Is there any reason for the fact that rugby and American football share this (quite unusual) ball shape?

American football rugby football

Do they have common roots? Does the American football ball come from the rugby one (which doesn't have the laces)? Is there any accepted "proof" behind this?


5 Answers 5


Since American football evolved partly from rugby1, it's no surprise that their shapes are similar.

The main reason for the oblong shape is to allow carrying the ball by hand. A round ball kicks very well indeed, but is very easy to knock away; an oblong ball is still effective to kick and is much easier to grip.

American footballs kept the same basic shape but added laces and pointed ends because both features make the ball easier to throw. Rugby, of course, needs neither feature.

1 See Wikipedia's History of American Football. Ironically, the first American football game that used an oblong ball and allowed carrying was Harvard vs. McGill, a Canadian university.

  • There are far more passing of the ball in Rugby than in American Football. It is much easier to spiral an oblong ball than a round one which will keep its direction better. Shorter rugby passes dont tend to use the spiral but for quick passing between the backs the shape of the ball goes a long way in achieving this. Passing in Rugby is mostly done with 2 hands where as America football it is one
    – aqwert
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 1:36
  • Gaelic football also has a lot of ball carrying, but uses a round ball (somewhat smaller and heavier than a soccer ball).
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 24, 2016 at 17:45

The shape of both is mostly to do with aerodynamics. An American football needs to be thrown over long distances, and the ball's shape helps it maintain its trajectory and is therefore easier to throw. Although it doesn't need to be thrown over as long a distance, the game is predominantly played from hand to hand. I'd disagree with admartian in that the ball is passed far more than it is kicked. As an example, look at the recent six nations match between Wales and France where Wales completed 164 passes and France completed 99, compared to both teams combined only kicking whilst in possession 67 times.


They are similar and different because they share a similar lineage.

The main difference is down to their purpose. American footballs are predominantly designed to be thrown (hence the narrower end-points), while Rugby balls tend to be thicker as they are just as commonly kicked as they are passed around.


Here is another link which shows photos of the oblong Native American ball.. We still play this game today at our ceremony grounds. http://delawaretribe.org/blog/2013/06/27/pahsahman-the-lenape-indian-football-game/

  • However, rugby isn't derived from any native American sports.
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 17:58
  • I believe it is and that this is an oversight or outright repression of Native History. These games were played in prep schools in the Northeast US which had strong elite ties to their English roots. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 18:02
  • I believe rugby's roots are as American as the Irish Potato Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 18:02
  • 2
    Do you have any assertions for your beliefs on rugby's roots? Also, you can add onto your previous answer by editing it. sports.stackexchange.com/help/editing
    – user527
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 19:05

Please see the following link to the oblong ball's origin in Native American Football centuries before modern football or European Rugby were ever thought of. http://lenapelady.tripod.com/football.html

Like Lacrossse, Rugby and Football are both adaptations of Native American games.

  • 1
    Welcome to Sports SE. "Links to external resources are encouraged, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there." sports.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer
    – user527
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 19:04
  • Are the authors of that piece (and you) misusing "oblong" to mean "oblate spheriod", or is this actually evidence against your claim?
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 6:20

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