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National Football League
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National Football League

For other uses of the acronym "NFL," see NFL (disambiguation).

The National Football League (NFL) is the largest and most popular professional American football league in the world, consisting of thirty-two teams from American cities. The league was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, which adopted the name "National Football League" in 1922. The league's current makeup and geographic expanse, as well as its style of play, rules, media coverage, playoffs and championship games, were enhanced by its merger with a rival league, the American Football League, effective with the 1970 season.
In recent decades, the NFL traditionally started the regular season on Labor Day Weekend and lasted through Christmas week. However, declining television ratings on Labor Day have pushed the start of the regular season ahead one week (which is where scheduling currently stands), although for the past two years, the regular season has begun on the Thursday after Labor Day.

At the end of each season, the winners of the playoffs in the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference meet in the NFL championship, the Super Bowl (held in different cities, in both team sites and neutral sites), and one week later, selected all-star players from both the AFC and NFC meet in the Pro Bowl, currently held in Hawaii.

Table of contents
1 Current NFL franchises
2 Playoffs
3 League Championships
4 The draft
5 Salaries and the salary cap
6 Racial policies
7 The NFL on television
8 Commissioners and presidents of the NFL
9 League offices
10 Players
11 See also
12 External links

Current NFL franchises

American Football Conference
Buffalo BillsBaltimore RavensHouston TexansDenver Broncos
Miami DolphinsCincinnati BengalsIndianapolis ColtsKansas City Chiefs
New England PatriotsCleveland BrownsJacksonville JaguarsOakland Raiders
New York JetsPittsburgh SteelersTennessee TitansSan Diego Chargers

National Football Conference
Dallas CowboysChicago BearsAtlanta FalconsArizona Cardinals
New York GiantsDetroit LionsCarolina PanthersSaint Louis Rams
Philadelphia EaglesGreen Bay PackersNew Orleans SaintsSan Francisco 49ers
Washington RedskinsMinnesota VikingsTampa Bay BuccaneersSeattle Seahawks


At the conclusion of each 16-game regular season, six teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs, which culminate in the Super Bowl championship game:

The #3 and #6 seeded teams, and the #4 and #5 seeded teams, face each other during the playoffs first round, dubbed the "Wild Card Round." The #1 and #2 seeds from each conference do not participate in this round, earning an automatic berth in the following week's "Divisional Playoff" games, where they face the Wild Card survivors. In a given game, whoever has the higher seed gets the home field advantage.

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.

League Championships

The NFL's method for determing its champions has changed over the years; for the history of the process see National Football League championships.

The draft

Most of the USA's college football players want to play in the NFL. There is a highly organized and formal process called the draft (currently consisting of seven rounds) that takes place over two days in April, in which all NFL teams participate. The NFL team with the worst record in the previous year gets first pick of the draft that is, they get to choose one of all the college football players in the USA who are eligible for the draft. The idea is that weak teams can thereby become strengthened over time, in the specialties where they need strengthening. Draft picks continue, in the order from the weakest team to the strongest team, and once all teams have picked one player, they all pick again starting with the weakest team.

However, draft picks are frequently traded in advance for players and other draft picks. For example, before the draft occurs, Team A might trade its first-round draft pick plus a certain player (who already plays for Team A) to Team B in exchange for another particular player who already plays for Team B.

Occasionally a player drafted out of college will go right into a "first-string" position as the team's primary player in that position. However, usually these players begin as second- or third-string backups, only playing games if the first-stringer is injured, or if there has been a runaway score and the coach decides to put a backup in the game for a little experience, and to ensure his first-stringer doesn't get injured at the end in a play that is not meaningful to the team.

See List of NFL first overall draft choices

Salaries and the salary cap

The minimum salary for an NFL player is $225,000 in his first year, and rises after that based on the number of years in service:

These numbers are set by contract between the NFL and the players' union, the National Football League Players' Association. These numbers are of course exceeded dramatically by the best players in each position.

Escalating player salaries throughout the 1980s led to the creation of a salary cap, a maximum amount of money each team can pay its players in aggregate. The cap is determined via a complicated formula based on the revenue that all NFL teams receive during the previous year. For the 2004 season, the NFL's salary cap will be approximately $ 80.5 million, an increase of $ 5.5 million from 2003.

Proponents of the salary cap note that it prevents a well-financed team in a major city from simply spending giant amounts of money to secure the very best players in every position and thus dominating the entire sport. This has been seen as a problem in American baseball, among other sports. Proponents also claim that player salaries are out of control, and that fans end up paying higher ticket prices to pay for these salaries. Critics of the salary cap note that the driving reason for the cap was to maximize the profitability of the NFL teams, and limit the power of NFL players to command the high salaries they are said to deserve in exchange for bringing in large numbers of paying fans to the stadiums. They also note that the salary cap could hypothetically drive prospective athletes to other sports that do not cap the salaries of players.

Racial policies

Although the NFL in 2004 is dominated at virtually every position by black athletes, that was not always the case. The league had a few black players until 1933, one year after entry to the league of George Preston Marshall. Marshall's policies not only excluded blacks from his Washington Redskins team but may have influenced the entire league to drop blacks until 1946, when pressure from the competing All-America Football Conference induced the NFL to be more liberal in its signing of blacks. Another theory holds that the NFL like most of the United States during the Great Depression would fire black workers before white workers. Still, Marshall refused to sign black players until threatened with civil-rights legal action by the Kennedy administration in 1962. This action, and pressure by another competing league, the more liberal American Football League, slowly managed to reverse the NFL's racial quotas.

