It was in 1876 when the first rules for American football were drafted; and 1892 when the first professional football player was made as William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was paid $500 to play for a single game; but it wasn’t until 1920 when the American Professional Football Association (APFA) was founded. A year later, the league drafted its constitution and by-laws and started implementing rules on territorial rights, player movements and membership criteria for the franchises among many others signaling what was the start of an organized pro football league. Then, in 1922, the APFA changed its name to the National Football League (NFL) the same name that the league is using until today.BET ON SPORTS
1930 to 1960
In 1932, statistics were recorded for the first time and the pro league deviated from some of the rules also used in college football.This is also the year when the league decided to adopt an annual draft for rookies for the first time. In 1939, the first Pro Bowl was organized featuring the NFL champions versus a collection of all-stars from the NFL. The New York Giants defeated the Pro All-Stars, 13-10 at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles. The first-ever televised game between the Brooklyn Dodgers vs. the Philadelphia Eagles at the Ebbets Field in New York also happened this year.
In 1941, Elmer Layden became the first Commissioner of the NFL as the headquarters were moved to Chicago. A year later, with the World War II brewing players were called for military service and the rosters were depleted. This meant temporary mergers in the years that followed; Philadelphia-Pittsburgh (1943), Cardinals-Steelers (1944) and Boston-Brooklyn (1945).
The year 1950 saw the league return to the unlimited free substitution rule which began the era of two platoons and specialization teams in football. The same year, the Los Angeles Rams became the first NFL team to have all of its games covered on television. Later on, the NFL championship game was televised across the nation for the first time. 1956 marked the creation of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).
In 1958, the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants in a sudden-death overtime in the championship game prompting fans and the media to call it “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” From this point on, the NFL was being considered as one of the most popular sports in the country.
1961 – 1980
In 1966, the announcement of the merger between the NFL and the American Football League (AFL, founded in 1959) was revealed. Under the agreement, this meant an expanded league to 24 teams. There were still separate schedules for both parties until 1969 but they agreed to play an annual NFL-AFL World Championship game starting in 1967. The Green Bay Packers dumped the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10 in Super Bowl I, the first-ever game between the AFL and NFL. The year after, the Packers continued their success earning their 2nd Super Bowl win against Oakland, 33-14. The game marked the first time pro football drew a $3M gate attendance.
The number of teams grew to 26 by 1970 when the league adopted rules changes such as putting names on the backs of players’ jerseys, making a point after a touchdown worth only one point and making the scoreboard clock the official timing device of the game. Also in the same year, the Super Bowl trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi trophy. 1971 saw the first-ever American Football Conference-National Football Conference (AFC-NFC) Pro Bowl as the former defeated the latter, 27-6. In 1973, Miami beat Washington, 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to complete the perfect season for a record of 17-0 combined in the regular season and the post season—the first team to achieve the feat. 1975 saw referees being equipped with wireless microphones for all games while in 1976, the owners adopted the use of two 30-second clocks—the time for the signal and snap—visible to players and the fans. This was also the same year when the first-ever NFL game outside of North America was played—St. Louis defeated San Diego, 20-10 in a preseason game in Tokyo, Japan.
In 1978, Super Bowl XII was held indoors—a first for an NFL championship game—as Dallas defeated Denver, 27-10 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. With the regular season schedule upped from 14 to 16 games in this season, NFL’s paid attendance exceeded the 12M-mark for the first time.
1981 – 2000
The 80s opened with a Pittsburgh Super Bowl win and the first Pro Bowl game played in a non-NFL city. Later that year, the NFL Draft is televised for the first time. The year after, Oakland defeated Philadelphia, 27-10 in Super Bowl XV and they became the first wild-card team to win the championship. TV ratings continued to rise for the league as ratings record was being broken left and right. On the rules front, in 1990, the NFL changed its draft eligibility rules welcoming college juniors and revised the playoff format to include two additional wild-card teams. The same year the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy was renamed the Pete Rozelle trophy.
In 1991, the NFL launched the World League of American Football to become the first sports league to operate on a weekly basis on two separate continents. In 1993, the league announced its plan to allow fans to join players and coaches in selecting the players who will participate in the Pro Bowl. The year after, the all-time NFL record for any game was established when 112,376 fans went to Mexico City to watch the American Bowl game between Dallas and Houston. By 2000, the league was drawing record numbers in paid gate attendance and TV ratings.
The Baltimore Ravens opened the decade with the franchise’s first-ever title when they defeated the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001. Also established this year was the new scheduling format where every team meets every other team at least once every four years. In 2002, the Houston Texans joined the NFL as the newest franchise for a total of 32 teams. The New England Patriots established their dynasty winning three championships in four years— versus St. Louis Rams (2002), Carolina Panthers (2004) and Philadelphia Eagles (2005). In between these years, in 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also won their first-ever Super Bowl title beating the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Pittsburgh Steelers won two championships, in 2006 and 2009 to become the NFL franchise with the most NFL Super Bowl titles with six championships.