Touchdowns and Time: A Brief History of the NFL

The National Football League (NFL), America’s preeminent professional football organization, has a rich and fascinating history. From its inception in a car showroom to its current status as a global sports powerhouse, the NFL’s journey is a testament to the enduring allure of gridiron football.

NFL logo on a field
Photo credit Adrian Curiel (sourced via Unsplash)

The Birth of the NFL

In September 1920, representatives from 11 professional football clubs convened in Ralph Hay’s automobile showroom in Canton, Ohio. Their objective was to save their sport from financial collapse, not to buy cars. At the time, professional football was largely overshadowed by the college game and relegated to small Midwestern industrial cities.

These team owners, plagued by escalating player salaries and bidding wars, yearned for a robust league akin to baseball’s. Their vision was to elevate the professional game’s standard, eliminate player bidding, and coordinate schedules. This meeting resulted in the formation of the American Professional Football Association (APFA).

The Early Challenges and the APFA

The APFA faced several challenges in its infancy. Teams were responsible for scheduling their contests, including non-league and college teams, which counted towards their records. This lack of standardization meant the number of games played and the quality of opponents varied significantly.

Also, the league struggled to get the media and fans to pay attention to it. Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football, written by Robert W. Peterson, claims that the average attendance at APFA games was a meager 4,000. Even though it was written into the association’s bylaws, the $100 entry fee was never actually collected.

The First APFA Season

On Sept. 26, 1920, the first game featuring an APFA team was played. The Rock Island Independents trounced the St. Paul Ideals 48-0 at Douglas Park in Illinois. A week later, the Dayton Triangles defeated Columbus 14-0, marking the league’s first head-to-head encounter.

The inaugural season introduced four additional teams, bringing the total to 14. However, the lack of playoffs and delayed crowning of a champion signaled a disorganized start to the league’s journey.

The APFA Turns Into the NFL

Recognizing the need for more robust leadership, team owners replaced inaugural president Jim Thorpe with Columbus Panhandles owner Joe Carr. In 1922, the APFA was rebranded as the National Football League.

Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs
Photo Courtesy: Chris Willis

Despite the roaring twenties, the NFL limped along. College football continued to reign supreme, attracting crowds as large as 100,000. Only after signing college sensation Red Grange in 1925 did the NFL start to gain traction.

Red Grange
Credit: Sourced from Library of Congress (npcc 15254 // Red Grange at Washington during the 1st barnstorming tour on December 8, 1925.

Legacy of APFA

The legacy of two APFA franchises continues to this day. The Racine Cardinals, who once played home games at Normal Park on Chicago’s Racine Avenue, now compete in Arizona. The Decatur Staleys relocated to Chicago in 1921 and became the Bears a year later.

The NFL Today

Today, the NFL comprises 32 teams, divided into the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The league’s season culminates with a 14-team playoff tournament, leading to the Super Bowl championship game.

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Despite its humble beginnings and early struggles, the NFL has withstood the test of time. As the most formidable professional football league in the US, the NFL has become a beloved institution for millions of fans worldwide.


As the NFL has grown, so has betting on the league. In fact, NFL games are among the most wagered-on sporting events worldwide. Today’s NFL odds are widely available and highly sought after by both casual and serious bettors.

In summary, the NFL’s rich history is a testament to the resilience and enduring popularity of the sport. From its humble beginnings in a car showroom to its current status as a global sports powerhouse, the NFL continues to captivate audiences worldwide. Its legacy, marked by triumphs, challenges, and iconic moments, is deeply ingrained in the fabric of American sports culture.

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