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National Football League

National Football League

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For other uses of "National Football League", see National Football League (disambiguation).
National Football League
Sport American football
Founded 1920
No. of teams 32
Country Image:Flag of the United States.svg United States
Current champions Pittsburgh Steelers
Official website

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The National Football League (NFL) is the largest professional American football league, consisting of thirty-two teams from American cities and regions. The league's teams are divided into two conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). Each conference is then further divided into four divisions consisting of four teams each, labeled East, West, North, and South. During the league's regular season, each team plays sixteen games over a seventeen-week period consisting of one bye generally from September to November. At the end of each regular season, six teams from each conference play in the NFL playoffs, a twelve-team single-elimination tournament that culminates with the NFL championship, the Super Bowl. This game is held at a pre-selected site which is usually a city that hosts an NFL team. One week later, selected all-star players from both the AFC and NFC meet in the Pro Bowl, currently held in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The NFL was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (it adopted the name National Football League in 1922). The NFL is one of the major professional sports leagues of North America.


[edit] Teams

There are 32 NFL clubs. Each club is allowed 53 players during the regular season. Unlike MLB, the NBA and the NHL, the league has no teams in Canada largely because the NFL receives most of its revenue from US TV deals, and Canadian TV ratings would not matter. There are some speculations that with the merger of Rogers Communications and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Buffalo Bills or some other team in trouble may move to Toronto.<ref name="globe">Template:Cite web</ref>

Most major cities in the United States have one NFL franchise, with the exception of the second-largest city, Los Angeles, which does not have one either in the city or its metropolitan area, and the seventh-largest city, San Antonio, Texas. The NFL is able to utilize the possible relocation of a franchise to Los Angeles as a threat, for example when trying to persuade local governments to contribute to the cost of new stadiums for its other franchises.<ref name="Economist">Template:Cite web</ref> The Washington Redskins are the most lucrative NFL franchise and is the most lucrative sports team of all U.S. professional sports, valued at approximately $1.4 billion.<ref name="Forbes">Template:Cite web</ref>

American Football Conference
Division Team Stadium City/Area
East Buffalo Bills Ralph Wilson Stadium Orchard Park, New York (Buffalo area)
Miami Dolphins Dolphin Stadium Miami Gardens, Florida (Miami area)
New England Patriots Gillette Stadium Foxborough, Massachusetts (Boston area)
New York Jets Giants Stadium East Rutherford, New Jersey (New York City area)
North Baltimore Ravens M&T Bank Stadium Baltimore, Maryland
Cincinnati Bengals Paul Brown Stadium Cincinnati, Ohio
Cleveland Browns Cleveland Browns Stadium Cleveland, Ohio
Pittsburgh Steelers Heinz Field Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
South Houston Texans Reliant Stadium Houston, Texas
Indianapolis Colts RCA Dome Indianapolis, Indiana
Jacksonville Jaguars ALLTEL Stadium Jacksonville, Florida
Tennessee Titans LP Field Nashville, Tennessee
West Denver Broncos INVESCO Field at Mile High Denver, Colorado
Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium Kansas City, Missouri
Oakland Raiders McAfee Coliseum Oakland, California
San Diego Chargers Qualcomm Stadium San Diego, California
National Football Conference
Division Team Stadium City/Area
East Dallas Cowboys Texas Stadium Irving, Texas (Dallas area)
New York Giants Giants Stadium East Rutherford, New Jersey (New York City area)
Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Washington Redskins FedEx Field Landover, Maryland (Washington, D.C. area)
North Chicago Bears Soldier Field Chicago, Illinois
Detroit Lions Ford Field Detroit, Michigan
Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field Green Bay, Wisconsin
Minnesota Vikings Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome Minneapolis, Minnesota
South Atlanta Falcons Georgia Dome Atlanta, Georgia
Carolina Panthers Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, North Carolina
New Orleans Saints Louisiana Superdome New Orleans, Louisiana
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium Tampa, Florida
West Arizona Cardinals University of Phoenix Stadium Glendale, Arizona (Phoenix area)
St. Louis Rams Edward Jones Dome St. Louis, Missouri
San Francisco 49ers Monster Park San Francisco, California
Seattle Seahawks Qwest Field Seattle, Washington

[edit] Season structure

As of 2006, The NFL season features:

[edit] Exhibition season

Summers see most NFL teams playing four exhibition games (referred to by the NFL as "preseason games;" the league discourages the use of the term "exhibition game") from early August through early September. Two "featured" preseason games, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game and American Bowl, do not count toward the normal allotment of four games, so the four teams playing in those games each end up playing five exhibition games.

