Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Mystique of the Early Years of the NFL



The Mystique of the Early Years of the NFL

By Chino Kafuu
The Daily Magi
October 22, 2069

The 1919 expansion of top-level professional football threatened to drastically increase the cost of the game by sparking bidding wars. The various regional circuits determined that forming a league, with enforceable rules, would mitigate these problems. In 1920, the American Professional Football Association, was founded, in a meeting at a Hupmobile car dealership in Canton, Ohio. Jim Thorpe was elected the league's first president. After several more meetings, the league's membership was formalized. The original teams were:


  • Akron Pros
  • Buffalo All-Americans
  • Canton Bulldogs
  • Chicago Tigers
  • Cleveland Indians
  • Columbus Panhandles
  • Dayton Triangles
  • Decatur Staleys
  • Detroit Heralds
  • Hammond Pros
  • Muncie Flyers
  • Racine Cardinals
  • Rochester Jeffersons
  • Rock Island Independents


In its early years the league was little more than a formal agreement between teams to play each other and to declare a champion at season's end. Teams were still permitted to play non-league members. The 1920 season saw several teams drop out and fail to play through their schedule. Only four teams: Akron, Buffalo, Canton, and Decatur, finished the schedule. Akron claimed the first league champion, with the only undefeated record among the remaining teams.

In 1921, several more teams joined the league, increasing the membership to 22 teams. Among the new additions were the Green Bay Packers, which now has the record for longest use of an unchanged team name. Also in 1921, A. E. Staley, the owner of the Decatur Staleys, sold the team to player-coach George Halas, who went on to become one of the most important figures in the first half century of the NFL. In 1921, Halas moved the team to Chicago, but retained the Staleys nickname. In 1922 the team was renamed the Chicago Bears. The Staleys won the 1921 AFPA Championship, over the Buffalo All-Americans in an event later referred to as the "Staley Swindle".

By the mid-1920s, NFL membership had grown to 25 teams, and a rival league known as the American Football League was formed. The rival AFL folded after a single season, but it symbolized a growing interest in the professional game. Several college stars joined the NFL, most notably Red Grange from the University of Illinois, who was taken on a famous barnstorming tour in 1925 by the Chicago Bears. Another scandal that season centered on a 1925 game between the Chicago Cardinals and the Milwaukee Badgers. The scandal involved a Chicago player, Art Folz, hiring a group of high school football players to play for the Milwaukee Badgers, against the Cardinals. This would ensure an inferior opponent for Chicago. The game was used to help prop up their win-loss percentage and as a chance of wrestling away the 1925 Championship away from the first place Pottsville Maroons. All parties were severely punished initially, however a few months later the punishments were rescinded. Also that year a controversial dispute stripped the NFL title from the Maroons and awarded it to the Cardinals.

At the end of the 1932 season, the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans were tied with the best regular-season records. To determine the champion, the league voted to hold its first playoff game. Because of cold weather, the game was held indoors at Chicago Stadium, which forced some temporary rule changes. Chicago won, 9–0. The playoff proved so popular that the league reorganized into two divisions for the 1933 season, with the winners advancing to a scheduled championship game. A number of new rule changes were also instituted: the goal posts were moved forward to the goal line, every play started from between the hash marks, and forward passes could originate from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage (instead of the previous five yards behind). In 1936, the NFL instituted the first draft of college players. The first selection was Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwanger, but he declined to play professionally. Also in that year, another AFL formed, but it also lasted only two seasons.

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