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Professional football is born

Professional football is born



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On August 20, 1920, seven men, including legendary all-around athlete and football star Jim Thorpe, meet to organize a professional football league at the Jordan and Hupmobile Auto Showroom in Canton, Ohio. The meeting led to the creation of the American Professional Football Conference (APFC), the forerunner to the hugely successful National Football League.

Professional football developed in the 1890s in Pennsylvania, as local athletic clubs engaged in increasingly intense competition. Former Yale football star William “Pudge” Heffelfinger became the first-ever professional football player when he was hired by the Allegheny Athletic Association to play in a game against their rival the Pittsburgh Athletic Club in November 1892. By 1896, the Allegheny Athletic Association was made up entirely of paid players, making it the sport’s first-ever professional team. As football became more and more popular, local semi-pro and pro teams were organized across the country.

Professional football first proved itself a viable spectator sport in the 1910s with the establishment of The Ohio League. Canton, the premiere team in the league, featured legendary decathlete and football star Jim Thorpe. From his play with the Carlisle School to his gold medal in the decathlon in Stockholm in 1912 and his time in the outfield with John McGraw’s New York Giants, Thorpe was an international star who brought legitimacy to professional football. The crowds that Thorpe and the Canton team drew created a market for professional football in Ohio and beyond. Still, the league was struggling due to escalating player salaries, a reliance on college players who then had to forfeit their college eligibility and a general lack of organization.

On August 20, 1920, the owners of four Ohio League teams–the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians and Dayton Triangles–met to form a new professional league. Jim Thorpe was nominated as president of the new league, as it was hoped Thorpe’s fame would help the league to be taken seriously. On September 17, the league met again, changing its short-lived name to the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and officially electing Jim Thorpe as the league’s first president.

The APFA began play on September 26, with the Rock Island Independents of Illinois defeating a team from outside the league, the St. Paul Ideals, 48-0. A week later, Dayton beat Columbus 14-0 in the first game between two teams from the APFA, the forerunner of the modern NFL.

READ MORE: The Birth of the National Football League


Football

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football, also called association football or soccer, game in which two teams of 11 players, using any part of their bodies except their hands and arms, try to maneuver the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Only the goalkeeper is permitted to handle the ball and may do so only within the penalty area surrounding the goal. The team that scores more goals wins.

What is football?

Football, also called association football or soccer, is a game involving two teams of 11 players who try to maneuver the ball into the other team’s goal without using their hands or arms. The team that scores more goals wins. Football is the world’s most popular ball game in numbers of participants and spectators.

What is the origin of football?

Modern football originated in Britain in the 19th century. Though “folk football” had been played since medieval times with varying rules, the game began to be standardized when it was taken up as a winter game at public schools. The Football Association, formed in 1863, codified the rules of the game and hosted the first cup competition between regional football clubs in Britain.

How many people play football?

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, estimated that at the turn of the 21st century there were approximately 250 million football players worldwide.

What is football’s premier tournament?

The World Cup is football’s premier tournament. It is a quadrennial tournament and is likely the most popular sporting event in the world, drawing billions of television viewers every tournament.

Football is the world’s most popular ball game in numbers of participants and spectators. Simple in its principal rules and essential equipment, the sport can be played almost anywhere, from official football playing fields (pitches) to gymnasiums, streets, school playgrounds, parks, or beaches. Football’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), estimated that at the turn of the 21st century there were approximately 250 million football players and over 1.3 billion people “interested” in football in 2010 a combined television audience of more than 26 billion watched football’s premier tournament, the quadrennial month-long World Cup finals.

For a history of the origins of football sport, see football.


Professional football is born - HISTORY

ennsylvania&rsquos infatuation with football is long-lived. Calling oneself a football fan and cheering for a favorite team in a game where players exhibit extraordinary athleticism that is unparalleled by other sports has become a source of national pride. Despite the overwhelming popularity of football and the National Football League (NFL), most fans remain unaware of its origins. Where was professional football born? When did the first professional game take place? On November 12, 1892 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania held the very first professional football game between the Pittsburgh Athletic Club and the Allegheny Athletic Club.

Prior to 1892, evidence of American football can be traced back to the years following the Civil War. At the time, the sport combined a mixture of soccer and rugby and was mainly played at the collegiate level. In 1869, two New Jersey rivals, Princeton and Rutgers Universities, staged the first competitive football game. The hosts, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, were ultimately victorious, scoring six goals to four. Soon following, athletic clubs across the Northeast began assembling their own teams, commonly referred to as &ldquoclub elevens.&rdquo An area that was particularly rich with these clubs was southwest Pennsylvania. Since then, Pennsylvania has seen 27 of its native football players make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, trailing Texas by one.

