Sept. 17, 1920 -- The Founding of the NFL

History Published on : 1/1/2005
The meeting was held in the Hupmobile auto showroom of Canton Bulldogs owner Ralph Hay, which was located in the Odd Fellows Building (above). Though the building has been razed, the site is now identified with a historical marker.

First known as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) and later renamed the NFL in 1922, the league's first president was Jim Thorpe. Without a doubt the most famous athlete of his time, Thorpe helped add credibility to the sport. While not front-page news in 1920, the league's formation was the start of a journey that has made the NFL this country's favorite sport.

Pro football began in 1892 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when former Yale star William "Pudge" Heffelfinger was paid a notable sum of $500 to play in a single game for the Allegheny Athletic Association on November 12. For nearly the next three decades, pro football faced its ups and downs as the game was played primarily in small towns throughout western Pennsylvania and the Midwest.

"Baseball is America's pastime, but football is truly America's passion." --Howie Long, July 29, 2000

Many problems plagued the game of pro football with increasing regularity. The need for a sense of order brought these men, which among others included George "Papa Bear" Halas, together in Canton to form the first professional football league. Eleven franchises were represented at the meeting: Canton Bulldogs, Decatur Staleys, Chicago Cardinals, Akron Pros, Cleveland Indians, Dayton Triangles, Massillon Tigers, Hammond Pros, Muncie Flyers, Rock Island Independents, Rochester Jeffersons.

The original meeting minutes from September 17, 1920 are housed in the Hall of Fame's archives. (click image to enlarge)

The first matter of business was Massillon's withdrawal from professional football for the 1920 season. The team never joined the NFL. However, by season's start, the membership also included the Buffalo All-Americans, Chicago Tigers, Columbus Panhandles, and Detroit Heralds. Only two of the franchises still exist today. The Decatur Staleys moved to Chicago in 1921 and were renamed the Bears one year later. The Chicago Cardinals franchise now calls Arizona home.


 first game featuring a team from the APFA was played at Douglas Park in Rock Island, Illinois. The Independents were victorious as they rolled to a 48-0 win over the St. Paul Ideals.

One week later, two league teams battled head-to-head for the fist time. The Dayton Triangles shutout the Columbus Panhandles, 14-0 in Triangle Park.

The Akron Pros, with an 8-0-3 regular season record, were crowned the league's first champion.