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. An example of this was the Steagles, temporarily formed as a merger between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late twentieth century when a vastly more popular NFL was free from financial instability and allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. This was done in spite of the promises to Congress by Pete Rozelle in 1966 that if the AFL-NFL merger were allowed, no city would lose its franchise. Those promises were made to ensure passage of PL 89-800, which granted anti-trust immunity to the merged professional football leagues. 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, another Browns, Ravens, Texans, and Rams, respectively). Notably, 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. However, a new stadium project, tentatively known as Los Angeles Stadium, was approved in 2009 with the expressed purpose of attracting an NFL team to the Los Angeles market.
“NFL” redirects here. For other uses, see NFL (disambiguation). For other leagues of the same name, see National Football League (disambiguation).
The National Football League (NFL) is the highest level of professional American football in the United States. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing its name to the National Football League in 1922. The league currently consists of thirty-two teams from the United States. The league is divided evenly into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC), and each conference has four divisions that have four teams each, for a total of 16 teams in each conference. The NFL is organized as an unincorporated 501(c) association, a federal nonprofit designation for tax-exempt professional football leagues,comprised of its 32 teams. The NFL is by far the most attended domestic sports league in the world by average attendance per game, with 67,509 fans per game in the latest regular season (2009).
The regular season is a seventeen-week schedule during which each team plays sixteen games and has one bye week. The season currently starts on the Thursday night in the first full week of September (the Thursday after Labor Day) and runs weekly to late December or early January. At the end of each regular season, six teams from each conference (at least one from each division) play in the NFL playoffs, a twelve-team single-elimination tournament that culminates with the championship game, known as the Super Bowl. This game is held at a pre-selected site which is usually a city that hosts an NFL team.