Even then, for old-line NFL teams, the door remained closed to black quarterbacks through the 1970s. 1978 Rose Bowl MVP Warren Moon played for six seasons in the CFL before his abilities finally landed him the starting role with the Houston Oilers. It took until 1988 before a black qurterback started for a Super Bowl team, when Doug Williams won it for the Redskins. To this day, the NFL's head-coach hiring policies are questioned, and it has had to institute measures to attempt to have black head-coach candidates be treated more equitably.

The NFL on television

The televison rights to pro football are the most lucrative (and most expensive) rights of any sport available. In fact, it was television that brought pro football into prominence in the modern era of technology.

From the very beginning of the television era, NBC was a prime innovator in football coverage. They were the first major television network to cover an NFL game. In 1939, they televised a game between the Eagles and the Brooklyn football Dodgers. In 1950 the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins televised all their home and road games. The DuMont Network televised the 1951 NFL championship across the entire United States. In 1955 NBC became the televised home to the league championship game. The 1958 championship game played at Yankee Stadium went into sudden death overtime. This game was seen by many through out the country and is credited with increasing the popularity of pro football in the late 1950s and early 1960s. CBS took over television coverage of the NFL in the mid 1960s, while the AFL was first coveraged by ABC and than later NBC. Both CBS and NBC televised the first Super Bowl in January 1967.

Then, in 1970, the NFL began playing games on Monday night, thus a unique partnership between the NFL and ABC was launched, and the Monday Night Football franchise was born. MNF itself pushed the limits of football coverage with its halftime highlights segment, occasional banter from Howard Cosell and Dennis Miller, and celebrity guests such as John Lennon and President Clinton.

Each of the three major networks had their own talent. Announcers such as Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Al Michaels (from ABC); Pat Summerall and John Madden (from CBS); and Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Marv Albert, Jim Simpson, and Jim Lampley (from NBC), all had their own unique analysis of the game. Even the individual networks' football coverage was innovative. For example, CBS' The NFL Today was the first pre-game show to have a female co-hostess, (Phyllis George); and NBC made history in the 1980s with announcerless football, one-announcer football, and even the first female play-by-play football announcer (which in its own way, set the mold for female sportscasters of today).

The Super Bowls were also ratings blockbusters for the networks that aired it, assuring them of annual ratings victory, and drawing in millions and millions of dollars in advertising.

The middle of the 1980s ushered in the cable era, and ESPN became the first cable network to broadcast NFL games. Chris Berman helped redefine the pre- and post-game shows when he launched NFL Countdown and NFL Primetime, and they have since become the top-rated pre- and post-game shows on television.

For a few years in the 1990s, Turner's TNT network broadcast Sunday night games for the first half of the season before ESPN took it over full-time in 1997.

In 1993, CBS (which had been home to National Conference games) lost their rights to the fledging Fox Network, taking with it their prime announcers, Summerall and Madden. It was Fox that made pro football coverage their own, using the same style of presentation that CBS did.

Meanwhile, NBC's rebound in the ratings in both the 1980s and 1990s (after years in the bottom of the ratings cellar) were attributed in part to its continuing coverage of the NFL. But in 1998, an era of pro football broadcasting came to an unceremonious conclusion when, after almost six decades, NBC (the network that helped define pro football on television) lost its NFL rights to CBS (which had not carried pro football for six years), thus marking the beginning of a slow (and continuing) decline for the Peacock network's sports division.

Today, despite annual financial losses, CBS continues its position as the prime network for NFL football (with its American Conference package), although Fox continues to air National Conference games, ESPN still airs Sunday night games, and ABC has its Monday Night Football franchise. The current NFL television contract ends with the 2005 season, and negotiations for new contracts are expected to begin soon, perhaps opening the door for the return of pro football to NBC. And the cost of television rights continues to rise.

In 2003 the NFL launched its own specialty channel, the NFL Network. The new channel's coverage focuses on the NFL (as would be expected), although it will also be used to screen Canadian Football League games as per the terms of a working agreement with the CFL that was renewed in 2004.

The style of pro football broadcasting is ever changing, with its female hostesses/sideline reporters, visual first-down markers, advanced graphics, and new multi-camera angles, all of which will carry football telecasts into the new century.

NFL Films, which provides game films to media outlets for highlight shows, is owned by the NFL.

Commissioners and presidents of the NFL

League offices


See also

External links

The National Football League
Baltimore Ravens | Buffalo Bills | Cincinnati Bengals | Cleveland Browns | Denver Broncos | Houston Texans | Indianapolis Colts | Jacksonville Jaguars| Kansas City Chiefs | Miami Dolphins | New England Patriots | New York Jets | Oakland Raiders | Pittsburgh Steelers | San Diego Chargers | Tennessee Titans
Arizona Cardinals | Atlanta Falcons | Carolina Panthers | Chicago Bears | Dallas Cowboys | Detroit Lions | Green Bay Packers | Minnesota Vikings | New Orleans Saints | New York Giants | Philadelphia Eagles | San Francisco 49ers | Seattle Seahawks | St. Louis Rams | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Washington Redskins
The Super Bowl | The Pro Bowl | NFLPA | AFL | NFL Europe