With its slightly oblong shape and intricate lacing, the football is one of the most unique game balls in sports today. It is brilliantly designed for the game and quite different from its closest cousin, the rugby ball. How did this standby piece of sports equipment develop into what it is today? I think you’re in for a surprise!
Let’s explore the history of the football.
The Sport of Football
To understand the football itself, we must understand the game. The history of football began in the late 1860s and arose out of a combination of soccer and rugby rules. This is likely why the rugby ball is the closest facsimile to the american football.
The game enjoys great popularity in America. Monday evenings are widely known for ‘Monday Nite Football’ when networks air the games with assorted pageantry.
Football and rugby may be similar like the balls they are played with, but there are marked differences between the two games.
Rugby vs Football
Rugby is far less popular in America than it is in some other countries. In the interest of a through review, let’s learn a bit about the differences between the two games of football and rugby.
Football Rules and Objectives
American football is played with teams of 11 players. Unlimited player substitutions are allowed in the game. It is a high contact sport with a complex strategy that has been compared to military manoeuvres.
This sentiment is perhaps best described by infamous comedian, George Carlin. Here is an excerpt from Carlin’s famous bit about football.
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.
The objective of the game is, as Carlin eludes to above, to advance the ball through a series of plays to get it to the opposing team’s end zone. Teams can also opt for a field goal, which is to kick the ball through the other team’s goal posts. Defensive players on the field are trying to hold off the forward progress of the opposing, offensive players.
An american football game is played in four quarters that last 15 minutes. There is an intermission called half-time between the second and third quarters. The game clock is often stopped between plays.
Rugby Rules and Objectives
Rugby teams, conversely, contain 15 players in each. The field is rectangular just like football. Similarly to football, the object is to advance the ball to the other team’s goal line. It is then kicked through the goal posts or run into the end zone.
After kick off, the team with the ball wants to score a try. A try is the term used when a rugby player touches the ball to the ground in the opponent’s in-goal. Each try earns 5 points. Similar to football, the offensive team is given a chance to kick the ball through the opposing team’s goal posts. This is called a conversion. The rugby ball is also kicked whenever the offended team is the victim of a penalty perpetrated against them by the defensive players. Penalty kicks count for three points and are accomplished at the goal or by a drop kick anywhere on the field.
This seems pretty simple, but there are more tricky rules to rugby. Players cannot pass the ball forward. They can only pass behind them. This has to be done while the passing player is moving forward. Tackles are a thing in rugby as well as football, so players advancing the ball must be ever vigilant against this type of attempt by defensive players on the field. If the advancing offensive player is tackled, he is forced to pass the ball or drop it.
The Differences Between Rugby Balls and Footballs
To understand the design of the football, it is helpful to compare and contrast it to the rugby ball. They are quite similar and yet the football remains unique in design.
The football is described as a prolate spheroid. It is approximately 11 inches (28 cm) long and about 22 inches (56 cm) in circumference at the widest center point. It weighs around 0.875lbs. There are laces stitched on the top of the ball to allow for easier grip when throwing to other players. The football isn’t actually made of pigskin at all. It is made of cowhide.
The rugby ball is a similar prolate spheroid shape. The “size 5” ball is the international standard. It is approximately 27 cm long and 60 cm in circumference. It is marginally heavier than the american football. It weighs about 1 pound.
The Smithsonian museum website states that the ball design was largely an accident. According to a man named Henry Duffield who happened to be at the first football game, the ball was supposed to be round.
The ball was not an oval but was supposed to be completely round. It never was, though — it was too hard to blow up right. The game was stopped several times that day while the teams called for a little key from the sidelines. They used it to unlock the small nozzle which was tucked into the ball, and then took turns blowing it up. The last man generally got tired and they put it back in play somewhat lopsided.
The Final Score
I think even people who aren’t football fans can enjoy the happy accident that stuck: the design of the iconic american football. We can all take a lesson from this story. Mistakes are sometimes just innovations waiting to be embraced!
I hope you enjoyed this bit of trivia about the american football. You can wow your friends with your new knowledge during the next game. You’ll be ahead of the game that way, even if your team is on the losing end.