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The Quarterback

In modern American football, no player has a greater impact on a team's success than its signal caller, the quarterback. However, this wasn't always the case. The nineteenth century quarterback's primary responsibilities were to receive the ball from the snapper-back, determine the direction of the play, and to distribute the ball to the half-backs for a kick or a run. The forward pass was illegal, and prior to the mid-1890's the quarterback was even prohibited from running with the ball after receiving it from the snapper-back. Further, plays were called by the snapper-back or the captain, who was more often a lineman than the quarterback. The most celebrated players of the nineteenth century typically played half-back or on the rush line.

In 1906, the Intercollegiate Foot Ball Association legalized the forward pass over the objections of Walter Camp, the father of American football. Camp viewed the pass as a gimmick play and lobbied for restrictive rules that successfully discouraged its use. By the mid-1910's, these restrictions were removed, ushering in the age of the quarterback in American football.

The term "quarter-back" originated as the description of the player's defensive positioning. The quarter-back filled the role of the modern middle linebacker and lined up approximately one quarter of the way between the rush line and the goal line.

Football Etymology
Page 2
Chris Hornung
November 15, 2015

Offensive Positions

The Epitome of Athleticism

Modern football players are exponentially larger, stronger and faster than the men who took the field in the nineteenth century. In 1890, the average college football lineman was 5'-10" tall and 180 pounds compared to 6'-3" and 300 pounds today. However, athleticism can't always be measured in terms of raw strength, power, or speed. The next time you see a star athlete trotting to the sideline after making an incredible play, consider this:

Nineteenth century football players...
....played 45 minute halves....
....on both sides of the ball....
....without huddles or commercial breaks...
....and did I forget to pads?
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