While the game of football was influenced by rugby, its actual roots can be traced much farther back to the days of the ancient Greeks. A game called harpaston that was placed by the Greeks has elements that are used in modern day football, such as scoring by kicking the ball or running it across a goal line.
American Football Origins
Modern day football began to take shape in the early 19th century in England. Many schools were playing an early version of soccer, while the Rugby School was playing a game that was the front-runner of rugby. By the 1830s, running with the ball was allowed in the Rugby School's game and other English schools joined in the game, choosing to name it after the school it was invented by.
College Football Origins
Modern football was heavily influenced by the college game, which began on Nov. 6, 1869, in a game between Rutgers and Princeton. Although the game was played with a soccer-style ball, it did began the framework of today's football. Other colleges picked up on the game and by 1875 the round ball was replaced by a leather-covered rugby ball and goalposts were added the following year.
In 1880, Walter Camp, a former Yale football player, instituted many changes to the game that are still in place today, such as 11 players per side and a line of scrimmage. Camp's changes to the rules of the game played a large part in the sport's growing popularity. In 1875 there were just six college teams, a number which grew to nearly 250 by 1900.
With the expanding popularity of college football, it didn't take long for professional football to make its debut. The first professional game was played in Pennsylvania in 1895. The first professional league, the American Professional Football Association, was established in 1920, but changed its name to the National Football League in 1922.
The National Football League still trailed the college game in popularity but was helped greatly by the appearance of Red Grange, who was well-known to football fans from his days as a member of the University of Illinois. Using Grange as the marquee attraction, his Chicago Bears traveled throughout the U.S. in 1925 and 1926, playing in front of large crowds. Grange's success led to more college stars joining the league, which led to increased attendance and profitability.