Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco prior to the 2013 Superbowl an event watched by millions of fans. Almost none know "their" Amercian game was the result of Canadian rules from 1874
Photo Credit: (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

How Canada created American football, (May 14 1874)


Though American websites seldom, if ever, mention it, the origins of another of their greatest professional sports actually came from Canada.

A William Notman composite of the May 13-14 matches between Harvard and McGill Universities which changed the American sport of “foot-ball” forever. © William Notman-McGill ARchives

While Canadian James Naismith invented basketball, American “football” developed as a result of a rugby game against a squad from Canada’s McGill University

On May 13 and 14, two games were played in the US between Harvard University and McGill. The first was played using Harvard’s rules, which was a game more like soccer and using a round ball, the second was played using McGill rules, with an oval ball.

The Harvard game was a soccer variation known as the “Boston Game.” This allowed a player to pick up the ball and run with it if he were chased, but if the chaser stopped, the person being chased had to throw or kick the ball. The Canadian variation allowed players to carry the ball, introduced the idea of “downs”, and also tackling.

As it turned out the Americans won the first game 3-0, while the second game was a scoreless tie. However, the Harvard squad so enjoyed the Canadian innovations to the game that they introduced them into a match against Yale University the following year. Observers from Princeton also like the game and introduced it to their university

American sources tend to cite this all US game as the start of American football, ignoring the fact that Canada was the source of the Harvard game.

In 1876 a semi- formalized rulebook  for was created as the new game took root as a much different sport from the sports of soccer and rugger (rugby), but very much influenced by the Canadian innovations.

The Canadian team could also only field 11 players at the match, whereas the Americans usually played with 15 members on the field. Although Americans went back to 15 players for a few years, an 1880 change reduced the teams to 11 players which remains today, and which interestingly was the number of players per side for that original game

It also marked the first time admission was charged to a college sporting event, with a 50 cent fee for spectators, which apparently would be used post games for “entertaining” the visiting Canadian team

Posted in Society

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1.’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3.’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.


17 comments on “How Canada created American football, (May 14 1874)
  1. cj ogan says:

    THAT COOL but it is usa football

  2. M says:

    Let’s be clear, the game played then was RUGBY, slightly modified it says. Did what was played there have an impact on what became American Football, most assuredly, but that doesn’t mean American Football was invented there. American football shares little with rugby now (Field Goal Posts, Tackling, odd “balls”). Rules are completely different. So be honest with your comments. As for that idiot who said we (the U.S.) dominate hockey. I will apologize on his behalf, he’s like I said earlier, an IDIOT. This is all coming from a U.S. citizen who loves Canada and wishes his own country would take more lessons about how a country should be run.

  3. morris tallevi says:

    The general rules of North American football was conceived at McGill and it is all documented the football used today developed in Canada so taking all of this information we can say that the game of North American football was conceived in Canada like basketball was invented by a Canadian sorry America

  4. CANADA says:


  5. USA says:

    Anyone can claim that “Someone from” canada started football but thats far from the truth. The truth is that can contributed had nothing to with fb. Everything can has done was already played in europe. Fb was started in the US period. The NFL was started in the US as was BB.

    If you want toget technical the first real game of football was played in Spain. It’s still played today and it’s called calcio storico or something.

  6. ronin says:

    Actually football was invented in Scotland if you want to get technical.

  7. American says:

    There’s a glaring omission concerning basketball–Naismith was born in Canada, but invented the sport in Boston as a Canadian American. I don’t think Canada would get credit for that.

    I’ll give Canada credit for gridiron football though, as well as influencing American football, which although the first game was played in 1869, was quite different until that historic meeting between Harvard and McGill.

    • Canadian says:

      He didn’t become an American citizen till 1925. So in fact …. A Canadian invented basketball.

      • dave says:

        Who cares who invented it. The U.S dominates every sport even hockey. Football? I’d love to see if a canadian professional fb team could even score on a decent college team here. Basketball thhe same. USA!

        • Jacob says:

          So Canada winning literally everything in the Olympics that’s hockey related means nothing? Ok.

        • Michael Beveridge says:

          25% of NHL players are American…compare that to approx. 50% of the players who are Canadian.

          Canada has 9 Gold medals to USA’s 2 in Olympic hockey.

          Canada has 16 Gold medals to USA’s 4 in IIHF U20 Junior hockey.

          Your argument is ignoring facts.

        • Kbones says:

          Your right all the American teams that go anywhere in the NHL have Canadian players kinda like Naismith moved from Canada to the US you can’t changed where you are born

        • tossyourcookies says:

          U.S. dominates every sport? Look up the word …hubris….

        • Bobby says:

          The US teams are mainly Canadian hockey players.. US doesn’t dominate in anything other than baseball, and that’s only because there is only one Canadian team

    • Bart says:

      The first game was played in 1861 at the University of Toronto, 8 years before Rutgers-New Jersey.

  8. Peter Ashcroft says:

    Ah! I was born in Rugby, and use to play rugger at school. It fascinates me to see how many rugger balls have the name Gilbert on them as he use to make them in a little shop in a cul-de-sac just opposite Rugby School.