiate parent. A national audience watched a gripping telecast of the NFL championship game in 1958 when the Baltimore Colts won a dramatic sudden-death overtime victory against the New York Giants. Frustrated by the NFL's cautious approach toward expansion, the oil billionaires Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams began the American Football League (AFL) in 1959, with its first game in 1960. Bolstered by a network contract, the AFL challenged the NFL for blue-chip draft choices and TV audiences. In 1966, the AFL and NFL agreed to merge, and an annual championship known as the Super Bowl was played between the two leagues after the following season, though they would not become one league with two conferences until 1970. That year, ABC Sports innovator Roone Arledge teamed up with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to launch "Monday Night Football," an instant hit on prime-time evening television. Professional football franchises, which had once struggled for attendance, became businesses worth millions of dollars.
Although the players' salaries rose, they would not reach the levels achieved by major league baseball until the 1990s. Strikes in 1974 and 1987 led to victories by the owners, who effectively blocked the free agency that had resulted in soaring salaries in major league baseball. Attempts to found new professional leagues—the World Football League in 1974–1975, the United States Football League in 1983–1985, and the XFL in the winter of 2000—failed to breach the NFL cartel. Only the Canadian Football League (CFL), arena football played indoors, the World League of American Football (an NFL minor league with teams mainly in Europe), and the Women's Professional Football League (WPFL) offered an outlet for players who could not play in the NFL.
Following World War II, African American players appeared in rapidly growing numbers both in college and professional ranks. In college football, a handful of black players had participated since the 1890s in the East, Midwest, and West. In addition to being subjected to harassment and brutality, these players were by mutual consent "held out" of games with southern teams. In the postwar years, colleges outside the South refused to accept these "gentlemen's agreements" that kept blacks out of games. Except in the South, the number of African American players grew steadily in the 1950s. Southern teams were not integrated until the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1961, Ernie Davis of Syracuse became the first African American Heisman Trophy winner.
African Americans had played professional football in the early 1900s. A handful played in the early years of the NFL. In 1934, the league's last players, Jack Lilliard and Ray Kemp, were forced out of pro football. After World War II, the Cleveland Browns of the new All America Football League (AAFL) and the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL both integrated their teams, and the number of black professional players would show a steady increase after 1950.
College Football in the Age of the NFL
In the 1960s, college football enjoyed a brief period of prosperity and relative calm. In the fall of 1966, 33 million viewers watched a fierce struggle between Michigan State and Notre Dame, the college game's version of the Giants-Colts showdown in 1958. ABC's innovations in telecasting and the advent of color television brought more revenue and recognition to big-time teams and their coaches.
Following World War II, many teams adopted two-platoon football in which teams had separate defensive and offensive units (the innovation doubled the need for scholarships and players). Unnerved by rising costs and wedded to past practice, the NCAA football rules committee attempted in the 1950s to banish two-platoon football but returned to unlimited substitution by the end of the decade. (Unlike the colleges, the NFL never tried to abolish separate offensive and defensive teams.)
In 1951, nearly fifty institutions dropped football because of rising costs and dwindling attendance (some of these such as Georgetown, Fordham, and Detroit were ranked in the top twenty in the 1920s and 1930s). In the East, eight Ivy League institutions adopted joint rules deemphasizing football. They began less costly round-robin play in 1956 and eliminated spring practice, football scholarships, and postseason contests.
After World War II, the NCAA failed in its first attempt to regulate subsidies for supposedly amateur players. The subsequent scandals created support both for deemphasis of big-time football and for a nationwide system to enforce athletic codes of conduct. Other scandals involved booster clubs that funneled illicit payments to players and recruits. Beginning in 1956, a series of pay-for-play schemes were uncovered at five institutions in the Pacific Coast Conference, contributing to the conference's demise in 1959. Stepping into the vacuum, the NCAA levied stiff penalties against offenders, including bans on TV appearances. The commercial model pursued by many college football conferences led to charges that colleges had become the minor leagues for professional football. To some extent, the charges were true. Not only did the colleges supply the training for NFL recruits, but coaches also moved easily between the professional and collegiate ranks.
