How Football Became America’s Favorite Sport

Whether it’s college, high school, or the NFL, Americans love football. Although football at all levels is popular in the United States, the NFL dwarfs the competition when it comes to sports fans. Baseball may be America’s pastime, but football is, hands down, America’s favorite sport. The numbers are staggering, with studies showing 65% of Americans saying they follow the sport, 56% watching televised games, and 9% streaming football live on the internet.

Watching football and betting go hand and hand for many fans. The Super Bowl is the biggest night of the year for many across the nation. Fans often do their research by checking the latest Super Bowl winner betting odds in the days and weeks leading up to the big game. In other words, it’s a hugely popular affair.

Read on to learn about how football became America’s favorite sport.

The Birth of American Football

American football traces its origins to two sports—soccer and rugby. Rutgers University and Princeton University adopted an early version of the sport when it was introduced at the collegiate level in 1869. The father of American football, Walter Camp, changed football rules in 1882, resulting in the brand of football Americans know and love today.

Camp played football at Yale and later applied his vision of the sport to the game’s rule, including requiring the offense to gain five yards in three attempts or lose the ball, revising the scoring system, and adding measuring lines to the field. Football’s quarterback position also came from Camp and would revolutionize the game.

The NFL in the 1990s

Americans haven’t always had a love affair with the NFL. In the 1990s, the NBA was king, with Americans gathering around the TVs to watch the acrobatics of Michael Jordan and the shooting prowess of Larry Bird at the beginning of the decade. That’s not to say the NFL wasn’t big in the US, it certainly was, but it hadn’t yet reached the level we see today. NFL viewership, including the Super Bowl, began to increase steadily during the 1990s and has witnessed significant gains throughout the 2000s.

The NFL had more competition in the 1990s. It had its superstars, including Emmit Smith and Jerry Rice. However, the NBA countered with superstars of its own. From Magic Johnson to Jordan, NBA held America’s attention until the early 2000s with the end of Jordan’s career. The 1998-1999 NBA lockout was the beginning of the end of America’s ongoing love affair with the NBA, giving the NFL a prime opportunity to gain ground in the competitive sporting arena.

The NFL became the most reliable major sports league in the United States during this time. Fans knew they could count on NFL players to give their all in every game. At the same time, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa brought a lot of attention to professional baseball. However, the MLB couldn’t compete with the consistent action the NFL brought into homes across America during football season.

Rule Changes and Expansion

In an effort to increase enthusiasm and create a more exciting experience, the NFL made significant changes to its rules between 1995 and 2002. The league added two expansion teams—the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers—and moved the Los Angeles Raiders to Oakland and the Los Angeles Rams to St. Louis. The changes didn’t stop there. The Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens in 1996, and the following year the Houston Oilers went to Nashville, later becoming the Tennessee Titans. These are only a few of the changes; there were many more during this time.

Besides expanding the league, the NFL changed many of its rules, resulting in a more dynamic game. The NFL revised its playoff format in 1990, adding two additional wild card teams. A couple of years later, in 1992, it added the two-point conversion, increasing the amount of strategizing and increasing the tension at the end of games. The changes the NFL made throughout the 1990s, and early 2000s helped get top scoring games on more TVs across the country, firmly establishing football as America’s favorite sport.

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