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Walter Camp: Inventor of Modern Football

Ask someone in Pittsburgh, PA – the headquarters of InventHelp® – who invented football and they'll probably say Chuck Noll. After all, he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s. However, in Dallas they might say Tom Landry; in Chicago, Mike Ditka; and in San Francisco, Bill Walsh. Ask video gamers and they'll tell you John Madden invented football. But really, who did invent the modern day game of American football?

American football is derivative of English soccer and rugby, which are derivative of a game called football played as early as the 12th century in England and Scotland. The Ancient Greeks also played a similar game called harpaston. But to name one person who invented the game may not be possible. When it comes to what we watch every weekend in the fall, however, credit is due one man for innovating it: Walter Camp.

Camp attended Yale in the late 1870s, where he played on the varsity squads from 1877 to 1882. He also captained the team in 1878, '79 and '81. Yale's record during his time on the team was an impressive 25-1-6. But it was his vision and innovation off the field, organizing the game from a brutal scrum to an orderly game of skill, strength and finesse, that really gives Camp the distinction of the Father of the Modern Game of Football.

In its early years, football teams consisted of up to 25 players per side, and lax rules resulted in an amazingly violent sport. Players were often injured and some were even killed. According to waltercamp.org, Camp "brought organization, planning, and stature to the game and served on the rules committee from his college days until his death [in 1925]," particularly between 1880 and 1883 – when the game became less rugby and more American football. A Camp contemporary, historian Park Davis, wrote that "it was [Camp's] resourceful mind that conceived and constructed the majority of the basic changes which made [football] a distinctly American game."

Walter Camp: Inventor of Modern FootballCamp helped develop play from scrimmage and restrictions to 11 players per side (1880). This allowed teams to develop and use strategy and preconceived plays. It also resulted in the rugby scrum evolving into offensive and defensive lines. Further innovations of Camp's included the system of downs and yards-to-go (1882) when Yale rival Princeton determined that within the rules of the game, they could in effect "sit" on the ball without moving it for an entire half. This rule resulted in the gridiron system of lines and hash-marks on the field. In 1883, because Rugby's scoring did not translate well into the Americanized game, Camp developed the scoring system that forms the basis for today's game.

Camp continued to contribute to the game he helped create, even contributing to the establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), but the violence of the game continued to bog it down. In 1905, so many deaths occurred on the field that then President Theodore Roosevelt, a proponent of strenuous exercise, made it known that collegiate football would have to be made safer or it would be outlawed. So in 1906, Camp's American Football Rules Committee adopted several rules that made the game safer – among them, the adoption of the forward pass as an acceptable method of moving the ball down field. While Camp never played for a professional team, without his innovations and continued support of the game it's entirely possible it never would have existed at all, particularly since the National Football League initially used collegiate rules to govern play.

InventHelp® recognizes Walter Camp because his innovations still shape the most popular team sport in the United States more than 100 years after he started playing the game. Camp shows how an innovative mind can create a long lasting impact on society and InventHelp® recognizes the importance of this contribution. To see the results of Camp's innovation, simply turn on the television any weekend in the fall and winter.

Back to September 2004 Newsletter

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