Originally called the American Professional Football Assn., the inaugural season featured 14 teams: 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 Rock Island Independents. The Akron Pros were named the inaugural champions after going 8-0-3. The Chicago Cardinals (now Arizona Cardinals) and Decatur Staleys (now Chicago Bears) are founding members still in existence.
The Green Bay Packers join the league, and the Decatur Stanleys move to Chicago (where they are later renamed the Bears). It is the beginning of the Packers-Bears rivalry. This season, the teams will meet for an NFL-high 200th time on Dec. 15.
On June 24, the American Professional Football Assn. officially renames itself the National Football League.
The Canton Bulldogs finish with an undefeated record (10-0-2) for a second-straight season, the only franchise to go undefeated more than once.
Before the season, the owner of the defunct Cleveland Indians buys the league champion Canton Bulldogs. The franchise is moved to Cleveland and renamed the Cleveland Bulldogs, who repeat as champions with a 7-1-1 record. The league has 18 teams.
The Bears sign All-American halfback Harold “Red” Grange and embark on a nationwide tour that includes a game against a collegiate all-star team in front of 75,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum in January 1926.
Following a dispute with the NFL regarding his petition for a franchise, sports agent C.C. Pyle creates the American Football League, which ceased operations the same year. Meanwhile, the NFL grows to 22 teams.
Under league president Joe Carr, the NFL eliminates its financially weaker franchises and contracts from 22 to 12 teams. Only four — the Giants, Cardinals, Bears and Packers — exist today.
Before the season, the Cleveland Bulldogs and the Duluth Eskimos fold, leaving the NFL with 10 teams, the smallest number in league history.
The first NFL night game is held on Nov. 6 between the Chicago Cardinals and Providence Steamrollers, illuminated by floodlights at Kinsley Park Stadium in Rhode Island. The game ball was painted white to help the players see it and the Cardinals won 16-0.
Brooklyn entrepreneurs William B. Dwyer and John C. Depler purchase the Dayton Triangles, move them and rename them the Brooklyn Dodgers, after the longstanding baseball team. The Triangles were the NFL’s last original franchise at the time.
The Green Bay Packers win their third straight championship, the first of two three-peats in the franchise’s history — an achievement no other NFL team has accomplished.
The Portsmouth Spartans (6-1-4) and the Chicago Bears (6-1-6) finish tied for first, according to league rules. The league schedules its first playoff game to decide a champion instead of going by the best regular-season record. Because of poor weather, the playoff is held indoors at Chicago Stadium on a field 80 yards long (60 between the end zones) and 45 wide.
After years of racially integrated rosters, the league does not include any black players after the owners agree to an unwritten policy of segregation. The league wouldn’t reintegrate until after World War II.
In the first title game for the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy, the New York Giants defeat the Chicago Bears 30-13 in what would be known as the “Sneaker Game.” After trailing 10-3 at halftime, the Giants changed into basketball sneakers to combat icy conditions and ran away with the victory.
The Detroit Lions, who had been the Portsmouth Spartans the season before, beat the New York Giants 26-7 for their first of four pre-Super Bowl championships. Detroit is the oldest franchise without a Super Bowl appearance.
The NFL holds its first draft of college players. Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger was the first selection but chooses a career in plastics manufacturing over pro football.
After one season in the new version of the American Football League, the Cleveland Rams join the NFL and finish last at 1-10 in the Western Division. Nine years later, the team would relocate to L.A.
L.A. Times sports editor Bill Henry and promoter Tom Gallery establish the Pro Bowl game between the champion and pro all-stars. The champion New York Giants defeat the Pro-All Stars 13-10 in a game to raise money for the Salvation Army. It stood as the league’s all-star game until the creation of the Pro Bowl more than 10 years later.
On Oct. 22, NBC broadcasts the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 23-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the league’s first televised game. The broadcast reached an estimated 500 TV sets in the New York area and was shown in the RCA Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York.
George Halas and the Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the NFL Championship Game, the largest margin of victory in history.
