Walter Camp - The Father of American Football
|Walter Camp as football team captain at Yale, 1878.||
The early years of college football were only loosely organized, based on the first game matching Princeton and Rutgers in 1869. Very little was known about how to run a game, with a divergence of the number of players on a side and a change in the length of the field making for a confusing set of rules. One of the formative games was played between Harvard and Canada's McGill University. The Canadians interpreted the game as an offshoot of rugby, an English sport, and Harvard saw the game as similar to soccer football. So the half of their historic meeting was divided between rugby and soccer. Soon after that game in 1872, Harvard developed a rivalry with Yale and Princeton, with the three teams emerging as the powerhouses of the game.
Walter Camp, born in New Britain, CT, enrolled at Yale in 1876. There were virtually no professional coaches at the time, and Camp as captain became the symbol of Yale football. The Yale student took time out from his medical school studies to write many articles and eventually 30 books about the new sport of football.
By 1889 he originated the first All-american team, assigning super star status to Yalies William (Pudge) Heffelfinger, Charles O. Gill, Amos Alonzo Stagg, William Rhodes and H. McBride, plus Arthur Cuanock, John S, Cranston and James T. Lee of Harvard and Hector Cowan, William J. George and Edgar Allen Poe, Roscoe Channing Jr.. Knowlton Ames, plus two subs named Donnelly Janeway and Black from Princeton filled out the team.
Camp's expertise on football was recognized early, and he was appointed to the rules committee, where he ruled almost like a monarch for the next half century. The elder statesman of the sport was steadfast against legalizing the forward pass, a favorite new rule proposed by Georgia Tech coach John W. Heisman and supported by Stagg, the long time coach at University of Chicago. Meanwhile, the game had taken on some controversial nuances, such as the massed plays of the 1890s, and to prevent outlawing the sport other top figures lobbied President Teddy Roosevelt to intervene in what had been Camp's near-private domain, rules making football safer for the players. In a White House meeting, he urged that rules detrimental to the health of college students be changed. That resulted in legalizing the forward pass, which completed a transition to the modern game.
Meanwhile, Camp's image as a father figure in college football lived on to beyond his death in 1925. His many contributions to football are still being enjoyed by players, coaches and fans today. He had lived to deserve the title given him early in his career by sportswriter Casper Whitley, "father of American football."
Photo from Wikipedia.org