The games are useful for new players that are not used to playing in front of very large crowds. Management often uses the games to evaluate newly signed players. Veteran players will generally play only for about a quarter of each game so they can avoid injury.

[edit] Regular Season

Main article: Regular Season (NFL)

The NFL season begins the weekend after Labor Day. Each team plays 16 games during a 17-week period. Traditionally, every game is played on Sunday afternoon with the exception of one game each week being played on Sunday night, and another game being played on Monday night, known as Monday Night Football. For the last few weeks of the regular season (after the NCAA football regular season has concluded), the league typically schedules several nationally-televised games on Saturday or Thursday evenings.

Currently, each team's 16-game regular season schedule is set using a pre-determined formula:

Image:NFL Schedule Sample.PNG
A sample scheduling grid, with a single team's (the Browns) schedule highlighted. Under this hypothetical schedule, the Browns would play the teams in blue twice and the teams in yellow once, for a total of 16 games
  • Each team plays the other three teams in their division twice: once at home, and once on the road (six games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from another division within its own conference once on a rotating three-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from a division in the other conference once on a rotating four-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays once against the other teams in its conference that finished in the same place in their own divisions as itself, not counting the division they were already scheduled to play: one at home, one on the road (two games).

This schedule guarantees that all teams will play in every other team's stadium at least once every eight years.

[edit] Playoffs

Main article: NFL playoffs

The season concludes with a 12-team tournament used to determine the teams to play in the Super Bowl. The tournament brackets are made up of six teams from each of the league's two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC), following the end of the 16-game regular season:

Image:NFL playoff tree.PNG
The NFL Playoffs. Each of the 4 division winners is seeded 1-4 based on their W-L-T records. The two wildcard teams (labeled Wild Card 1 and 2) are seeded 5th and 6th (with the better of the two having seed 5) regardless of their records compared to the 4 division winners.
  • The four division champions from each conference (the team in each division with the best regular season won-lost-tied record), which are seeded 1 through 4 based on their regular season won-lost-tied record.
  • Two wild card qualifiers (those non-division champions with the conference's best won-lost-tied percentages), which are seeded 5 and 6.

The 3 and the 6 seeded teams, and the 4 and the 5 seeds, face each other during the first round of the playoffs, dubbed the Wild Card Playoffs (the league in recent years has also used the term Wild Card Weekend). The 1 and the 2 seeds from each conference receive a bye in the first round, which entitles these teams to automatically advance to the second round, the Divisional Playoff games, to face the Wild Card survivors. In any given playoff round, the highest surviving seed always plays the lowest surviving seed . And in any given playoff game, whoever has the higher seed gets the home field advantage (i.e. the game is held at the higher seed's home field).

The two surviving teams from the Divisional Playoff games meet in Conference Championship games, with the winners of those contests going on to face one another in the Super Bowl.

[edit] Television schedule

For more details on this topic, see NFL on television.

The television rights to the NFL are the most lucrative and expensive rights not only of any American sport, but of any American entertainment property. With the fragmentation of audiences due to the increased specialization of broadcast and cable TV networks, sports remain one of the few entertainment properties that not only can guarantee a large and diversified audience, but an audience that will watch in real time.

Annually, the Super Bowl often ranks among the most watched shows of the year. Four of Nielsen Media Research's top 10 programs are Super Bowls<ref>Nielson's Top 10 Ratings: Top 10 Network Telecasts of All Time</ref>. Networks have purchased a share of the broadcasting rights to the NFL as a means of raising the entire network's profile.<ref> McKenna, Barrie "NBC hoping NFL, Internet will lead comeback",, retrieved on October 30, 2006 </ref>

