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The National Football League (NFL) is the largest professional American football league in the world.For example, "The Detroit Lions is a "Professional" Football team owned by William Clay Ford, Sr., with a membership in the National Football League (NFL), which is an unincorporated association governed by its own constitution and bylaws." Detroit Lions v. National Football League, 41 MI.4th 624, 629 (2007). 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 Statesmarker. 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.

The regular season is a seventeen-week schedule during which each team has one bye week and plays sixteen games. Teams play all three other teams in their division twice. They also play each team from one other division in their conference, and each team from the same division in the opposite conference. The final two games come against the teams who finished in the same place the previous season in the two divisions of their conference not previously played. 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 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. Commercials during the Super Bowl tend to be quite popular among the general public. Selected all-star players from both the AFC and NFC meet in the Pro Bowl, previously held in Honolulu, Hawaiimarker; up to and including 2009, this game took place the weekend after the Super Bowl. In 2010, it will take place a week prior to the Super Bowl, in Miami Gardensmarker, Floridamarker.

History

Professional Football Titles*

(AFL, NFL, and Super Bowl)
Team Titles
Green Bay Packers 12
Chicago Bears 9
New York Giants 7
Pittsburgh Steelers 6
Washington Redskins 5
Indianapolis Colts 5
San Francisco 49ers 5
Dallas Cowboys 5
Cleveland Browns 4
Detroit Lions 4
Oakland Raiders 4
New England Patriots 3
Philadelphia Eagles 3
St. Louis Rams 3
Kansas City Chiefs 3
Arizona Cardinals 2
Denver Broncos 2
Miami Dolphins 2
Tennessee Titans 2
Buffalo Bills 2
Minnesota Vikings 1
New York Jets 1
Baltimore Ravens 1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1
San Diego Chargers 1


Beginnings

The National Football League was the idea of legendary American Indian Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe, player-coach of the Canton Bulldogs, and Leo Lyons, owner of the Rochester Jeffersons, a sandlot football team. Both the Jeffersons and the Buffalo All-Stars were barnstorming through Ohiomarker at the time. After Lyons's Jeffersons played, and lost badly to, Thorpe's Bulldogs in a 1917 match, Lyons (wanting to build a sport that rivaled Major League Baseball in popularity) suggested to Thorpe that a league be formed. Plans could not be initiated immediately in 1918, due to the Spanish flu quarantines and the loss of players to World War I, which led to the Bulldogs suspending operations and most other teams either suspending operations or reducing their schedules to local teams.

The next year, however, Lyons started in his home state of New York, challenging a cluster of professional teams in Buffalo to a championship in 1919; the Buffalo Prospects took the challenge and won. Canton was already a part of the unofficial Ohio League, which included teams such as the Bulldogs, the Massillon Tigers, the Shelby Blues and the Ironton Tanks; Thorpe convinced Bulldogs manager Ralph Hay and other Ohio teams to play under a league-style format for 1919, after which the team barnstormed against the Detroit Heralds of Detroit, Michiganmarker and the Hammond Pros of Chicago, Illinois. Other independent clusters of teams were playing at about the same time across Illinoismarker, Wisconsinmarker, Minnesotamarker and Indianamarker; Pennsylvaniamarker and New York Citymarker also had teams but did not contribute any to the NFL at the time of its founding. This is especially notable since Pennsylvania is often considered to be the birthplace of professional football; at the time, Pennsylvania's blue laws prevented any of that state's teams from joining the league until 1924.

A new league is born

In August 1920, at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohiomarker, the league was formalized, originally as the American Professional Football Conference, initially consisting only of the Ohio League teams, although some of the teams declined participation. One month later, the league was renamed the American Professional Football Association, adding Buffalo and Rochester from the New York league, Detroit, Hammond, and several other teams from nearby circuits. The eleven founding teams initially struck an agreement over player poaching and the declaration of an end-of-season champion. Thorpe, while still playing for the Bulldogs, was elected president. Only four of the founding teams finished the 1920 schedule and the undefeated Akron Pros claimed the first championship. Membership of the league increased to 22 teams – including more of the New York teams – in 1921, but throughout the 1920s the membership was unstable and the league was not a major national sport. On June 24, 1922, the organization changed its title a final time to the National Football League.

Two charter members, the Chicago Cardinals, now the Arizona Cardinals, and the Decatur Staleys, now the Chicago Bears, are still in existence. The Green Bay Packers franchise, founded in 1919, is the oldest team not to change locations, but did not begin league play until 1921. The Indianapolis Colts franchise traces its history through several predecessors, including one of the league's founding teams – the Dayton Triangles – but is considered a separate franchise from those teams and was founded as the Baltimore Colts in 1953. Although the original NFL teams representing Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit no longer exist, replacement franchises have since been established for those cities.

Early championships were awarded to the team with the best won-lost record, initially rather haphazardly, as some teams played more or fewer games than others, or scheduled games against non-league, amateur or collegiate teams; this led to the title being decided on a tiebreaker in 1921, a disputed title in 1925, and the scheduling of an impromptu indoor playoff game in 1932. It was not until 1933 that an annual championship game was instituted. 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, and even Green Bay established a relationship with much larger Milwaukee for support. An annual draft of college players was first held in 1936. It was during this era, however, that the NFL became segregated: there were no black players in professional football in the United States between 1933 and 1945, mainly due to the influence of self-admitted bigot George Preston Marshall, who entered the league in 1932 as the owner of the Boston Braves. Other NFL owners emulated Marshall's tactics to mollify southern fans, and even after the NFL's color barrier had been broken in the 1950s, Marshall's Washington Redskins remained all-white until forced to integrate by the Kennedy administration in 1962. Despite his backward tendencies, Marshall was selected as a charter member of the NFL-inspired Pro Football Hall of Famemarker.