Some of the athletic clubs that became trendsetters included Allegheny Athletic Association, Greensburg Athletic Association, Latrobe Athletic Club, and Johnstown Athletic Club all of whom called Pennsylvania home. These clubs along with others that soon followed helped spread the game of football to Ohio, New York, and other eastern and Midwestern cities.

Teams quickly began competing with one another in hopes of becoming the area&rsquos most celebrated club eleven. On October 11, 1890, the Allegheny Athletic Association (AAA), based in Allegheny City (now the North Side of Pittsburgh), played the Western University of Pennsylvania. The event marked southwest Pennsylvania&rsquos first official game of football. Moreover, it marks the birth of a contemporary football powerhouse: Western University, now known as the University of Pittsburgh.

With competition fierce, another Pittsburgh-based club formed in 1891 &ndash The East End Gymnasium Club. After a successful first season, the club&rsquos reputation grew amongst football enthusiasts far and wide. Their growing fame allowed them to change their name to the Pittsburgh Athletic Club or PAC. Following their recent success, the PAC felt entitled to challenge the well-established Allegheny Athletic Club, or &ldquoThe Three A&rsquos&rdquo. As a result, the clubs scheduled an 1892 Columbus Day battle. The highly-anticipated match concluded with no victor with a tie score of 6-6. Following the stalemate, the clubs scheduled a rematch and both teams made changes to better themselves in preparation. With the clubs eager to win, they bent the rules in order to fill their rosters with the best players possible. This &ldquorevamping process&rdquo led directly to the first &ldquoprofessional&rdquo game.

Prior to their match, football was strictly an &ldquoamateur&rdquo sport. Players played for their dedication and love of the game, and playing for pay was highly frowned upon. To combat &ldquoplay for pay&rdquo as it became known, an organization called the Amateur Athletic Union was created in order to monitor all club elevens and maintain the integrity of the game. Despite the organization, a closer look at football&rsquos history reveals that the Union was fairly unsuccessful, and could do little to stop &ldquoplay for pay.

The AAA and PAC implemented clever techniques to ensure compensation for their athletes without violating union rules. One technique widely used during the era was &ldquodouble expense money.&rdquo Instead of awarding straight cash incentives, clubs would reward their top players with &ldquogifts,&rdquo which they would in turn pawn for cash. This would often be done in the form of trophies or pocket watches. With this technique in mind, the AAA and PAC began scouting and offering incentives to athletes of interest for the rematch. The first team to make offers to players, the PAC, had a history of questionable behavior in the past. The club&rsquos coach, William Kirschner, a well-respected football player at the time, held the title &ldquocoach,&rdquo despite the fact that he actively played in games. The attractive coaching salary he received was double expense money and a cover. Unfortunately for the PAC, Kirschner was later injured and they were forced to find another leader.

The PAC then scouted the well-known Chicago Athletic Association, known for their celebrated collegiate-trained players. Impressed with what they saw, the club offered famed guard William &ldquoPudge&rdquo Heffelfinger $250 to participate in the highly anticipated rematch. Soon after, on October 30, the Pittsburgh Press got wind of the negotiations and reported that Heffelfinger and teammate Knowlton &ldquoSnake&rdquo Ames were offered money by the PAC.

Just as the PAC was looking for ways to strengthen its roster, the AAA was simultaneously speaking with Ben &ldquoSport&rdquo Donnelly and Ed Malley, offering both &ldquodouble expense money.&rdquo Once word spread, the club began to pursue Heffelfinger and Ames as well. They began by offering them $250 each for the game, but were unsuccessful. Ames refused to accept the cash incentive in fear of losing his amateur status while Heffelfinger was simply interested in more money. Pushing further, the AAA offered Heffelfinger $500, plus $25 for travel expenses, which he accepted.

This expense sheet detailed the payment to Heffelfinger for play, marking the first professional game.

Click to see a larger version.

Weighing 205 pounds and standing 6&rsquo3&rsquo&rsquo, Heffelfinger was dubbed &ldquoPudge&rdquo at an early age. He played for football legend Walter Camp at Yale University, where he played both offense and defense. During this time, the team went 54-2 and Heffelfinger received All-American honors in 1889, 1890, and 1891. Heffelfinger&rsquos impact on the game remains intact as his creation &ndash &ldquothe pulling guard,&rdquo whose job is to pull back from the line and run around the end attempting to block the defense in front of a running back &ndash is still widely used. In the present, Heffelfinger is honored as the first major collegiate and professional football star.

