The National Football League reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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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 significantly 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 The draft
4 Salaries and the salary cap
5 Racial policies
6 Public image
7 The NFL on television
8 League Championships
9 Commissioners and presidents of the NFL
10 League offices
11 Players
12 See also
13 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.

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 (now 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 hope 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.

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 racist policies not only excluded blacks from his Washington Redskins team but 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. 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.

It was the American Football League that had the first black to play, and then to start, at quarterback in the modern era: Marlin Briscoe of the 1968 Denver Broncos. A year later in 1969, the first professional football team to start the season with a black signal-caller (James Harris) was another AFL team, the Buffalo Bills. The only way these blacks got to play the position in the NFL was through the 1970 merger of the NFL with the American Football League. 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; ironically, originally an AFL team. 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.

Public image

The NFL is one of the most powerful entities in the United States in terms of its public relations activities. Because most sports media outlets - print, Radio-TV, and internet, are dependent on good relations with the league in order to keep their sources of information (and in some cases, their advertising base), uncomplimentary aspects of the league are often glossed over. Failure to "support" the NFL can result in poorly-veiled sanctions by the league, as in the case of ESPN's recent series "Playmakers". The NFL expressed its displeasure with the show for portraying drug and spousal abuse problems in pro football. ESPN, which carries NFL games, dropped the series after one season.

NFL Films, which provides game films to media outlets for highlight shows, is owned by the NFL and shows only positive aspects of the league. No series comparable to the classic "Baseball", by Ken Burns, has ever been made about the NFL, nor have the NFL's former racial policies, outlined above, ever been treated in more than a cursory manner in any documentary film.

Rules and policies pioneered by other leagues are often credited to the NFL, simply because it survives. In November 1963, the NFL played its full schedule of games the Sunday after the JFK assassination, while the rival American Football League (AFL) postponed its games in respect to the fallen President, although in fairness it should be noted that the later former NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, stated that this was his one major regret in his many years as commissioner, and the major decision that he would make differently were he to have it to do over. The older league later merged with the new league after the AFL began to successfully sign stars from the NFL. After the merger, the NFL adopted innovative features first instituted by the AFL, such as names on player jerseys, official scoreboard clocks (in the NFL, field and scoreboard clocks often did not agree, leading to confusion), and, many years later, the two-point conversion. Even before the merger, the NFL adopted the AFL's revolutionary concept of sharing of gate and television revenues by both the home and visiting teams. Eventually, the NFL adopted virtually every pioneering aspect of the American Football League, except its name.

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.

The American Football League initiated the concept of network coverage of an entire league schedule, sharing revenue from all games aired by ABC-TV, with Curt Gowdy and Paul Christman as the prime crew. As it did with most innovative concepts begun by the American Football League, the NFL followed suit with a CBS-TV contract. CBS, meanwhile, gained notoriety in the early 1960s by refusing to give American Football League scores on its NFL telecasts

But one network did dominate pro football coverage for almost three-and-a-half decades, beginning in 1965. NBC would, in turn, set the standard for all of sports television. At first, the Peacock network covered the American Football League (while CBS covered the NFL), before the NFL merged with the American Football League. As a result, the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game (Super Bowl I) was covered by both NBC and CBS (the only time two networks covered one pro football championship game). But Gowdy's move to NBC gave the network's football coverage its popularity, and through the years, helped to propel the broadcasting careers of Dick Enberg, Jim Simpson, John Brodie, O.J. Simpson, Merlin Olsen, Marv Albert, Don Criqui, and Jim Lampley.

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 the aforementioned NBC broadcast crew, 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 three-and-a-half 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.

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.

Commissioners and presidents of the NFL

League offices


See also

External links