Who Was Walter Camp?

Walter Camp is known as the “father of modern football.” Read about his life: his early years and education, his time as a player and coach, and his lasting legacy.

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Walter Camp’s Family Background

Walter Camp: Player and Coach

Walter Camp’s All-American Football Team

Walter Camp’s Death and Posthumous Awards

Walter Camp’s Family Background

Walter Camp was born in Connecticut in 1859. His family was originally from England. He was the descendant of one of the first settlers of New England, English colonist Nicholas Camp.1 Nicholas Camp came to America in 1630 and landed in Massachusetts before soon resettling in Connecticut.1

More than 200 years later, Nicholas Camp’s descendant, Walter Camp, grew up around New Haven, Connecticut. He attended Yale University as an undergraduate student, as well as a medical student, from 1876-1881 (though Walter Camp would drop out of medical school).2 Walter Camp was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity at Yale, as well as the Linonian Society and Skull and Bones.6

Walter Camp’s family owned the New Haven Clock Company, the world’s largest clockmaker at the time of Camp’s birth.4 Camp would end up leaving medical school at Yale to work in the family business.

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Walter Camp: Player and Coach

At Yale, Walter Camp played halfback on the football team and was later named team captain.2 Camp would go on to serve as the head coach at Yale from 1888-1892 while continuing to work in the family business.4 Camp posted a record of 67-2 during those years at Yale.2 Camp would also coach at Stanford for a few years in the early 1890s.

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Walter Camp’s All-American Football Team

Starting in 1889, Walter Camp and Caspar Whitney began working together to choose the “All-America” football team every year.2 Starting in 1898 and lasting until 1924, the All-American team was published under Camp’s name alone. The selection of the Walter Camp All-American team continues to this day.

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Walter Camp’s Death and Posthumous Awards

Walter Camp died in 1925 at the age of 65. It is reported that Camp died from heart disease and overexertion.7 He passed away in New York, NY. In 1951, Walter Camp was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a member of its first class.2 Walter Camp is known as the father of modern American football.

Read more about the innovations to American football that Walter Camp made here!

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Did Walter Camp Really Invent Football?

Walter Camp is recognized as the “father of modern football.” Read about the rules he invented that laid the foundation for modern football as we know and love it today.

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Read about the life of Walter Camp here

Walter Camp is recognized as the father of modern football.

But he isn’t the sole inventor of the sport. In fact, the first football game ever played took place when Walter Camp was just 10 years old. But Camp developed several of the foundational rules to modern American football.

Before Camp, American football more closely resembled soccer and rugby. In the first football game ever played in 1869, teams were made up of 25 players—not the 11 of today’s football—and the objective was to kick the ball into the opposing team’s goal. The ball was spherical like a soccer ball. And players were not allowed to pick up the ball and carry it—let alone throw it. The ball could only be advanced by kicking it.

Walter Camp is known as the “father of modern football” for writing down many of the rules that led to the evolution of gridiron football as we know and love it today: the system of downs, the quarterback position, the 11-man team, and many more.

The Rules that Walter Camp Invented: American Football

Camp played college football at a time of great change in the sport. Colleges in the northeast began to adopt the rules of the “Boston game” for American football. The “Boston game” called for 11-man teams, allowing the option to run the ball to advance it, allowing defenses to tackle the ball-carrier, and non-continuous play where the game was stopped when the ball-carrier was tackled.

A rules-making committee was created in Camp’s freshman year at Yale called the Intercollegiate Football Association; it was a governing body made up of college athletics directors and various school representatives in the northeast.4 Representatives from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia met at the Massasoit House in Springfield, Massachusetts, with the goal of making the rules of American football more aligned with rugby rather than soccer.4 One of its first acts was to make the “touchdown” the primary method of scoring in football, moving away from a kicked goal.5

Walter Camp became a member of the Intercollegiate Football Association. Over the course of 15 years, and numerous meetings at the Massasoit House, Camp proposed and passed many of the rules that began the modern evolution of American Football.4

In Walter Camp’s senior year at Yale, he passed a rule through the Intercollegiate Football Association codifying the 11-man team, a staple of the Boston game.4 He also invented the line of scrimmage in his senior year.4 The line of scrimmage guaranteed the offense the ball after the ball-carrier was tackled, and formalized non-continuous play. Until that point, when the ball-carrier was stopped, a rugby-like scrum would take place where either team could gain possession of the ball.

