In 1874, Harvard challenged McGill University from Canada to a football match. Unlike Harvard, the rugby type of football McGill played allowed running the ball. When Harvard team members saw the McGill players running with the ball during warm ups, they called a quick conference. The teams agreed to play two games—one with running and one without. The Harvard team decided it liked running the ball and added the run to its game plan. In 1875, players in the very first Harvard-Yale football game were allowed to carry the ball. American football was truly off and running, so to speak.
Pioneers of the Game
In those early days of college football, the rules often changed from game to game depending on what the opposing teams agreed to. Some teams played with 15 men on the field; others with 11. In 1876, the Intercollegiate Football Association was created to establish standardized rules of play. Yale player Walter Camp attended that first Association meeting. In 1880, it was Camp who created the line of scrimmage and the quarterback position. Because of these and other game-shaping innovations, Camp is known as the Father of American Football.
If Camp is the Father of American Football, then Amos Alonzo Stagg is the Father of Football Coaching. Like Camp, Stagg played football at Yale. In 1890 he started his 57-year head-coaching career at Springfield College. Stagg created a plethora of football firsts including the huddle, putting numbers on uniforms, the T formation, the punt formation and the end around. His is also credited with dreaming up famous “trick” plays like the hidden ball and the Statue of Liberty. Stagg invented several pieces of equipment still used in sports today including blocking sleds, tackling dummies and the batting cage for baseball. Famous Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne said it best: “All football comes from Stagg.”
A Violent Game
The King of England wasn’t the only one to express concern about the violence of football. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the game was still very violent. Teams sometimes moved the ball up the field using “mass momentum plays.” A running wedge of lineman would lock arms or even hold handles that had been attached to their teammates jerseys. Numerous defensive players were injured trying to break through these “flying wedges” to get to the ball carrier. After 18 players died and 159 were critically injured in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt gave football leagues a choice—make the game safer or have it outlawed. In 1906, rule changes required seven men to be on the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped. This ended the flying wedge. The forward pass was also made legal, though it was not really used until 1913 when Knute Rockne and Notre Dame teammate Gus Dorais put the ball in the air to beat West Point. Injuries were also reduced after 1905 as more players chose to wear protective helmets and pads.