The history of the NFL
Football has supplanted baseball as the national pastime.
In 2007 the NFL experienced one of the most dramatic seasons culminating in perhaps the biggest upset in the Superbowl history. An undefeated team going into the game had a chance of winning it all.
The Origins of the NFL
Football began in 1869 when two college teams, Princeton and Rutgers, played a soccer/rugby game using rules from the London Football Association. Football slowly developed from the rugby experience.
Before 1900, there were a few teams that actively engaged in games. Most were in the Pittsburg area. But the game picked up popularity and teams in Ohio were formed and even paid the players. In 1906 the forward pass was legalized and over time the field goal dropped from five points to four and then to three. The touchdown was still five points, having been changed from four in 1899.
Canton Ohio sported a strong team that won several championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. But by 1920 the game was in a state of confusion. There was no governing body that enforced the rules, schedules were random and made by the teams. Some teams even disbanded before the end of the year.
History of the NFL (1920 - 1940)
The biggest problem with the game at this point was that there were no clearly established league rules, not just for the sport, but also for the commercial interests associated with the game. The American Professional Football Association organized and set down league rules for teams and the game. In 1922 they changed their name to the National Football League. In 1922 the league fielded 18 teams and Canton, once again, going 10, 0, 2 was that year's champion.
Teams were added and then dropped if they drew weak attendance. Some games had over 50,000 spectators. The Chicago Bears were known nationally and began a road trip that included eight games in 12 days. A crowd of 73,000 watched the Bears play against the Giants at the Polo Grounds. The Bears then played nine more games in the south and west, including a game in Los Angeles where 75,000 fans watched them defeat the Los Angeles Tigers in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
However, the NFL not only was gaining in popularity, it began to form its own game identity. In 1933 they changed several rules involving the playing field such as goal lines, the forward pass and goal posts. They also broke the league into two divisions with the winners to meet in a championship game. In 1936 they had their first annual player draft in which the team with the poorest record would choose first.
While most of the activity that touched the league involved the game rules and the franchises, there was another aspect that was slowly coming to the forefront. In 1956 The NFL Players Association was founded. As the game improved, the game became more physical and more violent. And the players needed protection outside of the stadium as well.
The American Football League (1960-1969)
The American Football League played from 1960 until 1969, when it merged with the NFL. The AFL competed with the NFL and it was successful. Although viewed as inferior, the AFL attracted top talent from colleges and even from the NFL by the mid-1960s. In 1966 a merger was announced but only finalized in 1970. Thereafter the NFL had two conferences, the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.
The Superbowl (1966 -)
By the 1950's the NFL was stable enough to have annual championship games. The Superbowl was played between the two leagues. Green Bay played in the first two and won both. But in 1968 the Baltimore Colts were the NFL champions and they were to play the AFL's New York Jets led by Joe Namath as quarterback. The Colts were the prohibitive favorite; Namath predicted a Jet's victory. The press loved it and the Jet's won. This was considered one of the biggest upsets of the game.
In 1973 the Miami Dolphins went undefeated in a 13-game season, then won the Superbowl. In the history of the NFL no team since the 1970 merger had accomplished that. Then in 2007 the NFL experienced one of the most dramatic seasons culminating in perhaps the biggest upset in the Superbowl history: an undefeated team, the Boston Patriots (18 - 0) played the New York Giants (12 - 6), which was a wild card team. The Patriots were a two-touchdown favorite but the Giants won.