Under the current television contracts, which began during the 2006 season, regular season games are broadcast on 5 networks: CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, and The NFL Network. Regionally shown games are broadcast on Sundays on CBS and Fox. These games generally air at 1:00PM ET and 4:00PM or 4:15PM ET. Nationally televised games include Sunday night games (shown on NBC) Monday night games (shown on ESPN), the Thursday night NFL Kickoff Game, the annual Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day games, and starting in 2006, select Thursday and Saturday games to be shown on the NFL network, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Football League.<ref name=TV>NFL TV and Radio Broadcast Partner Schedule,</ref> <ref>"Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth to announce NFL Network games", NFL News,, April 26, 2006</ref>

Additionally, satellite broadcast company DirecTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, a subscription based package, that allows most Sunday daytime regional games to be watched.<ref>NFL Sunday Ticket </ref><ref>NFL Sunday Ticket</ref> This package is exclusive to DirecTV in the USA. In Canada, NFL Sunday Ticket is available on a per-provider distribution deal on both cable and satellite.

[edit] Radio Schedule

Each NFL team has its own radio network and employs its announcers. Nationally, the NFL is heard on the Westwood One Radio Network and on Sports USA Radio. Westwood One carries Sunday and Monday Night Football, all Thursday games, two Sunday afternoon contests and all post-season games, including the Pro Bowl. Sports USA Radio broadcasts two Sunday afternoon games every Sunday during the regular season.<ref name=TV>NFL TV and Radio Broadcast Partner Schedule,</ref>

The NFL also has a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio, which provides news, analysis, commentary and game coverage for all games.<ref name=TV>NFL TV and Radio Broadcast Partner Schedule,</ref>

[edit] Player contracts and compensation

NFL players are all members of a union called the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA). The NFLPA negotiates the general minimum contract for all players in the league. This contract is called the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and it is the central document that governs the negotiation of individual player contracts for all of the league's players. The current CBA has been in place since 1993, and amended in 1998. The NFL has not had any labor-related work stoppages since the 1987 season, which is much longer than Major League Baseball, the NBA or the NHL. The current CBA expires at the end of the 2006 season.<ref name=CBA>COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE NFL MANAGEMENT COUNCIL AND THE NFL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION,, As amended February 25, 1998</ref>

Players are tiered into three different levels with regards to their rights to negotiate for contracts:

Among the items covered in the CBA are:

  • The league minimum salary
  • The salary cap
  • The annual collegiate draft
  • Rules regarding "free agency"
  • Waiver rules

[edit] Salaries

A player's salary, as defined by the CBA, includes any "compensation in money, property, investments, loans or anything else of value to which an NFL player" excluding such benefits as insurance and pension. A salary can include an annual pay and a one-time "signing bonus" which is paid in full when the player signs their contract. For the purposes of the salary cap (see below) the signing bonus is pro-rated over the life of the contract rather than to the year in which the signing bonus is paid.

Player contracts are not guaranteed; teams are only required to pay on the contract as long as the player remains a member of the team. If the player is cut, or quits, for any reason, the balance of the contract is voided and the player receives no further compensation. <ref name=salary> Salary Cap FAQ,, retrieved October 30, 2006</ref>

Years Experience Minimum Salary<ref name=salary> Salary Cap FAQ,, retreived October 30, 2006</ref>
0 $260,000
1 $305,000
2 $380,000
3 $455,000
4-6 $540,000
7-9 $665,000
10+ $765,000

Among other things, the CBA establishes a minimum salary for its players<ref name=salary> Salary Cap FAQ,, retreived October 30, 2006</ref>, which is stepped-up as a player's years of experience increase. Players and their agents may negotiate with clubs for higher salaries, and frequently do. As of the 2005 NFL season, the highest paid player was Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, whose "cap value" was slightly under $8 million.<ref>USATODAY Player Salaries Database -- Detail for Michael Vick retrieved October 30, 2006 </ref> The overall value of his contract is 10 years at $130 million, averaging $13 million a year, including signing bonuses and annual salary <ref>"Vick becomes highest-paid player", St. Petersburg Times, December 24, 2004, retrieved October 30, 3006</ref>

[edit] Salary cap

The salary cap is defined as the maximum amount that a team may spend on player compensation, (see above) for all of its players combined. Unlike other leagues, like the NBA (which has certain exemptions) or Major League Baseball (which has a "soft cap" enforced by "luxury taxes"), the NFL has a "hard cap", that is no team, for any reason, may go over the cap.