The quest for revenues in college football proved both a motivator for top teams and a cause of internecine quarrels. Faced with rising expenditures in the 1970s, big-time college teams opposed sharing TV revenues with NCAA members who had smaller football teams or no teams at all. Formed in 1976 as a lobbying group within the NCAA, the College Football Association (CFA) proposed to negotiate their own TV contracts. In 1984, two CFA members, Georgia and Oklahoma, won a Supreme Court decision against the NCAA, thereby ending the association cartel. Institutions and conferences within the association would now be responsible for their own TV contracts.
Unlike professional football, Division I-A football, comprising the most prominent intercollegiate football institutions, had no playoff championship. Beginning in 1998, the NCAA initiated the bowl championship system to replace the mythical champion chosen by sportswriters and coaches. Using a variety of methods, including computer ratings, the NCAA chose the top two teams to play in one of the major bowl games, the designations of which rotated from year to year. Critics pointed out that college football still was the only college or professional sport that did not choose the champion by playoffs.
Beginning in the late nineteenth century, American football developed far differently from rugby football and association football (soccer, as it is referred to in the United States). Unlike baseball and basketball, American football has been largely confined to the United States and Canada. It has remained a predominantly male game, though a women's professional league has fielded teams, and female place kickers have competed at the high school and college levels. Whereas baseball was once clearly the American pastime, football has gained preeminence at the high school, college, and professional levels. In addition, football has developed a distinctive fan culture. Tailgating or picknicking in the parking lot, participating in booster clubs, and traveling vast distances for Bowl games or intersectional rivalries have become part of the football culture of dedicated spectators. Moreover, the availability of football through cable and network TV has transformed millions of television viewers who seldom attend a major contest into knowledgeable and enthusiastic football fans.
Davis, Parke H. Football, the American Intercollegiate Game. New York: Scribners, 1911.
Harris, David. The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL. New York: Bantam, 1986.
Lester, Robin. Stagg's University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Nelson, David M. Anatomy of a Game: Football, the Rules, and the Men Who Made the Game. London and Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1994; Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1996.
Oriard, Michael. King Football: Sport and Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies and Magazines, the Weekly and the Daily Press. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
Peterson, Robert W. Pigskin, the Early Years of Pro Football. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Roberts, Randy, and James Olson. Winning Is the Only Thing: Sports in America since 1945. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
Ross, Charles K. Outside the Lines: African-Americans and the Integration of the National Football League. New York: New York University Press, 1999.
Smith, Ronald A. Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time Athletics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
———. Play-by-Play: Radio, TV, and Big-Time College Sport. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Watterson, John Sayle. College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
Weyand, Alexander M. The Saga of American Football. New York: Macmillan, 1955.
football, any of a number of games in which two opposing teams attempt to score points by moving an inflated oval or round ball past a goal line or into a goal. Differing greatly in their rules, these include soccer (association football) and rugby, in addition to the games covered in this article: American football, Canadian football, Gaelic football, and Australian football. In the United States, the word football generally refers only to the American game; in many other parts of the world it usually means soccer. Football, amateur and professional, is perhaps the most popular spectator sport in the United States, attracting a total attendance of over 40 million and watched by many more millions on television each year.
Most of the modern forms of football are derived from ancient games, especially harpaston and harpastrum, played in Greece and Rome. These survive today in Tuscany and Florence under the name calcio. Meanwhile a rugged, undisciplined type of football took root in the Middle Ages in England, where despite royal edicts banning the game from time to time, football remained popular until the early 19th cent. Different forms of the game soon developed at the various English public schools, including Rugby, Eton, and Harrow. Eventually, two main games emerged. One was primarily a kicking game, which later became association football, or soccer; the other (dating from 1823) was football as played at Rugby, in which carrying the ball and tackling were permitted.
The American game is played by two opposing teams of eleven. The football field is level, measures 100 by 531/3 yd (91.4 by 48.8 m), is marked off by latitudinal stripes every 5 yd (4.57 m) and has at each end an end zone 10 yd (9.14 m) deep. In the center of each end zone stand goal posts not exceeding 20 ft (6.10 m) in height, with a crossbar 10 ft (3.05 m) from the ground and with the uprights on either end 24 ft (73.2 m) apart.
Play is directed toward moving the ball across the opponent's goal line, thereby scoring a touchdown, worth six points. In advancing the ball a team may run with it or pass it (forward or laterally), but the team must gain 10 yd (9 m) in four plays (downs) or yield possession of the ball to the opponent. The defending team tries to stop the ball carrier by tackling him, i.e., forcing him to the ground—thus causing the team with the ball to use up one of its downs. The defending team can gain possession of the ball before the end of four downs by recovering a dropped ball (fumble), or by intercepting a pass.
