Football plays importance in society, Gunn culture


Over the past few decades in America, American football has surpassed baseball and basketball by a large margin in terms of viewers. According to NFL Football Operations, the 2022 Super Bowl LVI was the most popular televised football game, with over 112 million viewers—making it the most watched sporting event in America. This year at Gunn, attending football games is the most popular choice out of more than a dozen sports, with 52.9% of the 200 students polled choosing football. No other sport gets this much attention, so what makes football so different?

American football, or gridiron football, is a sport loosely derived from soccer and rugby. The first collegiate-level football game was in 1869 between New Jersey’s Rutgers University and Princeton University. There were 25 players per team, aiming to advance a round ball to the opposing side of the field without carrying it. Although that game was vastly different from modern football, it set the stage for America’s most popular sport. In 1880, Yale University player Walter Camp introduced 11 player teams and the “snap,” which involved the quarterback and the center player, initiating the start of an offensive play. Two years later, the rules were amended by Camp so that teams were limited to three downs, in which they had to advance a minimum of five yards in order to keep the ball. This led to the marking of yard lines in multiples of five, resulting in the name of gridiron football. Now, players are allotted four downs to advance a minimum of 10 yards.

High school football began in the early 20th century and has slightly different rules than collegiate football. Its rules are dictated by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Some key differences between collegiate and preparatory football are quarter lengths, kickoff starting lines, touchback rules and penalties.

Gunn’s football team was established in 1964 with a small junior varsity (JV) team. In 1965, a varsity team was formed. The Gunn football team had a rough start—with three JV players being cut in 1964 for illegal alcohol use. Additionally, during its first season, the varsity team had a losing streak of 0-8. However, Gunn finally won their first varsity game against Carlmont in 1965, breaking Gunn football’s previously unsuccessful outcomes.

Although Gunn football is traditionally known to be less athletically gifted than its neighboring school, Palo Alto High School (Paly), the Gunn football team has won two league championships: one in 1971 and another one in 2021, as well as several California Interscholastic Federation-Central Coast Section (CCS) playoffs.

Varsity football player junior Nolan Tok believes football is an important component of high school, despite Gunn’s poor performance in recent games. “Compared to some other schools in the area, our team is not that great,” Tok said. “However in terms of the team itself, we still have fun just like any other team.”

Sports Commissioner senior Pooja Bucklin notes that football receives a significantly higher level of attention in comparison to other sports. “We have a lot of sports at Gunn that are really [good] that don’t get celebrated at all,” Bucklin said. “Our tennis team is really good. No one talks about it. Our girls water polo team is really good. They won a lot of titles, [yet] still a lot of the focus is on football.”

Gunn football commentator Chris Johnson speculates one reason behind football’s popularity in terms of fans and attendees is the fact that it is a very social sport. Fans are passionate about their team and a culture has formed between the various teams, fostering competition and deep loyalties. “There’s rivalry,” Johnson said. “There’s camaraderie. [It’s] a lot of fun.”

There are many traditions integrated into the culture of football such as tailgating: a pre-game ritual in which fans hang out, often barbecue food and dress up in fan gear. At Gunn, football games are one of the few chances outside of spirit weeks to dress up in different themes to showcase Gunn pride and have fun.

Although the number of players have decreased as time has progressed due to fears regarding serious injuries, football is still known as one of the most prominent high school sports. However, Johnson notes that other high school sports have also been gaining popularity in recent years. “For a long time, football was the big fall sport,” Johnson said. “Then water polo became more popular, and then lacrosse.”

Bucklin believes that in spite of the lack of attention towards other sports, football still deserves its popularity. “I think football is fairly emphasized [because] a lot of the kids on that team are not a part of other groups on campus,” she said. “Because it’s such a big team, it’s giving them a platform to be seen and share something about them. There [are] a ton of kids on that team that don’t do other stuff at Gunn and this is their way to be a part of the community.”

Overall, football will remain a central aspect of high school. Football games are an event where various subgroups of school life can unite and demonstrate school spirit. Tok explains that homecoming was a big influencing factor in his decision to pursue football. “The culture around football is pretty fun and lively,” Tok said. “Things like the Homecoming Game and the Paly game makes you want to play.”

Bucklin feels that any student can enjoy football, regardless of their level of understanding of the sport. “Football [is] a big sport that brings a lot of people together because it’s something you can have fun at, even if you don’t really get it,” she said. “You don’t even have to know what’s going on—you can just scream and it’ll work. That’s the [most fun] part about it. Football just really brings the community together.”