Feb 27, 2023 2 min read

Dave Grohl’s claim that Canadians invented American football put to the test

Dave Grohl’s claim that Canadians invented American football put to the test

Earlier this month your good mate Dave Grohl rocked up during the Super Bowl in an advert for Canadian whisky brand Crown Royal in which the Foo Fighters frontman spent 60 seconds thanking Canada for all its many contributions to the world.

Although, quite how Canadian those Canadian contributions really are is possibly up for debate, or at least so concludes Canadian YouTuber JJ McCullough, who often delves into the history of Canadian and wider North American culture in his videos.

Alongside some definitely Canadian musicians and comedians, the list of things which – Grohl declared – his fellow Americans should be thanking their Canadian neighbours for included: peanut butter, paint rollers, poutine, the replay, walkie talkies, batteries, egg cartons, ironing boards, electric wheelchairs, Hawaiian pizza, instant mashed potatoes, canola oil, trash bags, whoopee cushions, hockey, basketball and even American football itself.

Now some of those things were definitely invented by Canadians. I mean, I don’t think any one else is claiming to have come up with the idea of adding cheese curds to chips and gravy. But some of those things were invented by Canadians who actually spent most of their lives living in the USA, while others have much more ambiguous origin stories than Grohl’s list suggested.

And that’s certainly true when it comes to his boldest claim: that the Canadians invented American football. “Yeah, look it up!”, Grohl declared in the ad.

McCullough did, and concludes: “In reality, most sport historians generally agree that no one person invented football per se. It is simply a unique game that evolved out of British rugby in a vague and experimental way during the mid-nineteenth century. It’s not even widely agreed when we can accurately say that the first football game was played before a public audience”.

“The idea that Canada invented football”, he explains, “rests on this idea that the game was officially born on 14 May 1874, which was when students from Montreal’s McGill University played a public game against a team from Harvard University”.

“The game was played according to McGill University rules which, as the argument goes, were closer to the modern rules of football than some of the other college rules of the time”, he goes on, “but even then no one today would recognise McGill rules football as being the modern game”.

Various different teams, colleges and committees continued to evolve the rules in the years after that 1874 game, up until the founding of NFL predecessor the American Professional Football Association in 1920. So, McCullough concludes, while Canadians definitely contributed to the evolution of American football, “we didn’t invent it”.

So, there you go, even someone as likeable and trustworthy as Grohl can sometimes mislead you. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure anyone was assuming Grohl is a leading expert in Canadian cultural history, his expertise surely being in making and performing great music, and – of course – banking cheques and reading out lists handed to him by marketing execs.

You can watch Grohl’s original ad and McCullough’s full analysis of Grohl’s big list of (maybe) Canadian inventions on YouTube here:

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