College football was the bigger attraction, but by the end of World War II, pro football began to rival the college game for fans' attention. Rule changes and innovations such as the T formation led to a faster-paced, higher-scoring game. The league also expanded out of its eastern and midwestern cradle; in 1945, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angelesmarker, becoming the first big-league sports franchise on the West Coast. In 1950, the NFL accepted three teams – the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts – from the defunct All-America Football Conference, expanding to thirteen clubs. In the 1950s, with league games being broadcast on national television, pro football finally earned its place as a major sport.

Black players

At its inception in 1920, the NFL's precursor, the American Professional Football Association, had several minorities players, including African-American players (a total of thirteen between 1920 and 1933). It was also common, due to the number of talented players that were produced by the Carlisle Indian School's football team, to see teams (both inside and outside the NFL) openly market Native Americans; in fact, the Oorang Indians of 1922 to 1923 consisted entirely of Native American talent. However, by 1932 the National Football League had only two black players, and by 1934 there were none, effectively coinciding with the entry of one of the leading owners of the league, George Preston Marshall, who openly refused to have black athletes on his Boston Braves/Washington Redskins team and reportedly pressured the rest of the league to follow suit until after World War II.

NFL integration occurred only when the Cleveland Rams wanted to move to Los Angelesmarker, and the venue, the Los Angeles Coliseummarker, required them to integrate their team. They then signed two black players, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. Other NFL teams eventually followed suit, but Marshall refused to integrate the Redskins until forced to by the Kennedy administration as a pre-condition for using D.C. Stadium (now RFK Stadiummarker). In spite of this open bias, Marshall was elected to the NFL's Pro Football Hall of Famemarker in 1963. In 1946, the Cleveland Browns of a rival Professional Football league, the All-America Football Conference, signed two black players. By 1960, the NFL's new competitor, the American Football League, actively recruited players from smaller predominantly black colleges that had been largely ignored by the NFL, giving those schools' black players the opportunity to play professional football. Early AFL teams averaged more blacks than did their NFL counterparts.

However, despite the NFL's previous segregationist policies, the clear competitive advantage of AFL teams with liberal signing policies affected the NFL's drafts. By 1969, a comparison of the two league's championship team photos showed the AFL's Chiefs with 23 black players out of 51 players (45%) pictured, while the NFL's Vikings had 11 blacks, of 42 players (26%) in the photo. Chiefs players have been quoted as saying that one motivating factor in their defeat of the Vikings was their pride in their diverse squad. Recent surveys have shown that the current, post-merger NFL is approximately 57–61% non-white (this includes African Americans, Polynesians, non-white Hispanics, Asians, and people that are mixed race.)

The Merger

By the middle of the 1960s, competition for players, including separate college drafts, was driving up player salaries. In 1965, in the most high profile such contest and a major boost to the AFL, University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath signed with the New York Jets rather than the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals for a then-record $427,000. In 1966, the NFL's New York Giants broke a gentlemens' agreement and signed placekicker Pete Gogolak, who was under contract to the AFL's Buffalo Bills. Then AFL Commissioner Al Davis embarked on a campaign to sign players away from the NFL, especially quarterbacks, but behind the scenes a number of NFL team owners began action to end the detrimental rivalry.

Several NFL franchises led by Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm asked to meet with AFL owners to negotiate a merger, without the knowledge of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who is credited, erroneously, with the merger. Al Davis was also sidestepped, and in an agreement brokered by Schramm and AFL founder Lamar Hunt, the two leagues announced their merger deal on June 8, 1966. The leagues would thenceforth hold a Common Draft and an end-of-season World Championship Game between the two league champions (later known as the Super Bowl and reverting to simply an NFL championship game). Still another city received an NFL franchise thanks to the AFL, as New Orleans was awarded an NFL team after Louisiana's federal Congressmen pushed for the passage of Public Law 89-800, which permitted the merger and exempted the action from Anti-Trust restrictions. The monopoly that would be created needed to be legitimized by an act of Congress. In 1970, the leagues fully merged under the name National Football League and divided into two conferences of an equal number of teams. There was a financial settlement, with the AFL teams paying a combined $18 million over twenty years; ironic, since it was the NFL that asked for the merger. There was also strident objection by many American Football League fans over their league's loss of its separate identity, name, and distinctive logo.

Although the AFL's identity was subsumed by the NFL, the American Football League's innovations: the on-field game clock; names on player jerseys; recruiting at small and predominantly black colleges; gate and television revenue-sharing; establishment of southern franchises; and more wide-open offensive rules, all eventually adopted by the ultra-conservative NFL, permanently changed the face of Professional Football in America.

Modern era

The second NFL logo, officially used between 1970 and April 2008
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 World Football League was the first post-merger challenge to the NFL's dominance, and in 1974, successfully lured some top NFL talent to its league and prompted a few rules changes in the NFL. However, financial problems led the league to fold halfway through its 1975 season. Two teams, the Birmingham Vulcans and Memphis Southmen, made unsuccessful efforts to move from the WFL to the NFL.

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, and mismanagement (most notably, a planned move of its niche spring football season to a head-to-head competition in the fall) led to the league's collapse. However, like the AFL before it, the success of the USFL led directly to new NFL teams in Baltimore, North Carolina (though the USFL never had a franchise there) and Jacksonville, as well as the relocation of the St. Louis Cardinals to Arizona and the return of the Los Angeles Raiders to their original home city of Oakland. In addition, the USFL also used the two-point conversion, which was first introduced by the American Football League in 1960, and later adopted by the NFL in 1994 (the two point-conversion had previously been used in American college football since 1958).