Because strategies and skills required on offense and on defense differ, most organized football clubs have offensive and defensive squads that alternate on the field as possession of the ball changes. All professional and most collegiate teams employ special teams for various game situations (e.g., offense, defense, kickoffs, and punt returns) and coaches who specialize in various aspects of the game. The offensive team traditionally comprises a quarterback (the field leader), a fullback, two halfbacks, and seven linemen—a center, two guards, two tackles, and two ends. A typical defensive unit has two tackles and two ends, who play on the line, as well as three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties.
The game is divided into two halves, each consisting of two quarters, periods of 15 minutes playing time. At the end of each of the first three quarters, the teams exchange goals. Each half begins with a kickoff, which also initiates play after every score (except a safety). In addition to the touchdown, points are scored by kicking the ball (which is held on the ground by a teammate of the kicker) over the crossbar between the goal posts (a field goal), for three points; and by downing a player in possession of the ball behind his own goal line (a safety), for two points. Additional points, known as conversions, may be scored after the scoring of a touchdown. In professional play the conversion is earned by kicking the ball over the crossbar of the goal post (worth one point) or by running or passing the ball over the goal line from 2 yd (1.83 m) away (worth two points). In amateur (high school and college) football, the conversion play is begun 3 yd (2.74 m) from the end zone.
When a team is not likely to gain 10 yards in four downs, it often kicks, or punts, the ball downfield, usually on the fourth down. After each down, before resuming play, the opposing teams face each other along an imaginary line, called the line of scrimmage, determined by the position of the ball relative to the goals. Among standard offensive formations, the basic T formation (a balanced line with the quarterback behind the center and the other backs behind the quarterback) is, with modern variations, the most popular in both amateur and professional football. Blocking and tackling make football one of the most rugged sports played; thus players wear heavy protective gear.
Five officials—the referee, umpire, field judge, linesman, and electric clock operator—control a game, and penalties, chiefly in the form of moving the ball away from a team's object goal, are meted out for violations of the rules. Rules concerning the field, scoring, playing time, downs, scrimmage, substitution, officials, and equipment have undergone numerous changes, generally to make the game safer.
College and Amateur Football
The first intercollegiate football match in America (actually a 50-person soccer game) was played (1869) at New Brunswick, N.J. The Intercollegiate (Soccer) Football Association, composed of Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale, was created (1873) to standardize rules. Harvard, meanwhile, refused to join the group and, looking for other opponents, accepted a challenge from McGill Univ. of Montreal to play a series of games (1874–75) under Rugby rules. The Rugby-type game soon caught on at the other schools also, and within a decade the distinctive game of American football evolved.
Since the late 19th cent. football has enjoyed tremendous popularity as a collegiate sport. In 1902 the first Rose Bowl game was played at Pasadena, Calif., and that postseason tournament has been conducted annually since 1916. Other annual, postseason, collegiate games include the Sugar, Orange, Sun, and Cotton bowls. In 1996 a national system to pick bowl opponents so as to determine a national champion was introduced. Selection of All-America teams, begun (1889) by Walter Camp and Caspar Whitney, has also contributed to football's popularity. The Heisman trophy, originated in 1935, is awarded annually to the nation's outstanding college football player.
Most collegiate teams play in athletic conferences. Among the best-known are the Ivy League, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, and Pacific 10 conferences. Famous collegiate rivalries include Army–Navy and Yale–Harvard. With an atmosphere enhanced by bands and cheering sections, football is not only the most popular collegiate sport of the fall season but also a big business.
Revenues from football often finance other sports at a college, and some games are played before crowds of 100,000 people in university-owned stadiums. Despite the strict amateur code of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its member conferences, illegal subsidization of football players is a recurrent issue. Football also is extremely popular in U.S. high schools. Six-man football and touch football, both usually played for recreation, are other forms of the amateur game.
Although professional football was played as early as 1895 in Pennsylvania, it was not until 1920 that national organization began, with the formation of the American Professional Football Association at Canton, Ohio. Originally consisting of five teams, the association evolved and in 1922 was renamed the National Football League (NFL). The professional game received a tremendous boost when Red Grange, a star halfback at the Univ. of Illinois, signed a professional contract (1925) with the Chicago Bears. Other college stars soon followed, and the public began to show interest in NFL teams.
