FOOTBALL, 1917 STYLE

In the early 1800’s, a running and kicking ball game originated in the English schools of Rugby, Eton, and Harrow. As the article in the 1917 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia noted, ”The boys’ playground at Rugby was large, and there was plenty of room for running and tackling.” A game emerged called rugby that soon was brought to the United States. Shortly after 1830, several colleges in the eastern United States began playing a sport called American Rugby. In1869, the first intercollegiate game took place, between Princeton and Rutgers. Eventually, the name of the game changed from American Rugby to football, becoming what the 1917 World Book called “…next to baseball the most popular athletic game in the world.”

The 1917 World Book article describes football’s early history and development. Readers today may be surprised to learn that football in the 21st century remains largely unchanged from the sport World Book described 100 years ago. As the article explains, “Weight, physical fitness and endurance are prime requisites in players, but quick thinking is vitally necessary.” That was true in 1917 and it is true today.
The 1917 article also includes several illustrations that capture the flavor of the game in those days. Black-and-white engravings illustrate basic equipment—a leather helmet, trousers, and a small, odd-looking protective piece that served as a nose guard. A detailed diagram shows that a football field’s dimensions and markings have changed little in 100 years.
In 1917, organized football was limited to several colleges, primarily in the East and Midwest. Rivalries were intense, with Harvard and Yale universities' teams regularly playing each other in front of crowds that could reach 40,000 at the Harvard Stadium and more than 70,000 at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut.
What the 1917 article’s author could not foresee was the future spread of football in high schools and the rise of professional football across the United States. Nobody 100 years ago anticipated that a then-nonexistent form of communication called television would explode the popularity of football, with millions of fans watching games every week. For information on today’s game, the reader can confidently consult the 2017 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia.



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