The sport of flag football has a long and varied history and is a constantly evolving sport. Here’s a breakdown of all that is flag football.
History of Flag Football
Flag Football is a non-contact version of traditional American football where players shed their pads and instead wear flags that are pulled in exchange for being tackled. The sport was birthed out of convenience and safety, with only flags needed to play and a safer non-contact format, and is still being played for many of the same reasons today.
The earliest forms of flag didn’t use flags at all, and was essentially “touch” football. The earliest recorded games were known to have been played in the early 1930’s with leagues popping up throughout the northeast United States on college campuses. With World War II, the sport became even more popular on military bases as a way for the troops to blow off steam without risking major injury, and this is where the use of flags is believed to have originated in the 1940’s as the sport began to spread throughout the military.
With troops returning home from war, recreational flag football leagues began to take root with a game somewhat resembling the game played today. The National Touch Football League was started in the 60’s, with the first National Championship game played in 1971.
Soon after, intramural flag football began to pop up on college campuses with the University of New Orleans holding it’s first Collegiate Intramural flag football tournament in the late 1970’s, and with it’s success the National Collegiate Flag Football Championships were born.
In 1998, the USFTL (United States Flag & Touch League) was founded in Cleveland, Ohio by Michael Cihon, who is still currently running the organization. Their goal of unifying flag football rules and the sport in general is a process that FlagSpin is actively working towards as well.
The NFL Gets Involved
It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that we saw a huge spike in popularity and organization for the sport. The Professional Flag Football League was established, along with a 9-man Pro Flag Bowl, both of which fizzled out within a couple years. But it wasn’t until the NFL ventured out to promote the sportthat a real boom was seen in popularity, with 500-1,000 team tournaments and international events popping up under the Air it Out brand, culminating in a World Championship event where winners of top division squared off against some of the top NFL stars of that day…just check out the video below, there wasn’t anything like this before or since.
Where Flag Football Stands Today
That glory was short lived though, as the NFL removed itself from adult flag football events, where the Air it Out brand has been sold and rebranded multiple times, currently operating at Let it Fly by the North American Sports Group who’s attempting to bring back it’s popularity today. The NFL has stayed involved with flag though, but only at the youth level, working with USA Football to run NFL Flag, the largest cumulative youth flag football leagues in the country.
Today in the United States, flag is once again regaining it’s popularity, many believe due to concerns over concussions and the perceived long term risks of concussions of traditional tackle football. At the youth level, parents are choosing to have their kids stick with flag much longer, sometimes even throughout all of high school opting out of tackle football altogether, where flag is even becoming an official varsity women’s sport in some states.
Flag Football Across the Globe
But flag isn’t relegated to the United States only, it’s also a booming international sport that’s played in almost every country on the planet, especially Europe, Asia and Australia. In Europe, the sport is especially popular in Germany, Italy, the UK, among other countries. Pulling the Flag assists in running a nationwide UK league that is booming in popularity, while Germany hosts on of the nation’s largest tournaments called the Big Bowl put on by the Walldorf Wanderers, that also happened to make our top 10 tournament bucket list!
In Asia, the Philippines, Japan, China, India, Vietnam and other countries also have a strong flag football presence with leagues and tournaments throughout the year, routinely sending teams to worldwide competitions in the United States and Europe for youth and adult.
What the Future Brings
There are some big plans in the works for the next couple years and beyond, starting with the Flag Football World Championship Tour that FlagSpin is proudly a part of! The goal of the tour is to provide added media and sponsor coverage to what are already being run as the world’s largest and most competitive events, giving players and fans a unique opportunity to set themselves apart as the best to play in the entire world by finally tying all the major events together into one series, both in the US and Internationally! Stay tuned for more to come!