How Did American Football Get Its Name
2019-08-09
11 min
10 053

Why Is American Football Called Football?

Around the world, football is known as “the beautiful game.” Billions of fans around the world are all too happy to spend their valuable time watching brilliant footballers navigate the pitch. If you are one of those fans and watch the action on your computer, there may come a time when you want to record some of your favorite clubs or footballers. If you want to capture the live stream, we invite you to check out Movavi Screen Recorder.

But having said this, there is one major market that still places football on a lower level compared to other sports. Quite clearly, that market is the United States. The popularity of football is still below other major sports like baseball, basketball, and American football. In fact, football isn’t even called “football” in America. Rather, it is called soccer. Football, instead, is used to reference American football.

This naturally leads to an interesting question: why is American football called football? And why is football—as it is known around the world—called soccer? While this question may seem simple on the surface, it causes us to explore the fascinating origins of both football and American football.

Why Is Football Called Football: An Explanation

To understand the etymology of football as American football, it helps to look back to the nineteenth century. Students in British schools played many ball games that were similar to modern-day rugby and soccer. But because the rules within the sport were not uniform, several major schools in the U.K. met in 1863 to agree to standard rules and regulations. Ultimately, a majority of these schools formed the basis for Association Football (known as soccer in America).

At the same time, a minority of schools did not agree with the proposed rules. One of their most contentious disputes was that there wouldn’t be enough tackling in this new sport. These schools then came together and created their own rules that would allow for tougher tackling and more handling of the ball. They also developed an oblong ball that would be easier to throw versus the ball used within Association Football. Quite clearly, this is the genesis of modern-day rugby. In fact, it was officially known as rugby football.

Rugby grew increasingly popular in the United Kingdom and started spreading around the world. But even after the British schools came together to discuss unified rules for rugby, there were still divisions on how the sport was played. Six years after that meeting, two New Jersey universities—Rutgers University and Princeton—played a game where 25 players on each side hit a round ball with their hands or feet in order to score points.

It was only in 1875, however, where the modern sport of American football started to develop. The game was between Harvard University and Yale University and the rules were much more similar to the original rugby football in the United Kingdom. For the next season (in the year 1876), the term “football” was first used in the sport’s rulebook. Harvard University, while favoring the term “rugby” for the new sport, did not insist on a name change.

But back to the original question: why is it called football?

It comes down to the origins of the sport. The modern-day football in America has its roots in rugby football. Compared to its close cousin soccer, American football is quite obviously less about kicking the ball compared to passing and carrying the ball. When you think of some of the most popular American football athletes, you will most likely envision individuals like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Ben Roethlisberger. But if you are looking at where the name football comes from, you would have to look at a group of fun-loving, motivated individuals who wanted to take some of the best elements from rugby and incorporate it into a new sport. In other words, the modern American football as we know it today has evolved into quite a different sport than rugby. Yet they call it football because the origins of the sport involved slightly more kicking than today. It all comes from two teams on a field back in the nineteenth century.

So what does this mean from a larger perspective?

To put it simply, the sport has essentially separated itself from its nineteenth century origins. Even though some elements are similar, the origins of football are almost a faded memory. If you were to take the word literally, you would expect American footballers to be predominantly using their feet to score. But having said that, this is just a nod to American football’s long history.

Whether you are a new fan of America’s most popular game or have been a fan for several decades now, it is nice to have an appreciation of the origin story. Therefore, if you are in a social setting and are asked “why is football called football,” you will be able to confidently and correctly explain how America’s favorite sport received its name.

A Fascinating Origin Story

If you visit most sports blogs on the Internet, you will inevitably come across this debate about whether American football should truly be called football. You will find passionate people on both sides of the debate. Often, those in favor of it being called “football” are those who live in the United States while others—mostly Europeans—believe that football actually refers to soccer. These debates are fierce, and ultimately, no one is crowned the winner.

Luckily, you don’t need to “win” this debate. You simply need to look at history. American football itself is a natural progression from rugby football in the United Kingdom. Even though current-day rugby and American football may be vastly different, the origins are extremely similar. Along with this, both sports are constantly evolving, so there is a non-zero possibility that American football, football, and rugby actually converge. While it is unlikely, you never know.

In sum, we hope that you have a better understanding of how did American football get its name. Whether you agree with the term or not, recognizing football name’s origins can provide you with a better appreciation of sporting history.

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