Four Downs of Pro Football History - Founding of the NFL


  1. The NFL was originally founded as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) on Sept. 17, 1920 in Canton, Ohio. The first order of business at the organizational meeting was that the Massillon team sent word, through Canton Bulldogs owner Ralph Hay, they would not be joining the association. The new association’s teams’ representatives then unanimously elected Jim Thorpe, the Canton Bulldogs star, as their first president. Thorpe’s name recognition helped the national appeal of the upstart league.


  1. When news of the APFA’s founding was made public it had little fanfare. The top headline in the Canton Repository the next day was the Bulldogs signing of future Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Wilbur “Pete” Henry, while the birth of the new pro football league was relegated to page three. According to newspaper reports from the surrounding areas, the goals of the new venture would be to combat players' high salary demands, to keep players from jumping from team to team and to protect college eligibility by preventing college players from “moonlighting” with pro teams.


  1. The Racine (Chicago) Cardinals and the Decatur Staleys are the only two teams to attended the APFA’s organizational meeting and continue to operate in the NFL today. The Cardinals are now known as the Arizona Cardinals, while the Staleys moved from Decatur to Chicago and are known today as the Chicago Bears. While the meeting minutes stated a fee of $100.00 be charged for membership in the association in 1920, the Bears and Cardinals franchises were valued by Forbes in 2015 at $2.45 billion and $1.51 billion respectively.


  1. Apparently, Akron Pros’ manager and first secretary and treasurer of the APFA, Art Ranney wasn’t sure where the Cardinals played. The organizational meeting minutes mistakenly listed the Racine Cardinals, who played home games at Normal Park on Chicago’s Racine Avenue, as being from the Wisconsin city of the same name. The Cardinals franchise is the oldest continuously operating organization in pro football history. They trace their lineage back to 1898 when Chris O'Brien formed the Morgan Athletic Club.

The Extended Drive: There are eleven players, coaches and contributors enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame whose careers date back to when the NFL was known as the APFA. They are Joe Carr, Guy Chamberlin, Jimmy Conzelman, John “Paddy” Driscoll, Joe Guyon, George Halas, Wilbur “Pete” Henry, Earl “Curly” Lambeau, Fritz Pollard, Jim Thorpe and George Trafton.