2001 saw the establishment of the XFL, an attempt by Vince McMahon and NBC, which had lost the NFL broadcast rights for that year, to compete with the league; the XFL folded after just one season. Unlike the WFL and USFL, the XFL had no impact on the NFL's rules or franchise locations (its attempts at innovations were often ridiculed), but a few NFL players used the XFL to relaunch their careers. The United Football League, which began play in 2009, is the most recent direct challenge to the NFL, playing a fall schedule, placing teams in Downstate New York (the Jets and Giants play in New Jersey), Las Vegasmarker, Orlandomarker, and San Josemarker, all high-profile cities without NFL teams, and will add teams to New York Citymarker proper and Los Angelesmarker in 2010; the UFL has also shown a willingness to lure NFL-caliber talent with comparable salaries. Several other upstart leagues (such as the AAFL, UNGL, and New USFL) are also planned, but they have all been set back by financial and organizational problems, and none have taken the field yet; all of these proposed leagues will play in the spring and have no plans to compete with the NFL, either for talent or for fans.

On August 31, 2007, a story in USA Today unveiled the first changes to the league's shield logo since 1970, which took effect with the 2008 season. The redesign reduced the number of stars in the logo from 25 (which were found not to have a meaning beyond being decorative) to eight (for each of the league's divisions), repositioned the football in the manner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and changed the NFL letters to a straight, serifed font. The redesign was created with television and digital media, along with clothing, in mind. The shield logo itself dates back to the 1940s.

International expansion

In recent years, the NFL has expanded into new markets and ventures outside of the United States, beginning with a regular series of exhibition games known as the American Bowl, then with a European based developmental league culminating in the now defunct NFL Europa, and starting in 2005 the league began hosting regular season games outside the United States, the first in Mexico Citymarker, Mexico, and then from 2007 hosting games Londonmarker, England, and from 2008 in Torontomarker, Canada.

The American Bowl games began in 1986 and continued until 2005 at various sites in countries around the world. 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 Britianmarker, Germanymarker, Spainmarker, and the Netherlandsmarker. The NFL shut down the program in June 2007.

The league played a regular-season NFL game in Mexico Citymarker in 2005, the first-ever NFL regular season game held outside the United States, and marketed across the league as the Fútbol Americano game. On October 28, 2007, a regular season game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants was held outside of North America for the first time in Wembley Stadiummarker, the 90,000-seat national stadium, in Londonmarker. It was a financial success with nearly 40,000 tickets sold within ninety minutes of the start of sales, and a game-day attendance of over 80,000. In 2008, the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers played at Wembley, and in October 2009, the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers met. Starting from the 2008-09 season, building on league links with Toronto, the Buffalo Bills play an annual home game in Torontomarker's Rogers Centremarker, marketed by the team as the Bills Toronto Series.

After 100 years of football influence in Mexican territory, in 1998 NFL opened a representation office in Mexico, called NFL México, as the NFL identified Mexico as a key market outside the United States due to proximity and tradition. The Mexican office handles sponsorship, licencing, detail dealers, sport culture, broadcasting, public relationships and comunity service.

Franchise relocations and mergers

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). 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; however, at the turn of the millennium, a reverse shift back to the central city became somewhat evident, as with the move by the Detroit Lions from the Silverdomemarker in Pontiac, Michiganmarker to Ford Fieldmarker in downtown Detroitmarker and, similarly, the Chicago Bears decision to remain in a rebuilt Soldier Fieldmarker located in downtown Chicago.

Popularity

While baseball is known as "America's national pastime," football is the most popular sport in the United States. According to the Harris Poll, professional football moved ahead of baseball as the fans' favorite in 1965, during the emergence of the NFL's challenger, the American Football League, as a major professional football league. Football has remained America's favorite sport ever since. In a Harris Poll conducted in 2008, the NFL was the favorite sport of as many people (30%) as the combined total of the next three professional sports – baseball (15%), auto racing (10%), and hockey (5%). Additionally, football's American television viewership ratings now surpass those of other sports, although football season comprises far fewer games than the seasons of other sports. Furthermore, college football is actually the third-most popular sport in the country, especially in the Southern United States where college teams are far more popular than their pro counterparts; 12% of survey respondents list college football as their favorite. Therefore, fully 42% of Americans consider some level of football their favorite sport. States such as Floridamarker, Ohiomarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, and Texasmarker often have football popular at all levels, thus explaining the popularity of teams in those states.

However, the Harris Poll only allows one unaided selection of a "favorite sport." Other studies and polls such as the ESPN Sports Poll and the studies released by the Associated Press (AP) and conducted by Nye Lavalle's Sports Marketing Group (SMG) from 1988 to 2004, show far higher levels of popularity for NFL football since they list from thirty to over 100 sports that each respondent must rate. According to the AP, the SMG polls from 1988 to 2004 show NFL football to be the most popular spectator sport in America. The AP stated that "In the most detailed survey ever of America's sports tastes" researching "114 spectator sports they might attend, follow on television or radio or read about in newspapers or magazines, the NFL topped all sports with 39 percent of Americans saying they loved it or considered it one of their favorites." The total percentage of Americans who liked or loved NFL Football exceeds 60% of the American Public. In a 2003 study conducted by SMG and released by the AP, the NFL was loved or liked a lot by 42.8% of Americans over 18.