In the period immediately following World War II professional football's popularity grew tremendously. A new league, the All-America Conference (established 1944), competed with the NFL until the two groups merged (1949). The American Football League (AFL; formed 1959) competed with the NFL during the early 1960s; the first Super Bowl championship game was held in 1967 between the NFL and AFL champions.
Four years later the two leagues were merged into the present NFL, which now comprises two conferences (the National Football Conference, or NFC, and the American Football Conference, or AFC) totaling 32 teams. The NFL season includes 16 regular games, after which the winners of the three divisions in each conference, along with two "wild card" teams (the teams with the next-best record in each conference) play a four-round playoff culminating in the Super Bowl.
See Official National Football League Record & Fact Book (annual); NCAA, Football: The Official Football Records Book (annual); C. Carter and D. Sloan, The Sporting News Pro Football Guide (annual); B. Carroll et al., ed., Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (1999); M. MacCambridge, America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation (2004).
Canadian football is similar to the U.S. game, but the Canadian field and end zone are larger, measuring 110 yd by 65 yd (100 m by 59 m) and 25 yd by 65 yd (23 m by 59 m), respectively. Canadian teams have 12 players on the field rather than 11 and, among other variations in the rules, are allowed only three downs to advance the ball 10 yards. The present game developed from rules established (1891) by the Canadian Rugby Union. In 1959 the two professional leagues in the union broke away to form the Canadian Football League (CFL). From 1993 to 1995 the CFL had several U.S.-based teams; there are now nine teams divided between two divisions. A number of prominent U.S. players have made careers in the CFL. The league's annual championship game is known as the Grey Cup.
Gaelic football, played almost exclusively in Ireland, is perhaps the roughest of the football-type games. It is played by two teams of 15 men each on a field that measures 84 to 100 yd (76.81–91.44 m) in width and 140 to 160 yd (128.02–146.3 m) in length. The object of the game is to punch, dribble, or kick the ball into (3 points) or directly over (1 point) the rectangular goal-net. As with soccer and rugby, Gaelic football probably developed from the rough-and-tumble football games played in medieval England. Originally a sort of melee between as many as 200 representatives of rival parishes, the game was given a set of standard rules by Dan and Maurice Gavin, who founded (1884) the Gaelic Athletic Association after witnessing a particularly brutal game. The association sponsors the annual all-Ireland championship match, an elimination tournament for teams from Ireland's 32 counties.
The only major football-type sport that does not appear to have developed from the medieval game is Australian football. Probably an outgrowth of earlier aboriginal games, it is played on an oval field that is about 200 yd (183 m) long and 150 yd (137 m) wide across the middle. Each team, composed of 19 players, attempts to kick the egg-shaped ball past a set of goal posts. The ball may be advanced by punches, kicks, or dribbles. The game, played only in Australia, is especially popular in the southern and western parts of the continent. An International Cup competition was established in 2002.
In 1892, Spaulding Sports Worldwide in Chicopee, Massachusetts, produced the first American-made football.
A football, as defined in the United States by the National Football League (NFL), is a ball that "shall be made of an inflated rubber bladder enclosed in a pebble-grained, leather case. It shall have the form of a prolate spheroid (an oval shape)." The game of football is played between two teams of eleven members each on a one-hundred-yard rectangular field with a goal post at each end. The object of the game is to advance the ball over the opponent's goal line for a touchdown.
The ancient Greeks played a version of football called harpaston. The game took place on a rectangular field with goal lines on both ends. A center line divided two teams made up of equal numbers of players of different sizes. The harpaston, or handball, was thrown into the air, and the players tried to pass, kick, or run the ball past the opposing team's goal line. The ancient Romans played a similar game, calling it harpastum. During the 1100s, the English were known to have played a variety of football called mellay, from which the word "melee" came. Appropriately named, the game, played with no rules of any kind, resembled a violent, noisy, confused fighting. The players used an inflated pig bladder for a ball. During the 1500s, natives of Florence, Italy, played calcio, a kicking game not unlike modern-day football.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, students in exclusive schools in England, such as Eton, Rugby, Harrow, and Winchester, played a soccer-like version of football, with the players kicking the ball. Legend has it that in 1823, the game of football changed when a certain Rugby player caught the ball and ran with it across the opponents' goal line. Soon after the game was given the name rugby after the school.
