Sunday Widowmaker

Professional American Football

From Chump Change to Big Bucks


This organization, known also as the NFL, of American-styled football teams whose members are paid, and are corporate and individually owned is the business that occupies and some say disrupts much of the population in the fall and early winter of each year. It has a history that is full of all of the heroes (and Villains), legends and even literature that parallels world history, albeit in a smaller scale. It has gone through many permutations involving various rules changes and other logistic and strategic adjustments. It has met numerous challenges from competing leagues as well (Remember the XFL and the USFL?)

The NFL Today

The League is now aligned in two Conferences, the National (NFC), and the American (AFC), the last named after the 60's upstart (but fourth) American Football League was brought into the fold in 1967. It has logical Division for each Conference, the North, South, East, and West. If you have been in a bathysphere for a couple of years you might say after you notice that names and placements have changed, "I need a friggin' scorecard to keep up!" You are in luck; I will first start with a list of the teams (as of 2004, and their Division standings) shown in each Conference's Divisions. After this listing one will find the some early History of the NFL to try to elucidate some of the picture so that mud will only be on the playing field (unless in an indoor stadium though it might be blood if it is on Astroturf {even outside}.) You need to know what happened to the Texans, the Titans, the Oilers, the Colts, and the Browns. If you are an old-timer who remembers the "Ice Bowl" you might ask, "Who the heck are the Panthers, Jaguars, and Ravens; and since when has Seattle been in the same division as Arizona and St. Louis --Rams?" The basic rules and strategies of the modern game can be read in American Football though Pros differ from college in a few small things.

     AFC                        NFC

New England Patriots       Philadelphia Eagles
Miami Dolphins             Dallas Cowboys
Buffalo Bills              Washington Redskins
NY Jets                    NY Giants
Baltimore Ravens           Green Bay Packers     
Cincinnati Bengals         Minnesota Vikings
Pittsburgh Steelers        Chicago Bears             
Cleveland Browns           Detroit Lions
Indianapolis Colts         Carolina Panthers
Tennessee Titans           New Orleans Saints
Jacksonville Jaguars       Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Houston Texans             Atlanta Falcons
Kansas City Chiefs         St Louis Rams
Denver Broncos             Seattle Seahawks
Oakland Raiders            San Francisco 49'ers
San Diego Chargers         Arizona Cardinals

An Early History of the NFL
(Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries)

Born in Mud and Blood and Bud.
Kept Alive by Money and Jive

Hit 'em again, harder, harder!

Antique College Background

Football was developed out of what was called college soccer football, and its first game in 1869, that used the London Football Association rules was between Rutgers and Princeton. Eventually by 1876 Rugby and Soccer evolved separate from each other, the eastern schools favoring the game that more resembles our modern football. Walter Camp, also dubbed "Father of American Football" became involved codifying the rules at the Massasoit convention. He, and his fellow player, Oliver David Thompson instigated the forward pass that year, but then it was banned by Princeton. His system of downs (then 3 for 5 yds) was an important innovation that kept players from sitting on the ball to force a tie. Touchdowns were four points; field goals five at this time; the ball was played from where it landed. Football in those days was probably more different than familiar, however. The two forty-five minute halves with a fifteen minute half-time break, was somewhat tempered by the minute or two between plays and or contentious long-winded disputes with the officials. Many times games went so long, they were called at dusk. The football players began to be known by their long hair, grown for protecting the head in the days there were no helmets or pads. In 1898 nose guards and mouthpieces were allowed: helpful in preventing crucial loss of players. In the early days when a player left the game, if he did not come back, no one else was taking his place. The "Flying Wedge" was used as a power play, when after knee-low tackling was legal, and no rules set men at the line of scrimmage, lots of movement and massing players was the norm. Football was par excellence within the Big Four schools -- out of the many that got the football craze during that decade before the turn of the twentieth century. Those schools provided all but two of the 132 All-Americans, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and surging Pennsylvania. All-American was a concept brought up in 1889, not by Walter Camp as sometimes presumed but by writer for This Week's Sport and friend of Camp: Caspar W. Whitney. That same year Princeton's All-American quarterback was a fellow by the name of Edgar Allan Poe!

