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Did Canada Invent American Football?

© by WikemediaCommons

There were several memorable moments during Super Bowl LVII that are not only memorable but still fresh in our minds. The Kansas City Chiefs rallied to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35, and Rihanna performed in a red costume while showing off her growing baby bump during halftime.


Sports bettors near and far must have been on the edge of their seats, but you may be surprised to discover that it’s not only American bettors who are big fans of the Super Bowl. Sports betting in Ontario and beyond  is also big with the Super Bowl providing the perfect chance to bet on your favorite team. Surprisingly for some, the Super Bowl is supported not only by American fans and sports bettors, but also by Canadian ones. 

To understand this, you need to have watched some of the great commercials that played during the breaksone in particular actually. It was a one-minute Super Bowl commercial for Crown Royal whisky from Canada that attracted our attention for a few reasons; firstly, it included Foo Fighters founder and frontman Dave Grohl.

In the commercial, we see Grohl sitting at a recording studio and saying, “Today, let’s thank Canada.” He continued by naming a variety of popular cultural icons associated with the Great White North: peanut butter, the rock band Rush, batteries, “Schitt’s Creek” actors Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, and the ever-popular whoopie cushion.

When Grohl finished thanking Canada for inventing football, however, all eyes turned to him. Could this seemingly outlandish claim be true? Let’s find out. 

The history of contemporary American football has seen several changes. In 1869, American colleges started playing a game they dubbed “foot ball,” which was more similar to soccer than American football. In 1874, McGill University of Montreal brought its regulations for a variant of the game involving an oblong ball to the United States to play Harvard University (starting to make the connections here?).

Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman,  actually verified the claim with the Pro Football Hall of Fame before Crown Royal’s ad aired and confirmed it to be true. 

Making of American Football

The two traditional English sports most closely related to what we now term “football” are rugby and soccer (which gets its name from a shortening of “association football”). 

Princeton and Rutgers were the first universities to play a game of intercollegiate football, on November 6, 1869. The sport came about towards the end of the 19th century, among North American universities. 

However, the regulations for this game were based on those of the London Football Association and had little in common with those of current American football.

In the 1870s, other universities began playing a mix of rugby and soccer called “the Boston Game,” but Harvard University maintained its commitment to its original format.

Both McGill University in Montreal and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were interested in playing “Foot-ball” against each other, so they scheduled two games for 1874. It was decided to play two separate games in this match, one using Harvard’s regulations and the other using McGill’s.

On May 13 and 14, 1874, the two squads finally got together. When the game was first played, Harvard’s rules were employed, which called for 11 players on each team and a round ball that could be kicked or picked up and run with. McGill’s version, with 13 players and an oblong ball that could be kicked, thrown, or carried, was used for the second game.

Downs, tries (in the rugby sense; these became known as touchdowns) and tackling were all a part of the game. This McGill-Harvard game has been widely acknowledged to be a precursor of modern football.

On its website, McGill echoes this genesis tale, claiming that the two schools played “the very first modern football match” in Cambridge. The following year, the Harvard team played Yale using Canadian innovations (running with the ball, downs, and tackling), and, lo and behold, collegiate football was born in the United States.

However, other sports historians pointed out that the rules of the game changed throughout time and that different schools had distinct versions of the game.The fact that football is constantly changing and evolving is one of its defining features, and it’s a special and integral aspect of the game’s history.

And while Canadians might lay claim to the game’s inception, American Walter Camp had a significant impact on the sport as it is played today. Two major alterations to the game were implemented after he assumed leadership of the Intercollegiate Football Association’s rules board. It eliminated the first “scrummage,” which was similar to rugby, and instituted the rule that a team must punt if it cannot advance the ball a set number of yards in a set number of “downs.”

The quarterback position, the line of scrimmage, and the present scoring system are all things that can be traced back to Camp.

The development of American football absolutely has significant influence from Canada, but there are also some noticeable differences. Yes, there are shared roots in rugby. Football’s regulations have changed over the years as numerous international versions of the game have been played.