The NFL has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world, drawing over 67,000 spectators per game for each of its two most recently completed seasons, and . However, the NFL's overall attendance is only approximately 20% of Major League Baseball, due to the latter's longer schedule (162-game scheduled regular season).

A 2007 Turnkey Sports & Entertainment's Team Brand Index for "team loyalty" ranked NFL teams in twelve of the top twenty-five spots out of 122 total between the four major sports leagues. The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fanbase had the top spot, while the New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts had the following two spots, followed by the New Orleans Saints at number seven and the Green Bay Packers and their fanbase ranked at number ten. The Arizona Cardinals finished last in the entire survey of 122 teams, though the survey was taken before the team's appearance against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Season structure

Since 2002, The NFL season features the following schedule:
  • a 4-game exhibition season (or preseason) running from early August to early September;
  • a 16-game, 17-week regular season running from September to December or early January; and
  • a 12-team playoff tournament beginning in January, culminating in the Super Bowl in early February.


Traditionally, American high school football games are played on Friday, American college football games are played on Saturday, and most NFL games are played on Sunday. Because the NFL season is longer than the college football season, the NFL schedules Saturday games and Saturday playoff games outside the college football season. The ABC Television network added Monday Night Football in 1970, and Thursday night NFL games were added in the 1980s.

Exhibition season

Following mini-camps in the spring and officially recognized Training Camp in July-August, NFL teams typically play four exhibition game from early August through early September. Each team hosts two games of the four. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Game and American Bowl are held at neutral sites, so the four teams in those games play five exhibition games each.

The games are useful for new players who 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 to minimize the risk of injury. Several lawsuits have been brought by fans, against the policy of including exhibition games in season-ticket packages at regular season prices, but none have so far been very successful.

Regular season

A sample scheduling grid, with a single team's (the Browns) schedule highlighted.
Under this hypothetical schedule, the Browns would play the teams in blue twice and the teams in yellow once, for a total of sixteen games.


Following the preseason, each of the thirty-two teams embark on a seventeen-week, sixteen-game schedule, with the extra week consisting of a bye to allow teams a rest sometime in the middle of the season (and also to increase television coverage). The regular season currently begins the Thursday evening after Labor Day with a primetime "Kickoff Game" (NBC currently holds broadcast rights for that game). According to the current scheduling structure, the earliest the season could begin is September 4 (as it was in the 2008 season), while the latest would be September 10 (as it was in the 2009 season, due to September 1 falling on a Tuesday). Each of the thirty-two teams' schedules are organized in the following way:
  • Each team plays the other three teams in its division twice: once at home, and once on the road (six games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from another division within its own conference once on a rotating three-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays the four teams from a division in the other conference once on a rotating four-year cycle: two at home, and two on the road (four games).
  • Each team plays once against the other teams in its conference that finished in the same place in their own divisions as themselves the previous season, not counting the division they were already scheduled to play: one at home, one on the road (two games).


Playoffs

The NFL Playoffs.
Each of the four division winners is seeded 1–4 based on their W-L-T records.
The two Wild Card teams (labeled Wild Card 1 and 2) are seeded fifth and sixth (with the better of the two having seed 5) regardless of their records compared to the four division winners.


The season concludes with a twelve-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 one through four based on their regular season won-lost-tied record (tie-breaker rules may apply).
  • Two wild card qualifiers from each conference (those non-division champions with the conference's best record, i.e. the best won-lost-tied percentages, with a series of tie-breaking rules in place in the event that there are teams with the same number of wins and losses), which are seeded five and six.


In each conference, the #3 and #6 seeded teams, and the #4 and #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 #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 winning teams from the first round. In round two, the highest surviving seed (#1) always plays the lowest surviving seed in their conference. 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).

The two surviving teams from the Divisional Playoff games meet in Conference Championship games, with the winners of those contests going on to face one another in the Super Bowl in a game located at a neutral venue that is either indoors or in a warm-weather locale. The designated "home team" alternates year to year between the conferences. In Super Bowl XLIV, the AFC Champion will be the "home" team.

Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl, the league's all-star game, has been traditionally held on the weekend after the Super Bowl. The game was played at various venues before being held at Aloha Stadiummarker in Honolulu, Hawaiimarker for 30 consecutive seasons from 1980 to 2009.

However, the 2010 Pro Bowl will be played at LandShark Stadiummarker, the home stadium of the Miami Dolphins and host site of Super Bowl XLIV, on January 31, the first time ever that the Pro Bowl will be played before the championship game.

Calendar

Though the NFL only plays in the fall and early winter, the extended offseason often is an event in itself, with the draft, free agency signings, and the announcement of schedules keeping the NFL in the spotlight even during the spring, when virtually no on-field activity is taking place. A typical calendar of league events is as follows, with the dates listed being those for the 2009 NFL season:

