A look back as we begin again
The 2021 NFL season ended with Super Bowl LVI, and the 2022 season has yet to arrive.
Broncos general manager George Paton is preparing for free agency and the draft. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett is pretty much done assembling his staff, but he and his family are no doubt just as busy with small details like a house to live in, moving vans from Green Bay, schools for children, etc.
The press is busy speculating on issues like the draft and the quarterback position, not so much because anything has changed, but more because their jobs depend on it; therefore, these articles continue to appear.
Every team is 0-0, and it’s a glorious time every year, with every NFL team‘s hopes in high places.
But when exactly did the NFL’s setup start looking like it does today?
I would say it was in 1933.
The NFL began in 1920 with 14 franchises in a league, with the championship going to the Akron Pros (8-0 losing record), and teams still playing schedules that included games against non-championship opponents. By the way, of those 14 teams, the last team was the Muncie Flyers, who went 0-1 overall.
This was what the NFL looked like in its early years and for much of its first 13 seasons. And then he decided to make significant changes.
“The NFL, which had long followed the rules of college football, for the first time made a number of significant changes from college play and began to develop rules to meet its needs and the style of play it preferred,” the Pro Football Hall of Fame wrote. “The innovations of the 1932 championship game – entry line or sharps and goal posts on the goal lines – were adopted.”
According to the league, this latest rule change resulted in a doubling of field goals and a reduction in tied games from 20 percent to 5 percent.
And the last change of this session was perhaps the most important. In a world that seems to be ruled by the passing game, that seems wild, but it was February 25, 1933 when the league legalized the forward pass from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.
The NFL also approved the proposal to split the NFL into two divisions, with the winner of each meeting in an annual championship game.
Of the three new franchises to join the league that year, two would become legendary: Art Rooney’s Pittsburgh Pirates (of course, they would become the Steelers over time) and Bert Bell’s Philadelphia Eagles, which would become later commissioner of the NFL and remained until his death.
There have been countless franchise changes since 1933, but that was the first year in which you could then look (or, today, look back) at the standings and see the NFL divided into divisions.
Today, each league has divisions, largely based on geography, with playoffs and playoff brackets at the end.
Americans love parentheses, and it seems like a concept that will stick with us as long as there is sport.
In 1933, the Eastern Division included Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Redskins. The western teams were the Chicago Bears, Portsmouth Spartans (later Detroit Lions), Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cardinals.
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since 1933, with the All-America Football Conference, the American Football League, amalgamation, expansion, overseas games and a technological revolution that did much to reshape the game.
But the game is still the game – 11 against 11 with a soccer ball.