100 years of NFL journey, set a milestone in American sports

September 17 might not be so important to many of us, but the very day bears some historical significance for the native Americans. Yes, we are talking about the heart of American sports- the National Football League or the 100 years of NFL celebration. This year the celebration might have limited to some extent, but deep down the day still triumphs over any celebration for the game lovers.

At first, it was not structured or named as NFL; instead, it was called the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and later renamed the NFL in 1922 with the guidance of the league’s first president was Jim Thorpe, who happened to be the most famous athlete of that era.

“It was moved and seconded that a permanent organization is formed to be known as the American Professional Football Association. Motion carried.”- Akron professional football team published this statement in 1920 on the occasion of starting professional football. But the professional football was in the scene from 1892 when former Yale star William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was paid a substantial sum of $500 to play in a single game for the Allegheny Athletic Association on November 12. 

Starting of NFL journey

Later in 1895, the first football game played between two fully professional teams – Latrobe Athletic Association and the Jeannette Athletic Club, where Latrobe won by 12-0. In the meantime, some baseball clubs took the initiative to start professional champions league, which could only last for two years. The Philadelphia Athletics, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Philadelphia Phillies will always be remembered for taking such significant steps.

NFL 100 years
The founding protocols of the NFL; Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame

After this initiative, there was a considerable gap and some sheer mismanagement. At that time, the Ohio League was the dominant one and club rivalries encouraged players to constantly jump from team to team, following the highest payment. Even the best teams weren’t making any money due to the ever-rising costs of players. Up to 2015, there was not much progress in kicking off any professional season officially. 

Then in 1919, Ohio wanted to see if they could open up the Ohio League to all the pro teams that wanted to play. Everything was changing drastically, and Football started looking so good that they started talking about forming a league. That got the attention of Ralph Hay, the young man who owned the Canton Bulldogs, the powerhouse team of the Ohio League. Hay told the papers that if it occurs, it will be on the ground floor in Canton.

1920, the starting of the NFL 100 years

In the following year, Eleven franchises from Ohio arranged a meeting at a Hupmobile car dealership in Canton, Ohio. But unfortunately, they could not fit there, and the representatives sat on the running boards and fenders of the $3,000 showroom cars during their meeting. They agreed to form the American Professional Football Conference and meet again a month later to finalize the formal protocols for the season. 

And finally, on 20th September, the league renames itself the American Professional Football Association, adds two teams from New York and two from the Detroit area at a time. 

NFL 100 years
The first match of NFL: Source: www.cincinnati.com

Four additional teams soon signed on, and on Sept. 26, the first game was played in front of 800 people. A week later, the first game featuring a match-up of two APFA teams was played. No wonder the league was still haphazard, though, and teams could play non-league opponents to fill out their schedules.

The Buffalo All-Americans, Chicago Tigers, Columbus Panhandles, and Detroit Heralds joined the league before the end of the season, increasing the total number of teams to 14, but the inaugural season was a struggle as it got a little attention from the press and financial aid provider. As a result, at the end of the season, there were no playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl, and it took more than four months before the league even bothered to crown the champion. Still, we would say a giant leap of courage to show the world some magical glimpse of the game.

NFL 2nd season began with 22 teams

The APFA begins its second season with 22 teams and the league championship that year was decided by a tiebreaker. By the year 1925, several college stars joined the league and it was a league of 25 strong teams. That year the Akron Pros made Fritz Pollard their head coach, making Pollard the first Black head coach in league history. The winner was Chicago Staleys with 9-1-1, giving Halas his first championship.

The game kept growing on and on and the first annual NFL draft of college players was held in 1936. But the league has seen almost every possible disaster while growing up to this phase. The shortage of players even caused the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia franchises to combine as the “Steagles temporarily.” The next year Pittsburgh would team up with the Chicago Cardinals as the “Card-Pitts.” The Dallas Texans franchise shut down in 1952. 

The players were trying to form an association while mustering up their needs and aspirations form the league. Then the leagues become fully merged, dividing into two conferences, a National Conference with former NFL teams and an American Conference with former AFL teams. 

Rival leagues of NFL

Over the years, the NFL could captivate people’s heart undoubtedly, but it had to face some tough competitions too. The World Football League, the USFL, the XFL are some of the leagues that began with an array of changing rules to make the game more splashy and viewer-friendly, all but lasted too short. 

The extra-ordinary growth of the NFL can’t be located from these single events rather than a wholesome experience by the game officials and the players will demonstrate the real journey. Pro footballer Joe Horrigan said that “It was a strange turn of events for Hay and other small-city franchises. They built the league. But by the end of the decade, they were all but gone.”

No one forgot the journey or the men who were behind the success of the league. They remember every single soul associated with the league. This is the beauty, the power of the game. A true celebration indeed for us!

Sadia Afrin

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Architecture Student II Content Writer


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