American football, known in North America simply as football, and elsewhere as American football, gridiron or tackle football, is a team sport, derived from rugby football, between two teams of 11 players each, with one team playing on offense and the other on defense. It is known for its very physical style of play, as well as for strategies involved in game decisions. The objective of the game is to score points by advancing the ball into the opposing team's end zone. The ball can be advanced by carrying it (a running play) or by throwing it to a teammate (a passing play). Points can be scored in a variety of ways, including carrying the ball over the opponent's goal line, catching a pass thrown over that goal line, kicking the ball through the goal posts at the opponent's end zone, or tackling an opposing ball carrier within his end zone. The winner is the team with the most points when the time expires.
The sport currently is played primarily within North America, Mexico, Hawaii and Oceania, on professional, semi-professional and amateur levels.
American football's origins come from forms of rugby and played in the U.S. as early as the 1840s. The first collegiate game is considered to have been played in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton universities. The game split from rugby in several ways, most notably rules changes instituted by Walter Camp (including the introduction of the line of scrimmage and down-and-distance rules). Coaches in the 19th and early 20th centuries pioneered developments that took advantage of the forward pass.
The professional game began in 1892; what would become the National Football League (NFL) began in 1920. Its merger with the American Football League (AFL) in 1966 helped build the NFL's popularity and position in American culture.
The collegiate game was the dominant version of the sport for much of the 20th century; nationally, it remained dominant in parts of the U.S. up through Doomsday, but the professional game (the NFL) was more dominant overall throughout the country in the 1970s and early 1980s.
By 1983, the NFL had become immensely popular in the United States and also in Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. There had been preliminary talk about expanding the game overseas, initially into Europe and Japan. Intercollegiate and high school football also had become very popular in most of the U.S.
The first resumption of American football came, of all places, in the south Pacific.
In 1985, coaches and entrepreneurs in American Samoa decided to resume play on the high school level, and look to establish some type of professional league in the region. Over the next few years Samoans built contacts with businessmen in Australia, leading to the establishment of the American Football League in the fall of 1991 with six franchises in Australia, New Zealand and American Samoa.
American football came to a complete stop in North America in the early years post-Doomsday, as people struggled to survive, and establish workable communities. Once various areas of the former U.S. stablized socially and economically, people began to think once again about sports. There are reports of high school and amateur contests being played as early as 1987, in Saskatchewan.
The West Texas Interscholastic League is considered to be the first organized league in North America at any level to begin play post-Doomsday, when Odessa High School played at Midland High School on Saturday, Sept. 9, 1988.
High schools in all other known North America nations re-established competition throughout the early 1990s.
The highest-level professional league is considered to be the American Football League (AFL), which has franchises throughout Oceania and is considered by most followers of the sport to be the successor to the U.S.'s NFL. The league is not as generally popular in Oceania as Australian rules football, the two rugby codes or even association football, but is the most popular amongst former Americans living in the region and in eastern Samoa. The sport has emerged as an important part of the American identity among the US-descended community in Australia and New Zealand; following the pro teams and playing it as an amateur are easy ways to continue to identify oneself as American. It has enough popularity amongst younger Oceanianans to be considered a niche sport that will last long-term.
Some observers believe the sport's future is in North America, however, and are encouraged by the growth of the game there in the first decade of the 21st century.
Semi-professional leagues in Mexico, the North American Union and West Texas and the professional leagues in Canada (Canadian Football League, CFL) and Superior (RS-National Football League, RSNFL) are considered to be the 'second tier' of American football.
The Green Bay Packers, which was founded in 1919 and was the third-oldest franchise in the old NFL, was restarted in 2000 as an expansion franchise of the RSNFL. In keeping with its origins as a community-owned franchise, the Packers are owned mainly by the Green Bay municipal government, although private investors control a minority of the team. Government funding allowed for the full restoration of Lambeau Field, which hosts the RSNFL Championship Game each season and is considered one of the best stadiums in North America.
Other known stadiums in North America used for American football include Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin; Memorial Stadium in the Republic of Lincoln; Taylor Field in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and Robert Stowe Stadium in Stowe, Superior.
A few enthusiasts in North America also are mindful of resuming collegiate football. This idea is promoted most heavily at Brigham Young University in Deseret. BYU had one of the better football programs in the western United States and has floated the idea of resuming the sport with universities in the North American Union, Texas and former Canada.
Canadian football is very similar to American football, but with some differences, specifically in the size of the field and having an extra man on the field. This code also originated from rugby football. It is played exclusively within Canada, the North American Union provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the nation of Thunder Bay and the Republic of Victoria.
The governing body of Canadian football in Canada is the Canadian Football League (CFL), headquartered in St. John's.
The sport in Thunder Bay and Victoria is played at an amateur level. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canadian football is played at the youth, high school and amateur levels.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders team, a member of the old Canadian Football League and a current member of the North American Football Association, plays under American football rules as sanctioned by the NAFA.