Elmer Layden, a former fullback, head coach and athletic director at Notre Dame, is named the first commissioner of the NFL. His tenure would last five years.
Players leaving for military service in World War II depleted rosters. The Washington Redskins defeat the Chicago Bears in the title game and end the Bears’ perfect season.
For the first time, the league requires players to wear helmets.
The Chicago Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers are permitted to merge for a season. The team was called “Card-Pitt,” finished 0-10 and dissolved after the season.
World War II ends after four years of U.S. involvement with 638 NFL players having served and 21 killed in action. On the field, the Rams win the title in their final season in Cleveland and remain the only NFL franchise to win a championship and play in a different city the following season.
Upon moving to L.A. and bringing the NFL to the West Coast for the first time, the Rams sign UCLA stars Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, who became the first African Americans to play in the NFL in the modern era.
The Chicago Cardinals win the NFL Championship Game over the Philadelphia Eagles 21-0. The Cardinals, who later moved to St. Louis and then Arizona, have not won an NFL title since — the longest active league drought.
The L.A. Rams become the first NFL team to wear a helmet logo, painting Ram horns on their leather hats. Halfback Fred Gehrke, the great-grandfather of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich, is credited with the idea.
Eagles running back Steve Van Buren and Packers running back Tony Canadeo each eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark, the first season in NFL history with multiple 1,000-yard rushers.
The NFL merges with the All-America Football Conference and renames itself the National-American Football League for three months before the NFL name was restored. The merger would add the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts to the NFL. The Rams become the first NFL team to have all their games televised.
The Rams defeat the Browns in the first NFL Championship Game to be broadcast coast to coast. The DuMont Television Network acquired the broadcasting rights for $75,000. It is the only title the Rams have won while based in California.
After the New York Yanks owner sells his team back to the league, the team is handed to an ownership group in Dallas. The Dallas Texans finish with a league-worst 1-11 record and, after that season, would become the last NFL team to fold. Dallas didn’t get another pro franchise until the launches of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and the AFL’s Dallas Texans in 1960. The Texans went on to become the Kansas City Chiefs.
Federal judge Allan K. Grim upholds the NFL’s television blackout policy, which prevented games from being shown in the home team’s market. In 1973, Congress would pass a law amending the rule to allow the league to black out only games not sold out at least 72 hours in advance. Since 2015, the league has dropped the policy on a year-by-year basis.
San Francisco 49ers fullback Joe “The Jet” Perry becomes the first back to record consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Later in the season, Perry becomes the first African American to be named the the league’s MVP. The Cleveland Browns beat the Detroit Lions 56-10 in the title game.
The Baltimore Colts need just an 80-cent phone call to sign quarterback Johnny Unitas, who would go on to lead the franchise to three NFL titles, including a win in Super Bowl V.
The NFL implements a rule that makes grabbing an opponent’s facemask (other than the ballcarrier) illegal. A brown leather ball with white stripes replaces the black football for night games. The NFL Players Assn. is founded.
Syrcause running back Jim Brown is picked sixth overall in the draft by the Cleveland Browns and wins rookie of the year. It was the start of Brown’s nine-year, Hall-of-Fame career in which he led the league in rushing eight times and became the only player to average 100 yards rushing per game for his career.
The Baltimore Colts defeat the New York Giants 23-17 in the league’s first sudden-death overtime game to win the NFL championship in the so-called Greatest Game Ever Played. Colts fullback Alan Ameche scored on a one-yard run with 8:15 remaining in OT.
Vince Lombardi is named coach of the Green Bay Packers. Over the next nine years, the Packers would win five NFL championships and two Super Bowls. In 1970, the Super Bowl trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his honor.
The Chicago Cardinals move to St. Louis, and former Rams general manager Pete Rozelle is named NFL commissioner. The American Football League is launched in direct competition with the NFL. The AFL had eight teams: Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Houston Oilers, Titans of New York, Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders. The Oilers defeat the Chargers in the inaugural AFL Championship.
