[Ads-l] "football" (American) in 1883

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 2 17:57:02 UTC 2016

The question of when "football" (or "foot ball") was "American" is as much a question of the evolution of the rules of the game as it is a linguistic question.  Foot ball, in one form or another, long pre-dates football in the US.  "Foot ball" was a catch-all term that encompassed any number of different forms of rules.  Football did not become "American" until rules changes made it different from the game as played elsewhere.

The Princeton-Rutgers game of 1869 is frequently mentioned as the origin of "American Football," but that game was really the first inter-mural game of football between American colleges; it was not really the first game of "American football."  All of the Eastern schools whose early football history defines the American game played a modified version of the "Association" rules that developed into what we call soccer.

"American football" may have started in 1874, when Harvard played McGill University under modified Rugby rules, in which the ball could be carried.  Everyone liked the game, and they soon convinced the other schools to start playing a form of "Rugby" foot ball.

But that game was also not much like the current game, because a team could keep the ball for as long as it did not fumble or kick the ball away.  "American football" may have started in 1882, whey they went to the current four-down format; which ensured that the other team would get the ball if the first team did not make enough progress down the field.  They needed the rule, because in previous years, the current "champion" would arguably retain the championship, by keeping the ball for the entire game, forcing a 0-0 tie, and claiming retention of the championship by default.

> Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2016 16:57:15 +0000
> From: berson at ATT.NET
> Subject: "football" (American) in 1883
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Joel Berson <berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      "football" (American) in 1883
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The OED has "football" (American) as the game from 1879 (under "American") =
> and 1881 (under "football"; bracketed for 1873).=C2=A0 The word probably ca=
> n be found in 1883 in =E2=80=9CThe Diary of Edward Herbert Atherton=E2=80=
> =9D, held in the New England Historic Genealogical Society's R. Stanton Ave=
> ry Special Collections (Mss A 1665).=C2=A0 Atherton, a Harvard graduate (cl=
> ass of 1879), writes about games played in October 1883.
> For bits of interesting information about the rules for those games (but no=
> t any quotes containing "Football"), see http://vita-brevis.org/2016/02/evo=
> lving-game-football/?utm_source=3Dtwgnewsletter&utm_medium=3Dnewsletter&utm=
> _campaign=3Dtwg781.
> Joel
> =20
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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