The NFL salary cap is calculated by a formula. It is defined by the current CBA to be 59.5% of the total projected league revenue for the upcoming year. This number, divided by the number of teams, determines an individual teams maximum salary cap. For 2006, this is approximately $102 million per team. For 2007, it is projected that this will rise to $109 million.<ref name=salary> Salary Cap FAQ,, retreived October 30, 2006</ref>

Teams and players often find creative ways to fit salaries under the salary cap. Early in the salary cap era, "signing bonuses" were used to give players a large chunk of money up front, and thus not count in the salary for the bulk of the contract. This led to a rule whereby all signing bonus are pro-rated equally for each year of the contract. Thus a player who receives a $10 million dollar signing bonus for a 5 year contract would count $2 million per year for the life of the contract, even though the full $10 million was paid up front during the first year of the contract. Also, if a team cuts any player, the signing bonus ceases to be pro-rated, and the entire balance of the bonus counts against the cap in the upcoming season. This is not true of a player's salary which terminates when the player is cut.<ref name=salary> Salary Cap FAQ,, retrieved October 30, 2006</ref>

Player contracts tend to be "back-loaded". This means that the contract is not divided equally among the time period it covers. Instead, the player earns progressively more and more each year. For instance, a player signing a 4-year deal worth $10 million may get paid $1 million the first year, $2 million the second year, $3 million the third year, and $4 million the fourth year. If a team cuts a player after the first year, the final 3 years do not count against the cap. However, the balance of any signing bonus still counts against the team that cut the player, and it counts in full the year after the player is cut. <ref name=salary> Salary Cap FAQ,, retrieved October 30, 2006</ref>

[edit] The NFL draft

For more details on this topic, see NFL Draft.

Every year during April, each NFL franchise seeks to add new players to its roster through a collegiate draft known as "the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting", which is more commonly known as the NFL Draft.

Teams are ranked in inverse order based on the previous season's record, with the worst record picking first, and the second worst picking second and so on. The exceptions to this order is that the Super Bowl champion always picks 32nd, and the Super Bowl loser always picks 31st.<ref>Alder, James, "NFL Draft Basics:Determining Order of Selection",, Retreived November 2, 2006</ref>

The draft proceeds for 7 rounds. Rounds 1-3 are run on Saturday of draft weekend, rounds 4-7 are run on Sunday. Teams are given a limited amount of time to make their picks.<ref>"NFL Draft Basics:Time Limits by Round, retrieved November 2, 2006</ref> If the pick is not made in the allotted time, subsequent teams in the draft may draft before them. This happened in 2003 to the Minnesota Vikings, much to their own embarrassment.<ref>Black, James C. " Offseason Overview: Minnesota Vikings" May 29, 2003,, retrieved November 2, 2006</ref>

Teams have the option of trading away their picks to other teams for different picks, players, cash, or a combination thereof. While player-for-player trades are rare during the rest of the year (especially in comparison to the other major league sports), trades are far more common on draft day. In 1989, in arguably the most famous draft day trade ever, the Dallas Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for five veteran players and six draft picks over 3 years. The Cowboys would use these picks to leverage trades for additional draft picks and veteran players. As a direct result of this trade, they would draft many of the stars that would help them win 3 Super Bowls in the 1990's, including Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland and Darren Woodson.<ref>"The Herschel Walker Trade",, Retrieved November 2, 2006</ref>

The first pick in the draft is often taken to be the best overall player in the rookie class. This may or may not be true, since teams often select players more based on needs than on overall skill. Plus, comparing players at different positions is difficult to do. Still, it is considered a great honor to be a first-round pick, and a greater honor to be the first overall pick. The very last pick in the draft is known as Mr. Irrelevant, and is the subject of a dinner in his honor in Newport Beach, California.

Drafted players may ONLY negotiate with the team that drafted them (or to another team if their rights were traded away). The drafting team has one year to sign the player. If they do not do so, the player may reenter the draft and can be drafted by another team. Bo Jackson famously sat out a season in this way.<ref name=Bo>Flatter, Ron "Bo knows stardom and disappointment", CLASSIC/BIO, March 6, 2006</ref>

Further information: List of NFL first overall draft choices

[edit] Free agency

For more details on this topic, see Free Agent#NFL Usage.

