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What is the NFL?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 23, 2024
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NFL stands for the National Football League, the largest and longest enduring professional football league in the United States. The NFL is made up of 32 teams, in two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). The team that wins the AFC championship faces the winner of the NFC championship in the Super Bowl at the end of each season.

In 1920, it was determined that football required better organization and firm rules, to be viewed as more professional. A league was established, which would later become the NFL. Upon its inception, the league was called the American Professional Football Conference, or the APFC. Things were still unsettled, and later that same year, the name was again changed to the American Professional Football Association, or APFA. The following year, the Association grew to 22 teams.

The Association was still marred by chaos, as eligibility requirements and other problems surfaced. The league once again changed it’s name in 1922 to the National Football League, which is today’s NFL. They finally found a name that stuck.

It wasn’t until 1925 that the NFL garnered serious attention. On Thanksgiving Day in 1925, the largest crowd ever came together to watch a professional football game. The Chicago Bears took on the Chicago Cardinals, neither team putting any points on the board. Still, excitement was in the air and the NFL continued to gain more popularity. Just a few days later, the Bears went on the road, and when they faced the New York Giants, the number of spectators nearly doubled that first record-breaking crowd.

In 1941, nearly twenty years after the NFL began, the first Commissioner was named, as the acting president stepped down. The man’s name was Elmer Layden. A decade later, the NFL Championship was seen for the first time on TV, coast to coast. Nearly ten years after that, Pete Rozelle became the Commissioner of the NFL. The American Football League (AFL) also arrived on the scene. After the 1969 season, the AFL merged with the NFL.

The NFL learned it could once again have some competition in 1973, when the World Football League (WFL) was announced. However, any concern regarding that development was unfounded. The WFL went under just two years later.

Super Bowl XVI made history on CBS in 1982 as the most watched sporting event ever, and a year later, the Super Bowl was the most watched live event on television, for the tenth year running. There was little question that the NFL had changed television viewing forever, on Sundays, Monday nights, and during one week in January. Any doubt that may have lingered was cast aside in 1986 when Super Bowl XX became the most highly rated television program of any kind, with over 120,000,000 viewers. The Chicago Bears made it worth watching as they beat the New England Patriots 46-10.

The 1990’s were years filled with record-breaking professional football, and at the turn of the century, ticket sales records were being broken as well. In 2000, there was a special reunion for NFL Hall of Fame legends, and over 100 of the greats were there to celebrate.

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Discussion Comments
By summing — On May 27, 2011

The NFL is the most profitable and most watched professional sports league in America. This is pretty incredible when you think about it. We still call Baseball America's pastime, but it seems like football has quietly taken its place

By chivebasil — On May 25, 2011

I really like arena football and I almost think of it as a separate sport. Many of the rules are the same, but the size of the field changes the strategy a lot. The game is quicker and tighter. You don't see balls sailing 60 yards through the air. Anyone who has seen indoor soccer compared to outdoor soccer will know what I am talking about. I'm glad we have so much football to choose from.

By truman12 — On May 24, 2011

They have also tried football leagues in Canada and Europe. The idea was that up and coming players, or, conversely, washed out players, would have a secondary league to go and play in. The popularity never came close to the NFL for obvious reasons. Why watch a second class game when you could be watching the best players in the world?

By backdraft — On May 23, 2011

@malena - Ha Ha, I had forgotten about the XFL. I remember seeing a few games and thinking how ridiculous it was. Most of the games seemed like high school football played by a bunch of convicts. And yet somehow the game managed to be boring. There really is no replacement for the NFL.

By malena — On Feb 03, 2008

There's been other attempts to compete with the NFL. The XFL was put together by Vince McMahon and marketed as an extreme football league. But it too failed to catch on and only lasted one year.

Also, the Arena Football League was created as an indoor football alternative. Musician Jon Bon Jovi owns a team, as does former NFL quarterback John Elway.

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