As game day finally arrived, Heffelfinger, Donnelly, and Malley ran onto Allegheny Field touting AAA uniforms, in front of 3,000 screaming fans. When the PAC saw the players, they immediately accused the club of wrongdoing, claiming that they paid players, despite participating in similar negotiations themselves. The sides bickered substantially, but AAA manager O. D. Thompson maintained his and his club&rsquos innocence. As negotiations subsided, the club managers agreed to play, however, the game was now only considered an exhibition and all corresponding bets were nullified. Despite the &ldquopositive&rdquo outcome, fans of both clubs were displeased. PAC fans were upset by AAA&rsquos new Chicago additions, while AAA fans were angered by the elimination of betting.

Nevertheless the game proceeded. Due to the pre-game negotiations, the game was shortened to &ldquotwo 30-minute halves, instead of 45 minutes.&rdquo During the first half, the legendary Heffelfinger terrorized the PAC offense, forced a fumble, and returned it for a touchdown, which at the time was 4 points. Unfortunately the shortened time was not enough and darkness overcame the field 18 minutes into the second half. As a result, Heffelfinger&rsquos inspired play was the game&rsquos only score. Thus, the AAA won 4-0 over their archrival.

While the event marks the first professional football game, evidence proving the matter was not found for 80 years. Until then, many thought John Brallier, a 16-year-old quarterback from Indiana College of Pennsylvania was the first professional football player when in 1895 he accepted $10 and expenses to play for Latrobe against the rival town Jeanette, both of Westmoreland County. When the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened in 1963, the matter of determining the first professional football player was deeply researched. During the investigation an AAA expense report was discovered that clearly illustrated the payment Heffelfinger received for his participation in the 1892 game. As a result, the report was dubbed &ldquopro football&rsquos birth certificate.&rdquo

From the 1892 AAA/PAC rematch to the Pittsburgh Steelers&rsquo 2009 Super Bowl victory, southwest Pennsylvania remains rich with football fans. Without the intensity within the area, professional football may never have achieved the mass appeal and allure it has today. Heffelfinger and the AAA&rsquos have forever rooted the historic beginnings of professional football in Southwest Pennsylvania.


NFL 100: A Century of Pro Football

Anniversaries are always a good time for list-making, and as the NFL kicks off its 100th season, The MMQB and SI dive into the colorful, convoluted history of the league that now dominates the sports landscape. Over the last century, professional football has evolved from a slap-dash enterprise in a handful of mid-sized American towns�tur, Rock Island, Green Bay—to the multibillion-dollar juggernaut that rules fall Sundays, boasts the most watched television programming in the country, and serves as an obsession for millions of Americans.

How did the NFL get from there to here? There’s no one way to cover such an expansive and deep-seeded narrative, so The MMQB approached it from three angles: 100 figures who shaped the league, 100 objects that tell its story and 100 pictures that capture its essence. There will be familiar faces𠅏rom George Halas to Jim Brown to Tom Brady𠅊nd some significant people whose influence is evident but whose names are not. And we wanted to convey not just the game on the field, but the place that the NFL holds in the wider culture, how it has both shaped and reflected forces and currents in our society over 100 years. The story of the NFL isn’t always pretty—no honest narrative can avoid the darker side𠅋ut it is uniquely American.


A brief history of Pro Football in Jacksonville

The history of football in Jacksonville is certainly an interesting one. Normally when Jacksonville's football history is brought up, it is summed up as first was the Florida-Georgia game, then the Bulls came along, and finally the NFL was convinced to award the city an expansion team. Actually, there is a far longer and more interesting story to be told about Jacksonville's journey to getting a professional football team.

Did you know Joe Namath played several games at the old Gator Bowl? Or that Jacksonville was scheduled to host a Pro Football championship game almost 30 years before Super Bowl XXXIX? Now that there are posters on here that weren't even born when the Jaguars kicked off their inaugural game vs the Houston Oilers, this is all ancient history. However, maybe we need to remember just how much the city wanted to get a franchise to make sure we keep the Jaguars.

Jacksonville's first serious attempt at getting a professional football team actually involved the American Football League (AFL.) The city hosted the 1968 and 1969 AFL All-Star games. Unlike today's Pro Bowl, the league's biggest stars actually participated. Players like Joe Namath, Lance Alworth, Lenny Dawson, and George Blanda would play in the old Gator Bowl.

The 1968 game was particularly noteworthy because it featured easily the largest crowd to attend the AFL All-star game, with around 38,500 people in attendance. After hosting the 1969 game, city officials began to make the necessary steps to get an expansion franchise for the city. However, the merger agreement between the NFL and AFL would ultimately prevent the city from getting a team.

Professional football would once again return to Jacksonville in 1974. This time, the city would have it's own team as part of the World Football League. The Sharks quickly rose to become one of the league's main franchises. They boasted a season ticket base of almost 18,000 and had several games with attendance over 50,000. In addition, the World Bowl (the league's championship game) was scheduled to be played at the Gator Bowl.

