A Centennial in the Making: 100 Seasons of the National Football League.



The NFL 100th anniversary logo is seen on the field during an NFL preseason football game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

David Henshaw, Sports Editor

City of Canton, OH
Odd Fellows Building, site of the 1920 meeting that established the National Football League

On August 20th, 1920, 5 representatives of teams (Art Ranney- owner of the Akron Pros, Ralph Hay- owner of the Canton Bulldogs,  Jimmy O’Donnell- owner of the Cleveland Tigers, and Bud Talbott- Head Coach of the Dayton Triangles, also in attendance was George Halas- owner of the Decatur Staleys and league founder) came to a showroom in Canton, OH. They left Canton with plans to unify their teams under one league, the American Professional Football Conference. Another meeting on September 17th, of the same year would add six more teams,  the Hammond Pros and Muncie Flyers from Indiana; the Rochester Jeffersons from New York; and the Rock Island Independents, Decatur Staleys, and Racine (Chicago) Cardinals from Illinois. The league would then elect Jim Thorpe, yes that Jim Thorpe, as its first president, and expanded to 14 teams (the Buffalo All-Americans, Chicago Tigers, Columbus Panhandles, and Detroit Heralds joined the league during the year.)





Pro Football Hall of Fame
The first pre-NFL game played.


the first game occurred on October 3rd, 1920 when the Dayton Triangles defeated the Columbus Panhandles 14-0 at Triangle Park. The APFC was then renamed to the American Professional Football Association. That meeting created two teams of the modern day league, the Chicago Cardinals would become the Arizona Cardinals and the Decatur Staleys would become the Chicago Bears. In 1921, a team older than the APFA joined them, founded in 1919, the Green Bay Acme Packers, which would later become the Green Bay Packers. In 1922 the AFPA, went through its final name change, to become the National Football League. The newly renamed NFL stabilized its popularity through the Great Depression and World War II, with the creation of the New York Football Giants, which would later become the New York Giants, however many of its founding teams would later collapse before the 1930s and segregation would take effect for twelve years.

First logo of the NFL before the 1970 merger.

Through numerous rival leagues, the most infamous being the All-America Football Conference and three iterations of the American Football League, In league meetings prior to the 1933 season, three new teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates, which would later become the Steelers the Cincinnati Reds, would later become the Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles, were admitted to the NFL. Ten teams were then in the NFL and, at George Preston Marshall’s urging, with Halas’ support, the 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, later moves to Washington D.C., 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. 




Remember the AFL
First logo of the American Football League.

However when the final iteration of the American Football League was established in 1960 with two divisions, the Eastern and Western divisions. All of the teams remaining active to the modern day, including in the Eastern Division (the Boston Patriots, which would become the six time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, New York Titans, which would become the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Houston Oilers, which would later become the Tennessee Titans.) The Western Division consisted of (the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, which might become the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Dallas Texans, which would later become the Kansas City Chiefs.) However, the NFL was also establishing teams late in the 1960s, ( Dallas Cowboys-1960, Atlanta Falcons-1966, New Orleans Saints-1967, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, post-merger.)




NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle (Left) giving Vince Lombardi (Right) the trophy.

On July 26th, 1966, NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle became Chief Executive of the AFL, through that the rival leagues made a partial merger, indicating separate regular season and playoff schedules, the winners of the leagues would later meet up in a world championship game. In 1967, the NFL and friendly rival league AFL had its first game against one another, it was known as the First World Championship Game AFL vs NFL, that game would later be known as the first Super Bowl. The Kansas City Chiefs (Formerly Dallas Texans) led by Len Dawson and Hank Stram and the Green Bay Packers, led by none other than Bart Starr, the first Super Bowl MVP and Vince Lombardi. The Lombardi Packers defeated the Chiefs 35-10.




Map of AFL and NFL teams affected by the 1970 merger.

In 1970, the friendly leagues became impatient to merge, with the first two World Championships going to the NFL and the next two going to the AFL, the league began seeing the AFL as an equal, with that the two leagues agreed to a complete merger to establish the modern-day National Football League by establishing the AFL’s last teams, the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals, along that came the creation of two conferences, the American Football Conference, the last remnants of the AFL, with the NFL’s (Baltimore Colts, later moves to Indianapolis, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers)  and the National Football Conference, featuring most of the teams of the pre-merger NFL.






American Broadcasting Company Sports on ESPN
The first logo of ABC’s Monday Night Football launched 1970 and moved to ESPN in 2006.

During that time, all three of the major television networks signed contracts to televise games, thus ensuring the combined league’s stability. CBS agreed to broadcast all games where an NFC team was on the road, NBC agreed to broadcast all games where an AFC team was on the road, and ABC agreed to broadcast Monday Night Football, making the NFL the first league to have a regular series of national telecasts in prime time. The NFL would likely not have been able to retain both CBS and NBC had it not done the AFC-NFC setup.







John Taylor catching the game-winning TD from Joe Montana to help the 49ers win their third Super Bowl.

Today, the NFL is considered the most popular sports league in North America; much of its growth is attributed to former Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who led the league from 1960 to 1989. Overall annual attendance increased from three million at the beginning of his tenure to seventeen million by the end of his tenure, and 400 million global viewers watched Joe Montana throwing to John Taylor for the game-winning TD to win Super Bowl XXIII. The NFL established NFL Properties in 1963. The league’s licensing wing, NFL Properties earns the league billions of dollars annually; Rozelle’s tenure also marked the creation of NFL Charities and a national partnership with United Way.






First logo of NBC’s Sunday Night Football program.

Paul Tagliabue was elected as commissioner to succeed Rozelle; his seventeen-year tenure, which ended in 2006, after he helped NBC’s Dick Ebersol establish the NFL’s crowning telecast, Sunday Night Football in 2006, and would later help establish the League’s first 24-hour channel, NFL Network in 2004. It was marked by large increases in television contracts and the established its latest addition of expansion teams (Tennessee Titans, Formerly Houston Oilers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, and Houston Texans, as its final expansion to replace the Oilers.) as well as the introduction of league initiatives to increase the number of minorities in league and team management roles. The league’s current Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has focused on reducing the number of illegal hits and making the sport safer, mainly through fining or suspending players who break rules. These actions are among many the NFL is taking to reduce concussions and improve player safety.



Current logo for Thursday Night Football, with FOX Sports.

The newly-elected Commissioner, Goodell would introduce the NFL Network’s own football telecast, Thursday Night Football. The program started on NFL Network, with some games airing to ESPN, it would be moved to different networks, first at CBS for two seasons during its Super Bowl 50 broadcasting season, then to NBC for two seasons during its Super Bowl LII broadcasting season, and finally to FOX currently for two seasons, with the 100th season as its Super Bowl LIV broadcasting season. During the season the NFL Network will air a show for the 100 greatest players of the National Football League, hosted by host of NFL Gameday host, Rich Eisen, former Cincinnati Bengals legend and Sunday Night Football analyst, Cris Collinsworth, and the most winning coach (Regular season and postseason) and six time Super Bowl champion as Head Coach, Bill Belichick.




Welcome to the 100th season of the National Football League.