Football: A Brief history
By: J. Marlando
I have a cousin, Paul, who lives and breathes football; he knows all the players, who was hurt last Sunday and what this Sunday’s replacement’s record is; he knows who won what game last year or twenty years ago and can talk about why teams are having a good or bad season. He’s even picked three or four Super bowl winners over the year with his pre-season choices.
My wife and I spend most Sundays and Monday nights watching football. However, whenever we have a question about a game or player or play she will say, “Call Paul.”
My cousin is a poster boy for millions of devoted and dedicated fans of one of the most rugged sports on the planet—never does a season go by without multiple injuries to multiple players which is no surprise to players or to fans—people get hurt in football and sometimes seriously. It’s not as bad as it once was. When my wife was a kid she used to go to football games with her father back in the 1950s and she recalls players being hauled off the field on stretchers “time after time.” Today better helmets with face masks and other safety factors have reduced some of that but certainly not all. Football remains a dangerously challenging sport and millions upon millions of fans love it…for the action but, I think, also for the danger. For example, at the end of each season my wife and I will invariably feel we’ve lost a part of the enjoyment in our lives and immediately start talking about next season. We are not alone—American football fans fill the stands and fans create one of the biggest and most consistent TV audiences in the world.
What’s the attraction?
I don’t know but maybe it stirs up our old reptilian brain? You know, we experience a kind of vicarious fight or flight impulse when the defense and offense go head to head; when the quarterback is charged but manages to pass and suddenly a receiver is running (seemingly for his life) toward the goal line. At least in some ways all of that is symbolic of prehistoric logic…isn’t it? I’ll ask Paul!
As a history buff, I’ve always wondered how games evolved—take Polo, the sport of kings. When the sport actually started it was called, bughazi as opposed to polo and was part of military training for the Persians some 600 years before Christ. It is thought that even earlier versions began in what is now called Pakistan or Afghanistan and was played using the head of a goat as opposed to nice, little round ball. This practice persists even in our times so if you’re in Afghanostan try not to let anyone get your goat. Anyway, Genghis Khan began the practice of cutting off his military opponents heads and using them instead of animal heads.
No one really knows the origins of what we Yanks call football but there is some evidence that the roots of the game was played in Egypt some 2500 years ago or, at least, they were playing some sort of ball games on foot. This is what the term “football” means by the way, a ball game played on foot so we could literally call basketball or volley ball “football” too if we had a mind to.
Around 500 years later the ancient Greeks began playing a game of “football,” called Episkyros: Probably a variation of the Egyptian game which the Romans would eventually adopt calling their version Harpastum. The Chinese version came after the Greek’s too and was called Cuju. I think what is most interesting about all this is that “ballgames” seem part of our natural humanism and so, for all we know, some strange ball game might have well been played by our distant prehistoric cousins with mud balls or snow balls or even rocks…who knows?
In the U.S.A. the NFL began expanding and starting on its trek to what it is today—in 1921 the league had 22 team members with the Green Bay Packers joining that year. Incidentally, the Packers have the longest use of a team name in football history.
It wasn’t until 1932 that the first playoff game was played. In ’32 the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans were tied so the league voted to hold its first playoff game. The playoff game was so popular that the league reorganized into two divisions for the 1933 season. Oh yes, as for that first playoff game, the Chicago Bears won 9-0.
The war years 1941-1945 hurt the progress of football because of lack of players—a lot of teams simply folded but football began its dramatic comeback in 1946 and, in fact, that was the year that football integrated. This began with the Rams—when they played for Los Angeles—hiring Kenny Washingtonand Woody Strode both African Americans. The rest is history! By the way, it was the L.A. Rams that became the first team to have its entire season televised—this began the success story between professional football and television. This was in 1950!
The AFL and NFL became great competitors during the 1960s and 1970s. For one thing the AFL began recruiting the best of NFL players. Today all this has led to our Super Bowl and yearly crowning of America’s best team; a televised spectacular and a heart-racing competition for just about all of us with the NFL remaining the most popular of all spectator sports in the country.
If you want more information, call Paul!