The first English people who settled in the United States brought a football game resembling soccer to North America. Settlers in Virginia played this form of football during the early 1600s, using a bladder, or an inflatable bag, filled with air. However, it took another two hundred years before the game became popular in colleges.
During the second half of the 1800s, college students played different versions of soccer and rugby. The first intercollegiate game was played in 1869 between Rutgers College (New Brunswick, New Jersey) and Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey). Twenty-five players comprised each team. Patterned after the English sport of soccer, the game used a round rubber ball. Any throwing of the ball or running with it was prohibited. Instead, the ball was moved by dribbling or batting with the hand or fist. The team scoring the first six goals would be the winner. Rutgers won six to four.
In 1874, Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) invited McGill University (Montreal, Canada) to play football. The teams agreed to play two games: One game following soccer rules, the second game following rugby rules and using an oval ball. Different colleges started adopting the rugby-type football, in which the oval ball was advanced by running and kicking. Each team consisted of fifteen players. This was the beginning of American football.
Football games usually got violent due to the absence of rules. Since the players did not wear protective uniforms or head covers, serious injuries were common. In the early 1880s, Walter Camp (1859–1925), a Yale University coach, recommended the first rules for American football. He was responsible for reducing the number of players from fifteen to eleven per team. Camp also introduced the line of scrimmage, a system of downs, the point system of scoring, and the quarterback position.
Playing by the rules
In 1905, it was reported that several high school and college students had died as a result of playing the violent game of football. The following year, coaches agreed to establish rules, forming what is now known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Over the years, the rules of the game continued to change. In 1912, the NCAA changed the circumference of the ball from 27 inches (68.6 centimeters) to 23 inches (58.4 centimeters).
In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was formed, and professional football began. This organization became the National Football League (NFL) in 1922.
During the early days of football, a pig's bladder was inflated and used as the ball. Today's football, although called pigskin, is not made from any part of a pig. It is made of cowhide, which is durable and can be easily tanned to make leather.
The football's oval shape makes it hard to catch and hold and also causes unpredictable bounces. White raised lacing, consisting of eight stitches, helps the players grip the ball. There have been attempts to change the football's design. For example, dimples on the ball have been tried. These proved to be impractical because dirt and mud tended to get caught in the indentations.
THE ORIGIN OF GRIDIRON
The early American football fields were marked with lines going across the width and length of the field to help game officials keep track of the downs. The lines had what was called a gridiron design. Today the lines going lengthwise have been eliminated, but the term "gridiron" continues to be used for a football field.
The Manufacturing Process
The manufacture of a football involves numerous steps, with quality-control checks at different points of production.
1 The part of the cowhide called the bend undergoes special tanning processes, or chemical procedures by which raw hide is converted to leather. The bend is chosen because it is the thickest and strongest part of the cowhide. This is the hide that is taken from the area just below the shoulder and covers the upper back of the animal.
2 The bend is cut using a hydraulically-driven clicking machine, a machine powered by water under pressure. The powerful machine with football-shaped metal dies (molds) cuts four panels of leather at the same time.
3 Each leather panel goes through a skiving machine that trims the leather to the required thickness and weight.
4 A synthetic (artificial) lining is sewn to each panel using an industrial sewing machine. The lining, which is made up of three layers of fabric cemented together, prevents the ball from stretching or growing out of shape during use.
5 Areas of the ball that will have the lacing holes and the hole for the inflating needle receive a facing, or an additional piece of material for protection. The holes are then punched.
6 The four leather panels are sewn together inside-out using a hotwax lockstitch sewing machine. A lockstitch is a double-thread stitch that locks the top and bottom threads together, so that pulling a thread would not unravel the seam. After the stitching is finished, the ball is turned right-side out.
7 A two-layer butyl rubber bladder is inserted and the ball is laced. It is then inflated with air pressure of not less than 12.5 pounds (6 kilograms) but no more than 13.5 pounds (6.1 kilograms). After inflation, the ball is checked for its required size and weight.