As defined by the CBA, a free agent is any player who is not under contract to any team and thus has fully free rights to negotiate with any other team for new contract terms. <ref name=CBA>COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE NFL MANAGEMENT COUNCIL AND THE NFL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION,, As amended February 25, 1998</ref> <ref name=freeag>Free Agency 101,, retrieved November 6, 2006</ref>. Free agents are classified into two categories: restricted and unrestricted. Furthermore, a team may "tag" a player as a franchise or transition, which places additional restrictions on that player's ability to negotiate. However, the ability to "tag" is quite limited, and only affects a handful of players each year.

Free agency in the NFL began with a limited free agency system known as "Plan B Free Agency", which was in effect between the 1989 and 1992 seasons. Beginning with the 1993 season, "Plan A Free Agency" went into effect, which is the system which remains in the NFL today.[citation needed]

[edit] Restricted free agent

A player who has more than 3 but less than 5 years of experience is eligible for restricted free agency, whereby his current team has the chance to retain rights to this player by matching the highest offer any other NFL franchise might make to that player. The club can either block a signing or, in essence, force a trade by offering a salary over a certain threshold. In 2006, these thresholds were as follows:

  • If the a club tenders an offer of $685,000 per year for a three year veteran, and $725,000 for a four year veteran, the player's current team has "right of first refusal" over the contract at those terms, and may sign the player at those terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $712,000 or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year's salary, then the current club has both "right of first refusal" and rights to a draft pick from the same round (or better) from the signing club. Essentially, this means that the new club must forfeit the draft pick to the old club if they wish to sign the player under these terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $1.552 million or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year's salary, then the current club has both "right of first refusal" and rights to the first round draft pick from the signing club.<ref name=freeag>Free Agency 101,, retrieved November 6, 2006</ref>

[edit] Unrestricted free agent

A player who has 5 or more years of experience is eligible for unrestricted free agency, whereby his current team has no guaranteed right to match outside offers to that player. This means that players in this category have unlimited rights to negotiate any terms with any team.<ref name=freeag>Free Agency 101,, retrieved November 6, 2006</ref>

[edit] Franchise tag

The franchise tag designation given to a player by a franchise that guarantees that player a contract the average of the five highest-paid players of that same position in the entire league, or 120% of the player's previous year's salary (whichever is greater) in return for retaining rights to that player for one year. An NFL franchise may only designate one player a year as having the franchise tag, and may designate the same player for consecutive years. This has caused some tension between some NFL franchise designees and their respective teams due to the fact that a player designated as a franchise player precludes that player from pursuing large signing bonuses that are common in unrestricted free agency, and also prevents a player from leaving the team, especially when the reasons for leaving are not necessarily financial. A team may designate no more than one player as a "franchise player" in any one given year. A team may, at their discretion, allow the franchise player to negotiate with other clubs, but if they sign with another club, the first club is entitled to two first round draft picks in compensation. <ref name=freeag>Free Agency 101,, retreived November 6, 2006</ref>

[edit] Transition tag

The transition tag is a less restrictive version of the franchise tag, in that the team only retains "rights of first refusal" rather than exclusive contract rights. While the franchise tag prevents players from negotiating with other teams, the transition tag allows a player to negotiate, but gives the previous employer the right to match another teams offer to retain the player, if they so choose. In order to apply the transition tag, the prior franchise must tender an offer of the average of the ten highest-paid players of that same position in the entire league, or 120% of the player previous year's salary (whichever is greater). A team may designate one player per year as a "transition player" <ref name=freeag>Free Agency 101,, retrieved November 6, 2006</ref>

[edit] History

Further information: History of American football
Image:NFL 1960.gif
National Football League logo (1960-1969)

Like the American college football game from which it sprung, NFL football is a descendant of rugby football, which was imported to the United States from Canada in 1874, and then transformed into American college football after McGill University in Montreal invited Harvard University to Quebec to play a new Canadian version of "rugby football". Professional football in the United States dates at least to 1892, when an athletic club in Pittsburgh paid William "Pudge" Heffelfinger $500 to take part in a game. Over the next few decades, while most attention was paid to football at elite colleges on the East Coast, the professional game spread widely in the Midwest, particularly in Ohio where in 1903 the Massillon Tigers, a strong amateur team, hired four Pittsburgh pros to play in their season-ending game against Akron.