Athletic Clubs

(The Athletic Club)...was one outcome of America's transformation from an agrarian to an urban-industrial society. Sprouting within the industrial city was a new aristocracy -- one built on capital, the nouveau riche. Its ranks produced such industrial and corporate giants as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Charles Schwab, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and J. Pierpont Morgan. This social class also found itself with increased amounts of leisure time. With these newly acquired resources of wealth and leisure, the nouveau riche enjoyed sporting events and patronized athletic clubs.
--J. Thomas Jable 1

Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt encouraged engaging in stimulating outdoor activities to counteract the indoor indolent stuffiness that the Victorian era had produced. The increasing bored youthful industrial workers, who previously had engaged in the Civil War, took that to heart, aided by better means of getting to athletic areas allowed various sports to become the fashion. Athletic clubs were for the wealthy, and many who were the nouveau riche used them as stepping stones to more exclusive ones, and some who were not rich at all were able to gain access based on sports prowess. They would be part of a special class of non voting member sponsored by the others. Sometimes this caused controversy, especially from competing clubs, to whether the amateur status was a bit nebulous. "Trophies" were given to athletes, who could in turn find a way to barter to cash, and the clubs skirted the issue. Ironically the outfit that was to monitor this, the Amateur Athletic Union, was initially more interested in track and field. Baseball had been corrupted since the Civil War, and football became, as time went on, under closer scrutiny.

An Offer He Can't Refuse

Pittsburgh was a city built on the prosperity of coal, iron ore, steel, and transportation. In 1890 it had the hightest per capita income for its size globally, and it had many professionals as well as many executives with new found money itching to find a place to vent in their extra leisure time: thus the interest in their athletic clubs. Though these athletic clubs were supposed to be for fun, the competition while playing football became fierce. Its popularity took off in 1891 (not to be undone by Philly's Penn), and became extremely serious between the newer and less equipped Allegheny Athletic Association (AAA) and the more established Pittsburgh Athletic Club (PAC). The latter were also once known as the East End Gyms. In 1892 the AAA, run expertly by Yalie O.D. Thompson, a co-player with Camp, actually made Yale All America guard, William "Pudge" Heffelfinger the first professionally paid player, when they paid him five hundred dollars to play against PAC. His ensuing running a fumble recovery 35 yards meant they must have got their money's worth. Pudge had gained his fame by diving all of his more than two hundred pounds over the identically undefeated Princeton protectors with their vaunted "V-formation." The PAC the next year, not to be outdone, signed halfback Grant Dilbert for the first ever contract, good for the whole season's games. But these were amateurs that happened to accept money, it was the 1895 Latrobe YMCA player, John Brallier who avowed his professional status when he required expenses and ten bucks to play against their rival Jeanette Athletic Club.

Athletic Associations

Now by 1896 that Allegheny Athletic Association had a full paid roster, but they only managed two games that year. Meanwhile by the next year, the Latrobe Athletic Association was the first team to play a whole schedule staffed fully with paid players. In 1898 they upped the touchdown to five points, but 1899 was an apex year, where in Chicago the south-side neighborhood club started by Chris O'Brien, when through a metamorphosis from the Morgan Athletic Club to the Normals, the Racine, and then the Chicago Cardinals. They would become the oldest remaining professional football team, we know them now as the Phoenix Cardinals, moved some years ago from St. Louis. It was right at the beginning of the twentieth centruy that a club was owned by an individual when William C. Temple took care of the Duquesne Country and Athletic Club's debts.

The First National Football League

Who's On First?

