“Walter Camp was one of the giants of football in the United States. He stands with Stagg, Rockne, Thorpe, Warner, Heffelfinger in the imprint they made upon the game. He stands first among them, for it was he who sired the game as it is played in the United States, the game that evolved from the rugby football of England. He played in the first Yale-Harvard game of rugby in 1876. From then on, his was the fertile, inventive mind and guiding leadership that brought about the evolution of the American style of football.”
As a young man, Walter Camp was a competent swimmer, a good runner, and an able tennis player. By intense devotion to a regime of physical training, calisthenics and self denial, he became an outstanding athlete and it is our good fortune that he chose to elect football as the game to which he gave this intense dedication.
He played on the varsity teams of Yale from 1877 to 1882, serving as Captain in ’78, ’79, and ’81. Under his leadership, Yale showed a record of twenty-five victories, one defeat, and six ties. Included with his highly developed skill as a runner, kicker, and sure tackler was an equally developed desire to win by all fair means and within the rules as they existed then. His contributions to football are many. He is credited with the play from scrimmage, the numerical assessment of goals and tries, the restriction of play to eleven men per side, set plays, sequences, and strategy features which have led to the development of the fast, interesting, and organized game which we enjoy so much today. He is also credited with choosing the first All-America team, whereby recognition for outstanding play and accomplishment were properly made.
However, these are not the things alone for which he was known. He brought organization, planning, and stature to the game and served on the rules committee from his college days until his death. He helped to establish the National Collegiate Athletic Association which provided a control under which collegiate athletics operate even now, and during the First World War he was responsible for the physical conditioning of most of our armed forces.
“The year 1906 was one of the most momentous in the history of football. The game was under heavy fire for the brutality of its close order, mass momentous play, in which physical force was all important, and skill and science had little part. As the leader of the American Football Rules Committee, Camp played a leading role in adoption of far reaching changes that opened up the game, including introduction of the forward pass that brought about a revolutionary change in the pattern of play that was to add immensely to its popularity, and so saved the game.
“Thus Walter Camp was not only the sire of American football but also a savior. For almost half a century, from 1876 until his death on March 14, 1925, this noble character was a prominent figure on the football scene and for most of the years he led in giving the game shape and character, and in setting and enforcing standards of fair play and sportsmanship. (At the same time, he was singularly successful as a businessman, working his way from a position in the sales force of the New Haven Clock Company to president and chairman of the board of directors.)
“He was Yale’s first football coach and from 1876 until 1910 he played an important role in the direction of the technique and strategy of Yale football. He was a member of every rules convention or committee until 1911. His All-America teams for the years 1898 through 1924, were recognized as official. But most of all, his fame rests upon the fact that he, above all others, was responsible for conceiving and bringing into being the game of football which typifies the American competitive spirit in its premium upon imagination, speed, strategy and daring, as well as upon sheer physical ability and durability.”
It is for his qualities as a human being, his unselfishness, his sincerity, his leadership in the interests of sportsmanship and fair play—these are the facets of Walter Camp that made him respected and admired in whatever group he gathered.
Chris Fowler of ESPN College Gameday narrates ” Champion of Sport”, the history of Walter Camp and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.