Without Teddy Roosevelt, There Would Be No Super Bowl

Teddy Roosevelt saved the game Americans love.

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Illustration shows a group of football players in a dangerous pile up.
While Teddy Roosevelt never saw football become the nation's favorite pastime, he would have loved the Super Bowl. After all, he saved the game.

The former president, although too small and plagued with asthma to get out on the field and play much, Roosevelt is credited with saving football during the fourth year of his presidency by holding the historic "football summit."

In 1905, 18 players died during games, which more closely resembled the modern-day game of rugby than today's football, while 159 suffered severe injuries according to historical articles from the Washington Post.

Even Eli Manning and Tom Brady wouldn't recognize the early 20th century-version; there was no protective gear or passing, and players often kicked the ball to score.

The editor of the Nation once compared the violence of the Harvard-Yale football game to the a "Union assault."

Fed-up with the growing risk the game posed to players, Roosevelt held what the Smithsonian calls a "football summit" at the White House.

Guests included the then-Secretary of State Elihu Root as well as athletic directors and coaches of some of the time's most prestigious schools including Yale, Harvard and Princeton.

"Football is on trial," Roosevelt said during the meeting. "Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it."

The coaches and trainers, unsure of what to think of Roosevelt's request, were resistant at first, but in 1906, 62 universities came together to form the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States, which eventually became the NCAA. The organization created rules that protected the safety of the players by doubling the number of yards required for a first down, restricting the number of players who were on the field and most importantly inventing penalties for breaking the rules.

"You asked me whether President Theodore Roosevelt helped save the game. I can tell you that he did," Harvard's coach at the time, William Reid wrote.

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