The Changing Face Of American Football

by : Jim Brown

American Football orginated in Canton, Ohio in 1920, but was largely a regional amateur sport that took a back seat in importance to America's favorite pastime, baseball. However, after World War II ended and television was born, a few games were televised. In a sense, football and television grew up together and have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship since then. Today, football makes the TV networks billions of dollars and football keeps nearly half of the American public riveted to their sets. Hundreds of games are broadcast each week. In the 1960's, professional football over took baseball as the favorite spectator sport in America and the Superbowl became the single most watched event in history.

It is hard to say what accounts for the ever increasing popularity of this game. It is an intensly physical game, an aspect that often obscures what a game of strategy football is. It is possible that changes in this strategy account for its continued fan appeal.

In the 1950's, in the childhood of football, the game was played around the basic strategy of ball control and time of possession. The simple philosophy was that the longer a team was in control of the ball and its offensive team was on the field, the less likely its opponent could score. Two teams in the American midwest, the Chicago Bears, coached by George Hallas and the Green Bay Packers, with Vince Lombardi at the helm, were the cornerstone of traditional, defensive football.

During the 1950 both gloried in having strong defenses. Other teams copied their styles and football, as played traditionally, was a game where men spent an afternoon battleing over a few feet of turf with little movement in any direction. This was abruptly changed by happenings in California. In the new American Football League, Daryl Lamonica of the Oakland Raiders, was changing the style of football by taking the passing game to new heights. In 1969 he threw for an unheard of 34 touchdowns and more than 3,300 yards. This not only earned him the nickname "The Mad Bomber" but also changed the way football was played.

Traditional ball control strategy was swept aside by a quarterback who could lead his offense to score in a matter of seconds. The long pass was born and was popular with spectators. The course and momentum of the game could now be changed in a heartbeat. Teams had to adapt by changing their strategy and recruiting strong armed quarterbacks of their own. Passing plays, devised for different situations began to dominate team's play books.

This phenomenon reached its height with the clever and tricky passing plays designed by Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers and his Quarterback, Joe Montana. During their reign during the late 1970's and 1980's, the term "finesse" was added to the football vocabulary and used as often as "hard hit". The 49ers added another innovation in football strategy, the mobile quarterback. Steve Young, next in succession as quarterback, was a strong athlete who could gain yardage like a running back. This made the quarterback a even more dangerous opponent, and the defense had to work hard to guess whether Young and other new styled quarterbacks were going to pass or just run for the needed first down.