8 The ball is branded with the manufacturer's name and number.
9 After final inspections, the balls are boxed and shipped to designated schools and ball clubs.
The manufacture of a football involves special skills and attention to details. For example, at the Wilson Football Factory (Ada, Ohio) of the Wilson Sporting Goods Company, each football is hand-made. The company has employees whose main job is to turn the footballs right-side out. The process has been compared to "turning a sneaker inside out." The employees use steam boxes to make the leather softer and easier to work with. They also use a vertical steel bar to help in turning the sewed leather panels.
Quality checks are performed at each stage of production. Inspectors make sure that the Wilson football, the NFL's official ball since 1941, weighs between 14 and 15 ounces (397 and 425.25 grams). The ball must measure 20.75 to 21.25 inches (52.7 to 54 centimeters) around the middle and 27.75 to 28.5 inches (70.5 to 72.4 centimeters) around its ends. The required measurement from tip to tip is 11 to 11.25 inches (28 to 29 centimeters).
Changes to the football are more likely to be in materials rather than design. The goal is a ball that has a "broken-in" feel right out of the box. A new type of cover material is called composite leather. It is a blend of synthetic (artificial) materials that are made to resemble and feel like leather. The synthetic materials typically consist of a plastic polyurethane and a microfiber (a type of polyester) backing. The football is lightweight, does not retain as much water as a leather ball, is less likely to get hard during cold weather, and is easier to grip.
- The inflatable part of a football that looks like a bag.
- butyl rubber:
- An artificial rubber that is resistant to tearing and the effects of sunlight or chemicals.
- A mold for cutting leather into football-shaped panels.
- One of four consecutive plays in which a team must either score or advance the ball at least ten yards to keep possession of the ball.
- industrial sewing machine:
- A sewing machine that is bigger and more powerful than a regular home sewing machine.
- Elongated at the opposite ends.
- skiving machine:
- A machine that trims the leather to the required thickness and weight.
- A ball.
- The chemical process by which animal hide and skin are converted into leather.
For More Information
Anderson, Dave. The Story of Football. Revised ed. New York, NY: Beech Tree Books, 1997.
Buckley, James, Jr. Football. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 1999.
McComb, David G. Sports: An Illustrated History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1998.
Whittingham, Richard. Rites of Autumn: The Story of College Football. New York, NY: The Free Press, 2001.
"Camp and His Followers: American Football 1876–1889." Professional Football Researchers Association.http://www.footballresearch.com/articles/frpage.cfm?topic=d-to1889 (accessed on July 22, 2002).
"The Making of a Football." Wilson Sporting Goods Company.http://www.wilsonsports.com/football/index.asp?content_id=783 (accessed on July 22, 2002).
Modern football developed with the growth of large industrial towns. In the early 19th cent. the game declined in popularity in the face of overcrowded and cramped streets and considerable official disapproval. It survived among public schoolboys and at Cambridge University where, in 1848, a first attempt was made to compile a common set of rules. Previous rules were local and much disputed, with disagreements about charging and hacking, the number of players, the size and shape of the ball, and the duration of the game. The Cambridge rules were adopted by a number of clubs and the game made some progress in the 1850s. A further attempt to produce standard rules, at the Freemasons' Tavern in London in 1863, led to the formation of a Football Association, from which some clubs soon seceded to follow a handling code.
At this stage football was an upper middle-class game and strictly amateur. The new Association launched a cup competition in 1872. Queen's Park, the Glasgow team, entered, but scratched on finding travel costs beyond them. Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1–0 at the Oval before 2,000 spectators and the following year beat Oxford University 2–0. Gradually the strength of the game moved towards the midlands and the north, where clubs were beginning to pay expenses and retaining fees. A watershed was the 1883 Cup Final, when Blackburn Olympics beat Old Etonians 2–1. In 1885, after protests, professionalism was accepted. Attendances began to edge up. The Cup Final at Manchester in 1893 between Wolves and Everton was watched by 45,000 people, and the attendance at Crystal Palace in 1901 to see Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday was 111,000. With professional teams dominating the cup competition, an Amateur Cup was instituted in 1893, changed in 1974 to the Challenge Vase.