The Chargers relocate to San Diego, where they would remain for the next 56 seasons. On Jan. 7, the inaugural Playoff Bowl is held in Miami between the second-place teams from the NFL’s two divisions. The game would be held annually until the NFL and AFL merged in 1970.
Receiver Bobby Mitchell signs with the Washington Redskins and becomes the first black player on the last all-white team in the NFL. The league’s segregationist era is over.
The Dallas Texans relocate to Kansas City and are renamed the Chiefs. Paul Brown, at that point the only coach in Cleveland Browns history, is fired after a 17-year tenure that included three NFL championships. In Canton, Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame opens.
The NFL gives home teams the option to wear white uniforms. In 1957, the NFL had dictated the home team must wear its colored jerseys.
Penalty flags change color, from white to bright gold. In an October Harris survey, sports fans chose professional football (41%) as their favorite sport, overtaking baseball (38%) for the first time.
On June 8, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle announces the NFL and AFL have reached an agreement to merge into a single league by 1970. In the meantime, the leagues’ champions would meet each January in a new AFL-NFL World Championship Game. On Jan. 15, 1967, the Green Packers defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 before 61,946 fans at the Coliseum. (The game wasn’t officially named the Super Bowl until Super Bowl III.) The game was broadcast by CBS and NBC, the only time this title game would be simulcast across multiple networks.
The league expands to 16 teams with the addition of the New Orleans Saints.
The Houston Oilers move to the Astrodome and are the first team to play in a domed stadium. The New York Jets, with Joe Namath at quarterback, famously defeat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, becoming the first AFL team to win the Super Bowl. Before the game, Namath boldly had predicted: “We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.”
The 50th season was the last before the AFL-NFL merger. The Philadelphia Eagles became the first team to play its home games on artificial turf, which was installed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.
The AFL-NFL merger takes full effect as the NFL assumes its modern two-conference structure. The Baltimore Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns join the AFL teams to form the American Football Conference.
The playoffs begin on Dec. 25, the first time games are held on Christmas Day. One of the matchups, the Miami Dolphins’ double-overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, lasts 82 minutes 40 seconds — the longest in NFL history.
The Miami Dolphins defeat the Washington Redskins 14–7 to win Super Bowl VII and cap a 17-0 season — the only perfect record in the modern NFL.
Buffalo Bills running back O.J. Simpson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1969 draft after winning the Heisman Trophy at USC, becomes the first player to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing. His record stood until Eric Dickerson’s 2,105-yard campaign with the Rams in 1984.
NFL players hold a strike from July 1 to Aug. 10 in response to the Rozelle Rule, which allowed commissioner Rozelle to award compensation (which included players) to a team losing a free agent if the player’s new team could not agree on compensation. Players returned to training camp without a new collective bargaining agreement, and the Rozelle Rule was outlawed in court because it violated the Sherman Act.
For the first time, referees wear microphones to announce penalties. The Pittsburgh Steelers win their first of six Super Bowls, defeating the Minnesota Vikings, who would lose all four Super Bowls they reached in the 1970s.
The NFL expands to 28 teams with the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Seahawks finish 2-12, and the Buccaneers become the first NFL team to go winless, at 0-14. The Buccaneers would lose their first 26 games before defeating the New Orleans Saints in 1977. The Cowboys modify their helmets to red, white and blue stripes to honor the bicentennial of the United States.
Instead of a traditional Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas, the league schedules a Miami Dolphins at St. Louis Cardinals game. It was the second time since 1966 the Cowboys did not play on the holiday, and the last time.
The NFL extends the regular season from 14 games to 16 games and increases playoff teams from eight to 10, adding a second wild-card team from each conference.
The Pittsburgh Steelers win their fourth title of the decade, a feat not matched until the New England Patriots in the 2010s. The Steelers also claim their second set of back-to-back Super Bowls, something no other NFL franchise has accomplished.
Honolulu becomes the first non-NFL city to host the Pro Bowl in the 30-year history of the game. The Oakland Raiders win Super Bowl XV over the Philadelphia Eagles, becoming the first wild-card team to win a title. No wild-card team did so again until the Denver Broncos in 1997. It’s happened six times, most recently with the 2010 Green Bay Packers.
