100 years of the NFL

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The NFL is coming up on its one hundredth season in 2019. Over the last 99 years, the NFL has grown from a small ten team league to a 32 team billion dollar business that dominates television in the United States, and recently across the globe. NFL viewership today is filled with people of all races, genders, and ages and brings families together every Sunday. Its eight different commissioners, beginning with Jim Thorpe and now Roger Goodell, have altered the league with each term, bringing it to be one of the most successful corporations in the sporting and entertainment industry.  

The NFL was established in 1920 and was originally called the American Professional Football Association (APFA), until its name was changed in 1922. It began as only ten teams spanning across four states: the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Tigers, Dayton Triangles, Decatur Staleys, Hammond Pros, Muncie Flyers, Racine Cardinals, Rock Island Independents, and Rochester Jeffersons. Although many other pro-football leagues were established around the same time, like the World Series of Pro Football and Western Pennsylvania Senior Independent Football Conference, none were successful.

The NFL began with only Ohio teams before adding New York, Detroit and Chicago teams. Only two of the original ten teams are still in existence: the Chicago Cardinals, known today as the Arizona Cardinals, and the Decatur Staleys, known today as the Chicago Bears. The Green Bay Packers joined the league in 1921. They are the oldest existing team to not change locations.

Initially, the league champion was awarded to the team with the most wins, but some teams played more games than others leading the NFL to add a title game at the end of the season.

Only 800 people watched the Rock Island Independents defeat the St. Paul Ideals in the first NFL game on Sept. 26, 1920. The Independents shut out the Ideals at Douglas Park. All touchdowns scored in this game were rushing, with Ed Novak, Ray Kuehl and Jerry Mansfield each scoring two, and one by Fred Chicken.

Race was a major issue in the beginning stages of the NFL. Between 1920 and 1926, only nine African-Americans played in the NFL, all of whom were fired in 1927. Between 1928 and 1932, only one black player was allowed in the league per season.

The integration of African-American players into the NFL began with the Los Angeles Rams. Originally the Cleveland Rams, they moved to Los Angeles in 1946. They planned to play at the L.A. Coliseum, but were met with pushback by the owners due to the NFL’s discriminatory policies. They were allowed to play in the Coliseum under one condition: they had to integrate their team. The Rams first hired African-American running-back Kenny Washington and end Woody Strode. Many teams came to follow the Rams and add other talented black players to their rosters.

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340 yards and four TDs. Doug Williams made history in style.

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The final team to integrate was the Washington Redskins in 1962. Still, many African-American players decided to play in the NFL’s rival league, the AFL, due to the NFL’s racist past and the AFL’s acceptance of these players.

In 1966, the NFL and AFL announced that they would be merging, although it was not finalized until 1970. The NFL would take in the AFL teams and the league would be split up into two conferences, the NFC and AFC. At the end of each season the winner of the two conferences would play a championship, which is now known as the Super Bowl. Today, the Super Bowl is the most watched sporting event in the United States.

Over the last 100 years, the NFL has advanced American football strategy, injury prevention, rules, and viewership.

The NFL expanded the game of football to become a popular sport across the globe.  Originally an unimportant Ohio football league became the national 32-team league it is today. Every NFL game In previous years had been played in the United States, but now the league is expanding its reach with games being played in London and Mexico City.

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In the early days of the NFL, every team built their offense around a running back who would run through the defense. Teams also had bigger defensive linebackers that were used to bring that running back to the ground. As coaches became smarter, linebackers became smaller as teams began to throw the football more each year. Over the last few years, the percentage of running plays has fallen, while the amount of passing plays has risen. This has led to a rise in scoring. This past season, one of the highest scoring games in NFL history was played between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams. The Rams defeated the Chiefs 54-51. There were 14 touchdowns scored and 1,001 scrimmage yards. Three of the top 25 highest scoring teams in history were from this season – Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints.

CTE is one of the biggest problems facing the NFL today. In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu conducted an autopsy on the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. Webster died at age 50 of a heart attack, but Omalu soon found that his time in the NFL contributed to his early demise. In the autopsy, he discovered an excess of tau proteins, which causes memory loss, early dementia, along with other degenerative symptoms. Through more research, Omalu was able to put a name to his discovery: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease that can happen to anyone, but people that are exposed to concussions and other forms of brain trauma regularly, such as football players, are more susceptible.

Omalu’s findings were confirmed further when he examined former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters’ brain after he committed suicide. As CTE began being researched more, medical professionals started reaching out to the NFL and recommending that they update concussion protocol.

The NFL, namely Roger Goodell, has been repeatedly criticized for not focusing on this issue enough.

This season, the amount of diagnosed concussions was down by nearly 29%. The NFL has made major developments in creating better helmets. They also created a tighter helmet-hit rule that prevents players from initiating a hit with their head. Players that do so can be penalized or even disqualified from the game. The NFL announced that they would be starting a process of reducing concussions by narrowing the definition of what safe helmets are, educating individual teams and coaches on warning signs, drafting more rules on hitting, and investing in further research.

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In 1935, the NFL introduced the NFL draft. Players would be picked to NFL teams in reverse order of the standings from the year before.  Since then the draft has grown from only 90 players to seven rounds of 32 picks each. Each team has one pick per round, but they are able to trade one or many of their picks in return for earlier picks or players. The NFL Combine, College Pro Days, and the Senior Bowl have also been established to help teams decide who they are going to draft.

In 1976, the NFL introduced instant replay in a hope to make officating more accurate. This idea was first experimented in a game between the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. At first, the idea didn’t seem to work due to its inefficiencies and costs, leading the NFL to stop instant replay until the mid 80s. In the preseason games of the 1985 season, the NFL brought back instant replay. This time, a few changes led to calls being faster and ultimately the owners voted to continue using instant replay. To this day, changes are still being made with instant replay to make certain calls more accurate and avoid errors by the referees. In the 2019 annual owners meetings, the owners will vote on whether to allow instant replay on pass interference calls.

NFL Network was launched in 2003. This channel shows highlights, game replays, and other NFL films. Along with that, NFL Network televises the Thursday Night Football games each weekend and every preseason football game. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) was another football league that began in February 2019. NFL Network broadcasts some of these games each week during the NFL’s offseason.

During Super Bowl LIII, the NFL released its NFL 100 commercial. This commercial, a commemorative ad for the one hundredth season, featured former players such as Deion Sanders, Peyton Manning, and Jim Brown, alongside current players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tom Brady, and Baker Mayfield. Other celebrities, like Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, also appeared in the commercial. Samantha Gordon was also featured. She is female football player who founded the first all-girls tackle football league. She won the NFL’s first Game Changer award.

The NFL is also celebrating 100 years in different ways. An All-Time Team and the 10 greatest coaches in NFL history will be selected by a panel of former general managers, players, coaches, and media. For the fans, the NFL is having a centennial celebration which allows fans of the league to celebrate 100 years of the NFL by entering contests, such as winning two season tickets for a team of your choosing. These season tickets will be valid for the next 100 years. Every game ball and jersey will feature the NFL 100 logo in celebration of the league. The NFL is planning other events and contests over the course of next year, but nothing else has been announced yet.