The American Professional Football Association was founded in 1920 at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio. Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe was elected president. The group of eleven teams, all but one in the Midwest, was originally less a league than an agreement not to rob other teams' players. In the early years, APFA members continued to play non-APFA teams.

In 1921, the APFA began releasing official standings, and the following year, the group changed its name to the National Football League. However, the NFL was hardly a major league in the '20s. Teams entered and left the league frequently. Franchises included such colorful representatives as the LaRue, Ohio Oorang Indians, an all-Native American outfit that also put on a performing dog show.

Yet as former college stars like Red Grange and Benny Friedman began to test the professional waters, the pro game slowly began to increase in popularity. By 1934 all of the small-town teams, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, had moved to or been replaced by big cities. One factor in the league's rising popularity was the institution of an annual championship game in 1933.

By the end of World War II, pro football began to rival the college game for fans' attention. The spread of the T formation led to a faster-paced, higher-scoring game that attracted record numbers of fans. In 1945, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, becoming the first big-league sports franchise on the West Coast. In 1950, the NFL accepted three teams from the defunct All-America Football Conference, expanding to thirteen clubs.

In the 1950s, pro football finally earned its place as a major sport. The NFL embraced television, giving Americans nationwide a chance to follow stars like Bobby Layne, Paul Hornung, Otto Graham, and Johnny Unitas. The 1958 NFL championship in New York drew record TV viewership and made national celebrities out of Unitas and his Baltimore Colts teammates.

The rise of professional football was so fast that by the mid-'60s, it had surpassed baseball as Americans' favorite spectator sport in some surveys. As more people wanted to cash in on this surge of popularity than the NFL could accommodate, a rival league, the American Football League (AFL), was founded in 1960.

The AFL introduced features that the NFL did not have, such as wider-open passing offenses, players' names on their jerseys, and an official clock visible to fans so that they knew the time remaining in a period (the NFL kept time by a game referee's watch, and only periodically announced the actual time). The newer league also secured itself financially after it established the precedents for gate and television revenue sharing between all of its teams, and network television broadcasts all of its games.

The AFL also forced the NFL to expand: The Dallas Cowboys were created to counter the AFL's Dallas Texans. The Texans moved the franchise to Kansas City as the Chiefs in 1963; the Minnesota Vikings were the NFL franchise given to Max Winter for abandoning the AFL; and the Atlanta Falcons franchise went to Rankin Smith to dissuade him from purchasing the AFL's Miami Dolphins.

The ensuing costly war for players between the NFL and AFL almost derailed the sport's ascent. By 1966, the leagues agreed to merge as of the 1970 season. The ten AFL teams joined three existing NFL teams to form the NFL's American Football Conference. The remaining thirteen NFL teams became the National Football Conference. Another result of the merger was the creation of an AFL-NFL Championship game that for four years determined the so-called "World Championship of Professional Football". After the merger, the then-renamed Super Bowl became the NFL's championship game.

In the 1970s and '80s, the NFL solidified its dominance as America's top spectator sport and its important role in American culture. The Super Bowl became an unofficial national holiday and the top-rated TV program most years. Monday Night Football, which first aired in 1970 brought in high ratings by mixing sports and entertainment. Rules changes in the late 1970s ensured a fast-paced game with lots of passing to attract the casual fan.

The founding of the United States Football League in the early 1980s was the biggest challenge to the NFL in the post-merger era. The USFL was a well-financed competitor with big-name players and a national television contract. However, the USFL failed to make money and folded after three years.

In recent years, the NFL has expanded into new markets and ventures. In 1986, the league began holding a series of pre-season exhibition games, called American Bowls, held at international sites outside the United States. Then in 1991, the league formed the World League of American Football, (now NFL Europe), a developmental league now with teams in Germany and the Netherlands. The league played a regular-season NFL game in Mexico City in 2005 and intends to play more such games in other countries. In 2003, the NFL launched its own cable-television channel, NFL Network.

[edit] Franchise relocations and mergers

For more details on this topic, see NFL franchise moves and mergers.

