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Genealogy of American Football - When were “End Zones” invented?

The game began without them, but why are they now part of football?

The game is called American Football. Why? Because there are so many games known as “football.”

11 players per side. Offensive and defensive units. Tackling, punting, touchdowns, field goals, hitting, blocking, running, catching and a bit of kicking the ball with the foot. American football.

Folks in North America simply call it “football.” Folks in the Deep South consider it “a necessity.” Folks in Texas call it “religion.”

But the globe is full of games called football: Canadian Football, Australian Rules Football, Association Football, Gaelic Football, Rugby Football, and American Football.

One thing all of these athletic competitions have in common: they all began and then evolved from the sport of football (soccer).

To the world, the game played on a pitch with two goals, kicking the ball with the foot and allowed to touch anywhere on the body except the arms and hands is called “football.” In North America, that same game is called “soccer.”

Soccer is the grandfather to American Football. Officially, it is called Association Football.

It is speculated that the Romans or the Chinese invented soccer. The oldest known football club (soccer) dates back to 1796. In 1823 at the Rugby School for Boys in Warwickshire, England, while playing football (soccer), one boy picked the ball up and ran with it while another kid tackled him to the ground. The boys enjoyed the contact, and the sport of Rugby was born.

Rugby is the father to American Football. Officially, it is called Rugby Football.

And so, American Football sprang up with its own set of rules and regulations, as well as quite a bit of influence, familiarity and tradition from its heritage of the two other sports.

Which brings us to loads of aspects of American Football that were invented over the years out of necessity, suggestions, common sense, safety, practicality and often just dumb luck.

Originally, the End Zone was missing

The end zone on every American football field is quite a common exemplar. In fact, it has become an adornment of the home team with huge bright lettering with the team’s city, university or team name emblazoned in paint.

In the early development of American Football, the end zone wasn’t a part of the field.

With the game of soccer, there is a playing field with sideline striping and goal line striping. American Football adopted these same characteristics. The only differences are, in soccer the ball is still in play if any part of the ball remains on the sideline markings or the goal line markings; plus a goal is not counted as long as any portion of the ball has not gone fully into the goal and left the goal line. Whereas in American Football, the play ends when a player steps on the sideline, and a touchdown is scored when the football touches any portion of the goal line or breaks the imaginary plane of the goal line.

But in soccer, there aren’t any end zones. In the beginning stages of American Football, this sport simply followed suit and the end of the playing field was the goal line. But like in the sport of rugby, an “H” shaped goal post was installed on the goal line.

A touchdown was scored only when a player crossed the goal line while still in control of the ball. The forward pass became legal in April of 1906, but few teams and colleges utilized this. If a pass was completed beyond the goal line, it was called out-of-bounds and ruled incomplete.

The invention of the End Zone

By 1929, the forward pass had finally become a regular part of any American Football contest, although few were actually attempted. The league passing leader in the NFL in 1932 was Arnie Herber, who tossed for 639 yards.

The ball was still a rugby ball which was an air-filled pig’s bladder covered with pig hide and stitched inside, then laced up with the final panel. It was a common occurrence for holes to appear. The usual remedy was to simply plug something into the opening with straw, leather or pieces of clothing.

Those early footballs were like a watermelon in shape, and became heavy with sweat or any type of precipitation. Mostly, the ball was tossed with two hands or slotted between the wrist and elbow and heaved.

The nose of the ball was rounded because in rugby, the ball is kicked quite a bit during play with an emphasis on drop kicks. That is why the dropkick remains a scoring option in today’s game.

In the 1860s, a rubber ball was invented by Richard Lindon that would hold air which was pumped into the ball’s core. The nose was streamlined in 1912 and then again in 1929 and then shortened to 11 inches in 1935 to make it easier to throw. Another alteration was made in 1982 which is what is used today.

Since there wasn’t any end zones, a player had to catch the pass in the field of play, and then run across the goal line while still holding the ball.

As the passing game increased, so did the need for other passing and receiving rules.

Beginning in 1910, it was suggested to add end zones to each end of the field. Rugby has 25-yard end zones with certain rules that govern that space of play so the idea of end zones wasn’t anything new. In 1912, it was decided to add end zones.

The depth of the rugby end zones were considered too deep. In rugby, when a player crosses the goal line for a “try” (which is the equivalent to American Football’s “touchdown”), that player attempts to touch the ground more in the center of the end zone while the defenders are still trying to tackle him and prevent him from going down in the center.

With American Football, none of that was necessary, so a shortened version could be implemented. Plus, with the college game, many stadiums were multi-use with tracks outlined around the playing area. There just wasn’t enough area to sustain the extra 50 yards.

Professional football was only in business at the time in loosely organized leagues, which mainly were athletic clubs playing against each other regionally. For their games, they used farm fields, vacant land or baseball fields, which had their own restraints.

Originally, 12-yard end zones were decided upon and added to each end of the field. Since college football was one of two sports adorned as the King of Sports (pro baseball was the other), it was determined that a certain percentage of stadiums and fields used for college football would have to have altered end zones; that being rounded corners or even dog-eared outer corners. The solution was to shorten the end zones to 10-yards. To accommodate this extra 20 yards, the field of play was shortened from 110-yards, which resembled more the size of a rugby field, to 100 yards.

It was decided that the back line of the end zone would be considered out-of-bounds.

NFL: DEC 08 Bengals at Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 1966, pylons were added to the four corners of each end zone. The inside edge of the pylons located on the goal line are considered part of the goal line which when touched with the ball is a score. All of the other sides of the pylon, including the top, are out-of-bounds. All sides of the pylons located on each back corner of the end zone are also out-of-bounds.

The increase in the number of passes per game necessitated that end zones be added. And instead of scoring a touchdown only while crossing the goal line, now it was legal to catch a pass inside the end zone for a score.


Recently for home games, the Browns have used brown and orange stripes in their end zones without any lettering or logos. What is your opinion of this design?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    I like it
    (57 votes)
  • 18%
    Not a fan
    (24 votes)
  • 36%
    Prefer some sort of lettering
    (47 votes)
128 votes total Vote Now