Camp was further influential in defining the size of the football field: 120 yards by 531/3 yards—the same dimensions used to this day.5

After that, he invented the system of downs in 1882.4 The original system of downs called for the offense to gain 5 yards over 3 tries—or else give the ball up; the rule change by Camp came as a result of a scoreless game between Yale and Princeton that year.4 Camp’s hope was that this rule change would lead to more scoring, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.

In 1883, Camp passed the rules for the amount of points for a touchdown, point-after, field goal, and safety.2 Camp’s scoring method, which has been changed since, was:

  • 5 points for field goals,
  • 4 points for touchdowns,
  • 2 points for safeties,
  • 2 points for the point-after kick.5

The safety is the only score that has not evolved since Camp’s definition of the points.

Camp also legalized the concept of blocking (called “interference”). Blocking was a novel concept that was highly illegal in rugby, and made American football even more distinct from European styles of rugby and soccer.5

All the Rules That Walter Camp Formally Created

  • The 11-man team
  • The line of scrimmage
  • The concept of downs (down-and-distance)
  • The position of quarterback
  • The role of the offensive signal caller
  • Blocking (legalizing what they called “interference”)
  • The points totals for: touchdowns, field goals, safeties, point-after attempts
  • The snap from center 6

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Walter Camp also standardized the arrangement of players on offense: 7 players at the line of scrimmage, and 4 players in the backfield. This same arrangement exists in modern football. 7 offensive players must be on the line of scrimmage, or else an illegal formation penalty is called.

Walter Camp’s Contributions to Football

While Walter Camp didn’t solely invent the sport of American football, he is known as the “father of modern football” thanks to the profound impact he made on the sport’s evolution. It is possible that no other person is as responsible for modern football as Walter Camp. Many of the rules he created and passed live on to this day. Camp’s rules distinguished American football as wholly unique from soccer and rugby—and laid the foundation for the game we love today.

Read more about the life of Walter Camp here!

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The First Football Game

The first football game was played in 1869 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. But the rules of the game back then would be unrecognizable today. Learn more about the origins of the sport we know and love.

When was the first football game played?

The first football game was played on November 6, 1869, between Rutgers and Princeton (then known as the College of New Jersey). Rutgers beat Princeton by a score of 6 to 4 in the first of two games that year between the schools. The game was played at Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

What were the rules of the first football game?

The first football game was played with rules that would be unrecognizable compared to modern day American football. The rules of the first football game more closely resembled the rules of soccer and rugby. Each team had 25 players and neither team was allowed to throw or carry the ball. Teams could only advance the ball by kicking it. The game was played with a round ball, like a soccer ball, and the objective was to kick the ball into the opponent’s goal.

Gameplay was broken down into ten “games,” where the game ended when one of the teams scored. Rutgers beating Princeton 6 to 4 means Rutgers won 6 of the 10 games.

Harvard vs Tufts 1875

While Rutgers vs Princeton is widely recognized as the first football game, it was played under rules that hardly resemble modern American football. This has caused some controversy and other claims to the mantle of the “first football game.”

