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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.

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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 chase had to throw or kick the ball. The Canadian variation allowed players to carry the ball, introduced the idea of “downs”, and 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 History, Sports
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One comment on “How Canada created American football, (May 14 1874)
  1. 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.

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