It is made illegal for players to put adhesive or slippery substances such as the product “stickum” on his body, equipment or uniform. Rule is known as both the “Lester Hayes Rule” and the “Fred Biletnikoff Rule” since both Raiders were notorious for using sticky substances to make it easier for them to intercept/catch passes.
The 1982 NFL strike begins Sept. 21 and lasts 57 days. The season is shortened to nine games and a 16-team playoff format is introduced as a Super Bowl Tournament. It is the first time teams with losing record made the playoffs — Detroit Lions (4-5) and Cleveland Browns (4-5). Raiders won an antitrust lawsuit that allowed the team to move from Oakland to Los Angeles.
On Oct. 31, Chicago Bears founder George Halas dies. During his tenure as owner, the Bears won eight NFL championships. He was the head coach for six of those, tied for most all-time. Halas was the last surviving member of the NFL’s founding meeting.
Dan Marino sets records for yards passing in a season (5,084), touchdowns in a season (48) and passes completed (362). Dickerson sets record for yards rushing in a season (2,105 yards). Walter Payton breaks Brown’s career rushing record of 12,312 yards, reaching 13,309. The Colts relocate from Baltimore to Indianapolis.
The Bears win their only Super Bowl behind the league’s top defense and No. 2 scoring offense. En route to the title, Chicago becomes the first team to record back-to-back playoff shutouts.
Limited instant replay is adopted. A replay official in a booth would decide what plays to review and make the final ruling. There would be no time limit on replays, which led to long delays.
A players’ strike is called in late September and leads to the cancellation of Week 3 games. The NFL uses replacement players for the next three weeks until the strike ends. For the first time, NFL games are shown on ESPN.
NFL increases the interval between plays from 30 to 45 seconds. NFL approves the transfer of the Cardinals from St. Louis to Phoenix. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upholds the verdict that awarded the United States Football League one dollar in its $1.7-billion antitrust suit against the NFL.
Paul Tagliabue succeeds Pete Rozelle as commissioner. During Rozelle’s 29-year tenure, the Super Bowl was created, the NFL and AFL merged, and the league grew from 12 to 28 teams and from a 12- to 16-game schedule.
For the first time, two teams — the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants — would start the season 10–0. They meet in the NFC championship game, which the Giants won 15-12. The Giants also win Super Bowl XXV, a game in which Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood barely missed a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
The NFL’s World League of American Football (later known as NFL Europe) launches. The league would continue play (with the exception of 1993-94) until 2007 and featured future NFL stars such as Kurt Warner, Adam Vinatieri, James Harrison and Jake Delhomme.
The NFL ceases instant replay despite using it from 1986 to 1991. The vote was 17-11 in favor of continuing replay, but 21 votes were required. The NFL didn’t bring back replay until 1999.
Only season NFL teams were scheduled to play the 16-game schedule over 18 weeks. Teams felt two weeks off was too disruptive to weekly routines, however, and the league reverted to 17 weeks the next season.
Owner Georgia Frontiere announces intentions to move the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis. L.A. would be without an NFL team until the Rams returned 20 years later. The two-point conversion after a touchdown is adopted and the NFL institutes a salary cap.
The Raiders move back to Oakland, leaving Los Angeles without an NFL team for the first time since 1945. Meanwhile, the league launches expansion franchises in Carolina and Jacksonville, the first expansion clubs since 1976.
Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell attempts to move the Browns to Baltimore. Under a compromise with the league, Modell gives up the Browns logo and colors, and the Ravens are born as an expansion team in Baltimore. The Ravens would use one of their first-round picks to draft Ray Lewis, who would lead the Ravens to their first Super Bowl win five years later.
The Houston Oilers move to Tennessee. For the first time since the award was created in 1975, the Pro Football Writers Assn. has a tie for MVP between Brett Favre and Barry Sanders. It would happen again in 2003 when the honor was shared by Peyton Manning and Steve McNair.