However, financial difficulties offset both the franchise and the league as a whole. The team admitted it gave away almost 44,000 tickets to inflate attendance numbers. The team folded 14 weeks into the season and the World Bowl site was moved.

The team was revived for the 1975 season as the Jacksonville Express. However, it was all for not as the World Football League finally collapsed due to financial strains half way through the 1975 season.

After the Sharks folded, a familiar cycle would happen for the city of Jacksonville. A NFL owner would dangle the carrot of having a NFL franchise, use it to leverage a deal with someone else, and leave the city ultimately with nothing.

The first, and most egregious example, was Bob Irsay and the Colts. In August of 1979, Jacksonville staged "Colts Fever Night." Over 45,000 people came to simply see Irsay land in the middle of the field as the Gator Bowl. As they chanted "We want the Colts" it seemed as if Jacksonville was on the verge of finally getting a team to call it's own.

However, things hit an impasse when Irsay made several demands with the city, including a new stadium to replace the Gator Bowl. When things came to a halt, Irsay would then go on to negotiate with the city of Phoenix, had negotiations fall apart there, before finally bailing out in the middle of the night to Indianapolis.

In between Colts fever and being abused by several other NFL franchises, Jacksonville was awarded another Pro Football team. The Jacksonville Bulls are often cited as THE reason the NFL ultimately awarded Jacksonville a team. The team boasted easily the best attendance in the league and were one of the most well off teams financially.

However, the team tanked with the rest of the USFL after an ill fated attempt to play a fall schedule in 1986. The Bulls were easily the most popular team in the league, from a gate standpoint. The Bulls pulled in 4 of the 5 highest game attendance totals in league history.

Thanks in part to the Bull's success, Bud Adams threatened to move the Oilers to Jacksonville in 1987. The city went to similar lengths that it did with the Colts in order to try and lure the Oilers. However, ultimately Houston gave in and renovated the Astrodome.

The last major attempt by Jacksonville to lure a NFL team was in 1988. The Atlanta Falcons were unhappy with the old stadium and played the Jacksonville card. Just as with the Oilers though, Atlanta ultimately gave in and built the Georgia Dome.

It was at this point a group named Touchdown, Jacksonville! was beginning to lay the roots for an expansion team in Jacksonville, and the rest is history.


United Football League, 2009-12

Season October to November

Weird rules Blitzes limited to six players single-bar face mask permitted.

Champions Las Vegas Locomotives (three times), Virginia Destroyers

Odd team name Florida Tuskers

Big-name owners Mark Cuban was an investor. Joe Theismann, Florida.

Big-name coaches Jerry Glanville, Hartford Colonials Jim Fassel, Las Vegas Jay Gruden, Florida

Big-name players Brooks Bollinger, Florida Graham Gano, Las Vegas Maurice Clarett, Omaha Nighthawks John David Washington, Denzel’s son, Sacramento Mountain Lions


Share All sharing options for: There have been 16 out gay and bi football players in the NFL’s 102-year history

Colton Underwood played in preseason games for the Oakland Raiders. Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The NFL has played for more than 100 years and there have been 16 gay or bi players to come out publicly.

On June 21, 2021, Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders became No. 16 and the first one to come out as gay while on an active roster.

To only have 16 out players among the thousands who have been on preseason, practice squad or regular season NFL rosters (23,000 and counting in a survey done in 2014) is barely a blip and shows the stigma that still surrounds people who play football. Over the years, Outsports has known of a few other players who are gay but have never come out, even when retired. Dave Kopay was the first player to come out, in 1975, three years after retiring after a nine-year career.

Despite their small numbers, these 16 are trailblazers and have inspired many LGBTQ people in sports and every walk of life, so they are to be applauded.

Here is the list of football players in the NFL who have come out:

Played in a regular season game

Dave Kopay (1964-72): Running back with the 49ers, Lions, Redskins, Saints, and Packers.

Jerry Smith (1965-77): Tight end with the Redskins. The NFL Network produced a documentary on Smith being gay.

Roy Simmons (1979-83): Offensive lineman with the Giants and Redskins.

Jeff Rohrer (1982-89): Linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys.

Esera Tuaolo (1991-99: Defensive tackle with the Packers, Vikings, Jaguars, Falcons and Panthers.

Kwame Harris (2003-08): Offensive lineman with the 49ers and Raiders.

Ryan O’Callaghan (2006-11): Offensive lineman with the Patriots and Chiefs.

Ryan Russell (2015-17, spent 2018 in Bills camp): Defensive lineman with the Buccaneers and Cowboys. Identifies as bisexual.

