One of the most exciting words a fan can hear for their team is the word “Touchdown!” At that moment, you know your team has added six points more to the score, and has a chance to add one or two more points immediately after. Still, sometimes, you may wonder, why the word “touchdown?” Why not “score” or “home run” or “goal” or “point!” (To be honest, I kind of understand not shouting the word “point” – I have this image of a stadium full of dogs all pointing at the goal line when the word is shouted.)
The answer, as you might suspect, lies in rugby, football’s ancestor. In rugby originally, and in the earliest forms of American football as played in the 1870’s, a team could only score by kicking a goal. However, there were only certain ways that a team could get the chance to kick a goal. The most prevalent of these was for an offensive player to get the chance to touch the ball down on the defensive side. The kick was made at the point where a line perpendicular to the goal line passed through the place where the football had been touched down. When the first formal 61 rules for American football were decided upon in 1876 between Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale, the rules officially labeled the touching down of the ball as a “touchdown,” and the term has stuck ever since. In a strange twist of fate, in rugby, the proper term for touching the ball down so a team can try for a goal is referred to as “grounding the ball.” “Grounding the ball” has an altogether different meaning in American football, a discussion reserved for another day.
So there you have it, folks. Until next time, may your games be exciting and your team win!