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49 Interesting Facts About American Football

American football is a hodgepodge that developed from two sports: rugby and soccer. These sports were popular throughout the world, but America’s “melting pot” wanted something to distinguish the country from all the others. The first official “football” game was perhaps the first “college game day,” an introduction to the “new” sport.

By Sriram NadarajanPublished about a year ago 16 min read
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis Colts. Image credit – Josh Hallett

Interesting facts about American Football

1. Today, American football is played in public schools, colleges and the pro circuit where it is a big money earner. Players play the game on a 360-foot by 160-foot field. End zones are 10 yards long, and the players wear protective equipment that includes helmets, face masks, shoulder and thigh pads and mouth guards.

2. College and professional games last 60 minutes, divided into four quarters of 15 minutes. The plays have frequent stops, so a game might last 2.5 to 3 hours or more. High school games generally consist of four 12-minute quarters. Games for younger kids can be even shorter.

3. The first football games were arranged between amateur clubs and college athletic departments, both of which were anxious to get the best players. Athletic clubs began the practice of “rewarding” their best players with gifts and “illegal” remuneration.

4. The first game of football was played between Rutgers and Princeton colleges on November 6, 1869. However, the rules weren’t codified until the 1880s when Walter Camp, a famous rugby player, pioneered the new rules that transformed the game.[1]

5. The National Football League, or NFL, evolved from the American Professional Football Association in 1920. Today, the NFL manages 256 games between Labor Day and New Year’s Day. Playoffs follow the regular season, leading up to the Super Bowl, or NFL championship.[1]

6. The NFL is organized in two divisions: the NFC and the AFC. There are a total of 32 teams. Each division has a single champion, which is determined in the playoffs.[2]

7. In the 1880s, most colleges featured some form of the sport that could be considered football. Colleges throughout the United States were anxious to embrace athletics after the Civil War, and amateur football quickly became tremendously popular.[2]

8. Amateur football clubs learned to “cheat” by obtaining jobs for star players. Some clubs gave expensive trophies and watches to their best players, which the players sold or pawned after each game. Some clubs paid double expense money to remunerate their best players.[2]

9. Football has one of the shortest seasons of any professional sport — 17 weeks — but the popularity of football surpasses every other sport with tailgating, cheering teams with stickers and flags on cars and watching the annual Superbowl, the most watched television program of the year.[2]

10. The Pittsburgh Steelers claim the top spot for most Superbowl wins — six wins out of eight Super Bowl appearances. The New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys have also played in eight Super Bowl games, but the Cowboys have won five, and the Patriots have won four of the championships.[2]

11. Top college players are drafted based on complex formulas that give certain teams preferential choices. Draft picks, which are based on preference for the team with the most losses the previous season, can be traded with other teams.[2]

12. Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons continues to shatter NFL records. Jones accelerated to become the fastest player in history to pass 10,000 career-receiving yards. His average per game of 96.2 receiving yards ranks as the highest in NFL history to date.[3]

13. NFL rushing champions include some of the top names in the sport. There have been fourteen different rushing champions over the last 17 years. Top rushing players include an actor, Rhodes Scholar and Supreme Court Justice.[4]

14. Georgia Tech holds the record for most points scored in a college game. In 1916, the college team scored the most lopsided victory ever — 222-0.[4]

15. The longest college football game took place in 2003 between Kentucky and Arkansas. The game ran just a little short of [4] hours and included 7 overtime periods. The Razorbacks finally won 71-63.[4]

16. Princeton surprisingly holds the record for the most collegiate national football championships. Most people today are surprised because these wins took place in the early 1900s, and the last Princeton championship was in 1950. Princeton holds 28 championships.[4]

17. Vinny Testaverde was the first college player to win the Maxwell, O’Brien, Walter Camp and Heisman awards in his senior year. Testaverde was also the top draft pick in the NFL.[4]

18. Steve McNair holds multiple records that include the FCS record of 5,799 yards in a season, the most career-passing yards of 14,496 and the most games over 400 yards. McNair also holds the record for highest average passing yardage per game.[4]

19. Football has its share of winners and losers, and Prairie View College had a losing streak of 80 games in a row. However, the college also won two national championships for black colleges in 1953 and 1964.[4]

20. Football revenue escalates dramatically: CBS only paid $4.65 million for broadcast rights in 1962, but Fox now pays $1.15 billion per year for only NFC broadcast rights, which doesn’t even include broadcast of the NFL Championship.[4]