Carl Nassib (2016-present): Defensive lineman with the Browns, Buccaneers and Raiders.

Attended training camp

Wade Davis (2000-03): Wide receiver with the Titans, Seahawks and Redskins.

Dorien Bryant (2008): Wide receiver with the Steelers.

Martin Jenkins (1977): Defensive back with the Seahawks.

Brad Thorson (2011): Offensive lineman with the Cardinals.

Michael Sam (2014): Defensive end with the Rams. Also on the Cowboys practice squad.

Colton Underwood (2014-20): Tight end had preseason or practice squad stints with the Chargers, Eagles and Raiders.

2020 update

In October, Martin Jenkins, a former defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks, was nominated to the California Supreme Court. Jenkins is gay and this was the the first time he widely discussed his sexual orientation.

2021 update

In April, Colton Underwood came out publicly. The star of “The Bachelor” said he has been struggling with his sexuality his whole life.

In June, Carl Nassib of the Raiders came out as gay.

(This story first ran in 2019 and is updated when new players come out).


Professional football is born - HISTORY

Welcome to the Professional Football Researchers Association web site. The PFRA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and, in some cases, reconstructing professional football history.

PFRA members receive six issues of our official newsletter-magazine, The Coffin Corner. Each issue is 24 pages crammed with pro football history: articles on great players, teams, and games of the past (and some not-so-great), occasionally a stat article, some opinion, and organization news. This site contains articles that have appeared in the Coffin Corner over the years, with the exception of the last couple of years. For instance, a recent issue includes articles on the Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving games, the WFL's Chicago Fire, the Ice Bowl and Jim Brown.

In some of the PFRA articles you will also find information about European Football. Of course, you should be well aware that UK football is what we actually call soccer. It is the leading sport across the Atlantic, and the English Premier League has steadily been gaining popularity in the US too. British football offers many opportunities for sport betting fans, which makes it a hot topic for statistical research. Most of the football betting sites in the UK also feature detailed articles on the game, and access to many stats, both current and historical.

Membership has its privileges. Since we began in 1979, we’ve published more than a thousand articles – ALL of which are available to members for free by e-mail (or for a small fee by snail mail). That’s correct. Every article we’ve ever published is available to members. The only restriction is that we ask members to limit their orders ti five articles a week so as not to deluge our files.

Next, there’s our Annual – a bonus publication. Years ago, the Annual was used for articles too long for the Corner, but as the magazine grew, the Annual was used for specialized publications like Down Payments, a history of pro football in Akron from 1896 through 1930, a complete summary of the 1923 season. With printing costs soaring, we’ve changed to making special publications available to members by e-mail.
Also available to members only upon request is an online membership list that'll tell you how you can contact other folks with similar interests. There are writers, historians, and, mostly, fans.

And you get a chance to purchase our occasional special publications, like The Best in the West, a history of the Pacific Coast Football League, at members' rates. Best, for example, is $5 to members, while non-members pay $10 (in a store it'd be $14.)

We're into our 28th year, so we must be doing something right. Anyway, if you decide to join the PFRA, we'll be happy to have you. It'll cost you $25 dues, but most of the folks who join seem to re-up every year. They think it's worth it. For information on joining, contact Bob Carroll at [email protected]

Either way, check out the site. There are articles on just about every aspect of pro football history either here or on the way. If you're interested in the people, teams and events that made the game of professional football great, you'll want to bookmark this site and check back often.

Over 100,000 Pro Football Fans have visited the PFRA site since February 9, 1998.


An L.A. history of pro football

The American Football League team, based in Chicago, never played a game in L.A. It traveled around with its star player, George “Wildcat” Wilson, from the University of Washington, and went 6-6-2 in its only season.

Los Angeles Buccaneers (1926)

In response to the AFL’s Wildcats, the seven-year-old NFL created a so-called “showcase” team, also based in Chicago, stocked with players from California colleges. It went 6-3-1 before disbanding.

The Los Angeles Maroons (1935) were part of the first Pacific Coast Professional Football League, playing against local rivals such as the California Shamrocks, Hollywood Braves and Westwood Cubs. From 1936-38, the California Pro Football League included the Hollywood Stars. The Los Angeles Bulldogs (1940-1945) were part of the second generation of the PCPFL, yet the Bulldogs were also the name of the team in the second version of the AFL in 1937. The PCPFL and AFL also had the Los Angeles Mustangs (1943-44), Hollywood Bears (1940-42, `45), Hollywood Rangers (󈧰), Los Angeles Wildcats (󈧰) and Hollywood Wolves (󈧰).

