The history of the National Football League has roots spanning as far back as 1892 when former Yale All-American guard William Heffelfinger was paid $500 by the Allegheny Athletic Association to play in a game against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, making him the first ever professional football player. However it wasn't until 1920 that American football achieved a league of any true orga
League membership gradually stabilized throughout the 1920s and 1930s as the league adopted progressively more formal organization. The first official championship game was held in 1933. The NFL stopped signing black players in 1927 but reintegrated in 1946 following World War II. Other changes followed after the war; the office of league President evolved into the more powerful Commissioner post, mirroring a similar move in Major League Baseball. Teams became more financially viable, the last team folding in 1952. By 1958, when that season's NFL championship game became known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played", the NFL was on its way to becoming one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States.
The rival American Football League was founded in 1959. It was very successful, and forced a merger with the older NFL that resulted in a greatly expanded league and the creation of the Super Bowl, which has become the most-watched annual sporting event in the United States. The league continued to expand to its current size of 32 teams. A series of labor agreements during the 1990s and increasingly large television contracts has helped keep the league one of the most profitable in the U.S., and the only major league in the U.S. since 1990 to avoid a major work stoppage.
|Green Bay Packers||13|
|New York Giants||7|
|San Francisco 49ers||5|
|New England Patriots||3|
|St. Louis Rams||3|
|Kansas City Chiefs||3|
|New York Jets||1|
|New Orleans Saints||1|
|Providence Steam Roller†||1|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1|
|San Diego Chargers||1|
The National Football League was the idea of legendary American-Indian Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe, player-coach of the Canton Bulldogs, and Leo Lyons, owner of the Rochester Jeffersons, a sandlot football team. Both the Jeffersons and the Buffalo All-Stars were barnstorming through Ohio at the time. After Lyons's Jeffersons played, and lost badly to, Thorpe's Bulldogs in a 1917 match, Lyons (wanting to build a sport that rivaled Major League Baseball in popularity) suggested to Thorpe that a league be formed. Plans could not be initiated immediately in 1918, due to the Spanish flu quarantines and the loss of players to World War I, which led to the Bulldogs suspending operations and most other teams either suspending operations or reducing their schedules to local teams. The teams in New York remained in operation and picked up whatever players were still available.
The next year, however, Lyons started in his home state of New York, challenging a cluster of professional teams in Buffalo to a championship in 1919; the Buffalo Prospects took the challenge and won. Canton was already a part of the unofficial Ohio League, which included teams such as the Bulldogs, the Massillon Tigers, the Shelby Blues and the Ironton Tanks; Thorpe convinced Bulldogs manager Ralph Hay and other Ohio teams to play under a league-style format for 1919, after which the team barnstormed against the Detroit Heralds of Detroit, MI and the Hammond Pros of Chicago, IL. Other independent clusters of teams were playing at about the same time across Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana; Pennsylvania and New York City also had teams but did not contribute any to the NFL at the time of its founding.
Ohio's teams, usually considered the best in the country at the time, went along with the idea in the face of escalating costs: several bidding wars in the early 1900s, both in Pennsylvania and Ohio, had damaged the sport significantly, and another bidding war was about to erupt if something was not done. By forming a national league, teams reasoned that it would eliminate the practices of looting other teams' rosters and concentrating top talent in only a few teams, thus distributing talent more evenly and efficiently thereby reducing costs for each individual team while still keeping a top-level product on the field.
A New League is Born
In August 1920, at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, the league was formalized, originally as the American Professional Football Conference, initially consisting only of the Ohio League teams, although some of the teams declined participation. One month later, the league was renamed the American Professional Football Association, adding Buffalo and Rochester from the New York league, and Detroit, Hammond, and several other teams from nearby circuits. The eleven founding teams initially struck an agreement over player poaching and the declaration of an end-of-season champion. Thorpe, while still playing for the Bulldogs, was elected president. Only four of the founding teams finished the 1920 schedule and the undefeated Akron Pros claimed the first championship. Membership of the league increased to 22 teams – including more of the New York teams – in 1921, but throughout the 1920s the membership was unstable and the league was not a major national sport. On June 24, 1922, the organization changed its title a final time to the National Football League.
