Not long after the development of tackle football came flag football. The two games are very different, but flag football retains enough of the red zone drama and beautiful passing and running plays of tackle football to be enjoyable. And it employs enough strategy and skill to keep both fans and participants loyal to their game.
Flag football started on a United States military base in the 1940s. The spinoff to tackle football, created to entertain base personnel, began to spread to college campuses beginning in the 1960s. The game originally featured seven players but later expanded to nine. In 1988 the United States Flag Touch Football League (USFTL) branched off from the National Touch Football league (NTFL)–created in the 1960s as the first Touch/Flag league. By the 1990s 20 million plus people were involved in flag football. With the formation of more leagues, major U.S. cities such as New York and Washington D.C. formed professional flag teams. The major leagues met in 1997 to discuss a combined championship game and the next year, their best teams competed on a national stage for cash.
Flag football works for those individuals who love the sport of American football but can’t assume the inherent risk of tackle football. Removing the flags around the ball carrier’s waist equates to the same thing as a tackle in full contact football. The removal of the majority of physical risk in flag football enables amateurs to play the game they love.
Flag football features many of the same elements as tackle football, but there are also many differences. The only requirement of the field is that it be rectangular with two even end zones–this free-form format allows for flexibility in finding a field. Overtime games are decided by a field goal shootout, and after a touchdown a team is granted one point for kicking and two points for running or passing the ball into the end zone. But what makes the game great are all of the features that the spin off sport retains from the original–penalties, passing and the length of the game are generally the same as the contact version of the sport.
The game features many variations. Games can feature teams of four to nine players. Games can be played with or without contact–that is, blocking and not tackling. There are touch games as well as flag-only games. There are variations for youth, women and professional-level talent. Different forms of the game sprout up in every region it is played.
Flag football carries with it many benefits. Students not good enough to make the school team can still play the sport that they are so passionate about when they sign up of an intramural game. And anyone can play. Schools form intramural leagues based on the level of talent and competition that applies–the player are then split into leagues based on ability. But aside from satiating a desire to play the game, the game benefits the health of everyone involved. Though not as aggressive as the contact game, the flag game still offers players an intense workout.