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Why is American Football Called Football?

Why American Football is called football is an age-long debate that seems not to be ending soon. While there are so many accounts flying over the web, this article offers a definitive answer to this debacle.

Key Takeaways

  • American football is the combination of its two ancestors – soccer-style football and rugby-style football, both of which originated in Europe. It is really just another form of the European football games and therefore came to being known as football.
  • American football is also called gridiron sport – a one-word term distinguishing American rules football from rugby football and association football.

How Did American Football Get Its Name?

The origins of the name football can be traced to medieval Europe and the early versions of its origin sport, rugby football, and association football.

In the 10th century France, people played with a ball made from inflated pig’s skin – with its appearance very much like a football or rugby ball –  and the aim is to carry it back to your side of town. In ancient Greece, men engaged in a similar activity known as Episkyros, where they tried to throw a ball over a scrimmage while avoiding tackles.

Many of these archaic forms of football are now typically classified as mob football until the 19th century when the Highway Act of 1835 was passed in England, banning the playing of football in public roadways.

In its earliest form, the ball was carried from person-to-person. This carried on for years and in the 13th century, people started kicking the ball during play. The original form of the game is different from its standardized derivatives, Rugby football (Rugby) and Association Football (Soccer).

American football was eventually born from its two cousins, Rugby and Soccer.

Did American Football Come From Rugby?

American football origin can be linked to the 19th century following several major schisms in the rules of rugby football and association football. The introduction of the line of scrimmage, the changes to down and distance rules, and the legality of blocking by Walter Camp are some of the most notable alterations.[1]

The Rugby rules were first codified in 1845 by the Rugby School. While Soccer rules were codified in 1848 by Cambridge University Football.

The rules of rugby then evolved and formed the basis of what we know today as football.

Cambridge rules, on the other hand, needed nearly two decades for some modifications to finally be made to remove handling as a major aspect of the sport to develop what we now know as soccer.

Following this development, the Football Association was created in 1863 in England and is the oldest association football association in the world.

The first form of American football emerged from the collegiate when Princeton school and Rutgers school competed in a game that was closer to being a rugby game than a football game on November 6, 1869.

Is American Football Called Football Because the Ball Is a Foot Long?

If you closely follow football games, you’d commonly hear that the word football is called football because it is 11 inches and just shy of being a foot long.

Though the size of a rugby ball is a near-accurate foot length, there is no concrete evidence that the length of the football is the rationale for the game being called football. The more cogent reason is that the game with a ball and is played on foot.

Why Is American Football Called Gridiron Sport?

Also, gridiron was a one-word term used to differentiate American rules football from rugby football and association football. Gridiron also refers to Canadian football, however, American football rules are quite distinct. Gridiron is the usual term used to describe American football games in Australia and New Zealand. 

 Gridiron is an American vernacular for the now outdated field markings every 5 yards in both directions. The gridiron pattern simply serves to aid refereeing when different rules existed for passing, kicking, and first downs.

Also, read about the tallest quarterback in the NFL.

Where American football stands

The original forms of the game played in previous centuries have very little in common with any of the modern derivative games of football, rugby, and soccer because they have very disparate rules which have evolved over the years.

Those who claim that soccer is the original version of football now see why such claims should be debunked. It is not called football because it is played predominantly with the feet as those who strongly uphold football’s soccer origin claim. American football also involves kicking with the feet (for example when you score a field goal).

Interestingly, the original form of football has nothing to do with the feet; neither is the word “soccer” an Americanization, as this word is of British origin. [2

Finally, irrespective of the origins of the word football in America, the philosophical basis remains valid – American football is called football because that’s what they want for their beloved game. 

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  1. Birth of Pro Football. Retrieved from
  2. Sorry, England: the USA is right to call football ‘soccer.’ Retrieved from
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