Two charter members, the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) and the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears), are still in existence. The Green Bay Packers franchise, founded in 1919, is the oldest team not to change locations, but did not begin league play until 1921. The Portsmouth Spartans joined the NFL in 1930, relocating to Detroit in 1934 to become the Lions.[dead link] The Indianapolis Colts franchise traces its history through several predecessors, including one of the league's founding teams – the Dayton Triangles – but is considered a separate franchise from those teams and was founded as the Baltimore Colts in 1953. Although the original NFL teams representing Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit no longer exist, replacement franchises have since been established for those cities. Early championships were awarded to the team with the best won-lost record, initially rather haphazardly, as some teams played more or fewer games than others, or scheduled games against non-league, amateur or collegiate teams; this led to the title being decided on a tiebreaker in 1921, a disputed title in 1925, and the scheduling of an impromptu indoor playoff game in 1932.
In league meetings prior to the 1933 season, two new teams, the Pirates and the Eagles, were admitted to the NFL on July 8, 1933. Ten teams were now in the NFL and, at George Preston Marshall's urging, with Halas' support, NFL was reorganized into an Eastern Division and a Western Division. In the Eastern Division were the Philadelphia Eagles, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Boston Redskins, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the Western Division were the Chicago Bears, Portsmouth Spartans, Chicago Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, and the Cincinnati Reds. Furthermore, the two owners convinced the league to have the two division winners meet in a NFL Championship Game.
By 1934, all of the small-town teams, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, had moved to or been replaced by teams in big cities, and even Green Bay established a relationship with much larger Milwaukee for support. During the early years of the league, rather coming up with original team names, many of NFL teams simply chose the name of the Major League Baseball team in the same city. Thus the Pittsburgh Steelers were the "Pittsburgh Pirates" for the first seven years of existence and other teams such as the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, and Washington Senators all represented the NFL at one time or another.
An annual draft of college players was first held in 1936. The first televised NFL game was on October 22, 1939 in a game the Eagles lost 23-14 to the host Dodgers at Ebbets Field.It was during this era, however, that the NFL became segregated: there were no black players in professional football in the United States between 1933 and 1945, mainly due to the influence of self-admitted bigot George Preston Marshall, who entered the league in 1932 as the owner of the Boston Braves. Other NFL owners emulated Marshall's tactics to mollify southern fans, and even after the NFL's color barrier had been broken in the 1950s, Marshall's Washington Redskins remained all-white until forced to integrate by the Kennedy administration in 1962. Despite his bigotry, Marshall was selected as a charter member of the NFL-inspired Pro Football Hall of Fame.
College football was the bigger attraction, but by the end of World War II, pro football began to rival the college game for fans' attention. Rule changes and innovations such as the T formation led to a faster-paced, higher-scoring game. The league also expanded out of its eastern and midwestern cradle; in 1945, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, becoming the first big-league sports franchise on the West Coast. In 1950, the NFL accepted three teams – the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts – from the defunct All-America Football Conference, expanding to thirteen clubs. In the 1950s, with league games being broadcast on national television, pro football finally earned its place as a major sport.
At its inception in 1920, the NFL's precursor, the American Professional Football Association, had several minority players, including African-American players: between 1920 and 1926, nine black players suited up for NFL squads. It was also common, due to the number of talented players that were produced by the Carlisle Indian School's football team, to see teams (both inside and outside the NFL) openly market Native Americans; in fact, the Oorang Indians of 1922 to 1923 consisted entirely of Native American talent.
However, since Carlisle had closed in 1918, the talent pool of Indians had dried up. Meanwhile, all black players in the NFL (including future Hall of Famer Fritz Pollard) were summarily kicked out prior to the 1927 season for reasons unexplained. From 1928 to 1932, no more than one black player could be found in the league each season, and none played more than two seasons. In 1933, there were two: Joe Lillard and Ray Kemp. Lillard was kicked off the Chicago Cardinals for fighting, while Kemp left to pursue what would become a successful coaching career. The moves left the league as all-white, and Boston Redskins owner George Preston Marshall allegedly used his pressure to keep it that way for the next several years, though each team's internal politics and cronyism, as well as the rising tide of racism in the United States as a whole, also played a significant role. Even during the wartime years, when much of the NFL's talent was overseas fighting World War II, players such as Kenny Washington who stayed in the United States were still passed up in favor of white players with normally debilitating medical conditions such as partial blindness.
