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American Culture 101: Why Is Football so Popular?

The United States is known for a number of different attributes: freedom, independence, and others. However, it’s very hard to talk about this illustrious country without mentioning its sports leagues and the widespread fandom that goes along with rooting for these teams. 


America boasts the most prestigious professional basketball (National Basketball Association), baseball (Major League Baseball), and hockey (National Hockey League) leagues in the entire world, but these aren’t even putting the number one sport into consideration. 


Unanimously across the nation, football is seen as the most superior sport to them all. Not only does the United States possess the National Football League (NFL), but also has a professional-type following to collegiate football as well, with the most impressive youth programs for the sport that can be found in the entire world. 


You must be wondering to yourself: why is football so immensely popular in the United States? There’s a multitude of reasons for this, and if you’re interested in finding out why, read more below.

 

The History of Football

The sport of gridiron football was loosely derived from the two English sports: rugby and soccer, with aspects from both incorporated into the American version of “football” as it’s still currently known today in Europe and other parts of the world. 


The first collegiate game took place between Yale and Rutgers in 1869. Other colleges during the 1870s began incorporating this new sport into their athletic programs and garnering attention for their top athletes to try out for those respective teams. 


It wasn’t until Yale graduate and former half-back Walter Comp developed the first Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) guidelines that the sport completely separated itself from the two historical British counterparts. Comp was responsible for developing the positional rules that are still in place today: the 11 man team consisting of Quarterback, line-of-scrimmage, points system, and play calling schematics. He also changed the “scrum” aspect that derived from rugby into a “set of downs,” marking a specific distance on the field that a team had to cover in four plays before turning the ball over to the other team. This is one of the key differences football has from rugby, as there’s an aspect of pause whenever a ball carrier is brought down to the ground.


Fast-forwarding to 1920, the American Professional Football Association (later becoming the NFL) was founded in Canton, OH and eventually merged with the American Football League circa 1970. Today, it is by far the most popular American sport.

 

Football Is a True Team Sport

Football classifies as a team sport, meaning that there is no individual accomplishment that can brand you with any record. Every amount of success won in football relies on your teammates. This aspect of football is even further embellished due to the violent nature of the game that especially links fans to the teams that they root for and “would die for.” 


Similar to the country that founded football, its hard-nosed gameplay creates an electric viewing experience, as each team is literally fighting their way down the field each possession to try to score while opposing teams are doing the exact opposite to prevent that from happening. 


This creates spectacular juke moves and world-class athleticism to avoid defenders, as well as monstrous hits and tackles that can change the momentum of games with a single play at any given moment. 


Fans will do anything for their franchises and players alike, which creates a sense of unity amongst them. Despite the bitter rivalries that exist though, there is an overwhelming coalition prior to every kickoff when the National Anthem is sung before the teams battle one another.

 

Fairweather Fandom

Although many sports fans follow the sports that they love religiously, memorizing the players’ names, the schedule, the history of their franchises, etc. is special to football. No other sport really gathers the attention of casual fans as well as football does. This means rather than just appealing to those “die-hard fans” (people who will watch every single football game that could possibly be viewed), football also markets itself brilliantly to people who want to watch it every once in a while.

 

Schedule

One of the ways football keeps its audience engaged so thoroughly through the season is their shorter schedule length. Unlike any of the other major team sports across the world, football has a significantly shorter schedule than the rest. The NFL regular season only lasts for 17 games, as opposed to the MLB (162 games), the NBA (82 games), or the NHL (82 games). 


College football seasons are even shorter than the NFL, lasting only around 12 to 13 games per regular season. You might think that this would drive the hardcore fans away from a sport that only has a limited number of games per season compared to other sports; however, it does the polar opposite. 


Football games are only played once per week during the fall season and barring outlier Primetime games, they’re all played on the weekends. This creates a block of time for every Saturday-Sunday from the early days of September all the way to the middle of February where football dominates the TV weekend scheduling here in America. 


The convenience of having most of the games on weekends allows for people to watch without being distracted by many of the other normal things in life. Football Saturdays and Sundays are seen as relaxation time that you can willingly reserve in advance once per week.


Since there are so few games, each regular-season game feels like a playoff atmosphere, whether you’re at the stadium or sitting on your couch tuning in. For example, if a powerhouse team loses three games to begin the baseball season, it’s not a big deal whatsoever because their schedule is built like a marathon. 


On the other hand, if a football team (collegiate or professional) loses its first three games, each game from that point forward becomes a “do or die” scenario where it seems like a championship atmosphere every time those teams take the field.


Once the playoffs actually begin, there are no series-styled formats. The winner of each game advances and the loser “goes home” (ends their season). This creates an emotional roller-coaster for fans and teams who participate in these games, as football really possesses the mentality that “anything can happen.” 

No matter how overmatched certain teams can appear on paper or prior to kickoff, football can produce some of the craziest outcomes in sports and that’s why people love it.

 

Tailgating

One of the greatest American traditions to ever be created is hand-in-hand paired with the sport of football: tailgating. This event occurs prior to every game, usually in the early mornings of noon or 1 o’clock kickoffs, but can also happen later in the evening as well. 


The only necessity for tailgating to occur is the scheduling of a football game. Fans will park their cars outside the stadium in most cases and set up grill-styled atmospheres riddled with delicious stadium-styled foods, music, snacks, drinks, and the most important quality: other fans. 


This is one of the most electrifying places to be if you’re a massive or casual football fan, as you can hang out with your friends and then simply walk into the stadium when the game is about to begin.

 

Fantasy Football

This only pertains to the NFL, but another aspect that does a tremendous marketing job of keeping Americans glued to their TVs on Sundays is the affiliate known as Fantasy Football. 


Every year, friends get together and usually put forth some amount of cash to compete head-to-head each week against each other with fictional NFL teams they drafted themselves. Depending on how their players perform on Sundays, they can win their matchups week-to-week as well. 


This mostly computerized hobby has been going on for ages now, and it’s a tremendous way for newly exposed fans to keep up with the stars of today’s game, as you don’t necessarily need to choose a specific NFL team to root for every week. Whoever is on your fantasy football team can often determine the football games you wish to watch each and every week.

 

It’s the Greatest Sport for a Reason

All in all, American football is the most popular sport in the United States by somewhat of a wide margin. This physical team sport combined aspects of European football and rugby to create one of the most incredible games of all time. Not only is this sport popular amongst the devout fans who circulate the NFL and collegiate schedules every week, but it’s immensely well known by casual fans who choose to embrace football less occasionally. 


The connecting aspects such as tailgating, Fantasy football, and smaller schedule length do a terrific job of marketing the sport of football to those who don’t want to consume it every day of their lives. 


Its dramatic nature and team comradery create spectacular highlight plays that are extremely enjoyable to watch and it does an incredible job of unifying those who participate in following it. Football is still a growing game and will be around for the rest of American time.


Football is an American pastime as iconic as the American flag. At Allegiance Flag Supply, we love all things made in America, which is why all of our flags and flagpoles are made here in the United States.

 

Sources: 

 

What makes American football so popular? | Sports Keeda

Who Invented Football? | HISTORY

Tailgating: The History | American Heritage