The National Football League (NFL) is the largest and most prestigious 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 North, South, East, and West. During the league's regular season, each team plays sixteen games over a seventeen-week period, generally from September to December. 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. Two weeks 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 and adopted the name National Football League in 1922. The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States, and has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world, drawing over 67,000 spectators per game for its most recently completed season in 2006.
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|New York Giants||6|
|San Francisco 49ers||5|
|New England Patriots||3|
|St. Louis Rams||3|
|New York Jets||1|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1|
|Kansas City Chiefs||1|
The American Professional Football Association was founded in 1920 at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio. Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe was elected president. It was the first league of American Football in the United States for which players were paid a salary to participate. 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 1920s. Teams entered and left the league frequently. Franchises included such colorful representatives as the Providence Steam Rollers, the Decatur Staleys, and 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 its popularity. By 1934 all of the small-town teams, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, had moved to or been replaced by teams in big cities. One factor in the league's rising popularity was the institution of an annual championship game in 1933.
- Main article: Black players in American professional football
1933 was also the year that black players disappeared from the NFL, just after the acceptance into the league of Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall, who effectively dissuaded other NFL owners from employing black players until the mid-forties, and who kept blacks off his team (which eventually became the Washington Redskins) until he was forced to integrate by the Kennedy administration in 1962.
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 second big-league sports franchise on the West Coast (second to the Seattle Metropolitans in the PCHA). 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 played in Yankee Stadium but blacked out by league policy 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-1960s, it had surpassed baseball as Americans' favorite spectator sport in some surveys. When the NFL turned down Lamar Hunt's request to purchase either an existing or expansion NFL franchise, he formed the rival American Football League (AFL), in 1960. He encouraged, wheedled, and cajoled seven other like-minded men to form this new league. The group of the eight founders of the AFL teams was referred to as the "Foolish Club." One of them, fellow Texan Bud Adams of Houston, had likewise tried but failed to be granted an NFL franchise. Hunt's goal was to bring professional football to Texas and to acquire an NFL team for the Hunt family. The AFL filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in 1960, but this was dismissed in 1962.
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 of all of its games. While the NFL virtually ignored small and historically black colleges as a source of player talent, the AFL actively recruited from such schools and AFL teams installed blacks at positions from which they were tacitly excluded in the NFL, such as quarterback and middle linebacker.
One of the seminal civil-rights actions of the 1960s was the boycott by AFL players of the 1964 (January 1965) AFL All-Star Game scheduled for New Orleans, after black players were refused service from cabbies and hotel staff there. The game was successfully moved to Houston. Even though they were AFL players who had accomplished this action, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, there is a small exhibit detailing the integration of professional football. A brief video clip addresses the boycott and credits the players (and implicitly the National Football League, although at the time it had no involvement with the players) with changing two racial laws in New Orleans.
The AFL also forced the NFL to expand: The Dallas Cowboys were created to counter Hunt's AFL Dallas Texans franchise. 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 1980s, 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. Rule 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. The USFL filed a successful anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, but the remedies were minimal.
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, later known as NFL Europe and still later as NFL Europa, a developmental league that had teams in Germany and the Netherlands when the NFL shut it down in June 2007. 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.
The NFL proper has announced that this season, a regular season game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants will be held outside of North America. This game will be held in Wembley Stadium, the new 90,000-seat stadium in London. It is expected to be a great success with nearly 40,000 tickets already sold. This game is to be played on October 28, 2007. It is also expected to be one of the most watched regular season games in history, due to it being the first regular season game away from North America.
On August 31, a story in USA Today unveiled the first changes to the league's shield logo since 1980, which will take effect with the 2008 season . The redesign reduces the number of stars in the logo from 25 (which were found not to have a meaning beyond decorative) to eight (for each of the league's divisions), the logo's football repositioned in the manner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and the NFL letters in a straight serifed font (which resembles the current typeface used in other NFL logos). The redesign was created with television and digital media, along with clothing in mind.