NFL integration occurred only when the Cleveland Rams wanted to move to Los Angeles, and the venue, the Los Angeles Coliseum, required them to integrate their team. They then signed two black players, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. Other NFL teams eventually followed suit, but Marshall refused to integrate the Redskins until forced to by the Kennedy administration as a pre-condition for using D.C. Stadium (now RFK Stadium). In spite of this open bias, Marshall was elected to the NFL's Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. In 1946, the Cleveland Browns of a rival Professional Football league, the All-America Football Conference, signed two black players. By 1960, the NFL's new competitor, the American Football League, actively recruited players from smaller predominantly black colleges that had been largely ignored by the NFL, giving those schools' black players the opportunity to play professional football. Early AFL teams averaged more blacks than did their NFL counterparts.
However, despite the NFL's previous segregationist policies, the clear competitive advantage of AFL teams with liberal signing policies affected the NFL's drafts. By 1969, a comparison of the two league's championship team photos showed the AFL's Chiefs with 23 black players out of 51 players (45%) pictured, while the NFL's Vikings had 11 blacks, of 42 players (26%) in the photo. Chiefs players have been quoted as saying that one motivating factor in their defeat of the Vikings was their pride in their diverse squad. Recent surveys have shown that the current, post-merger NFL is approximately 57–61% non-white (this includes African Americans, Polynesians, non-white Hispanics, Asians, and people that are mixed race.)
By the middle of the 1960s competition for players, including separate college drafts, was driving up player salaries. In 1965, in the most high profile such contest and a major boost to the AFL, University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath signed with the New York Jets rather than the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals for a then-record $427,000. In 1966, the NFL's New York Giants broke an informal agreement and signed placekicker Pete Gogolak, who was under contract to the AFL's Buffalo Bills. Then AFL Commissioner Al Davis embarked on a campaign to sign players away from the NFL, especially quarterbacks, but behind the scenes a number of NFL team owners began action to end the detrimental rivalry.
Several NFL franchises led by Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm asked to meet with AFL owners to negotiate a merger. In an agreement brokered by Schramm and AFL founder Lamar Hunt, the two leagues announced their merger deal on June 8, 1966. The leagues would thenceforth hold a Common Draft and an end-of-season World Championship Game between the two league champions (later known as the Super Bowl and reverting to simply an NFL championship game). Still another city received an NFL franchise thanks to the AFL, as New Orleans was awarded an NFL team after Louisiana's federal Congressmen pushed for the passage of Public Law 89-800, which permitted the merger and exempted the action from Anti-Trust restrictions. The monopoly that would be created needed to be legitimized by an act of Congress. In 1970, the leagues fully merged under the name National Football League and divided into two conferences of an equal number of teams. There was a financial settlement, with the AFL teams paying a combined $18 million over 20 years.
Although the AFL's identity was subsumed by the NFL, the new league eventually adopted many of the AFL's innovations including the on-field game clock, names on player jerseys, recruiting at small and predominantly black colleges, gate and television revenue-sharing, establishment of southern franchises, and more wide-open offensive rules.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the NFL solidified its dominance as America's top spectator sport and its important role in American culture. The Super Bowl became an unofficial national holiday and the top-rated TV program most years. Monday Night Football, which first aired in 1970, brought in high ratings by mixing sports and entertainment. Rule changes in the late 1970s ensured a fast-paced game with lots of passing to attract the casual fan.
The World Football League was the first post-merger challenge to the NFL's dominance, and in 1974, successfully lured some top NFL talent to its league and prompted a few rules changes in the NFL. However, financial problems led the league to fold halfway through its 1975 season. Two teams, the Birmingham Vulcans and Memphis Southmen, made unsuccessful efforts to move from the WFL to the NFL.
The founding of the United States Football League in the early 1980s was the biggest challenge to the NFL in the post-merger era. The USFL was a well-financed competitor with big-name players and a national television contract. However, the USFL failed to make money and folded after three years. The USFL filed a successful anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, but the remedies were minimal, and mismanagement (most notably, a planned move of its niche spring football season to a head-to-head competition in the fall) led to the league's collapse.
