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In a Super Bowl ad for Canadian whisky company Crown Royal, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl thanked Canada for modern American football.
American football has gone through various iterations over time, but historians note that it was first introduced to the U.S. in a version closer to today’s current form by Montreal-based McGill University in a game against Harvard University in 1874.
The NFL told PolitiFact it confirmed the ad’s claim with the Pro Football Hall of Fame before it aired.
Super Bowl LVII had some remarkable moments. Rihanna performed the halftime show in a red jumpsuit and debuted a new baby bump, and the Kansas City Chiefs came back with a game-winning drive to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35.
There were a lot of bigtime commercials, too. One that caught our attention featured Foo Fighters founder and frontman Dave Grohl in a one-minute Super Bowl commercial for Canadian whisky company Crown Royal.
Grohl was seen sitting in a recording studio in the ad before he turned to the camera and said, "Today, let’s thank Canada." He then listed a number of things that the Great White North has contributed to society, including the rock band Rush, peanut butter, batteries, "Schitt’s Creek" stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, and, of course, the fan-favorite whoopie cushion.
But it was one of the last things that Grohl credited Canada for inventing that made heads turn: "And thank you … for football," Grohl said.
A sound engineer seated beside him looked up and said, "What? No way."
"Yeah, look it up!" Grohl replied.
Well, we’re PolitiFact. So we looked it up.
Turns out, Grohl is no pretender.
Modern, American-style football has gone through several iterations over its history. American universities were playing something they called "foot ball" in 1869, but the game resembled soccer more than anything else.
The first version of the game to use an oblong ball in the U.S. and somewhat resemble the sport’s current structure took place in 1874, when Montreal’s McGill University took its rules to the states to play Harvard.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told PolitiFact that he fact-checked the claim with the Pro Football Hall of Fame before Crown Royal’s ad ran.
"It is accurate," McCarthy said.
The game Americans now call football is closely related to two old English sports — rugby and soccer (which gets its name from a shortening of "association football"). It emerged at North American universities in the late 19th century, according to History.com, which highlights a Nov. 6, 1869, game between Princeton and Rutgers as "the first intercollegiate football contest."
But this was a soccer-style match, with rules adapted from the London Football Association, and it bore little resemblance to modern American football.
Other colleges took up the sport in the 1870s, but Harvard University stuck to a rugby-soccer hybrid it called "the Boston Game."
In 1874, Harvard and McGill University in Montreal, agreed to play a couple of "Foot-ball" games in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two universities had different rules, and the plan for this match was to play two different games — one by Harvard’s rules and one by McGill’s.
The teams met on May 13 and 14, 1874. The first game used Harvard’s rules: 11 men per side and a round ball that players kicked but were also able to pick up and run with at certain times. For the second game, they played McGill’s version: 13 players and an oblong ball that could be kicked, thrown or carried.
"There were downs, there were ‘tries’ in the rugby sense (which quickly came to be known as touchdowns) and there was tackling," one 2017 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. story said.
History.com said the McGill-Harvard game helped inspire modern football.
"In May 1874, after a match against McGill University of Montreal, the Harvard players decided they preferred McGill’s rugby-style rules to their own," the website said. "In 1875, Harvard and Yale played their first intercollegiate match, and Yale players and spectators (including Princeton students) embraced the rugby style as well."
McGill also stands by this origin story, saying on its website that "the very first modern football games" were played in Cambridge between the two schools.
"In fact, the Harvard squad so enjoyed the Canadian innovations (running with the ball, downs and tackling) that they introduced them into a match with Yale the following year — and thus, college football took root in America," the university’s account reads.
But some sports historians noted the fluctuating nature of the game, and that different schools incorporated different rules.
"I would also add the game was constantly changing," said Louis Moore, a sports historian at Grand Valley State University. "Even after that 1874 game, rules changed. What was the same, however, was that it was called foot ball, and recognized as such in 1869 when Rutgers and Princeton played."
Football has become known for the way it’s constantly changing, experts said.
"It’s part of what makes the game and its history unique and special," said Rich Desrosiers, a spokesperson for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And although football may have originated in Canada, one American figure factors greatly in the way it’s played today: Walter Camp.
Camp, who has been called the "father of American football," was a Yale student from 1876 to 1881 and played halfback and served as team captain. He eventually became the guiding force on the rules board of the Intercollegiate Football Association, which made two key changes to the game. It did away with the opening rugbylike "scrummage" and introduced the requirement that a team give up the ball after failing to move a specified yardage down the field in a certain number of "downs."
Camp is also credited with introducing other innovations, including the quarterback position, the line of scrimmage and the current scoring scale.
Grohl said in a Super Bowl ad that Canada invented football.
This is largely accurate.
American football has gone through several changes over its history, but historians note that it was first introduced in the U.S. by Montreal-based McGill University in 1874. The NFL also confirmed the ad’s claim before it ran.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
YouTube, Crown Royal x Super Bowl LVII - Thank You Canada, Feb. 12, 2023
Billboard.com, Dave Grohl Thanks Canada for Celine Dion, Batteries & Football (Yes, Really) in 2023 Super Bowl Ad, Feb. 12, 2023
History.com, Who Invented Football?, July 30, 2021
McGill University, The birth of three sports, updated May 14, 2021
Narcity, A 2023 Super Bowl Commercial Said 'Thank You' To Canada & Viewers Were So Confused (VIDEO), Feb. 13, 2023
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Football History, accessed Feb. 13, 2023
Canadian Broadcasting Corp., How Canada invented ‘American’ football, baseball, basketball and hockey, June 15, 2017
Radio Canada International, History- May 14, 1874 How Canada created American football, May 14, 2015
Email interview, Brian McCarthy spokesperson for the NFL, Feb. 13, 2023
Email interview, Louis Moore, sports historian at Grand Valley State University, Feb. 13, 2023
Phone interview, Rich Desrosiers, Pro Football Hall of Fame spokesperson, Feb. 13, 2023
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