Tennessee Oilers owner Bud Adams announces the team would change its name to the Tennessee Titans following the 1998 season. The name Oilers would be retired by the NFL on Nov. 14, 1998, the first in league history.
The Cleveland Browns rejoin the league as an expansion team and go 2-14. Since its reboot, the franchise has been to playoffs once, has not won a playoff game, and is currently in the midst of the league’s longest playoff drought, dating to 2002.
The NFL implements the “Bert Emanuel Rule,” stating that when making a catch and falling to the ground the ball is allowed to touch the ground and still be considered a catch if the player maintains clear control. The rule was a result of a controversial catch in the NFC championship game, in which Emanuel’s reception was overturned and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the St. Louis Rams 11-6.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the NFL postpones all Week 2 games and reschedules them for the end of the season. As a result, Super Bowl XXXVI is moved to Feb. 3, 2002, becoming the first Super Bowl played in the month.
The NFL expands to 32 teams with the addition of the Houston Texans, and Dom Capers becomes their first coach.
The NFL Network is announced and launches in November, becoming the first 24-hour channel dedicated to the league.
Players can be penalized for excessive celebrations. NFL institutes rule that would allow wide receivers to wear numbers 10 to 19 in addition to 80 to 89.
An NFL record crowd of 103,467 fills Azteca Stadium in Mexico City to witness the league's first regular-season game played on foreign soil, a 31-14 Arizona Cardinals win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Roger Goodell takes over as commissioner after Tagliabue announces his retirement. The Super Bowl matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears marks the first time two African American coaches (Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith) meet in a Super Bowl. Dungy becomes the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl with the Colts’ 29-17 victory.
The New England Patriots become the first team to go 16-0 in a regular season. New England would lose Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Arizona Cardinals 21-17 on Santonio Holmes’ touchdown catch in the final two minutes of Super Bowl XLIII to become the first franchise with six Super Bowl titles.
The 50th anniversary of the original eight charter members of the American Football League — Boston Patriots, Buffalo, Bills, New York City Titans (Jets), Houston Oilers (Tennessee Titans), Denver Broncos, Dallas Texans (Kansas City Chiefs), Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.
Since a new CBA was not reached with the NFLPA, this was an uncapped season, meaning there was no salary cap or salary floor for teams. The uncapped season limited unrestricted free agency to players with at least six years of experience, as opposed to four under a capped season.
For the first time since the 1987 players’ strike, there is a work stoppage as owners lock out players in the preseason while sides negotiate a new CBA. The labor issue was resolved and the regular season began as scheduled.
New Orleans Saints’ “Bountygate” rocks the NFL, and commissioner Goodell hands out the harshest punishments in league history. Coach Sean Payton and assistants Joe Vitt, Gary Williams and Mike Loomis receive suspensions. Players Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita are suspended (then overturned on appeal). The Saints also had to forfeit their second-round picks in 2012 and 2013.
Season ends with the Seattle Seahawks winning their first Super Bowl, a 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos. It was the first Super Bowl held outdoors in a cold-weather city (played in East Rutherford, N.J.).
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay football player to get drafted. Sam was taken by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round with the 249th pick.
After two decades without a Los Angeles team, the Chargers, Rams and Raiders all announce intentions to return to the city. The Rams and Chargers are approved for a move to the Southland. The Raiders later decide to relocate to Las Vegas.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick begins sitting, and then kneeling, during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Super Bowl 51 is the first to go overtime and the largest comeback victory in Super Bowl history. Tom Brady and the Patriots defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 after trailing 28-3 in the third quarter.
The Rams have the offensive player of the year (Todd Gurley), defensive player of the year (Aaron Donald) and coach of the year (Sean McVay) — the first time all three award-winners come from the same team.
After a 13-3 win over the Rams, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick become the first quarterback-coach duo to win six Super Bowls. The Patriots tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for most Super Bowl victories all-time.
Sources: Pro Football Hall of Fame, Associated Press
Credits: Production by Rahul Mukherjee and Ryan Murphy.