2001 saw the establishment of the XFL, an attempt by Vince McMahon and NBC, which had lost the NFL broadcast rights for that year, to compete with the league; the XFL folded after just one season. Unlike the WFL and USFL, the XFL had no impact on the NFL's rules or franchise locations (its attempts at innovations were often ridiculed), but a few NFL players used the XFL to relaunch their careers. The United Football League, which began play in 2009, had originally planned to take a direct challenge to the NFL with NFL-comparable salaries and teams in New York City and Los Angeles, but the UFL never did play in those cities (an ostensibly New York team played in Long Island and New Jersey), cut back its salaries, and instead opted for a complementary approach with teams in cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Hartford. Several other upstart leagues (such as the AAFL, UNGL, and New USFL) are also planned, but they have all been set back by financial and organizational problems, and none have taken the field yet; all of these proposed leagues will play in the spring and have no plans to compete with the NFL, either for talent or for fans.
On August 31, 2007, a story in USA Today unveiled the first changes to the league's shield logo since 1970, which took effect with the 2008 season. The redesign reduced the number of stars in the logo from 23 (which were found not to have a meaning beyond being decorative) to eight (for each of the league's divisions), repositioned the football in the manner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and changed the NFL letters to a straight, serifed font. The redesign was created with television and digital media, along with clothing, in mind. The shield logo itself dates back to the 1940s.
In recent years, the NFL has expanded into new markets and ventures outside of the United States, beginning with a regular series of exhibition games known as the American Bowl, then with a European based developmental league culminating in the now defunct NFL Europa, and starting in 2005 the league began hosting regular season games outside the United States, the first in Mexico City, Mexico, and then from 2007 hosting games London, England, and from 2008 in Toronto, Canada.
The American Bowl games began in 1986 and continued until 2005 at various sites in countries around the world. Then in 1991, the league formed the World League of American Football, later known as NFL Europe and still later as NFL Europa, a developmental league that had teams in Britain, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. The NFL shut down the program in June 2007.
The league played a regular-season NFL game in Mexico City in 2005, the first-ever NFL regular season game held outside the United States, and marketed across the league as the Fútbol Americano game. On October 28, 2007, a regular season game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants was held outside of North America for the first time in Wembley Stadium, the 90,000-seat national stadium, in London. It was a financial success with nearly 40,000 tickets sold within ninety minutes of the start of sales, and a game-day attendance of over 80,000. In 2008, the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers played at Wembley, and in October 2009, the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers met. In 2010, it was the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers that played in London. Starting from the 2008-09 season, building on league links with Toronto, the Buffalo Bills play an annual home game in Toronto's Rogers Centre, marketed by the team as the Bills Toronto Series.
After 100 years of American football influence in Mexican territory, in 1998 NFL opened a representation office in Mexico, called NFL México, as the NFL identified Mexico as a key market outside the United States due to proximity and tradition. The Mexican office handles sponsorship, licencing, detail dealers, sport culture, broadcasting, public relationships and community service.[dead link]
Franchise relocations and mergers
In the early years, the league was not stable and teams moved frequently. Franchise mergers were popular during World War II in response to the scarcity of players. An example of this was the Steagles, temporarily formed as a merger between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late twentieth century when a vastly more popular NFL was free from financial instability and allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. This was done in spite of the promises to Congress by Pete Rozelle in 1966 that if the AFL-NFL merger were allowed, no city would lose its franchise. Those promises were made to ensure passage of PL 89-800, which granted anti-trust immunity to the merged professional football leagues. While owners invariably cited financial difficulties as the primary factor in such moves, many fans bitterly disputed these contentions, especially in Cleveland (the Rams and the Browns), Baltimore (the Colts), Houston (the Oilers), and St. Louis (the Cardinals), each of which eventually received teams some years after their original franchises left (the Browns, another Browns, Ravens, Texans, and Rams, respectively). Notably, Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States, has not had an NFL team since 1994 after both the Raiders and the Rams relocated elsewhere. However, a new stadium project, tentatively known as Los Angeles Stadium, was approved in 2009 with the expressed purpose of attracting an NFL team to the Los Angeles market.
