Thirty-seven percent of Americans say football is their favorite sport. Hundreds of millions gather weekly to watch games. If you’re talking about football in America, you’re talking about the NFL, originally established in 1920. The NFL made an estimated $15.26 billion in 2019. It is a behemoth of professional sports, the likes of which few other games can compare.
All that said, the NFL hasn’t always been — and still isn’t today — the only horse in the race when it comes to professional football.
The American Football League was the NFL’s biggest competitor for a decade, starting in 1960, right around the time football began to surpass baseball as the country’s favorite sport. The formation of the AFL was a direct response to issues within the NFL, with team owners jumping from league to league based on interior politics and financial incentives.
You’ve likely heard of some of the AFL’s inaugural teams — the Buffalo Bills, the Oakland Raiders, and the Denver Broncos, to name a few. A little team called the New York Jets also started in the AFL. Ultimately, the league merged with the NFL in 1970, and that’s what gave us the league we know and love today.
The World Football League was a short-lived dream to bring football to an international stage, but ultimately the organization only got as far as Hawaii. Their first season in 1974 would end up being their penultimate.
In the mid-eighties, the United States Football League hosted three seasons of pro-ball. The league played during the summer, hoping to take advantage of the NFL’s off-season. The teams secured leases from existing NFL franchises to play in their arenas, leading to early financial troubles. The league successfully sued the NFL for monopolizing broadcasting rights, but the court case didn’t go far enough in ensuring the league’s independent success. Still, the USFL gave us great teams like the Houston Gamblers, the Birmingham Stallions, and the Baltimore Stars.
In 1993, the Canadian Football League attempted to enter the American market by introducing teams in Sacramento, Las Vegas, Baltimore, and Shreveport teams. Financial instability led to the league abandoning the endeavor -- but not without some great football from the Baltimore Stallions.
The point is, if there’s a football game on, we’ll watch it. In the meantime, it’s fun to remember teams of years past while cheering on our favorites of the present.
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