Connie Mack, manager of baseball teams Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics combined the Pittsburgh Stars with a football Phillies and Athletics to form an organization, the National Football League, but it was hardly the ediface we know today. It was presided over by Dave Berry. They even played the first night game on November 21 of that year, 1902. With no playoffs, the League president had to declare the Stars champions when all three claimed it. Some of the players like Rube Waddell and FB Christy Mathewson not only played both offense and defense, they also were the pitchers for the Athletics and Stars, respectively.

They formed a five-team tournament that they played at NY's Madison Square Gardens making this the first indoor game. The neophyte NFL gleaned players from their two teams, the Athletics and Phillies, creating a team called New York to play against the NY Knickerbockers, the Warlow AC, and the Syracuse AC. 3000 fans witnessed the latter team winning the trophy with the help of guard Glen "Pop" Warner.

The Ohio Players

Were you making a pass at me?

1903 was a year that saw the amateur Ohio club, the Massilon Tigers, turn pro when they hired four of the Pittsburgh players. And, it was the last time they would have the World Series of Football. By the next year they lowered the field goal score to four during a time professional outfits grew to seven. Thus there became an increasing need to write comprehensive rules to settle bidding and salary wars. 1904 was the noteworthy year a black player was hired: halfback Charles Follis for Shelby AC. Next year when Massillon won the Ohio championship again, the Canton AC went pro as the Bulldogs. 1906 followed with a historic year when after the rulesmakers okayed the forward pass, (which was opposed at this time by innovator Walter Camp!) Massillon's George "Peggy" Parratt put it to good use when Dan "bullet" caught this first-ever downfield airborne pigskin. Though they won this and one of their other championship games with competing Canton, gambling and inflated paychecks caused a decline in Ohio's previous strong interest. Many years later Paul Hornung of the Packers would become infamous for betting (even if it is for your own championship team.)

From Carlisle to Canton

In 1909 field goals finally became the three points we know today, and after a trio of seasons touchdowns became the contemporary six points. 1912 was also the year Carlisle Indian School Jim Thorpe was the Stockholm double gold medal winner and by next season he was playing for the Indiana Pine Village Pros. He had been called ..."the greatest athelete in the world" by Sweden's King Gustave, and the uncomplicated Jim retorted, "Thanks, King." However he was stripped of his medals because of his being paid a salary about three years before with the Eastern Carolina Baseball league. Losing those Olympic awards were one of the thorns in his side that helped him plummet later into despair and drinking. His family finally got his posthumous medals in 1982, three decades too late to help Jim. He had this continued career in baseball from 1913 to 1921, but it did not compare to his football endeavors. His professional football career started in 1915 when Jack Cusack contracted Thorpe to play for his Bulldogs who had to face a revived Massillon crew. He got a respectable 250 dollars per fielding. His first game that year was not an indicator of his future fame because of Coach Harry Hazlett was jealous of Jim's fat compensation. He kept Thorpe cold on the bench and rival Massillon took advantage of the Bulldogs not getting the ball to Thorpe when he did play. Result: a skunking with their 16 points. With Cuzak firing Hazlett, and QB Hamilton quitting, the Bulldogs had Thorpe as coach and lost only one other game that year. Next year Canton easily went on with nine wins and only one tie, won the Ohio League championship of 1916, and he was helped by another Carlisle alumnus, Pete Calac. Massillon got heavily involved in the players bidding wars, as did any top-notch teams. However, the Bulldogs were not dissuaded even when Ralph Hay had to take over, as they had also added Joe Guyon to make a potent backfield.

The Pack is Back Well, Packed

Curly Lambeau was an employer for the Indian Packing Company in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With co-worker George Calhoun and a half a grand in start up money and a practice field from their boss, they formed the famed Packers, and indeed they won all but one of their first of ten games.