  • Feb. 3 -- Pro Football Hall of Fame Game opponents announced.
  • Feb. 18-24—NFL Scouting Combine: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
  • Feb. 19—Deadline for Clubs to designate Franchise and Transition players.
  • Feb. 27—Veteran Free Agency signing period begins. Trading period begins.
  • March 22-25—NFL Annual Meeting: Dana Point, Calif. Usually accompanied by announcement of scheduling and opponents for first game and opening-weekend night games.
  • Early April: Teams begin voluntary workouts.
  • April 14: Rest of schedule announced.
  • April 25-26 -- NFL Draft: New York City.
  • May 18-20—NFL Spring Meeting: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • June 28-July 1—NFL Rookie Symposium, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
  • Mid-July (varies by team)-- Training camps open.
  • Aug. 8 -- Pro Football Hall of Famemarker Induction Ceremony, Canton, Ohio, including Hall of Fame Game.
  • Aug. 13-17—First full Preseason weekend.
  • Sept. 1—Roster cutdown from 80 to maximum of 75 players.
  • Sept. 5—Roster cutdown from 75 to maximum of 53 players.
  • Sept. 10-14 -- Kickoff 2009 Weekend (Week 1 of regular season)
  • Oct. 25 -- International Series game. London, Englandmarker
  • November -- Pro Bowl balloting, flexible scheduling for Sunday Night Football and the NFL Network's night game package all begin.
  • Nov. 26 -- Thanksgiving games.
  • Jan. 3, 2010—End of regular season.
  • Jan. 9, 2010 -- Playoffs begin.
  • Jan. 24 -- AFC Championship Game and NFC Championship Game.
  • Jan. 31 -- Pro Bowl.
  • Feb. 7 -- Super Bowl.


Teams

Current NFL teams

The NFL consists of thirty-two clubs. Each club is allowed a maximum of fifty-three players on their roster, but they may only dress forty-five to play each week during the regular season. Unlike Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, the league has no full-time teams in Canadamarker, although the Buffalo Bills play one game per year in Torontomarker. Most teams are in the eastern half of the United States; sixteen teams are in the Eastern Time Zone and ten others in the Central Time Zone.


Most major metropolitan areas in the United States have an NFL franchise, although Los Angelesmarker, the second-largest metropolitan area in the country, has not hosted an NFL team since 1994. The Rams and the Raiders called the Los Angeles area home from 1946-1994 and 1982-1994 respectively. In 2005, some Saints games were played in San Antonio because of Hurricane Katrina. Also, there is talk of possibly bringing the NFL to Toronto, the largest city of Canadamarker. The most frequently mentioned team for such a move is the aforementioned Buffalo Bills, who play south in Buffalo, play some of their games in Toronto's Rogers Centremarker, and are owned by a man now in his nineties (Ralph Wilson) who has no apparent plans to keep the team in his family upon his death.

The Dallas Cowboys are the highest valued American football franchise, valued at approximately $1.6 billion and one of the most valuable franchises in all of professional sports worldwide, currently second only to English soccer club Manchester United, which has an approximate value of $1.8 billion at current exchange rates.

Since the 2002 season, the teams have been aligned as follows:



Chart notes
An asterisk (*) denotes a franchise move. See the respective team articles for more information.
  1. The Buffalo Bills play one regular game each year and one preseason game every two years from 2008-2012 at Rogers Centremarker in Torontomarker.
  2. The Jets and Giants will move into Meadowlands Stadiummarker in East Rutherfordmarker by 2010.
  3. As the result of a relocation controversy in 1996, the league officially suspended operations of the Cleveland Browns while its players and personnel moved to Baltimoremarker to become a new franchise called the Baltimore Ravens. As per an agreement with the two cities, the Ravens are officially regarded as a new 1996 team while the league's official history and records views the Browns as one continuous franchise that began in , suspended operations from – , and resumed play in with new players.


Former NFL teams

In its earliest years, the NFL was a very unstable and somewhat informal organization. Many teams entered and left the league annually. However, since the acquisition of the All-America Football Conference in 1950, the NFL has shown remarkable stability. The last NFL team to fold was the Dallas Texans in 1952; its remnants were salvaged to form what is now the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts franchise is officially a separate franchise that began in 1953, but it has a turbulent history tracing through several teams: the Dayton Triangles (1913-1929), Brooklyn Dodgers (1930-1944), Brooklyn Tigers (1945), AAFC New York Yankees (1946-1949), Boston Yanks (1944-1948), New York Bulldogs (1949), New York Yanks (1950-51), AAFC Baltimore Colts (1947-1950), and the Texans (1952).

The last team with no connections to the current Indianapolis Colts franchise to fold was the Cincinnati Reds in ; they folded midseason and were replaced by the independent St. Louis Gunners for the rest of the season.

Media

Television

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, presumably so that each network can show games from all the stadiums). These games generally air at 1:00 p.m. ET and 4:00 p.m. or 4:15 p.m. ET. (Due to differences between Eastern and local time, games played in the Pacific and Mountain time zones are never played in the 1:00pm ET time slot.) Nationally televised games include Sunday night games (shown on NBC), Monday night games (shown on ESPN), the Thursday night NFL Kickoff Game (shown on NBC), the annual Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day games (CBS and Fox), and beginning in 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; for subscribers to Dish Network Verizon FiOS and Comcast, the NFL instead offers "RedZone," a less expensive single channel that launched in 2009 and airs "the touchdowns and most important moments during all the Sunday afternoon games." In Canada, NFL Sunday Ticket is available on a per-provider distribution deal on both cable and satellite.

Radio

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, the Dial Global-Compass Media Sports Network and in Spanish on Univision Radio and the United Stations Radio Networks. Westwood One carries Sunday and Monday Night Football, all Thursday games, two Sunday afternoon contests each week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, and all post-season games, including the Pro Bowl. Sports USA Radio and Dial Global-Compass each broadcast two Sunday afternoon games every Sunday during the regular season, by agreement with individual teams. Univision-United Stations carries Monday Night games, select games from the New York metro area, and all playoff games.

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. All 32 teams, plus Westwood One, currently broadcast through FieldPass as of 2009; Dial Global-Compass and Sports USA do not. Also, FieldPass broadcasts are not available in Spanish, even though the Internet radio blackout rules apply to Spanish language broadcasts as well.