21. Pro football games have been played on every day of the week. The only Tuesday game was played because of a blizzard in Pennsylvania. The only Wednesday game was played when a Washington-New York game was rescheduled to prevent it from running into John McCain’s acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination.[4]

22. Every team except Houston has played in a conference championship since 1988.[4]

23. The New Orleans Saints finally came marching in after 32 years of trying. The team finally won its first playoff game. Expansion team Carolina and Jacksonville played for the conference championship in their second season.[4]

24. Don Shula holds the coaching record of most wins during his career with the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Colts. Shula won 347 games, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.[5]

25. The Green Bay Packers hold the honor of winning the first Super Bowl in January of 1967. The game was played in Los Angeles.[5]

26. Jim Brown has led the NFL in rushing more times than any other player in history. He led all other running backs eight times between 1957 and 1965.[5]

27. Emmittt Smith gained more yards than any player in history — more than 18,000 yards in a career spanning 15 years. An interesting side note: Smith won a Dancing with the Stars competition in 2006.[5]

28. The Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and became the Indianapolis Colts. The Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Baltimore Ravens.[5]

29. Many teams have moved to different cities and states during the NFL’s long history. During the early years when the Great Depression occurred, teams moving didn’t generate much controversy as they do today.[5]

30. Los Angeles, the second largest media market, didn’t have a football team between 1995 and 2015.[6]

31. Jay Berwanger was the very first draft pick in the NFL in 1939. He also won the first Heisman trophy.[5]

32. The Pro Bowl, the NFL version of an all-star game, has been played continuously in Honolulu, Hawaii, at Aloha Stadium since 1980.[5]

33. Sammy Baugh holds the record for punting average in a single season — 51.4 yards, which he set in 1940. Despite the fact that nobody else punted for more than 50 yards in 86 years, six players have done so in the last 7 years, but Baugh’s record still holds.[5]

34. The Baltimore Ravens, 2000 Super Bowl Champs, went five games that season without a touchdown. The team still won two of those games and set a record for least points allowed — 165. The Ravens scored almost as many points in the Super Bowl as it did in that infamous five-game stretch.[4]

35. Houston has the dubious record for the worst drop-offs after a great season. In 1993, the Oilers had a 2-14 season after the previous year’s 12-4 record. In 2012 and 2013, the team went 0-8.[4]

36. Some of the teams that once existed in the NFL include the Maroons, All-Americans, Reds, Triangles, Celts, Eskimos. Tornadoes, Marines, Yellowjackets, Stapes, Jeffersons, Gunners and Colonels.[4]

37. One of the most unsung heroes of pro ball includes former Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley. He has won as many MVP awards as famous names like Dan Marino, Walter Payton, John Elway, Marshall Faulk, O.J. Simpson, Lawrence Taylor, Terry Bradshaw and Emmit Smith.[4]

38. Brent Favre holds the record of 297 consecutive quarterback starts, and many people consider the record unbreakable. Favre holds a five-season lead over Peyton Manning, who is second on the list. However, talented quarterbacks are starting earlier, and the league works hard to protect its best players. Favre’s record could fall.[5]

39. The spread is generally narrow between professional teams, and only 11 games since 1987 had a spread of 20 or more points. None of these underdogs have ever won, but the Philly Eagles, who were a 24.5 underdog to the New England patriots, led 28-24 in the fourth quarter before losing 31-28.[5]

40. In the days of television optimization, the Notre Dame sports information director convinced Washington Redskins Joe Thiesman to change the pronunciation of his name from Theez-min to Thighs-min to rhyme with Heisman, the name of the famous trophy. Unfortunately, Theisman came in second to Jim Plunkett.[5]

41. The 1983 Redskins had one of the most lopsided records in history for the differential between takeaways and giveaways. The team had a positive +43 differential while either teams have never gotten higher than 30.[5]

42. Here’s an astonishing fact about early football games: The forward pass was not allowed, and players were limited to working through the line of scrimmage. Early football games were informal and often included 11, 15, 20 or 25 men to a team. During a Yale-Princeton game, Walter Camp threw a forward pass to Oliver Thompson, who scored a touchdown. The Princeton Tigers, as you might imagine, protested vigorously.[7]

43. Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban football unless the rules were changed to make playing the game safer. The new rules allowed the forward pass, which has become the heart of the game.[7]

44. The huddle was introduced back in the 1890s by Paul Hubbard, who was a deaf player that used hand signals to call plays. Bringing the team together surrounding the quarterback was an approach used to prevent competitors from seeing the signals.[7]