In 1888 twelve clubs from the midlands and north, including Preston North End, Accrington Stanley, and Blackburn Rovers, formed the Football League. The first two seasons were won by Preston. Over the next four years, sixteen more clubs joined, including Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, and Everton, and a second division was added in 1892. There was considerable competition from the Southern League, but by 1914 the Football League had extended south to bring in Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Fulham, and Bristol City. The Scottish League began in 1890 and an Irish League the same year. Many clubs developed from works teams or from church or chapel. Stoke City and Manchester United both originated with railway workers, Aston Villa was an offshoot of a Wesleyan group. In most large towns in Britain, the Saturday afternoon match became part of the leisure pattern of working men.
After the First World War, a third division was added to the Football League, divided into north and south. Attendances remained high. When Wembley stadium was opened in 1923, well over 126,000 people crammed in to watch Bolton Wanderers beat West Ham 2–0.
During the Second World War, league competitions were suspended, though exhibition matches, with guest players, remained popular. In the 1948/9 season, more than 40 million people paid to watch football in England. Recognition of the game was accorded by knighthoods to Stanley Matthews, the Stoke and Blackpool winger, to Alf Ramsay, manager of the World Cup victors of 1966, and to Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United. But by the 1980s attendances were falling in the face of rival leisure activities, greater social mobility, and a growing distaste for the coarseness and hooliganism of the terraces. Many of the old grounds seemed vast iron hulks, echoing to depleted crowds, relics of a bygone age. From this parlous state, the game was rescued, largely by television. Fresh interest was injected into the third division by the introduction of promotion and relegation from the (Vauxhall) Conference League, which has produced cliff-hanging finales to several seasons.
The first international football match took place at Partick in 1872 between England and Scotland, ending in a 0–0 draw. One of the earliest international games between non-British teams was at Vienna in 1902, when Austria beat Hungary 5–0. FIFA was founded in 1904 but international competition did not make much headway until after the First World War, when the World Cup competition was started in 1930. England did not take part until after the Second World War, and was able to retain a comfortable sense of superiority. This was shattered in 1950 by a 1–0 defeat from the USA, followed three years later by a 6–3 defeat at Wembley from the Hungarians, and was not totally restored by victory in the World Cup at Wembley in 1966. In European competitions, British clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool, often with a good stiffening of foreign players, have done remarkably well, but apart from its triumph in 1966, the English national team has tested the patience of its supporters.
The modern professional game has been dogged by a number of disasters. In 1902, 25 people were killed at Ibrox, home of Glasgow Rangers, when a stand collapsed; 33 were killed at Burnden Park, Bolton Wanderers' ground, when crush barriers gave way in 1946; the young and gifted Manchester United team was almost wiped out in an air crash at Munich in 1958. More recently, fire swept through Bradford City stand in 1985 killing 52 people; the Heysel stadium disaster in Belgium the same year claimed 38 lives; and the death of 93 spectators at Hillsborough in 1989 led to the Taylor inquiry, which made urgent recommendations for improved safety. Recent developments towards premier leagues and super leagues have made life difficult for small and unfashionable clubs and a number of them have fallen by the wayside. At times the professional game seems in danger of being overwhelmed by television and press coverage, with as much attention given to managers as to football, and by heavy administration. Inflated wages, following the Bosman ruling (1995), plunged many clubs into debt. But underpinning the 90 or so professional clubs in the English league are the semi-professional leagues, and the vast number of amateurs, of all shapes, sizes, and talents, who play on windswept recreation grounds in Saturday or Sunday leagues, where attendances are measured in single figures, and it is not unknown for teams to turn up with nine men. See also Wembley stadium.
Nicholas J. Bryars/ and Professor J. A. Cannon
Although the game of football as we know it today supposedly dates back to the nineteenth century, there is some evidence to support that the ancient Greeks played a version of football they called harpaston. This game apparently took place on a rectangular field with goal lines on both ends. Two teams of equal number, but varying player size, were divided by a center line. The game began by throwing the harpaston or handball into the air. The object of the game was to pass, kick, or run the ball past the opposing team's goal line.
The game next took to the streets. Participants from neighboring towns would meet at a designated point. Still without official rules or methods of keeping score, the bladder or ball would be kicked through the streets. This took place until protests from local shopkeepers forced players to confine their game to a vacant area.
It is here that the rules of the game first took shape. A field much like that used to play soccer was marked with boundaries. The team that kicked the ball over the opponent' s goal line was awarded one point. It also was at this time that the game took on the name of futballe.
