Who Invented American Football? The Game Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: December 30, 2023

American football is one of the most popular sports in North America. But how did it start as a sport, and who helped create this game that we are glued to our TVs watching?

Walter Camp, known as the “Father of American football,” created the rules that we still play by today. This includes four downs, a line of scrimmage, scoring, and having 11 players on the field.

American football, also known as gridiron football, has evolved from its ancestors, soccer and rugby.

Let’s learn more about who invented football.

Who Invented American Football

Via Connecticuthistory.org

The person responsible for inventing the modern game of football is Walter Camp.

Walter Camp, born in New Britain, Connecticut, was a student at Yale University when he was introduced to football. He played for four years, from 1876 to 1880, while at Yale.

In 1880, Walter Camp helped to form the Intercollegiate Football Association, also known as the IFA.

At the beginning of the American game, each team could have 25 players on the field simultaneously. Teams could only advance the ball by kicking or batting it with their arms.

The IFA introduced new rules that would help to revolutionize the game of football. These rules included giving up the football to the other team if they failed to gain 10 yards (also known as downs). This would become the most important differentiated rule between rugby union rules and American football rules.

Other rules that Walter Camp and the Intercollegiate Football Association implemented were having 11 players on the field for each team, the line of scrimmage, and scoring, all of which we still use in today’s game.

First College Football Game

The first college football game was played between Rutgers and Princeton Universities on November 6, 1869.

This game was similar to a soccer-style game, which took rules from the London Football Association.

It wasn’t until Harvard players started to distance themselves from the popular soccer hybrid game and formed their own style of football. This new style was heavily influenced by McGill University in Montreal. This football game from McGill University is as close to the game as we know today.

In 1875, Harvard and Yale played their first college football game, closely resembling today’s football, where players try to cross the ball into the endzone.

College students began forming teams across the Northeast of the United States, mainly in Ivy League schools. This included Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia.

The Ultimate Football Guide

Why spend hours on Google and YouTube trying to learn football yourself? We’ve created a simple guide to help make you the smartest person in the room.

American Professional Football Association

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association (it would later become the National Football League) was created. Football games were largely popular with college students and haven’t hit the professional level yet. This was the first professional league.

Jim Thorpe, the popular 32-year-old player who had been dominant on the field for the Canton Bulldogs, was unanimously voted as the American Professional Football Association president.

The first game in the National Football League took place on September 26, 1920, between

All committee members met on April 30, 1921, and decided that the Akron Pros were champions based on their record.

As the league grew, so did the injuries. It was common to see death happen on the football field due to the lack of equipment, high impact, and underfunded medical staff.

This is what introduced the football helmet and pads to the game.

When the rule was amended to make the forward pass legal, this created higher impacts at greater speeds. Players were tackled high and low while running at full speed. This forced offenses to create different strategies to protect players.

The introduction of the forward pass completely revolutionized the game of football and changed coaches’ strategy and approach to the game.

In order to protect the players, the rules committee had to make sure referees called penalties (and even sometimes ejections) on players who were too aggressive. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and personal foul penalties were appended to the rule book.

National Football League

The two leagues, the National Football League and the American Football League, largely dominated the professional football scene. Each league had football teams that were filled with talented football players.

The National Football League then merged with the American Football League in 1970, which would take the name of the National Football League and be the professional organization that we know today.

The First Super Bowl

Super Bowl 1

Before the official merge of the American Football League and the National Football League, the teams played the first Super Bowl.

The first Super Bowl was between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Green Bay Packers represented the National Football League, and the Kansas City Chiefs represented the American Football League.

The Green Bay Packers won the first Super Bowl over the Kansas City Chiefs with a score of 35-10.

American Football Recap

American football is one of the most exciting professional sports games to watch. Each touchdown scored, pass from the quarterback, or referee call can spark the crowd into a frenzy.

If you like learning about football, we recommend you check out our Beginners Guide To Football below.

The Ultimate Football Guide

Why spend hours on Google and YouTube trying to learn football yourself? We’ve created a simple guide to help make you the smartest person in the room.

The American Football season typically lasts for 17 weeks before the playoffs start. It’s common for players to miss games with injury, as American football is a physically demanding sport.

If you want to learn more about football, we recommend checking out these articles:

Football Field Dimensions Explained

American Football Rules Explained

The Complete Beginners Guide To American Football

10 Things You May Not Know About Football

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.