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Heaton: Football History, from Ancient Greeks to Teddy Roosevelt

Football has always been a rough game. Ask the ancient Greeks.
Photo by Amelia Camurati

Football traces its roots back to Harpaston, a game played by the ancient Greeks. The rules of this ancient sport were quite simple: points were awarded when a player crossed a goal line with a ball.
The other team’s objective was simply to stop them by any means. Like today’s “kill the carrier” there were no specified number of players and few rules
Move time forward to 10th Century England, where great mobs of townsfolk would pit themselves against another village in a Harpaston-like “Mob Ball” contest. Not surprisingly, the local authorities and clergy frowned upon these games. By the 13th Century at least nine European monarchs banned Mob Ball – not because of destruction of property or declining church attendance – but because the games distracted from military training.
Football didn’t really begin to take on until 1700 when a more civilized type of mob football became a pastime at the seven major English prep schools. There were still few rules, but it was understood that carrying the ball was not allowed.
The Ole Miss defense is a force to be reckoned with this season. / Photo by Amelia Camurati
Football took off in the 1800s and players are still flying high.

The “carrying rule” broke forever in 1823 when William Webb Ellis of the Rugby School, picked up the ball during a match with Eton and ran in the winning goal. In the pandemonium afterwards, the new “Rugby style football” was born. The six other prep schools continued the kicking game which eventually became known as “association football” – or soccer.
By the mid-1800’s “Rugby’s Game” had crossed the Atlantic where it was known for a time as “The Boston Game”, since it was played by area prep schools on the Boston Common. These games were played by upper-classmen verses the Freshman from the same school – more of a hazing ritual than a sport.
The first inter-collegiate football game is generally regarded as being played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. In those games, there were 20 players to a team and football still more closely resembled rugby than modern football.
At the turn of the 20th Century, football rules were lax at best, and routinely ignored. Concern over the increasing brutality of the game led to its ban by several schools including Harvard and Morristown High. The New York Times actually compared football to lynching, as the “Two Curable Evils” in America.
Teddy loved football.

In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt interceded. He saw merit in the game, believing that it built character, leadership, and “vigorous men”. Ten of his Rough Riders actually gave their occupations as football players. President Roosevelt summoned representatives of Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House, leading to a committee which became known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA. From this committee came the legalization of the forward pass and the prohibition of mass formations, piling-on and locking of arms.
Today, football safety continues to evolve – better protective gear evolving with rules to encourage safe play. Sport will always have risks. With childhood obesity at 18 percent, we should all weigh carefully the inactivity risk of Xbox.


timheatonTim Heaton, BBA ’82, is from Southaven, Miss. Over a thirty year Wall Street career he has traded proprietary arbitrage for several major banks and hedge funds in New York, Chicago and London. Joining Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center in 2001, he luckily was late for work on the morning of 9/11. In the aftermath, Tim would design the automated market-making systems that enabled the firm to get back on-line. The technologies he developed have been awarded nineteen US Patents to date. Most recently his research and development have concentrated on leveraging big data and mobile technologies.

Tim is the proud father of Dr. Allison Pace of Shreveport, La. and two teenaged sons who reside with him and his wife Linda in Morristown, NJ. He is very active in volunteerism and donates his leadership and technical skills to several community and youth service organizations. Tim can be reached via email at tim.h.heaton@gmail.com.

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