American National Football League: Definition and History

Get a complete history and definition of the American National Football League and the rise of the team since then.

The National Football League (NFL) was first known as the American Professional Football Association when it was established in Canton, Ohio, in 1920. Jim Thorpe, a star athlete from the United States who also participated in the league, served as its first president. The adoption of the current name occurred in 1922.


The American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference each have 32 clubs in the National Football League (NFL), a professional American football league (NFC). The NFL is the world’s highest-level professional American football league and one of the most important professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The NFL regular season, which lasts 18 weeks from early September to early January and has each club playing 17 games while taking one bye week, starts with a three-week preseason in August. 


Seven teams from each conference make it to the playoffs after the regular season ends (four division champions and three wild card teams), a single-elimination competition that concludes with the Super Bowl. This takes place in February and features the AFC and NFC conference winners. The league’s administrative centre is in New York City.


The National Football League’s beginnings can be traced back to 1892, when William Heffelfinger, a former Yale All-American guard, became the first-ever professional football player after accepting $500 from the Allegheny Athletic Association to participate in a match against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. However, American football developed into a truly organized league in 1920.

The league’s first season began in 1920, with five teams from Ohio (Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Tigers, Columbus Panhandlers, and Dayton Triangles), four from Illinois (Chicago Tigers, Decatur Staleys, Racine Cardinals [the Cardinals were based in Chicago but took the name of a local street]), two from Indiana (Hammond Pros and Muncie Flyers), two from New York (Buffalo All-Americans Only two of these original franchises are still in existence today: the Decatur Staleys moved to Chicago in 1921 and changed their name to the Bears a year later. The Cardinals left Chicago for St. Louis after the 1959 season.

The NFL overcame many years of instability and rivalry to become the strongest American professional football league. In the 1960s, the American Football League (AFL) posed the biggest threat to its dominant position. In 1970, the NFL and AFL combined, forming a 26-team league that played under the name of the earlier NFL. The league has since grown four times, adding six new franchises.

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