American Football Stadium
American Football Stadium Photo by Pxhere / Public Domain

History of American Football

To trace the early history of the game now called American football, we need to move in time to the initial version of football and rugby. Both collective games originated from Britain in the middle of the 19th century.

American football developed as a sport of its own thanks to Yale University graduate Walter Camp who is considered as the “Father of American Football”. He brought several major different rules to the game: blocking, line of scrimmage, tackling below the waist or down-and-distance. The field size was also reduced.

What was, at first, a college game became a professional sport after William Heffelfinger was paid 500 USD for his participation in the game. That led to establishing the American Professional Football Association in 1920. The league changed later its name to the National Football League – NFL – and a new era was born.

The sport became the most popular in the United States leaving behind baseball, basketball and ice hockey. There are 32 teams participating in the National Football League; the season is 17 weeks long and ends with the infamous Super Bowl – the most popular and watched sports event in the USA.

International NFL players

Foreign footballers were already playing in the NFL during the founding season in 1920. German brothers Phil and John Nesser, Bob Nash from Ireland and Canadian Tommy Hughitt, to name just a few, were all members of the league. Canada has definitely been the most represented foreign country in the league, followed by Germany and Jamaica.

Interestingly, two out of the three highest total scores in the history of the league were made by international players: Gary Anderson from South Africa and a Danish player, Morten Andersen. Anderson played for an unbelievable 25 years and retired in 2004 with the NFL’s all-time leading score of 2,434 points.

American Footballers in Action
American Footballers in Action
Photo by Pxhere / Public Domain

African players are in demand

The incredible popularity of African footballers is rapidly increasing. The very first African native born footballer was Howard Simon Mwikuta from Zambia who was celebrated in 1970 for scoring the final points of a 20-10 Dallas Cowboys victory. Suddenly belonging to the famous NFL family was no longer just a dream of American players.

For decades now drafters are well aware of the fantastic talent of African footballers, and they are eager to help them to fulfil their “American football dream”.

Nowadays, we can see the enormous success of Ghanaian defensive player Ezekiel Nana Ansah, aka Ziggy, as an example. Ansah was born in 1989 in Accra, he grew up playing soccer and was a big basketball fan as well. His football career started at Brigham Young University, where he was introduced to the game in 2010. In total, he appeared in 31 college games.

His professional path started with the Detroit Lions, which Ziggy joined in 2013. He was scouted to be a first-round draft selection, and was ranked the top defensive end and seventh best player.

Ziggy Ansah continues to play for the Detroit Lions and is one of the league’s most explosive defence players. The 6ft 6in tall athlete was the author of 12.5 sacks in the season of 2017, and he raised the defensive numbers of the Lions. If it wasn’t for him, the team could have been doing worse. It’s no wonder that Detroit put the franchise tag on him.

Another African star is Tamba Boimah Hali, who was born in 1983 in Liberia. Hali arrived to the United States at the age of 10. When attending high school in New Jersey, he played for the high school team and was named an All-American, which refers to a hypothetical American sports team compiled of extraordinary amateur players.

Tamba received an athletic scholarship to study at the Pennsylvania State University, where he was presented with the Robert B. Mitinger Award given to those students who best personify courage, social responsibility and character. He was also named the most valuable defensive player of the 2006 Senior Bowl. Since then, he has excelled playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.

American Football outside of the United States

Even though the game has been played outside of the United States of America since 1920s, and there are 45 American Football associations worldwide at present, it still hasn’t been accepted as an Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee. This remains the ultimate goal for the American football.

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