Did canada invent football ? Super Bowl LVII had some remarkable moments. Rihanna performed the halftime show in a red jumpsuit and debuted a new baby bump, and the Kansas City Chiefs came back with a game-winning drive to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35.
There were a lot of bigtime commercials, too. One that caught our attention featured Foo Fighters founder and frontman Dave Grohl in a one-minute Super Bowl commercial for Canadian whisky company Crown Royal.
Grohl was seen sitting in a recording studio in the ad before he turned to the camera and said, “Today, let’s thank Canada.” He then listed a number of things that the Great White North has contributed to society, including the rock band Rush, peanut butter, batteries, “Schitt’s Creek” stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, and, of course, the fan-favorite whoopie cushion.
But it was one of the last things that Grohl credited Canada for inventing that made heads turn: “And thank you … for football,” Grohl said.
A sound engineer seated beside him looked up and said, “What? No way.”
“Yeah, look it up!” Grohl replied.
Well, we’re PolitiFact. So we looked it up.
Turns out, Grohl is no pretender.
Modern, American-style football has gone through several iterations over its history. American universities were playing something they called “foot ball” in 1869, but the game resembled soccer more than anything else.
The first version of the game to use an oblong ball in the U.S. and somewhat resemble the sport’s current structure took place in 1874, when Montreal’s McGill University took its rules to the states to play Harvard.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told PolitiFact that he fact-checked the claim with the Pro Football Hall of Fame before Crown Royal’s ad ran.
“It is accurate,” McCarthy said.
How the American football sausage was made
The game Americans now call football is closely related to two old English sports — rugby and soccer (which gets its name from a shortening of “association football”). It emerged at North American universities in the late 19th century, according to History.com, which highlights a Nov. 6, 1869, game between Princeton and Rutgers as “the first intercollegiate football contest.”
But this was a soccer-style match, with rules adapted from the London Football Association, and it bore little resemblance to modern American football.
Other colleges took up the sport in the 1870s, but Harvard University stuck to a rugby-soccer hybrid it called “the Boston Game.”
In 1874, Harvard and McGill University in Montreal, agreed to play a couple of “Foot-ball” games in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two universities had different rules, and the plan for this match was to play two different games — one by Harvard’s rules and one by McGill’s.
The teams met on May 13 and 14, 1874. The first game used Harvard’s rules: 11 men per side and a round ball that players kicked but were also able to pick up and run with at certain times. For the second game, they played McGill’s version: 13 players and an oblong ball that could be kicked, thrown or carried.
“There were downs, there were ‘tries’ in the rugby sense (which quickly came to be known as touchdowns) and there was tackling,” one 2017 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. story said.
“In May 1874, after a match against McGill University of Montreal, the Harvard players decided they preferred McGill’s rugby-style rules to their own,” the website said. “In 1875, Harvard and Yale played their first intercollegiate match, and Yale players and spectators (including Princeton students) embraced the rugby style as well.”
McGill also stands by this origin story, saying on its website that “the very first modern football games” were played in Cambridge between the two schools.
“In fact, the Harvard squad so enjoyed the Canadian innovations (running with the ball, downs and tackling) that they introduced them into a match with Yale the following year — and thus, college football took root in America,” the university’s account reads.
But some sports historians noted the fluctuating nature of the game, and that different schools incorporated different rules.
“I would also add the game was constantly changing,” said Louis Moore, a sports historian at Grand Valley State University. “Even after that 1874 game, rules changed. What was the same, however, was that it was called foot ball, and recognized as such in 1869 when Rutgers and Princeton played.”
Football has become known for the way it’s constantly changing, experts said.
“It’s part of what makes the game and its history unique and special,” said Rich Desrosiers, a spokesperson for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And although football may have originated in Canada, one American figure factors greatly in the way it’s played today: Walter Camp.
Camp, who has been called the “father of American football,” was a Yale student from 1876 to 1881 and played halfback and served as team captain. He eventually became the guiding force on the rules board of the Intercollegiate Football Association, which made two key changes to the game. It did away with the opening rugbylike “scrummage” and introduced the requirement that a team give up the ball after failing to move a specified yardage down the field in a certain number of “downs.”
Camp is also credited with introducing other innovations, including the quarterback position, the line of scrimmage and the current scoring scale.
Grohl said in a Super Bowl ad that Canada invented football.
This is largely accurate.
American football has gone through several changes over its history, but historians note that it was first introduced in the U.S. by Montreal-based McGill University in 1874. The NFL also confirmed the ad’s claim before it ran.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. See the sources for this fact check here.
Dave Grohl’s claim that Canadians invented American football put to the test
Earlier this month your good mate Dave Grohl rocked up during the Super Bowl in an advert for Canadian whisky brand Crown Royal in which the Foo Fighters frontman spent 60 seconds thanking Canada for all its many contributions to the world.
Although, quite how Canadian those Canadian contributions really are is possibly up for debate, or at least so concludes Canadian YouTuber JJ McCullough, who often delves into the history of Canadian and wider North American culture in his videos.
Alongside some definitely Canadian musicians and comedians, the list of things which – Grohl declared – his fellow Americans should be thanking their Canadian neighbours for included: peanut butter, paint rollers, poutine, the replay, walkie talkies, batteries, egg cartons, ironing boards, electric wheelchairs, Hawaiian pizza, instant mashed potatoes, canola oil, trash bags, whoopee cushions, hockey, basketball and even American football itself.
Now some of those things were definitely invented by Canadians. I mean, I don’t think any one else is claiming to have come up with the idea of adding cheese curds to chips and gravy. But some of those things were invented by Canadians who actually spent most of their lives living in the USA, while others have much more ambiguous origin stories than Grohl’s list suggested.
And that’s certainly true when it comes to his boldest claim: that the Canadians invented American football. “Yeah, look it up!”, Grohl declared in the ad.
McCullough did, and concludes: “In reality, most sport historians generally agree that no one person invented football per se. It is simply a unique game that evolved out of British rugby in a vague and experimental way during the mid-nineteenth century. It’s not even widely agreed when we can accurately say that the first football game was played before a public audience”.
“The idea that Canada invented football”, he explains, “rests on this idea that the game was officially born on 14 May 1874, which was when students from Montreal’s McGill University played a public game against a team from Harvard University”.
“The game was played according to McGill University rules which, as the argument goes, were closer to the modern rules of football than some of the other college rules of the time”, he goes on, “but even then no one today would recognise McGill rules football as being the modern game”.
Various different teams, colleges and committees continued to evolve the rules in the years after that 1874 game, up until the founding of NFL predecessor the American Professional Football Association in 1920. So, McCullough concludes, while Canadians definitely contributed to the evolution of American football, “we didn’t invent it”.
So, there you go, even someone as likeable and trustworthy as Grohl can sometimes mislead you. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure anyone was assuming Grohl is a leading expert in Canadian cultural history, his expertise surely being in making and performing great music, and – of course – banking cheques and reading out lists handed to him by marketing execs.
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