The Universe, Rules and Too Much Confusion

There must be some way out of here,
said the Joker to the Thief

As players began demanding higher pay, and they began jumping teams; and even some of the players used were still attending school, owners realized that to make more money in the long haul, some discipline would have to be realized with standardized rules and organization. An important meeting took place at the Jordan and Hupmobile automobile dealership in Canton, Ohio on the twentieth of August of 1920. This first meeting formed a League, named the American Professional Football Conference. It was comprised of the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians and the Dayton Triangles. Their second meeting in September added teams from three other states with Indiana's Muncie Flyers, New York's Rochester Jeffersons, and Indiana's three: the Decatur Staleys, Rock Island Independents, and the Racine Cardinals. They renamed themselves the American Professional Football Association, and who better to run the League, than Jim Thorpe who was elected by the members, along with vice-president Stanley Cofall of Cleveland. The 100 dollar fee charged to each team was only a token bursement, as it was never collected.

There still was a long way to go to resembling the modern set-up, as there was no consistency in scheduling as each team created their own. By the end of the month, the Columbus Panhandlers had joined the Association, along with Buffalo's All-Americans, the Chicago Tigers, and the Detroit Heralds, and the first game was played at the Independents' field in Rock Island where they defeat the St. Paul Ideals. At the end of that season, only Akron was undefeated, and they also were the first to make a player deal when they sold their tackle, Bob Nash to the All-Americans. Next spring, the APFA awarded the championship of the previous season, 1920, to Akron (a team that next year would have the first black head coach). The APFA also revamped themselves with constitutional by laws with player trading restrictions, and a clearer defining of a championship based on standings.

We're an American Band

In 1921, the same year Thorpe left Canton for the Cleveland Indians, saw the Association grow to 22 teams. One team of interest was the the Minneapolis Marines, who after joining the AFPA did not achieve the success it did in the previous decade. The Association now included John Clair's Acme Packing Company's Green Bay Packers. Along with them --as a team we see today (albeit differently named) --dating from relative antiquity is the Decatur Staley's. They were moved to Chicago, and the Cub's Park, by player-coach and manager George Halas, who was contracted to continue using for another year the previous owner's name. He began his reputation as a winner that year, when his team, at 9-1-1 was awarded the championship.

Christening of the National Football League

Hey Bulldog

Though in 1922 problems broke out with Green Bay's illicit use of college players, and the Packer's new owner, Curly Lambeau had to sell to a group of businessmen, forming what is now the only publically owned team; it also was the landmark year when on June twenty-fourth the American Professional Football Association adopted the name we know so well today, the National Football League. This same year folks in the Windy City saw their other team, with new nomenclature, the Chicago Bears, as "Papa Bear" Halas now called them. Canton proved to be the top dog of the 18 teams, as their Bulldogs fought to a ten win and two tie season. The next year these tenacious champion canines lost no games, and tied once, while Marion Oorang Indian's Thorpe struggled: even fumbling the ball, allowing the Bear's Halas to score after a 98 yards' romp. His record held for 49 years. The Bulldogs folded from Canton in 1934, and were reborn in Cleveland, while in these years teams came and went like the Cleveland Indians, Louisville Brecks, Racine Legion, Toledo Maroons, Kenosha Maroons (not to forget the Pottsville Maroons), Minneapolis Marines, and Columbus Tigers.

Giants in the Land

Another team, which is familiar to the modern fan, joined the League in 1925, the New York Giants. While adding a former winning independent pro team, the Pottsville Maroons, the NFL also established roster limits of 16. The newly added team of the Pottsville Maroons became rivals that year with the Chicago Cardinals which had helped the NFL gain notoriety signing All-American Red Grange. The Bears had the first largest pro football attendence with a Thanksgiving game before 36 thousand, and the shakiness of the NY football business was stablized with a Bear's game at the Giants' Polo grounds before 73 thousand. This was topped by the 75 grand in California that watched their Los Angeles Tigers lose to this Chicago team. But, it was the Cardinals who were awarded the Championship after the Pottsville team was disqualified when played a game against NFL president Carr's injunction.

Where have the Buffalo Gone?