Internet/New Media

In October 2006 the NFL announced the league would fully operate NFL.com, including the development of the technology, infrastructure and editorial content. Launching its first major redesign since 1999 in August 2007, the site had been previously produced and hosted since 2001 by CBS SportsLine. It is estimated that the contract cost CBS $120 million over a five year period. Prior to CBS, ESPN.com produced and hosted the NFL site.

Brian Rolapp, senior vice president of NFL digital media and media strategy: “In a rapidly changing digital landscape, bringing NFL.com in-house provides us greater control of our valuable content and enables us to strategically build the site as a media asset. Fans can look forward to an even more entertaining, interactive and informative site built upon the expertise of the NFL and its other in-house media outlets such as NFL Network and NFL Films.”

Univision Online, Inc., the interactive subsidiary of Univision Communications Inc., and the NFL announced in January 2008 that they will jointly manage and operate NFLatino.com powered by Univision.com, the official U.S. Spanish-language website of the NFL. NFLatino.com is the only Spanish-language website in the United States to feature NFL video game highlights. In addition, the website includes live radio broadcasts, up-to-date stats, Hispanic player diaries, Fantasy Football and an insider’s view of all 32 teams.

Announced in March 2009, NFL.com received its first-ever Sports Emmy nominations, which earned recognition for its NFL.com LIVE coverage of NFL Network’s Thursday and Saturday Night Football (Outstanding new approaches, coverage) and its Anatomy of a Play, a short-form 360-degree analysis of key plays of the week (Outstanding new approaches, general interest).

Beginning September 2008, the NFL announced that it would simulcast all NBC Sunday Night Football games on NFL.com, located at nfl.com/snf. In 2007, they had provided an Emmy-nominated "complementary live broadcast" which included a partial simulcast of the NFL Network's Run to the Playoffs eight game package along with expanded NFL Network analysis.

As of December 2008, the NFL offers a pay service allows fans to watch all 2008-09 NFL regular season, playoff, and Super Bowl games online. The service is updated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and offers full DVR functionality with the ability to watch up to four games at once.

As of September 2008, the NFL offers a pay service for NFL fans out side United States to watch live all regular season games and the playoffs game live. Only game not available live is the Super Bowl.

Player contracts and compensation

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 was 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 was originally scheduled to expire at the end of the 2012 season, but in 2008 the owners exercised their right to opt out of the agreement two years early.

Players are tiered into three different levels with regards to their rights to negotiate for contracts:
  • Players who 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 ("hold out") until terms can be reached. Players often use the threat of holding 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 Stanfordmarker. 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, the team that 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 three 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 four 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 player's negotiation rights. This is a limited right of the team, however, and affects only a small handful of players each year.
In 2010, unless the CBA is extended, the rules will change so that players don't become "Unrestricted Free Agents" until they have played at least six full seasons in the league. They will be "Restricted Free Agents" if they have three–five full seasons in the league.

Among the items covered in the CBA are:
  • The league minimum salary
  • The salary cap
  • The annual collegiate draft
  • Rules regarding "free agency"
  • Waiver rules


Salaries

Minimum Salary for League Year
Years of experience 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
0 $275,000 $285,000 $295,000 $310,000 $325,000 $340,000 $355,000
1 $350,000 $360,000 $370,000 $385,000 $400,000 $415,000 $430,000
2 $425,000 $435,000 $445,000 $460,000 $475,000 $490,000 $505,000
3 $500,000 $510,000 $520,000 $535,000 $550,000 $565,000 $580,000
4 - 6 $585,000 $595,000 $605,000 $620,000 $635,000 $650,000 $665,000
7 - 9 $710,000 $720,000 $730,000 $745,000 $760,000 $775,000 $790,000
10 + $810,000 $820,000 $830,000 $845,000 $860,000 $875,000 $890,000


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.

Among other things, the CBA establishes a minimum salary for its players, which is stepped-up as a player's years of experience increase. Players and their agents may negotiate with clubs for higher salaries, and frequently do. As of the 2008 NFL season, the highest paid player was Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose compensation was $27,701,920.

Salary cap

The salary cap is defined as the maximum amount that a team may spend on player compensation (see above) in a given season, for all of its players combined. Unlike other leagues, for example the NBA (which permits certain exemptions) or Major League Baseball (which has a "soft cap" enforced by "luxury taxes"), the NFL has a "hard cap": an amount no team under any circumstances may exceed.

The NFL salary cap is calculated by the current CBA to be 59.5% of the total projected league revenue for the upcoming year. This number, divided by the number of teams, determines an individual team's maximum salary cap. For 2008, this was approximately $116 million per team. For 2009, it increased to $127 million. As a result of the NFL owners opting out of the CBA two years early, in the absence of a new CBA 2010 will have no salary cap.

Teams and players often find creative ways to fit salaries under the salary cap. Early in the salary cap era, "signing bonuses" were used to give players a large chunk of money up front, and thus not count in the salary for the bulk of the contract. This led to a rule whereby all signing bonus are pro-rated equally for each year of the contract. Thus if a player receives a $10 million signing bonus for a five-year contract, $2 million per year would count against the salary cap for the life of the contract, even though the full $10 million was paid up front during the first year of the contract.

Player contracts tend to be "back-loaded". This means that the contract is not divided equally among the time period it covers. Instead, the player earns progressively more and more each year. For instance, a player signing a four-year deal worth $10 million may get paid $1 million the first year, $2 million the second year, $3 million the third year, and $4 million the fourth year. If a team cuts this player after the first year, the final three years do not count against the cap. Any signing bonus, however, ceases to be pro-rated, and the entire balance of the bonus counts against the cap in the upcoming season.