The All-American Football Conference team had movie mogul Louis B. Mayer as the owner, along with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Don Ameche. The star power didn’t help a team that went 25-27-2 before merging with the Rams when the league disbanded and three teams were absorbed by the NFL. Two weeks before the Rams played their first game in L.A., the Dons defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers 20-14 before 18,995 at the Coliseum on a Friday night. A year later, they had a pro- record 82,576 at the Coliseum for a game against the New York Yankees.

The Cleveland Rams won the 1945 NFL title, but owner Dan Reeves saw the empty 92,000-seat Coliseum and a budding TV product for Hollywood as too enticing to pass up. So eight years before the Dodgers came west, Reeves brought his team, with former UCLA star Bob Waterfield, to L.A. even though there wasn’t another NFL franchise within 2,000 miles. The L.A. Coliseum Commission insisted first that the team be integrated – which led to the Rams signing UCLA players Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, the first blacks to play in the league since prior to WorldWarII. In a preseason game at the Coliseum, the Rams drew 95,000 against the Washington Redskins, and finished the first year 6-4-1. Over the next 24 seasons at the Coliseum – and 15 more at Anaheim Stadium – the Rams were a star-studded group with names like Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch and Tom Fears taking them to the 1951 NFL championship, the “Fearsome Foursome” of Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosie Grier shining in the 󈨀s for coach George Allen, and reaching four NFC title games in the 1970s before landing in the 1980 Super Bowl, played at the Rose Bowl against Pittsburgh, with Jack Youngblood, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, Lawrence McCutcheon and Jackie Slater. In `72, Robert Irsay bought the team for $19 million, then traded it to Carroll Rosenbloom for his Baltimore Colts. But in `79, Rosenbloom drowned while swimming in the ocean in Florida. An accident? His wife, Georgia Frontiere, inherited the team, moved it to Anaheim in `80, and hired John Robinson to coach a team led by Eric Dickerson. She raised the usual stadium- improvement issues as the team was winning behind quarterback Jim Everett. But a loss to San Francisco in the `89 NFC championship seemed to haunt them. Accused of mismanagement by fellow NFL owners, Frontiere fought for the team to move to her native St. Louis for the 1995 season, which remains a sore point for L.A. fans. “I hate these people for what they did,” former Rams star defensive end Fred Dryer said at the time about Frontiere, “taking the Rams logo with them … that logo belonged to Southern California.”

Los Angeles Chargers (1960)

The inaugural season of the new eight-team AFL had 32-year-old owner Barron Hilton, former Rams coach/GM Sid Gillman (with Al Davis and Chuck Noll on his staff) and quarterback Jack Kemp (3,018 yards, 25 TDs, 20 interceptions). They rallied with two fourth-quarter TDs to win their opener 21-20 over Dallas on Saturday, Sept. 10 before just 17,724 at the Coliseum. Winning the Western Division with a 10-4 record, they lost to George Blanda and the Houston Oilers 24-16 on New Year’s Day in the AFL championship. With an average home attendance of about 15,000 and Hilton’s losses reported to be near $1 million, he was convinced to move to San Diego after the season.

Southern California Sun (1974-75)

Anthony Davis, Pat Haden, J.K. McKay and Darryl Lamonica were the headliners of this gimmick-laden World Football League magenta- and-orange-uniformed team that played in Anaheim and was coached by former Rams great Tom Fears. They had 32,088 at Anaheim Stadium for a 38-31 home-opening win against Honolulu and won the Western Division (13-7, in a 20-game season). Owner Larry Hatfield had his own problems, facing a federal grand jury indictment for false financial statements he made when getting a $365,000 loan to start the team.

The Sun averaged 25,000 a game, and quarterback Tony Adams (3,905 yards passing, 23 TDs) shared the MVP award. Yet, in the offseason, former UCLA running backs James McAlister and Kermit Johnson declared themselves free agents when the team bounced their paychecks. The Sun was a Western Conference- best 7-5 in `75 when the league folded midway through.

Los Angeles Raiders (1982-94)

Al Davis’ 12-year, silver-and-black manipulative run of the city was something to behold, with constant court battles, two player strikes and the franchise delivering the 1984 Super Bowl title. The Raiders didn’t play their first home game in L.A. until Nov. 22, 1982, but it was dramatic: They overcame a 24-point deficit to beat the San Diego Chargers 28-24 on a Monday night. A game against their new Southern California rival Rams on Dec. 18 recorded the first million-dollar home gate in NFL history. The Raiders won 37-31. Marcus Allen, Bo Jackson, Howie Long, Jim Plunkett, Todd Christensen, Rod Martin and Lyle Alzado became the symbols of Raider anarchy, which the inner-city surrounding the Coliseum seemed to embrace. To an extreme, sometimes. By `86, Davis was already trying to squeeze the Coliseum for a modernized facility, leading to a push of proposals at Hollywood Park, Carson and Irwindale. In `91, Davis was ready to move back to Oakland, but he decided to stay and made Art Shell the NFL’s first African-American head coach. The Raiders had one last charge of glory in the `93 season, losing to Buffalo 29-23 in the AFC title game. After the `94 season, when the 9-7 Raiders missed the playoffs, Shell was fired and Davis signed a deal to return to Oakland.

