The NFL started life back in 1920 when it was called the American Professional Football Conference. It was officially formalised in an automobile dealership in Canton, Ohio and consisted of local teams from the Ohio League. The building is no longer there but the site is marked with a plaque. A month later, on September 17th, it was renamed to the slightly different, American Professional Football Association at which time it also added the Buffalo and Rochester teams from the New York league as well as a few others from nearby. By this stage, the league stood at just 10 teams.
To get to this stage of a more national setup as opposed to the previous setup where many local leagues were operating independently had been a tough journey for the league. Previous attempts to bring the teams together to play one another had been scuppered by various things including the first world war and a flu pandemic which broke out in 1918. Players had to go off and fight during the war years and then travel was heavily restricted during the pandemic meaning teams couldn’t get to where they were going to play. All this meant that the league struggled to operate at this time in its history.
The name of the league changed again to the one we know and love today, the National Football League (NFL), in 1922. Only two of the original teams still exist today although they have different names and play in different locations. The Decatur Staleys were formed in 1919 by the A. E. Staley food starch company in Decatur, Illinois and are now the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals are now the Arizona Cardinals via a stop in St. Louis.
Whilst we’re talking about original teams, the Green Bay Packers, who were formed in 1919 and joined the NFL in 1921, are the only team to still be playing in their original location and under the same name.
The league continued as it was up until 1933 when it changed its structure to have two divisions with five teams in each. A championship game was also introduced at this point.
The idea of the college draft was introduced into the league in 1936 and allowed players of the popular college game to go into the NFL.
The first televised game was on October 22nd, 1939 and was played out between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The team from Brooklyn won this game by a score of 23-14.
At this stage, the college game was still more popular but after World War Two the NFL started to gain in popularity. This was being achieved by rules changes, to make the game more exciting for the spectator, and by expansion of the league. The then-Cleveland Rams relocated all the way out to Los Angeles in 1945 and became the Los Angeles Rams. They were the first NFL team on the west coast and outside the North East/Mid West regions America. The league also expanded in the form of how many teams were in the league. It expanded to 13 teams with the introduction of the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Colts. These teams came over to the NFL from the All-America Football Conference after it collapsed in 1949 due to financial difficulties.
The next big thing to happen to increase the NFL’s popularity was when the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants met in a televised game that would become known as ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’. It was the 1958 championship game and had an exciting ending. It was the first NFL playoff game to go into sudden-death overtime and had people glued. The Baltimore Colts managed to come out as 23-17 winners and were crowned the NFL Champions. This game was to start an NFL popularity surge and establish the league as a legitimate organisation within the world of sports.
Through the 1950’s the NFL had the monopoly on professional football, but in 1960 a group of disgruntled, wanna-be NFL team owners decided to create their own league after failing to gain ownership of an NFL franchise. This league was called the American Football League (AFL) and consisted of 8 teams split into 2 divisions.
New York Titans
Los Angeles Chargers
The AFL proved to be a successful challenger to the more established NFL and it’s grip on professional football. During the mid 1960’s, player’s salaries increased as the NFL and AFL battled each other to attract the biggest names to their respective leagues. A big step forward for the AFL was when a certain Alabama University quarterback back, called Joe Namath, decided to sign to play for the New York Jets of the AFL instead of the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL when he entered the pro game. The then AFL commisioner, Al Davis, made it his mission to sign players away from the NFL with particular effort put into gaining the signatures of quarterbacks.
The team owners of both leagues eventually got together and agreed that the way things were going would prove to be no good for either league. They agreed that a merger would be the best course of action and made the announcement in June 1966 that the merger would be planned for and made to happen in 1970, which it did. They also agreed that a championship game would happen each year leading up to the merger and would be called the Super Bowl, which is still the ultimate prize in today’s game. The first Super Bowl was played the next year, 1967, between the Green Bay Packers of the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs (previously the Dallas Texans) of the AFL. The Packers ran out convincing winners by a score of 35-10 at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. The owners also agreed to run a single college draft instead of separate ones for each league.
When the merger finally happened in 1970 the new NFL was created along with a new league structure. There were two conferences setup, one with the NFL teams in and one with the AFL teams in. These would be known as the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC) which we still have today. The NFL had more teams so it was agreed that 3 of their franchises would move into the AFC. The teams to switch were: Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers. As part of the merger agreement, the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were added to the league but not until 1976.
The 1970’s and 1980’s saw the new look NFL go from strength to strength and the Super Bowl became the top-rated TV programme for most years.
There were a few people who thought they could challenge the NFL for pro-football dominance of which the World Football League was one. The WFL was formed in 1974 but soon failed and folded midway through it’s second season.
The next upstart league was the USFL which came along in 1983 and was a well-backed venture. Due to its good financial position the league actually managed to entice some big name players away from the NFL when it came to them deciding their futures. A couple of these bigger names were Jim Kelly and Herschel Walker who both joined the league straight out of college. Jim Kelly eventually went on to become a fan favourite and legend within the Buffalo Bills organisation after playing for them at QB and Herschel Walker found his way to play for a bad Dallas Cowboys team as an RB after the USFL collapsed in 1985 due to it not being able to generate any profits.
Next to have a pop at knocking the NFL off its perch was the XFL in 2001. The XFL was a venture by World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now known as WWE) owner Vince McMahon and the NBC TV channel. NBC lost the rights to televise NFL games this year so thought they’d help create an alternative. This league was actually thought of to fill the void left in many fan’s football hearts during the NFL off-season. It failed in its quest though as it failed to secure much of a following and folded after it’s the first season. The XFL did, however, leave us with one good thing. It left us with the Skycam we see during NFL games today. This is the camera we see whizzing overhead on cables giving us some great aerial shots of the games.
As recently as 2009 the United Football League tried to set up in direct competition with the NFL by having its teams play in the same cities as some of the NFL teams like New York and Los Angeles. They also intended to pay the same kinds of salaries to players as the NFL was doing at that time. They soon changed their ideas though and decided to put their teams in other cities such as Las Vegas, Omaha and Sacramento. They also reduced the salary structure they would use. After the changes, the league failed and soon folded after suffering massive financial losses.
Today the NFL is made up of 32 teams which are still split into the AFC and NFC since the NFL/AFL merger. The 16 teams in each conference are then further separated into divisions. They are the North, East, South and West (so, NFC North, NFC East, NFC South and NFC West. Then the same again for the AFC). The teams are put into the divisions depending on their location within the USA. The top team from the AFC will represent that conference in the Super Bowl and play against the top team from the NFC after the regular season and a series of Playoff games have been played. Check out the NFL Structure page for more on this.
The league is now firmly cemented as the absolute pinnacle of the football world after many long years of getting to where it is now. It isn’t standing still and praising itself, though, it is instead trying to push on and spread the popularity of the game and the league throughout the world. The NFL London games and those played in Mexico are prime examples of what they are doing to spread the NFL globally and you can be part of its continued growth.
This website is here as a means for you to keep informed and up-to-date with the goings-on of the NFL London games and the teams that are involved each year. I will also be including the other NFL international games from around the world. It is also intended to make your life easier if you’re planning a trip to any of the games within the series. So, have a look around and check back regularly for new posts and info will be added all the time.