The game remained strictly a kicking game until American collegians blended soccer with rugby. In 1874, McGill University (Montreal, Canada) engaged Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) in two sports games. One game was played with Canadian rugby rules, which allowed players to run with the ball, as well as throw it. The other game followed U.S. soccer rules, which restricted players to only kicking the ball.
It seemed that Harvard preferred elements of both games and introduced them to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Two years later, representatives from Harvard and Yale met in Massachusetts to create guidelines for this new game of football. Another new twist to the game was that it was played with an oval-shaped ball.
Spaulding Sports Worldwide, based in Chicopee, Massachusetts, takes credit for having produced the first American-made football in 1892.
In the early stages of the game of football, a pig's bladder was inflated and used as the ball. By comparison, today's football is an inflated rubber bladder enclosed in a pebble-grained leather cover or cowhide. This material is used because it is both durable and easily tanned.
The football's uneven shape makes it difficult to catch and hold and also causes unpredictable bounces. White laces sewn on the ball's surface help the players to grip it. There have been many attempts to alter the football's design; for example, dimples on footballs have been tried, but there was a tendency for dirt and mud to get caught in them.
- After special tanning processes, the cowhide selected to be used for the football is cut into a bend, which is the best and strongest part of the hide.
- The bend is then die-cut into panels. Using a hydraulically-driven clicking machine, an operator cuts four panels into the precise shape required at the same time.
- Next, each panel goes through a skiving machine in order to reduce it to a predetermined thickness and weight.
- A synthetic lining is sewn to each panel. The lining, which is composed of three layers of cross-laid fabric firmly cemented together, prevents the panel from stretching or growing out of shape during use. The lining and panel are sewn together using an industrial size and strength version of a home sewing machine.
- A facing is then applied to those areas that will carry the lacing holes as well as the hole for the inflating needle. The holes are then punched.
- The four panels are sewn together by a hot-wax lock stitch machine to ensure that the seams are especially durable. Then, the ball is turned right side out.
- Next, a two-ply butyl rubber bladder is inserted, the ball is laced, and then it is inflated with a pressure of not less than 12.5 lb (6 kg) but no more than 13.5 lb (6.1 kg). After inflation, the ball is checked to ensure it conforms to all size and weight regulations.
- The ball is ready for branding with the manufacturer's name and number.
- After final inspections, the balls are boxed and shipped to designated schools and ball clubs.
Since 1941, Wilson Sporting Goods Company, currently based in Chicago, Illinois, has been the official ballmaker for the National Football League (NFL). For all NFL games, the only sanctioned ball is a Wilson brand ball. The ball must measure 20.75-21.25 in (52.7-54 cm) around its middle (also called the girth, short axis, or belly); 27.75-28.5 in (70.5-72.4 cm) around its ends (the circumference, long axis); and 11-11.25 in (28-29 cm) from tip to tip (the length of the long axis). It also must weigh between 14-15 oz (397-425.25 g).
All balls designed for professional use are stamped with "NFL" on them for the National Football League and they also bear the signature of the League commissioner. A box containing 24 new balls is opened before each game; 12 balls are put into play during each half. After the game, the balls are used for practices.
Those balls that are used in the Super Bowl game also have the names of the participating teams along with the date and location of the game.
Future changes to the football are more likely to occur in the area of materials rather than design. The goal is to "create a better feel right out of the box."
Spaulding Sports Worldwide currently is working on a proprietary material to create a composite-covered football. Two of the benefits of a composite cover compared with a leather cover are that it does not retain as much water; and that it is not as susceptible to becoming hard due to cold weather.
Where to Learn More
Foehr, Donna Poole. Football for Women and Men Who Want To Learn The Game. National Press, Inc., 1988, pp. 94, 100, 101, 102, 127.
Ominsky, Dave and P.J. Harari. Football Made Simple: A Spectator's Guide. First Base Sports, Inc., 1994, pp. 1, 9.
foot·ball / ˈfoŏtˌbôl/ • n. 1. a form of team game played in North America with an oval ball on a field marked out as a gridiron. ∎ play in such a game, esp. when stylish and entertaining: his team played some impressive football. ∎ British term for soccer. 2. an oval ball used in such a game, made of leather and filled with compressed air. ∎ fig. a topical issue or problem that is the subject of continued argument or controversy: the use of education as a political football. ∎ Brit. a soccer ball. DERIVATIVES: foot·ball·er n. foot·ball·ing adj.