Last week I experienced a rugby game (Leeds Rhinos v. Hull Kingston Rovers) for the first time in my life and instantly fell in love with the sport. I found the history of rugby to be very intriguing. According to the Encyclopedia of Rugby Union, William Webb Ellis, “with fine disregard for the rules of football (American soccer) as played in his time at rugby school,” first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game in 1823. With this in mind, many people believe this is how the game of rugby started, but no one actually knows if the traditional story of how rugby began is true. It does make sense if you think about it, but I still continue to wonder like many others.
Considering that rugby is so much like American football, I began to wonder when the National Football League (NFL) was formed. American football has a historical link with rugby, and at first glance, it looks vaguely like it. American football is played with a precision and skill not often seen, for instance, on a rugby field.
According to Viney and Grant, authors of “An Illustrated History of Ball Games,” the NFL was founded in 1920 and formed in 1922. Like rugby, it had two codes before 1970. And in 1895, rugby had split into two codes over the issue of payment and continued to maintain throughout most of the twentieth century that players should not make a profit from their play, according to Martha Polley, author of “Moving the Goalposts: A History of Sport and Society.”
Similarly, the NFL two codes consisted of the National Football League and the American Football League. In the 1960s, rising costs and competition from the increasingly popular pro American game caused problems, which led to the 1970 merger, according to Viney and Grant. The two codes merged to make the National Football League separate into two conferences: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC), with eight divisions, as we know it today. This blew my mind and I thought maybe I should be a history major. This was something I never thought about before I came to England, but “what starts here changes the world,” right?
Nevertheless, it was GREAT to discover this correlation and be able to compare it to the game of rugby. In fact, since the nineteenth century rugby has thrived and spread so that the game is now played in at least 100 countries worldwide. And new competitions and developments continue to take place. In the past 170 or so years, rugby has changed from the pastime of a few English schoolboys to a sophisticated internal sport played and followed by millions, according to Sommerville.