45. William “Pudge” Heffelfinger has the honor of being the first legal professional player. He was paid $500 to play a game in 1892, and he also became the first pro to sport a nickname. He played college football between 1888 and 1891 at Yale, and the 1891 and 1888 teams were undefeated. The team only lost two games in four years. Pudge was later chosen to play on Walter Camp’s All-American team, and Pudge played every minute of the scheduled games during his last year at Yale.[7]

46. The first televised pro game occurred in 1939. The spectacle was less compelling than a modern Super Bowl game. The first televised game only reached about 500 television sets, and the commercials were nothing to generate buzz at the water cooler. The game was between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Eagles. The 500 broadcast sets were located in New York.[7]

47. There’s a difference between college and professional footballs. The balls used in college games have white stripes on each end, which make the ball theoretically easier to see in flight.[7]

48. The shape of a football is unique among sports, and the “pigskin” is best described as a “prolate spheroid.” However, the game has become so popular that the term “football-shaped” is used to describe this unusual shape.[7]

49. Football games don’t top the news, but they can come close. After John F. Kennedy‘s assassination, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger convinced the NFL commissioner to continue two important games because JFK would have wanted him to do it. However, the games never aired on television because of post-assassination coverage and the killing of suspect Lee Harvey Oswald.[4]

Interesting Facts American Football Players

1. Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is one of the most celebrated football players by virtue of holding the most records in many statistical categories for receivers. Rice won three Super Bowls and an AFC championship with San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders respectively.[8]

2. Tom Brady

Tom Brady has won more Super Bowls than any player — seven rings that won’t even fit on one hand. His full name, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. is a bit unwieldy, so Tom Brady it is. He also leads in the all-time passing record with 84,520 yards.[38]

3. Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor is only the second player in history to win the MVP award as a defensive player. Taylor only started playing as a junior in high school, but he quickly rose to team captain at North Carolina.[10]

4. Jim Brown

Jim Brown was named “Rookie of the Year” in 1957, and he played exceptional football for the Cleveland Browns. In fact, Brown performed better than any other player during his nine seasons before retiring at age 30. Brown rushed 12,312 yards and posted a total of 15,459 yards in his career.[11]

5. Walter Payton

Walter Payton carried an unusual nickname for a football player, “Sweetness.” He established many records during his career and earned nine Pro Bowl selections and induction into the Hall of Fame. “Sweetness” was known later for his charitable work.[12]

6. Joe Montana

Joe Montana was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round, but he went on to prove his value as the quarterback of record for four Super Bowl Wins — including consecutive wins in 1989 and 1990. He moved to the Kansas City Chiefs but retired later and was named to the Hall of Fame in 2000.[13]

7. Reggie White

Reggie White played as defensive end, and he dominated other defensive linemen during his career. Spanning a 15-year career, White was selected to play in the Pro Bowl 13 times in succession. He led the all-time record for career sacks as of his retirement in 2000.[14]

8. Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning has played in four Super Bowls and won two of them. Known for his preparation, Manning quarterbacked for the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. He has made four Pro Bowl appearances and won the NFL’s MVP trophy five times.[15]

9. Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas didn’t start out as a great quarterback, but he worked hard at his craft to become one of the greatest QBs of all time. Nicknamed “The Golden Arm,” Unitas led the Colts against the New York Giants on December 28, 1958, in the first live broadcast for pro football. The game went into overtime with some of the greatest talent in NFL history. The Colts won 23-17.[16]

10. Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders gained 18 yards in his first performance with the Lions, and he racked up 1,470 yards during his first season, which was 10 yards shy of the record. He later scored the highest number of rushing yards in 1990, 1,304 yards.[17]

11. Joe Greene

Joe Greene, known professionally as “Mean Joe Greene,” was one of the best defensive linemen in NFL history. Greene, who was Rookie of the Year in 1969, became famous as the anchor of Pittsburgh Steelers famous “Steel Curtain” defense. Greene was instrumental in four Super Bowl wins (1975, 1976, 1979, 1980).[18]

12. Dick Butkus

Dick Butkus, known as a TV commentator in later years, earned his fame as a first-round draft pick in 1965. Sporting exceptional speed and agility, Butkus was a big defensive star before retiring due to a knee injury in 1973. He was named to the Hall of Fame in 1979.[19]

13. Ronnie Lott

Ronnie Lott was a first-round draft pick and eighth player chosen in 1981, and he played for the San Francisco 49ers. His contributions helped the 49ers win the Super Bowl in his first year. He was also the second rookie to score three touchdowns on interceptions.[20]

14. Anthony Munoz

Anthony Munoz played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1980 to 1992, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Munoz was picked for the Pro Bowl 11 times, and in 1990, he won the Walter Payton “Man of the Year” award.[21]

