President Roosevelt saves the game. . .
Strange as it may seem, high school football, college football, and even the Super Bowl might not exist today if President Theodore Roosevelt had not taken a hand in preserving the game. As originally played on college campuses, the game was extremely rough, including slugging, gang tackling and unsportsmanlike behavior. Quite a number of players died (18 in just the year 1905 alone, with 20 times fewer players than there are today). Interest in becoming a football player was declining!
But Roosevelt saw merit in the game. It built bodies and could build character, a sense of team and never giving up. Ten of the Rough Riders, the soldiers who fought with him in Cuba, gave their occupations as football players when they enlisted in 1898.
So in 1905, President Roosevelt summoned representatives of the Big Three (Harvard, Yale and Princeton, the universities who first played the game and who also set the rules of play) to the White House. In his best table-thumping style, Theodore Roosevelt convinced them that the rules needed to be changed to eliminate the foul play and brutality.
As a result, the American Football Rules Committee was formed and, in 1906, plays designed to open up the game and make it less dangerousd to play were introduced. Some of the changes made included:
became less dangerous to play, injuries and deaths decreased, and it
became more fun to watch.
The Roosevelt Rough Writer: the newsletter for volunteers in park at Sagamore Hill, Vol 1, Issue 4, Jan. 17, 1998
The NCAA web site, fall 1999, http://www.ncaa.org/about/history.html