Los Angeles Express (1983-85)

The spring-league United States Football League franchise had three owners in three years – including the league taking over operations for the final season. With a 22-34 overall record, it won its division in 1984 behind quarterback Steve Young, famous for signing at the time the largest contract in the history of pro sports – $40 million for 10 years. They had by far the most talent a non-NFL team could buy, but couldn’t attract much of a crowd at the Coliseum. Even the longest game in pro football history – a three-OT, 93-minute, 33-second playoff win over Michigan – drew just 7,900. As ownerships fell apart and players defected to the NFL, the Express folded after a 3-15 season ended with a loss in a game moved to Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

An Arena League team that played just one year at the L.A. Sports Arena went 5-6-1 yet made the playoffs with former UCLA quarterback Matt Stevens (2,535 yards, 50 TDs, 13 ints) and former Raiders star receiver Cliff Branch.

Champions in the only season of Vince McMahon’s eight-team XFL spring league, the Xtreme went 7-3 and won the so-called “Million Dollar Game,” 38-6 over San Francisco. Former UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox was the league MVP with 2,186 yards passing. Maybe the highlight of the season, aside from seeing fans in hot tubs on the sideline of the Coliseum: A 39-32, double-OT win in Week 2 went so long it delayed NBC’s broadcast of “Saturday Night Live.”

Just prior to the XFL, a four-team Spring Football League sprung. The Dragons were coached by former Dallas Cowboys tight end Doug Cosbie. Running back Saladin McCullough and former UCLA kicker Chris Sailer were part of the 16-13 loss to Houston before about 1,000 at the Coliseum in their debut. By all reports, that was their only game.

Los Angeles Avengers (2000-08)

The Casey Wasserman-owned Arena League team had a loud run at Staples Center, yet posted just a 65-73 record in its eight seasons and won just one playoff game. Average attendance was about 12,000 a season. They beat Austin 81-70 in 2004, when QB Tony Graziani threw for eight TDs, seven to receiver Chris Jackson. They also lost a 2003 game to Arizona 82-73 in OT, despite Graziani’s nine TDs. Other players of note: Quarterback Todd Marinovich (2000-01), receiver- linebacker Greg Hopkins, and defensive lineman Al Lucas, who died after making a tackle in 2005.


What is the worst division in NFL history?

What is the worst division in NFL history, and which other divisions sit among the worst we have seen since the NFL-AFL merger?

Throughout NFL history, we have seen several divisions labeled the worst at any given time. Looking back across the league’s history to the NFL-AFL merger, which division takes the crown as the worst of the bunch? Divisions are judged on overall record in terms of winning percentage.

Worst divisions in NFL history | 2-9

Which divisions land in the bottom nine in NFL history?

9) 1982 NFC West | 14-22 (.389)

Surprisingly, this is the only division pre-2000 to land on our list of the worst divisions in NFL history. Two divisions from that time fall just outside the list — the 1979 NFC West and the 1984 AFC Central. However, the 1982 NFC West takes the dubious honor as the last team on the list.

The 1982 season is remembered for being shortened to a nine-game schedule due to a 57-day player strike. Therefore, the league adjusted the playoff settings to allow the best eight teams in each conference to qualify.

Despite over half of the teams in the NFC making the playoffs in 1982, the NFC West managed to have just one team qualify (Atlanta Falcons). The other three teams made up half of the NFC teams to not make the playoffs.

The division won a combined 14 games, with the Falcons winning the division at 5-4. The Falcons had a -16 point differential, with the 3-6 San Francisco 49ers as the only team in the division to register a positive point differential (+3).

T-5) 2013 AFC South | 24-40 (.375)

In its 19-year history, the AFC South has seen a wild swing in outcomes for the division. It was among the best divisions in NFL history at the peak of its powers, but it had a shocking period between 2013-2015. In each of those three seasons, the division registered a collective win percentage below .400.

The worst season came in 2013 when two teams won fewer than five games — Houston Texans (2-14) and Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12). The Indianapolis Colts saved the blushes a little at 11-5, but the Tennessee Titans 7-9 finish doomed the division to be among the worst of all time.

