American football quarterback Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals playing during Super Bowl LVI
Joe Burrow playing during Super Bowl LVI | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Football, referred to as American football outside the United States and Canada so it’s not confused with soccer, is the most popular sport in the U.S. With youth leagues played at all school levels around the country, the most well-known iterations of football are the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) division of college football, and professional football played through the NFL (National Football League), which leads to the world-famous Super Bowl, which is annually one of the most-watched sporting events around the world.

Football evolved from rugby and soccer, where two teams on opposing sides of a field battle for control of a ball, and the ball needs to be kicked or run through the opponent’s goal. Most scholars consider the first American football game an 1869 match between college teams from Rutgers and Princeton. However, at this point in the sport’s history, the rules were very different, with 20 players for each team on the field at once and a round ball being used that could be kicked but not carried.

American football entered its professional era in 1892 when Pudge Heffelfinger was paid to participate in a Pittsburgh Athletic Club match. In 1920, the NFL was founded and later absorbed its AFL (American Football League) rival in 1970. Other rival leagues have popped up over the years, including the WFL (World Football League), USFL (United States Football League), and UFL (United Football League), but have folded under the dominance of the NFL.


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