NFL Draft

Each April, each NFL franchise seeks to add new players to its roster through a collegiate draft known as "the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting", which is more commonly known as the NFL Draft.

Teams are ranked in inverse order based on the previous season's record, with the team having the worst record picking first, and the second-worst picking second, and so on. Regardless of regular season records, the last two picks of each round go to the two teams in the Super Bowl immediately preceding the draft, with the Super Bowl champion picking last.

The draft proceeds for seven rounds. Rounds 1–2 are run on Saturday of draft weekend, rounds 3–7 are run on Sunday. Teams are given 10 minutes in the first round of the draft, 7 in the second round and 5 in all other rounds. If the pick is not made in the allotted time, subsequent teams in the draft may draft before them. This happened in 2003 to the Minnesota Vikings.

Teams have the option of trading away their picks to other teams for different picks, players, cash, or a combination thereof. While player-for-player trades are rare during the rest of the year (especially in comparison to the other major league sports), trades are far more common on draft day. In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys traded running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for five veteran players and six draft picks over 3 years. The Cowboys would use these picks to leverage trades for additional draft picks and veteran players. As a direct result of this trade, they would draft many of the stars who would help them win three Super Bowls in the 1990s, including Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Samuel Young, and Darren Woodson.

The first pick in the draft is often taken to be the best overall player in the rookie class. This may or may not be true, since teams often select players based more on the teams' needs than on the players' overall skills. Plus, comparing players at different positions is difficult to do. Still, it is considered a great honor to be a first-round pick, and a greater honor to be the first overall pick. The last pick in the draft is known as Mr. Irrelevant, and is the subject of a dinner in his (dubious) honor in Newport Beachmarker, Californiamarker.

Drafted players may only negotiate with the team that drafted them (or to another team if their rights were traded away). The drafting team has one year to sign the player. If they do not do so, the player may reenter the draft and can be drafted by another team. Bo Jackson famously sat out a season in this way.

Free agency

General

As defined by the Collective Barganing Agreement (CBA), a free agent is any player who is not under contract to any team and thus has fully free rights to negotiate with any other team for new contract terms. Free agents are classified into two categories: restricted and unrestricted. Furthermore, a team may "tag" a player as a franchise or transition, which places additional restrictions on that player's ability to negotiate. However, the ability to "tag" is quite limited, and only affects a handful of players each year.

Free agency in the NFL began with a limited free agency system known as "Plan B Free Agency", which was in effect between the 1989 and 1992 seasons. Beginning with the 1993 season, "Plan A Free Agency" went into effect.

Restricted free agent

A player who has 3 years of experience is eligible for restricted free agency, whereby his current team has the chance to retain rights to this player by matching the highest offer any other NFL franchise might make to that player. The club can either block a signing or, in essence, force a trade by offering a salary over a certain threshold. In 2006, these thresholds were as follows:
  • If a club tenders an offer of $685,000 per year for a three year veteran, and $725,000 for a four year veteran, the player's current team has "right of first refusal" over the contract at those terms, and may sign the player at those terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $712,000 or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year's salary, then the current club has both "right of first refusal" and rights to a draft pick from the same round (or better) from the signing club. Essentially, this means that the new club must forfeit the draft pick to the old club if they wish to sign the player under these terms.
  • If a club tenders an offer of $1.552 million or 110% (whichever is greater) of the previous year's salary, then the current club has both "right of first refusal"; and rights to the first round draft pick from the signing club.


Unrestricted free agent

A player who has four or more years of experience is eligible for unrestricted free agency, whereby his current team has no guaranteed right to match outside offers to that player. This means that players in this category have unlimited rights to negotiate any terms with any team.

Free Agency Changes in 2010

In 2010, unless the CBA is extended, the rules will change so that players don't become "Unrestricted Free Agents" until they have at least six years of experience. They will be "Restricted Free Agents" if they have three–five years of experience. There will also be limitations imposed on which clubs are allowed to sign free agents. This is part of a set of rule changes written into the CBA designed to encourage the owners and the NFLPA to negotiate a new CBA: the players lose some free agency rights, and the owners lose the salary cap.

Franchise tag

The franchise tag is a designation given to a player by a franchise that guarantees that player a contract the average of the five highest-paid players of that same position in the entire league, or 120% of the player's previous year's salary (whichever is greater) in return for retaining rights to that player for one year. An NFL franchise may only designate one player a year as having the franchise tag, and may designate the same player for consecutive years. This has caused some tension between some NFL franchise designees and their respective teams due to the fact that a player designated as a franchise player precludes that player from pursuing large signing bonuses that are common in unrestricted free agency, and also prevents a player from leaving the team, especially when the reasons for leaving are not necessarily financial. A team may, at their discretion, allow the franchise player to negotiate with other clubs, but if he signs with another club, the first club is entitled to two first round draft picks in compensation.

Banned substances policy

The NFL banned substances policy has been acclaimed by some and criticized by others, but the policy is the longest running in American professional sports, beginning in 1987. The current policy of the NFL suspends players without pay who test positive for banned substances as it has since 1989: four games for the first offense (a quarter of the regular season), eight games for a second offense (half of the regular season), and 12 months for a third offense. The suspended games may be either regular season games or playoff games.

In comparison to the policies of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, the NFL has long been the most strict. While recently MLB and the NHL decided to permanently ban athletes for a third offense, they have long been resistant to such measures, and random testing is in its infancy.

Since the NFL started random, year-round tests and suspending players for banned substances, many more players have been found to be in violation of the policy. By April 2005, 111 NFL players had tested positive for banned substances, and of those 111, the NFL suspended 54.