T-5) 2019 NFC East | 24-40 (.375)

The NFC East has struggled in the last decade. Four times they have finished with a winning percentage below .440.

The 2019 season saw the division win a combined 24 games, with only the Philadelphia Eagles finishing above .500. The Dallas Cowboys were close at 8-8, but the disastrous campaigns for the New York Giants (4-12) and Washington (3-13) resulted in an outcome that saw the division rank among the worst in NFL history.

T-5) 2009 NFC West | 24-40 (.375)

Perhaps the most rollercoaster division of the past 10-15 years has been the NFC West. Another division that has been among the best at its peak, the NFC West will appear on this list more than any other division.

In 2009, only one team finished above .500 (Arizona Cardinals at 10-6). Yet, they finished with the lowest point differential (+50) of any NFC division winner. The Cardinals would defeat the Green Bay Packers 51-45 in the playoffs before falling 45-14 to the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round.

The 49ers managed to finish 8-8, but the Seattle Seahawks (5-11) and St. Louis Rams (1-15) combined for just six wins. The Rams would score just 175 points, the fewest of all 32 teams in the league in 2009.

T-5) 2016 NFC West | 23-39-2 (.375)

We go straight back to the NFC West, but this time in 2016. Of the four teams in the division, three finished with a record below .500. The Rams and 49ers won a combined six games. The Cardinals, meanwhile, could be considered somewhat unlucky, finishing 7-8-1 despite having a +56 point differential. The Seahawks led the division at 10-5-1 before being eliminated by the Falcons in the Divisional Round.

4) 2020 NFC East | 23-40-1 (.367)

Widely treated as one of the worst divisions in NFL history, the 2020 NFC East actually ranks fourth based on win percentage. While the division-winning Washington Football Team finished 7-9, no team was a complete disaster, with the Eagles finishing last at 4-11-1.

The Giants and Cowboys both won six games, ensuring that the division would not finish atop the list of worst divisions of all time. Nevertheless, with the NFC East featured on this list from both 2019 and 2020, it’s no surprise this division has been highly criticized.

3) 2008 AFC West | 23-41 (.359)

The 2008 AFC West was marginally worse than the 2020 NFC East simply because of the Eagles’ tie with the Bengals. Still, given that two teams finished 8-8, it could be argued that the NFC East in 2020 was worse.

This division was intriguing because the Denver Broncos lost the division (and their playoff spot) after failing to win any of their last three games following an 8-5 start. In contrast, the San Diego Chargers won their final four games to clinch the playoff spot thanks to a 5-1 record within the division. The Chargers finished the year as the highest-scoring team in the 2008 regular season.

The records of the Oakland Raiders (5-11) and Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) lead this division to be remembered as one of the worst divisions in NFL history.

2) 2014 NFC South | 22-41-1 (0.352)

Statistically, the 2014 NFC South is one of the worst divisions of all time. Nonetheless, it went down to the wire. In the end, the Carolina Panthers emerged on top at 7-8-1. Yet, the Panthers had to win their final four games to even get to that point.

When all four teams fail to win eight games, the division will always be a disappointment. The Saints narrowly finished behind the Panthers at 7-9, with the Falcons at 6-10. It was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14), though, that ensured this division would rank high on this list.

What is the worst division in NFL history?

Which division tops the list as the worst of all time in NFL history?

1) 2008 NFC West | 22-42 (.344)

Even though the NFC West provided the NFC Super Bowl participant in 2008, statistically, it ranked as the worst division in NFL history. The Cardinals won the division at 9-7 with a +1 points differential. They then went on a fairytale playoff run to Super Bowl XLIII, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

However, the rest of the division was a disaster, winning just 13 games combined out of a potential 48. The 49ers were second at 7-9, while the Seahawks and Rams finished 4-12 and 2-14.

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Ben Rolfe is a content director at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.


Walter Camp was born April 17, 1859, in New Haven, Connecticut. He attended Yale from 1876 to 1882, where he studied medicine and business. Walter Camp was an author, athletic director, chairman of the board of the New Haven Clock Company, and director of the Peck Brothers Company. He was the general athletic director and head advisory football coach at Yale University from 1888-1914, and chairman of the Yale football committee from 1888-1912. Camp played football at Yale and helped evolve the rules of the game away from Rugby and Soccer rules into the rules of American Football as we know them today.

One precursor to Walter Camp's influence was William Ebb Ellis, a student at the Rugby School in England. In 1823, Ellis was the first person noted for picking up the ball during the soccer game and running with it, thereby breaking and changing the rules. In 1876, at the Massosoit convention, the first attempts at writing down the rules of American football were made. Walter Camp edited every American Football rulebook until his death in 1925.

Walter Camp contributed the following changes from Rugby and Soccer to American football:


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