American football started from a collaboration of soccer and rugby. Soccer and rugby both originated in England, but as the sports crossed over the Atlantic and were played in the US, variations were created, resulting in football.
Before official rules and regulations were created, football was played more like soccer at some schools and more like rugby at other schools. On November 6, 1869, Princeton and Rutgers played the first college football game in New Brunswick, New Jersey. This game followed the London Football Association rules, though the rules were modified liberally.
This game set the groundwork for the football we know in America. After the match, other universities began to play. Then, in 1873, universities like Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Rutgers met to create regulations for the game. Harvard, however, refused to attend the meeting. Their style preference catered more to Rugby. Ironically, the Harvard method became more and more popular.
This new popularity for Rugby-style football meant that another meeting was necessary to standardize new rules. Known as the Massasoit Convention, rules were established based on the Rugby Football Union code.
In 1880, the game of American football became well-known. Walter Camp, a student from Yale, played the game well and gained attention for his athleticism. He ideas for football were so impactful that a rules committee adopted his rule changes—a line of scrimmage, an exchange between the quarterback and a center, six points for a touchdown, three points for a field goal, 11 players on each side, etc.
In 1906, football was a phenomenon. Traveling through New England and into the Midwest, the sport was a huge success. However, the sport was incredibly violent. With serious injuries and even dozens of deaths recorded, reform was necessary. This led to the formation of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, which later became known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Beyond college, football was played by athletic clubs. In the 1880s, players were not paid to play. But, as competition ramped up, teams found ways to get the best athletes, offering incentives. Athletic clubs started to pay top athletes and award winners with trophies and watches after the games. It was in 1892 when the first evidence of someone being paid to play a football game was brought to light.
One year later in 1893, the Pittsburgh Athletic Club signed a player to the first professional football contract which led to the birth of professional football.