This article explores the origins and early history of American football in relation to the development of rugby and similar codes in the English-speaking world of the last third of the nineteenth century. It suggests that the traditional narrative description of the emergence of the American game – which is ascribed in large part to the individual initiative of Walter Camp – fails to situate the sport in the context of the wider, transnational dynamics of the development of the various handling codes of football. In particular, it contends that the common assumption that the gridiron game's early development was a sporting expression of American exceptionalism is mistaken and that it only acquired its distinctive national character in the early twentieth century.
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