The most credible claim is Harvard vs Tufts in June of 1875. The key differences between the 1869 Rutgers vs Princeton game and the 1875 Harvard vs Tufts game are that the 1875 game included foundational elements of modern day football that weren’t present at Rutgers in 1869:

  • 11 players on each team
  • Running the ball to advance it (though, kicking the ball to advance it was still allowed)
  • Non-continuous play—where tackling the ball-carrier stopped play

Impact of the first football game

Despite various claims, both the 1869 Rutgers vs New Jersey game, and the 1875 Harvard vs Tufts game, have had lasting impacts on modern American football. Rutgers and Princeton kicked off the inaugural college football season, and the Harvard and Tufts game introduced elements that became staples of modern gridiron football.

Football began as a physical blend between soccer and rugby in New Jersey in 1869. In Boston in 1875 the ability to pick up the ball and run was adopted. Over the next two decades, Walter Camp would write many of the formal rules of football, including inventing the line of scrimmage, the system of downs, the quarterback position, and much more.

Eventually, in 1906, the forward pass was legalized—the most influential rule change in the history of sports. While the first football game hardly resembled modern football, it sparked the evolution of the sport into what it has become today.

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The First Super Bowl

The first Super Bowl was played in 1967 between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers defeated the Chiefs 35-10.

When did the Super Bowl Start?

The first Super Bowl was played on January 15, 1967. But it wasn’t called the “Super Bowl” at the time. The game was called the “AFL-NFL World Championship.” The owner of the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL proposed calling the game the “Super Bowl.” However, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle didn’t like the name. Commissioner Rozelle instead proposed that the game be called “The Pro Bowl” or “The Big One.” The two leagues, AFL and NFL, finally decided on naming it the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”

But the name never caught on. Informally, members of the press and the public referred to the game the way that Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt suggested: as “the Super Bowl.”

Super Bowl I

Super Bowl I was a championship game between the AFL champion and the NFL champion. In 1966 there were two major professional football leagues in the United States: the AFL and NFL. There was an intensifying rivalry between the two leagues, made worse by AFL and NFL teams signing players away from each other.

In 1966, the two leagues agreed to a merger. It set up plans for the AFL to merge into the NFL after the 1969 season. It established a common draft of college football players between the two leagues. And, most significantly, it created the AFL-NFL World Championship Game—which would later become known as the Super Bowl.

Who played in the first Super Bowl?

The winner of the AFL, the Kansas City Chiefs (11-2-1), played the winner of the NFL, the Green Bay Packers (12-2), in the first Super Bowl. Because the AFL was newer and the NFL was more established, many people viewed the NFL as the better of the two leagues. However, the game was more competitive than most expected.

Where was the first Super Bowl?

Super Bowl I was played at the Los Angeles Coliseum in southern California. The stadium was a third empty that day, making the first Super Bowl the sole game in the series that was not sold out. Every Super Bowl since has achieved that feat.

Who won the first Super Bowl?

The Green Bay Packers won the first Super Bowl. The Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35 to 10. The game was close at halftime, however, with Green Bay leading just 14-10. The Packers would then score 21 points unanswered in the second half to win Super Bowl I.

The Packers outgained the Chiefs 361 yards to 239 yards. The Packers picked up more first downs (21 to 17) and converted far more third downs (73% to 23%) than the Chiefs.

The game was a crowning moment for Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. The trophy for the Super Bowl was later renamed after him. Following his death in 1970, the trophy was branded as the “Vince Lombardi Trophy,” the name it has to this day.

MVP of Super Bowl I

Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr won the MVP award for Super Bowl I. Bart Starr completed 69.5% of his throws for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. He threw one interception.

What was the AFL?

The AFL was a professional football league in the United States that was founded in 1959. The AFL played its first season in 1960. It began with 8 teams but grew to 10 teams by the time it merged with the NFL in 1970.

The 10 teams from the AFL that would go on to join the NFL were the:

  • Kansas City Chiefs (formerly the “Dallas Texans”)
  • Denver Broncos
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Boston Patriots (now the “New England” Patriots)
  • Houston Oilers (now the “Tennessee Titans”)
  • Miami Dolphins
  • New York Jets
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Los Angeles Chargers
  • Oakland Raiders (now the “Las Vegas” Raiders)