49 Interesting Facts About American Football

Last updated on September 28th, 2020

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.

Lucas Oil Stadium - Indianapolis Colts
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]

A sketch of Pittsburgh Steelers Devin Bush.
A sketch of Pittsburgh Steelers Devin Bush. Image credit – Jack Kurzenknabe

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]

facts about American football
Interesting facts about American football.

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]

Jets run blocking.
Jets run blocking. Bills-Jets game, MetLife Stadium, 9 September 2012. Interesting facts about American football. Image credit – Alan Kotok

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]

Black Lions U16 014
Black Lions U16 014. Interesting facts about football. Image credit – Johann Schwarz

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]

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