Another name added, familiar to contemporary viewers, was the Panthers, but these were the Detroit Panthers, and folded by 1927: like the Kansas City Blues (turned Cowboys), the Harford Blues, Brooklyn Tigers, Milwaukee Badgers, Buffalo Rangers, Los Angeles Buccaneers, Akron Indians, Canton Bulldogs (Cleveland's incarnation of these hounds is gone, too), Hammond Pros, and the Louisville Colonels. The Buffalo Bison come and go, and return again only to fade by 1930, along with the Duluth Eskimos who left even before the Dayton Triangles and Boston Bulldogs exited stage left. A team that joined the NFL in 1932 and seemed to stay for the duration was the Boston Braves. We now know them in Washington as the relocated Boston team, owned by George Preston Marshall, that renamed themselves in 1933 as the Redskins. In 1932, a year the stats were officially kept, the NFL only had a historically low of eight teams. A game had to be impromptu-held that year, whose winter was extra arctic, to break the ties between the Portsmouh Spartans and the Chicago Bears. In a truncated indoor game at Chicago Stadium, the famed Bronco Nagurski threw the controversial but winning Bear touchdown to Grange.

After Multiplication, Division

Preston Marshall and George Halas in the big League meeting of 1933 that emphasized passing rules special for the professional game, also pushed for creating two divisions. The rules for the forward pass were refined, allowing it anywhere behind the line of scrimmage; they also formulated a season ending championship game. In a season that saw the addition of Art Rooney's Pittsburgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Eagles, and Cinncinnati Reds; and a loss of the Staten Island Stapeltons it could rejoice in George Halas' regaining not only his coaching job, but gaining ownership of the Bears.

The 1934 -Two Division- NFL

Boston Redskins       Chicago Bears
Brooklyn Dodgers      Chicago Cardinals
New York Giants       Cincinnati Reds
Philadelphia Eagles   Green Bay Packers
Pittsburgh Pirates    Portsmouth Spartans

Conference Call

For some purposes of understanding and clarity and to make a long story that is extremely full of characters and drama a wee bit shorter: the two division set-up continued for decades until a merger with a relatively successful upstart, the All America Football Conference, that was started after WWII, then they called those previous Eastern and Western divisions Conferences, and that in turn continued until 1967 when the two Conferences were divided each into a Capitol and Century Division. That was because of Lamar Hunt's American Football League (which should be a separate write-up) merging officially in 1966 with the NFL. Your sports page of that year would show you this alignment:


Capitol Division       Central Division

Dallas Cowboys         Chicago Bears
New Orleans Saints     Detroit Lions
Philadelphia Eagles    Green Bay Packers
Washington Redskins    Minnestota Vikings

Century Division       Coastal Division

Cleveland Browns       Atlanta Falcons
New York Giants        Baltimore Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers    Los Angeles Rams
St. Louis Cardinals    San Francisco 49ers

As planned several years earlier involving the AFL, there was another rearrangement of teams in 1970 combining the two leagues into one.


                 East Division
Baltimore Colts         Dallas Cowboys
Boston Patriots         New York Giants
Buffalo Bills           Philadelphis Eagles
Miami Dolphins          St. Louis Cardinals
New York Jets           Washington Redskins

                Central Division	
Cincinnati Bengals      Chicago Bears
Cleveland Browns        Detroit Lions
Houston Oilers          Green Bay Packers
Pittsburgh Steelers     Minnesota Vikings           

                 West Division
Denver Broncos          Atlanta Falcons
Kansas City Chiefs      New Orleans Saints
Oakland Raiders         Los Angeles Rams
San Diego Chargers      San Francisco 49ers


1 "'A' is for Amateur: The Amateur Condition of Football in the U.S.: 1890 " Professional Football Research Association,

Brock, Ted, Larry Eldridge, Jr, 25 years: The NFL Since 1960, New York: National Football League/Pinnacle, 1985.

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