American football is believed to have been invented sometime in the 1820s, when Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth would meet to play. These first games bear little resemblance to today's game — there were no defined positions, and dozens of men would often play at one time, chasing and tackling without protection.

Organized football began after the rough-and-tumble Ivy League game was banned because of serious injuries in the early 1860s. Boston schoolboys devised a game that combined the kicking of soccer with the running and throwing of rugby and the early college football games. The first known football club was the Oneida Football Club, formed in 1862.