Sign up to The American magazine's newsletters (below) to receive more regular news, articles and updates on America in the UK.
The 2019 National Football League season will be its 100th installment. Quite the milestone for the fledgling American Professional Football Association (APFA) of 1920. During this time there have been many moments that will live long in the memory. Great players, great plays, decisions off the field that changed the face of the game, changed the way we view the game each weekend. Far too many to document, but here, in no particular order, are some of the landmark moments that define the NFL as we embark on its centenary year.
Where it all began. In 1920 14 teams were chosen from regional league systems to play in the first APFA league. The sum of $100 was charged to each franchise to participate. These are the teams that played in that inaugural season. Akron Pros, Buffalo All-Americans, Canton Bulldogs, Chicago Cardinals, Chicago Tigers, Cleveland Tigers, Columbus Panhandles, Dayton Triangles, Decatur Staleys, Detroit Heralds, Hammond Pros, Muncie Flyers, Rochester Jeffersons and the Rock Island Independents. The Akron Pros won the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup, with a record of 8 wins, 0 losses, with 3 ties.
Sport is nothing without its dramatic moments of controversy. We all have an opinion as to whether the rules were played correctly or not. With this in mind, and too many high-profile mistakes being made by the on-field officials, it was deemed necessary to bring in slow motion replays to help get those too close to call moments right. A system was voted in favor on March 11, 1986 and even now with the multiple camera angles the decision is sometimes borderline but is treated with respect.
THE ICE BOWL
New Years Eve, 1967. Green Bay, Wisconsin. The NFL Championship game for the right to play in the second Super Bowl. The previous season winners the Packers were defending their title at home against the Dallas Cowboys. Nothing out of the ordinary there, except when you throw in the temperature. At kickoff it was -15 degrees F. Add in the wind chill and the gauge was touching 45 below zero. This game would simply go into NFL legend as the Ice Bowl. On the frozen turf the Packers won the game 21-17 when QB Bart Starr threw his body over the goal line for the winning score.
THE PERFECT SEASON
Each year the surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins team smile at each other with satisfaction as slowly but surely the 32 teams lose their unbeaten record. Why? They are the only team to have a perfect season. Going through an entire season unbeaten is something that is next to impossible to achieve in the modern era as the game is built for parity, but the Dolphins of ’72 won all of their 14 regular season games, then their three playoff outings. 17-0. Perfect.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
We take it for granted the way games are broadcast on television, it’s so readily available. On September 21, 1970 the very first edition of Monday Night Football aired on ABC. As the AFL-NFL merger was taking place, so was a deal to bring the newly formed league to the masses and the then Commissioner Pete Rozelle was determined to get one of the country’s three leading broadcasters to air live games each Monday. ABC wasn’t the first choice but once the deal was signed there was no looking back. For the record, the Browns beat the Jets 31-21, in that first live game.
NFL DRAFT CREATED
In 1935 Philadelphia Eagles owner, Bert Bell, so fed up with his side struggling to make an impact put forward the idea of a Draft system that would help teams play on a more level playing field. The decision was unanimously passed and the following year the first Draft took place in Philadelphia. Half Back, Jay Berwanger, the first ever Heisman Trophy winner, was now also the first ever NFL Draft selection, going to the Eagles.
In early November 2004 the league launched its own television channel, NFL Network. All the team owners had voted in favor less than a year before and $100m was invested into the launch. NFL Films with its vast catalogue of footage was the mainstay of content, along with topical debate programming morning and night. In 2006 NFLN began to broadcast live Thursday Night Football. It also covers extensively the Combine and Draft.
The appeal of the NFL reaches all around the world. Fans of the game can be glued to their screens in Japan, Australia, and every corner in Europe. It was only a matter of time before games were played outside of North America. The British obsession with the sport began in the early 1980’s when games were broadcast, albeit on a week’s delay in a highlights package. Preseason games were then played each year at London’s Wembley Stadium. The big step came in 1997 when the first ever regular season match was contested away from the USA, and again at Wembley. The New York Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins. Since then the International Series has evolved and up to as many as four games are now played in London, this year a purposely built stadium at Tottenham Hotspurs football ground will host two games.
SUPER BOWL ERA BEGINS
1966, before the merger, the AFL was often seen as the little brother, picked on and ridiculed by its bigger sibling the NFL. When it was agreed that the two leagues champions would meet in a brand-new Super Bowl to determine overall bragging rights, no one had any idea as to how big it would become some fifty years on. Green Bay Packers won the first two title games under the guidance of the coach whose name would later adorn the trophy, Vince Lombardi. It wasn’t until the third title game in 1968 that the AFL stepped out of the shadow and become a real threat. The New York Jets led by the outspoken QB Joe Namath (right) won that game and the rest is history.