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How Football Was Saved

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It’s a little known fact that the game of football which is loved, viewed and played by millions of people today may not have survived if not for the efforts of President Theodore Roosevelt more than one hundred years ago.

During the early days of football in this country things were very different than they are today. The game at that time was far more brutal and dangerous for those who stepped onto the gridiron than it is for those who wear the bright colored football jerseys of today. While it remains a concern that there are still far too many concussions associated with football in this day and age, it is relatively minor compared to the injuries and deaths that occurred in the early l900’s. In the year l905, eighteen young men died as a result of injuries sustained on a football field. The public outcry became so intense that many of the colleges that sponsored football (Harvard, Columbia, Northwestern and Stanford) opted to discontinue the sport.

That is where President Teddy Roosevelt stepped in. In his opinion the game of football provided excellent training for the development of “vigorous” young men and should not be scrapped. Realizing, however, that changes would have to be made in order for the game to survive, he summoned the football coaches from Harvard and Princeton along with football founder, Walter Camp to a meeting held at the White House. He reiterated that the game was under fire and that solutions must be found if the game were to survive.

The result of that meeting included changes that made the game of football far safer and less “rugby-like” than what was currently being played. Injuries dropped dramatically with rule changes such as the creation of a neutral zone at the line of scrimmage and longer distances between downs. Perhaps the most important change, however, was the sanctioning of the forward pass which essentially changed the game forever.

Most people who sit in the stands cheering their favorite NFL team today or who are avidly watching the action on their television screens at home have no idea that if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of President Teddy Roosevelt, the great game of football may not have survived.