American Football: A Nation’s Tradition
by Karina Le | published Nov. 12th, 2018
For some families, gathering around the TV to watch a football game is a tradition. Sunday afternoons are spent eating food and being with friends and family, bonding over favorite teams or talking about exciting plays. But for people who aren't fans of football and who don't really understand the hype, it's hard to see what makes football such a spectacle. Knowing the roots of the sport could peak an interest.
Football has its roots in British sports like rugby and soccer, according to History.com. Harvard was the first university to integrate these two sports into one, as an innovation to the game. The "Boston Game," as this combination was called, was one of football's first iterations, but not the modern version we know today. Harvard later embraced a more rugby-like style, which was made more popular after they played their first intercollegiate match against Yale. This more rugby-orientated version of football was continually innovated, as the game was played differently depending on the university. This made competition between schools difficult to organize.
Simply merging the two sports was not enough to truly turn it into American football. To make the sport more inclusive, Walter Camp, known as the Father of American Football, took elements of both sports and made football a unique sport.
Camp was a Yale student and had previously participated in the hybrid sport Harvard had concocted during the 1870s. Using his experience — as someone in a position equivalent to a current head coach — Camp helped erect the rules for the Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA). His innovations created gridiron football, which was named by the use of vertical yard lines, and it's the football that is played today.
Leagues with paid players started to arise near the start of the 1900s, as stated by The People's History. Due to the lack of rules for football at the time, many players had the habit of moving from team to team in search of the highest bidder. Leagues were hard to maintain since teams were often unequal. Better teams often had the most money to finance players, while smaller universities didn't.
American football really started picking up with the creation of the National Football League, which was called the American Professional Football Association at the time. They strictly set the league divided into 18 teams, and separated the teams into two conferences. The NFL changed the way people saw football by hosting a radio broadcasting of the first Super Bowl in 1967. This attracted around 50 million listeners, according to Forbes. The popularity of the broadcast cemented the sport in the hearts of American households.
The Spirit of Football
Matthew Hulbert, president and defensive player for RIT's Football Club and third year Biomedical Science major, talked about what makes football special to him.
“I think it's really interesting to watch plays [and strategy] ... because people think, 'Oh you just grab the ball and run into a guy' ... but there's actual strategy behind their play ... and that's interesting,” he said.
"People think, 'Oh you just grab the ball and run into a guy' ... but there's actual strategy behind their play."
Vincent Darmohray, vice president and defensive player for the Football Club, focused on the community feeling which football envokes.
“It just feels like you're part of [the team and the community] … when you go to games and share a win … you high-five [complete strangers],” the third year Biomedical Science and Biotechnology double major said.
Hulbert and Darmohray talked about how they got into football. They each mentioned their interest in watching football while they were younger and were encouraged by their families to continue their passion for the sport as fans. They both only started playing towards the end of high school. Even though they play flag football — a sport that revises the physical aspects of football by making it less of a contact sport — both players still have large amounts of passion and pride for the game.
The Super Bowl distinguishes football from other sports with its extravagance in both the game and the halftime events. Darmohray discussed the Super Bowl’s popularity and how the amount of viewers genuinely show the mark the sport has on modern day audiences.
“Every year it’s the most viewed broadcasts,” Darmohray said. "[The NFL] broadcasts it all around the world and everybody in all these countries are watching it. It’s crazy.”
Football is an intense sport for Hulbert, who feels constantly pressured to win while playing. Stakes are high in football since there are only 16 games a season, whereas baseball sees 162 games a season.
“[Sometimes] it all comes down to one game and it’s over. It’s really high stakes,” he said.
In the wake of loss, however, the players often have to face anger from their supporters and their own disappointment.
"It's really crushing," said Darmohray.
Hulbert spoke about the feelings he gets when participating and going to tournaments.
“There’s this big sense of gratification when [you play well] ... but there’s this sense of urgency ... [feeling] like you have to score ... it puts a lot of pressure on you,” he said.
Similarly, Jordan Williams, a third year Film and Animation major, provided a watcher’s perspective. He talked about how he got into the sport at a young age and what kept him such an avid fan.
“It’s the excitement ... there’s the extreme passion that you don’t get a lot in any other sports [in America] ... the [football] atmosphere is very alive and it feels like family,” he said.
"The [football] atmosphere is very alive and it feels like family."
Williams enjoys watching football with his family and community. It's a tradition and has made the game incredibly enjoyable for him.
Football has been an integral part of the American family tradition, bringing complete strangers together to share in the game's excitement. The Super Bowl especially has brought entertainment to fans of the game and halftime show for years. With a rich history and love surrounding it, football's spirit holds a special place many people's hearts.