Franchise relocations and mergersEdit
Template:Details 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 (the Rams and the Browns), Baltimore (the Colts), Houston (the Oilers) and St. Louis (the Cardinals), 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.
As of 2011-2015, The NFL season features:
- A 2-game exhibition season (or preseason) running from early August to early September
- A 18-game regular season running from September to December or early January
- A team does not win a championship or any trophy for having the best record during the regular season, but the league does recognize a champion for each of the 8 divisions.
- A 12-team playoff tournament beginning in January culminating in the Super Bowl in early February.
- The winner of the Super Bowl is the NFL Champion.
- Main article: National Football League exhibition season
Following mini-camps in the spring and officially recognized Training Camp in July-August, NFL teams typically play four exhibition games (referred to by the NFL as "pre-season games"; the league discourages the use of the term "exhibition game") from early August through early September. Two "featured" pre-season 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 starters will generally play only for about a quarter of each game so they can avoid injury.
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:
- 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 from each conference (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).
Template:Details 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 ten programs are Super Bowls. Networks have purchased a share of the broadcasting rights to the NFL as a means of raising the entire network's profile.
Under the current television contracts, which began during the 2006 season, regular season games are broadcast on five networks: CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. Regionally shown games are broadcast on Sundays on CBS and FOX, carrying the AFC and NFC teams respectively (the traveling team deciding the broadcast station in the event of inter-Conference games). These games generally air at 1:00 p.m. ET and 4:00 p.m. or 4:15 p.m. 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, as of 2006, select Thursday and Saturday games on the NFL network, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Football League.
Additionally, satellite broadcast company DirecTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, a subscription based package, that allows most Sunday daytime regional games to be watched. 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.
Each NFL team has its own radio network and employs its announcers. Nationally, the NFL is heard on the Westwood One Radio Network, Sports USA Radio Network and in Spanish on Univision Radio and the United Stations Radio Network. 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.
The NFL also has a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio, which provides news, analysis, commentary and game coverage for all games, as well as comprehensive coverage of the draft and off-season on its own channel, Sirius NFL Radio.
Internet radio broadcasts of all NFL games are managed through FieldPass, a subscription service. Radio stations are, by rule, prohibited from streaming the games for free from their Web sites; however, there are numerous stations that break this rule. The NFL on Westwood One and the NFL on Sports USA Radio are not available on FieldPass.
Player contracts and compensationEdit
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 and again in 2006. 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 2012 season.
Players are tiered into three different levels with regards to their rights to negotiate for contracts:
- Players that have been drafted (see below), and have not yet played in their first year, may only negotiate with the team that drafted them. If terms cannot be agreed upon, the players only recourse is to refuse to play ("sit out") until terms can be reached. Players often use the threat of sitting out as a means to force the hands of the teams that drafted them. For example, John Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1983 but refused to play for them. He had a fallback option of baseball, as he had played in the New York Yankees organization for two summers while at Stanford. The Colts traded his rights to the Denver Broncos and Elway agreed to play. Bo Jackson sat out an entire year in 1986, choosing to play baseball in the Kansas City Royals organization (and ultimately for the Royals themselves) rather than play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had drafted him. He reentered the draft the following year, and was drafted and subsequently signed with the Los Angeles Raiders.
- Players that have played between 3–5 full seasons in the league, and whose contract has expired are considered "Restricted Free Agents" (see below). They have limited rights to negotiate with any club.
- Players that have played 5 or more full seasons in the league, and whose contract has expired, are considered "Unrestricted Free Agents"(see below) and have unlimited rights to negotiate with any club. Teams may name a single player in any given year as a "Franchise Player"(see below), which eliminates much of that players negotiation rights. This is a limited right of the team, however, and affects only a small handful of players each year.
Among the items covered in the CBA are:
- No salary cap
- The annual collegiate draft
- Rules regarding "free agency"
- Waiver rules
- Expansion Draft rules for by team owner,eldon kozaks,of nevada golden indians after becoming the 33rd NFl franchise.
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 may be awarded" 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 his contract. For the purposes of the salary cap (see below) the signing bonus is prorated 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.
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