While baseball is known as "America's national pastime," football is the most popular sport in the United States. According to the Harris Poll, professional football moved ahead of baseball as the fans' favorite in 1965, during the emergence of the NFL's challenger, the American Football League, as a major professional football league. Football has remained America's favorite sport ever since. In a Harris Poll conducted in 2008, the NFL was the favorite sport of as many people (30%) as the combined total of the next three professional sports – baseball (15%), auto racing (10%), and hockey (5%). Additionally, football's American television viewership ratings now surpass those of other sports, although football season comprises far fewer games than the seasons of other sports.
However, the Harris Poll only allows one unaided selection of a "favorite sport." Other studies and polls such as the ESPN Sports Poll and the studies released by the Associated Press (AP) and conducted by Sports Marketing Group (SMG) from 1988 to 2004, show far higher levels of popularity for NFL football since they list from thirty to over 100 sports that each respondent must rate. According to the AP, the SMG polls from 1988 to 2004 show NFL football to be the most popular spectator sport in America. The AP stated that "In the most detailed survey ever of America's sports tastes" researching "114 spectator sports they might attend, follow on television or radio or read about in newspapers or magazines, the NFL topped all sports with 39 percent of Americans saying they loved it or considered it one of their favorites." The total percentage of Americans who liked or loved NFL Football exceeds 60% of the American Public. In a 2003 study conducted by SMG and released by the AP, the NFL was loved or liked a lot by 42.8% of Americans over 18.
The NFL has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world. However, the NFL's overall attendance is only approximately 20% of Major League Baseball, due to the latter's longer schedule (162-game scheduled regular season).
A 2007 Turnkey Sports & Entertainment's Team Brand Index for "team loyalty" ranked NFL teams in twelve of the top twenty-five spots out of 122 total between the four major sports leagues. The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fanbase had the top spot, while the New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts had the following two spots, followed by the New Orleans Saints at number seven and the Green Bay Packers and their fanbase ranked at number ten. The Arizona Cardinals finished last in the entire survey of 122 teams, though the survey was taken before the team's appearance against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
- History of American football
- United States antitrust law
- Tallies the amount of titles collected in the National Football League (1920-present), and the American Football League (1960-1969).
- National Football League "NFL History by Decade" 2009.
- Lyons, 2010 pg. 84
- Lyons, 2010 pg. 85
- Algeo, 2006, p. 161-162.
- Peterson, 1997, p. 124-125.
- Charles K. Ross (1999). Outside the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National Football League. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-7495-4.
- With the exception of the various teams in ice hockey's Pacific Coast Hockey Association, which was a rival to the National Hockey League in the 1910s and 1920s.
- Sports Illustrated, October 12, 2009
- Charles K. Ross (1999). Outside the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National Football League. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-7495-4.
- McCarthy, Michael (August 31, 2007). "NFL to revamp shield with redesigned logo". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/2007-08-30-shield-change_N.htm. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
- "NFL sells 40,000 tickets in 90 minutes". http://www.nfllondon2007.com/news.aspx?id=36.
- Chargers, Saints to play in London in 2008
- Commissioner announces Toronto plan for Bills
- "Q&A with Edward Roski Jr". 2009-10-17. http://www.sgvtribune.com/stadium/ci_13583657.
- http://www.harrisinteractive.com/vault/Harris-Interactive-Poll-Research-Professional-Football-Still-Americas-Favorite-Sport-2008-02.pdf Professional Football Still America’s Favorite Sport
- National Football League, "NFL:America's Choice," January 2007, http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Documents/NFL_all_about_SB_1-07.pdf
- "NBA Booming, But Football Is America's Favorite Sport". The Seattle Times. February 21, 1991. http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19910221&slug=1267313.
- CNN; AP; 9/27/03
- Algeo, Matthew (2006), Last Team Standing. Philadelphia:Da Capo Press. ISBN ISBN 978-0-306-81472-3
- Lyons, Robert S. (2010). On Any Given Sunday, A Life of Bert Bell. Philadelphia:Temple University Press. ISBN ISBN 978-1-59213-731-2
- Peterson, Robert W. (1997). Pigskin New York:Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507607-9
- NFL History at NFL.com