The National Football League (NFL) playoffs begin this weekend. The games will be played in modern stadiums filled with tens of thousands of fans. They will have instant replays, Jumbotrons and lots of television cameras.
The NFL was not always like this. Let’s start the new year with some football history.
The league that became the NFL started in 1920. It was first called the American Professional Football Association (APFA). The APFA changed its name to the National Football League for the 1922 season.
During the early years, small-town teams such as the Frankford Yellow Jackets, Duluth Eskimos and Canton Bulldogs came and went. The number of teams in the NFL changed from year to year. For example, 22 NFL teams played during the season in 1926. In 1932, that number had dropped to eight.
Now the NFL sets the schedule for all of the teams, and each plays 16 regular-season games. Back in the early days, the teams made up their own schedules. As a result, some teams played many more games than others.
For years, there were no playoffs or championship games. In most cases, the team with the best record during the regular season was declared the NFL champion.
That changed in 1932. Both the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans finished the regular season with six wins and one loss.
So the NFL arranged a playoff game between the Bears and the Spartans on December 11 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (That’s where the Chicago Cubs baseball team still plays.)
The weather that week in Chicago was terrible: around zero degrees with snow. Bears owner George Halas asked the NFL to move the game indoors to the Chicago Stadium, where the Chicago Black Hawks hockey team played its games.
Chicago Stadium was not designed to handle football games. The field was only 60 yards long and 45 yards wide. (Regulation NFL fields are 120 yards long and 531 / 3 yards wide.)
So they made some changes for the game. For example, the teams kicked off from the 10-yard line, 30 yards from their usual spot, and there were no field goals allowed.
Worst of all, a circus had been held in the Chicago Stadium the week before. As a result, the dirt playing field had some smelly stuff left over from the horses and elephants.
The Bears beat the Spartans, 9-0. The only touchdown in the game was on a pass from Bronko Nagurski to Red Grange, both NFL legends.
So this year’s playoff games should be very different from that first one in 1932. For one thing, they should smell better.