15. Deacon Jones

Decan Jones was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 for his performance with the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins. Over his career, Jones was an All-Pro selection five times and a Pro Bowl selection eight times.[22]

16. Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders enjoyed two nicknames during his career: “Prime Time” and “Neon Deion.” Sanders enjoys the distinction of playing in both a World Series and Super Bowl. Sanders admitted that he attempted suicide by car in 1997. He was selected for the Bro Bowl eight times.[23]

17. Otto Graham

Otto Graham became the first recruit for the All-America Football Conference, which was organized by Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns. Graham was a tailback, but he quickly mastered the T-formation to become a perfect quarterback. Graham led the team to four AAFC titles and a 52-4-3 record.[24]

18. John Elway

John Elway had an unusual rise to fame. After being drafted in major league baseball by the Kansas City Royals, he opted to attend Stanford on a football scholarship. Elway became the top draft pick in 1983 by the Baltimore Colts, but Elway threatened to play baseball unless he was traded. The Colts drafted him and traded him to the Broncos, where he enjoyed a stellar 16-year career.[25]

19. Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith excelled at the University of Florida by earning 58 school records before being a first-round pick for the Dallas Cowboys. As a running back, he became Rookie of the Year in 1990 and later captured four NFL titles for rushing. He later became a top football commentator.[26]

20. Dan Marino

Dan Marino was a devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but he became the quarterback of the Miami Dolphins after being a first-round draft pick. Showing tremendous loyalty, Marino led the Dolphins for 17 seasons. Marino set many passing records, but his best season was 1984 when he set NFL records for passing for 5,084 yards and scoring 48 touchdowns.[27]

21. Gale Sayers

Gale Sayers played only 68 games in six seasons from 1965 to 1971, but he gained 6,213 yards and set six records during his short career. Sayers was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first eligible year, 1977. He was also recognized by the NFL as the greatest running back of the first 50 years of league play.[28]

22. Sammy Baugh

Sammy Baugh injured a knee in baseball at Washington State University, so he switched his skills to football quarterback. The Hall of Famer played for Washington from 1937 to 1952 and later coached. He passed for 21,886 yards during his career and connected for 187 touchdowns.[29]

23. Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis spent his 17-year career as a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. During that time, he was named Defensive Player of the Year twice and won the Super Bowl MVP award. One of the interesting facts American football players: Ray Lewis was born Ray Jenkins, but he changed his name because he didn’t want to use the name of his absentee father.[30]

24. Randy Moss

Randy Moss set the record for scoring the most touchdown receptions in 2007 with 23 receptions while playing for the New England Patriots. The legendary wide receiver spent 7 years with the Minnesota Vikings, where he won the NFC Player of the Year award in 2003.[31]

25. Don Hutson

Don Hutson blazed a trail for many receivers. Huyson was an All-American twice while playing college football at Alabama, but he started out with a small baseball scholarship. He became a walk-on in football, but he grew in the sport to become one of the greatest players of all time. In 1934, college players were free agents who could sign with any team, and Green Bay Packers coach crashed a secret Alabama practice, where he was incredibly impressed with Hutson.[32]

26. Brett Favre

Brett Favre, after a great college career at the University of Southern Mississippi, was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and traded to the Green Bay Packers. Favre became the franchise’s legendary quarterback who earned a Super Bowl victory and multiple league MVP awards before retiring as the leader in passing yardage and touchdowns. [33]

27. Alan Page

Alan Page, who was the first defensive player to win the MVP award, became an associate justice in later years before ascending to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1993. He played for the University of Notre Dame between 1963 and 1967, and he was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, where he was named Rookie of the Year in 1967.[34]

28. Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith played at Virginia Tech and won the Outland Trophy as a senior, which recognizes the best lineman in collegiate football. Drafted by the Buffalo Bills, Smith made 15 sacks in his second season and recorded at least 10 sacks for 13 seasons.[35]

29. Jack Lambert

Jack Lambert captured the hearts of Pittsburgh Steelers fans as one of the original “golden era” players during the 1970s. His speech during his induction to the Hall of Fame mentioned that he would do it all again as a Steeler. Lambert was drafted during the strike of 1974 as an inside linebacker, but he took over as middle linebacker for an injured player, where he made history.[36]

30. John Hannah

John Hannah won some of the most impressive awards of any football player. He was awarded recognition 10 consecutive times between 1976 through 1985 as a member of the All-Pro team, but the greatest distinction Hannah received was being named to All-Decade teams for the 1970s and 1980s.[37]

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