In the early years, the league was not stable and teams moved frequently. Franchise mergers were popular during World War II in response to the scarcity of players.

Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late 20th century when a vastly more popular NFL, free from financial instability, allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. While owners invariably cited financial difficulties as the primary factor in such moves, many fans bitterly disputed these contentions, especially in Cleveland, Baltimore, Houston and St. Louis, each of which eventually received teams some years after their original franchises left (the Browns, Ravens,Texans and the Rams respectively). However, Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States, has not had an NFL team since 1994 after both the Raiders and the Rams relocated elsewhere.

Additionally, with the increasing suburbanization of the U.S., the building of new stadiums and other team facilities in the suburbs instead of the central city became popular from the 1970s on, though at the turn of the millennium a reverse shift back to the central city became somewhat evident.

[edit] Video games

Electronic Arts publishes an NFL video game for current video game consoles and for PCs each year, called Madden NFL, being named after former coach and current football commentator John Madden. Prior to the 2005-2006 football season, other NFL games were produced by competing video game publishers, such as 2K Games and Midway Games. However, in December 2004, Electronic Arts signed a five-year exclusive agreement with the NFL, meaning only Electronic Arts will be permitted to publish games featuring NFL team and player names.

[edit] Commissioners and presidents

  1. President Jim Thorpe (1920-1921)<ref name="research">Template:Cite web</ref>
  2. President Joseph Carr (1921-1939)
  3. President Carl Storck (1939-1941)
  4. Commissioner Elmer Layden (1941-1946)
  5. Commissioner Bert Bell (1946-1959)
  6. Interim President Austin Gunsel (1959-1960, following death of Bell)
  7. Commissioner Alvin "Pete" Rozelle (1960-1989)
  8. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1989-2006)
  9. Commissioner Roger Goodell (2006-present)

[edit] Main League offices

[edit] Uniform numbers

Main article: Squad number

In the NFL, players wear uniform numbers based on the position they play. The current system was instituted into the league on April 5, 1973<ref>NFL uniform numbering system</ref>, as a means for fans and officials (referees, linesmen) to more easily identify players on the field by their position. Players who were already in the league at that date were grandfathered, and did not have to change their uniform numbers if they didn't conform. Since that date, players are invariably assigned numbers within the following ranges, based on their primary position:

  • Quarterbacks, placekickers and punters, and other specialists: 1-19
  • Wide receivers: 10-19, 80-89
  • Running backs and defensive backs: 20-49
  • Offensive linemen: 50-79
  • Linebackers: 50-59 and 90-99
  • Defensive linemen: 60-79 and 90-99
  • Tight ends: 80-89, or 40-49 if all are taken

Prior to 2004, wide receivers were allowed to only wear numbers 80-89. <ref>2004 NFL Rules changes</ref> The NFL changed the rule that year to allow wide receivers to wear numbers 10-19 to allow for the increased number of players at wide receiver and tight end coming into the league. Prior to that, players were only allowed to wear non-standard numbers if their team had run out of numbers within the prescribed number range. Perhaps most familiar to fans, Keyshawn Johnson began wearing number 19 in 1996 because the New York Jets had run out of numbers in the 80s.

Occasionally, players will petition the NFL to allow them to wear a number that is not in line with the numbering system. In 2006, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush petitioned the NFL to let him keep the number 5 which he used at USC. His request was later denied<ref>Clayton, John "NFL won't change numbering system for Bush",, May 23, 2006</ref>.

It should be noted that this NFL numbering system is based on a player's primary position. Any player wearing any number may play at any position on the field at any time (though players wearing numbers 50-79 must let the referee know that they are playing out of position by reporting as an "ineligible number in an eligible position"). It is not uncommon for running backs to line up at wide receiver on certain plays, or to have a large lineman play at fullback or tight end in short yardage situations. Also, in preseason games, when teams have expanded rosters, players may wear numbers that are outside of the above rules. When the final 53-player roster is established, they are reissued numbers within the above guidelines.

[edit] Awards

[edit] Discontinued awards

[edit] See also

[edit] Pre-seasons

[edit] Regular seasons

[edit] Postseasons

[edit] Records

[edit] Other related leagues

[edit] American football

[edit] External links

[edit] References

<references />

[edit] Further information


The National Football League (2006)
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