Seven events that shaped today’s NFL
By Michael Feblowitz
National Football Post
From the draft to the Greatest Game Ever Played, today’s football fan has these events to thank.
Throughout the tumultuous offseason, one fact has not been forgotten: football is a high-stakes business.
But it wasn’t always this way. Generations ago, the sport was just an idea. Rules slowly developed: the forward pass was legalized; a touchdown was changed from five points to six, and so on. And in 1920, America’s professional football league was born.
Even after the league formed, it took some 40 years for football to overtake baseball as the most popular sport in the country. Now, the NFL enjoys an unrivaled position atop our sports world and every year it seems the league increases in popularity. Here are the seven most important events that shaped the NFL we know and love today.
1. The League Adopts A Reverse Order Draft (1935)
The NFL Draft is a crucial aspect of season-to-season roster transformations. The average professional career now lasts only three years, which means teams must constantly add new players. The last-place, first-pick structure of the draft has been instrumental in maintaining competitive balance for all teams not owned by Al Davis.
2. Unlimited Free Substitution Is Permanently Reinstated (1950)
After briefly experimenting with free substitution in the mid-1940s, the NFL adopted the rule indefinitely. Because teams can make unlimited personnel changes before each down, we see an impressive degree of specialization in today’s league. Were it not for this rule, we wouldn’t be able to cycle through six different singleback packages in Madden. And we certainly would never have seen rosters expand to include career special teamers like Rod “He Hate Me” Smart.
3. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” Captivates TV Audiences (1958)
The Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants in sudden death overtime in what has since been branded “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The NFL found a home on television that day, capturing an audience of 45 million—the largest at the time—despite being blacked out in New York. The 1958 NFL Championship Game was a precursor to the national TV deals that are so vital to the bottom line of today’s league.
4. Congress Passes The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961
This is unequivocally the most important piece of sports legislation ever passed and quite possibly the most significant event in the history of the modern NFL. The act allowed teams to pool their TV rights, overruling a court decision that deemed the pooling of television rights as illegal monopolistic behavior. Now, money from TV deals accounts for approximately $4 billion in annual revenue.
5. The AFL and NFL Merge (1970)
The merger nearly doubled the size of the league and cemented the NFL’s position as the most popular professional sports association in the country. Importantly, too, combining the AFL and NFL put an end to a free agency spending spree that could have been so damaging to the two competing leagues.
6. The NFL Introduces A Salary Cap (1994)
Commissioner Tagliabue’s hard cap has successfully controlled spending and, more importantly, maintained the league-wide parity that we treasure so much. I know a few Kansas City Royals fans who wish the MLB commissioners had similar foresight. (Remember 1994 when you almost made the playoffs?)
7. The NFL Stadiums Arms Race Begins (1996)
New buildings have revolutionized how and where we watch our football. A cornucopia of factors launched the lavish construction projects, which have (thus far) culminated in billion dollar monstrosities in Dallas and—of all places—New Jersey. Tax loopholes, PSLs, and the impressive Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte (now Bank of America Stadium) all played a role. In any case, nearly 2 new facilities have opened each year since 1996.