A new rule is in the works due to Shawne Merriman. Starting the 2007–2008 season, the new rule would prohibit any player testing positive for banned substances from being able to play in the Pro Bowl that year.

Video games

There have been several football video games based on NFL teams created for various consoles over the years, from 10-Yard Fight and the Tecmo Bowl series for the NES to the more well known Madden series that have been released annually since 1988. The latter series is named after former coach and football commentator John Madden, who commentates the game along with Al Michaels before 2009. (Pat Summerall prior to 2003). Prior to the 2005–2006 football season, other NFL games were produced by competing video game publishers, such as 2K Games and Midway Games. However, in December 2004, Electronic Arts signed a five-year exclusive agreement with the NFL, meaning only Electronic Arts will be permitted to publish games featuring NFL team and player names. This prompted video game developer Midway Games to release a game in 2005 called Blitz: The League, with fictitious teams such as the "Washington Redhawks", and make references to NFL players such as the Washington Redhawks left-handed QB "Ron Mexico", alluding to Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, who allegedly used the alias at a walk-in clinic. In February 2008, EA Sports renewed their exclusivity agreement with the league through Super Bowl XLVII in 2013..

Commissioners and presidents

  1. President Jim Thorpe (1920–1921)
  2. President Joseph Carr (1921–1939)
  3. President Carl Storck (1939–1941)
  4. Commissioner Elmer Layden (1941–1946)
  5. Commissioner Bert Bell (1946–1959)
  6. Interim President Austin Gunsel (1959–1960, following death of Bell)
  7. Commissioner Alvin "Pete" Rozelle (1960–1989)
  8. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1989–2006)
  9. Commissioner Roger Goodell (2006–present)


Main league offices



Franchise owners

Unlike many professional leagues, the NFL forbids corporate owners. Ownership groups must contain twenty-four or fewer individuals, and at least one partner must hold a thirty percent or greater share of the team. The exceptions to this policy were the Green Bay Packers, who have been publicly owned for more than eighty years, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose ownership was split up evenly among five brothers. The Packers' situation was grandfathered into the current policy and remains today; the Steelers only moved into compliance with the rules in 2008. In recent years, NFL owners and the NFL itself have become politically active, donating millions of dollars to political candidates.

Uniform numbers

In the NFL, players wear uniform numbers based on the position they play. The current system was instituted into the league on April 5, 1973, as a means for fans and officials (referees, linesmen) to more easily identify players on the field by their position. Players who were already in the league at that date were grandfathered and did not have to change their uniform numbers if they did not conform. Since that date, players are invariably assigned numbers within the following ranges, based on their primary position:
  • Quarterbacks, placekickers and punters: 1–19
  • Wide Receivers: 10–19 and 80–89
  • Running backs and defensive backs: 20–49
  • Offensive linemen: 50–79
  • Linebackers: 50–59 and 90–99, or 40–49 if all are taken
  • Defensive linemen: 60–79 and 90–99
  • Tight ends: 80–89, or 40–49 if all are taken


Prior to 2004, wide receivers were allowed to wear only numbers 80–89. The NFL changed the rule that year to allow wide receivers to wear numbers 10–19 to allow for the increased number of players at wide receiver and tight end coming into the league. Linebackers are allowed to wear numbers between 40–49 when all of the numbers 50–59 and 90–99 are taken. Prior to that, players were allowed to wear non-standard numbers only if their team had run out of numbers within the prescribed number range. Keyshawn Johnson began wearing number 19 in 1996 because the New York Jets had run out of numbers in the 80s. Oakland Raider offensive center Jim Otto wore a 00 jersey during most of his career with the AFL team and kept the number after the leagues merged. Devin Hester is a wide receiver/return specialist for the Chicago Bears but wears number 23 because he was drafted as a cornerback but transferred to wide receiver after his rookie year.

Occasionally, players will petition the NFL to allow them to wear a number that is not in line with the numbering system. Brad Van Pelt, a linebacker who entered the NFL in with the New York Giants, wore number 10 during his eleven seasons with the club, despite not being covered by the grandfather clause. In 2006, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush petitioned the NFL to let him keep the number 5 which he used at USCmarker. His request was later denied. Former Seattle Seahawks standout Brian Bosworth attempted such a petition in 1987 (to wear his collegiate number of 44 at the linebacker position which he used at the University of Oklahomamarker), also without success. The Seahawks attempted to get around the rule by listing Bosworth as a safety, but after he wore number 44 for a game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL ruled Bosworth would have to switch back to his original number, 55.

It should be noted that this NFL numbering system is based on a player's primary position. Any player wearing any number may play at any position on the field at any time (though offensive and defensive players wearing numbers 50–79/90-99 and wishing to play at end or back must let the referee know that they are playing out of position by reporting in as an "eligible receiver"). Normally, only players on offense with eligible numbers are permitted to touch the ball by taking a snap from center, receiving a hand-off or catching a pass. It is not uncommon for running backs to line up at wide receiver on certain plays, or even to have a large offensive or defensive lineman play at fullback or tight end in short yardage situations. Also, in preseason games, when teams have expanded rosters, players may wear numbers that are outside of the above rules. When the final 53-player roster is established, they are reissued numbers within the above guidelines.

Awards



Discontinued awards



Cheerleading

Almost every NFL team, with the exception of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and New York Giants, is supported by a professional cheerleading squad who attend games and promote the team.

See also



Regular seasons



Postseasons



Records



Related football leagues



References

Notes

Bibliography



External links




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