Today, the NFL does something most of its players never will: reach the ripe old age of 91. On August 20, 1920, the American Professional Football Conference was founded in Canton, Ohio in a seven-league merger. The name was quickly changed to the National Football League, the first example of the league’s impeccable marketing savvy. The helmets were leather and the players weighed about as much as an Olsen twin, but the roots of the most popular sport in America were there. Baseball may have the better history and basketball may possess the superior athletes, but neither can make 20 million Americans care about a game between teams from Jacksonville and Buffalo like football can.
It was a rough summer for the NFL. Labor disputes almost cancelled the season, but the owners and players set aside their differences and remembered how much fun it is to make money and play football.
It kicks off in a couple weeks with the thrilling match-up between New Orleans and Green Bay. Lambeau will be rocking on what promises to be a sweltering forty-degree Wisconsin night. That begins a seventeen-week regular season full of hard hits, blistering runs and sensational holding penalties. It all leads to the Super Bowl: A spectacle that will be watched by an estimated 356 trillion people.
It’s a wonder if, on that summer day in Canton, the men who created the NFL knew that their sport would become the juggernaut that it has. They probably couldn’t foresee fantasy football, as the thought of adults feverishly keeping track of arbitrary statistics so they can brag to their buddies on message boards would have depressed them too much.
They couldn’t have imagined television, let alone millions of people receiving games via satellites onto their plasma screens, petting their robo-dogs while they watch.
One thing is for sure: They were ready for some football.