With the Super Bowl not played until 1967 and the NFL-AFL merger not taking place until 1970 to form the NFL in its current form, some fans may not realize that the NFL originally was formed in 1920. Only three current NFL teams existed at that time, and neither of the two that were NFL members had their current names. While the NFL has come a long way from an era with leather helmets, NFL teams in Canton (now the location of the Football Hall of Fame), Dayton and Akron , Ohio and regular-season ties multiple times a season for some teams, its history is still an integral part of its image.
For these ten teams, their history has included name changes, moves and years of painful droughts, but also several Super Bowls or other NFL championships. The Hall of Fame is filled with players from these ten teams, some of whom have defined their positions for years to come. This list also reveals how the AFL-NFL merger is still an integral part the way, as nine of the ten teams on this list are currently in the NFC – three in the NFC West, three in the NFC North and three in the NFC East. One of them even dates back to 1898, before the invention of the airplane or the production of the Ford Model T. Whether or not your favourite team is on this list, one of the teams on this list has likely impacted yours in some way, and the teams on this list helped to shape the league in ways that have affected your team of choice.
T10. Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers: 1946
The current iteration of the Browns was not created until 1999, but the original version of the team was founded by businessman Arthur MacBride in the now-defunct All-America Football Conference. After the league folded, however, the Browns became NFL members in 1950. In their early years they were one of football’s most dominant teams, winning the AAFC in four consecutive years from 1946-1949 and then the NFL Championship in 1950, 1954, 1955 and 1964. Since the creation of the Super Bowl, however, the Browns have never played in a championship game. In 1995, the original Browns franchise moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens, but left the Browns identity in Cleveland for the future expansion team. While the team is most closely associated with original coach Paul Brown and legendary running back Jim Brown, the team name is actually shortened form of Brown Bombers, the nickname of iconic boxer Joe Louis.
The 49ers were the first team in the four major sports leagues to play in the state of California, and were named after the 1849 California gold rush. Like the Browns, the 49ers were also originally an AAFC team, becoming a regular member of the NFL in 1957. Though the team was the first to win three consecutive division titles after the AFL-NFL merger, from 1970-1972, their greatest years came under coach Bill Walsh, quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young and wide receiver Jerry Rice in the 1980s and early 1990s. During that era, the team won five Super Bowls from 1981-1994.
9. Cleveland/Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams: 1937
While the Rams have played in three different cities, they have also won a championship in each one. The team was founded in 1937 by an attorney, Homer Marshman, who borrowed their name from Fordham University in New York and another separate Cleveland Rams football team that had existed in 1936. A group that included famous comedian and frequent Oscar host Bob Hope later bought the team in the early 1940s, and after they won their first championship in 1945, they moved the team to Los Angeles in 1946.
In their first season there, the Rams signed the first two African-American players in the post-Second World War NFL, and then painted the Rams horns on their helmets to create the first modern helmet design in 1948. They won a second championship in 1951, but did not win a championship again for several decades. They did have several Hall of Fame players, however, like Deacon Jones, Jack Youngblood and Merlin Olsen throughout the 1960s and 70s. In 1979, the team moved to Anaheim Stadium, instead of the former LA Coliseum, and then moved again in 1995 to their current location in St. Louis. In the 1999 season, the “Greatest Show on Turf,” led by Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Orlando Pace, won Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans, their most recent championship.
T7. Philadelphia Eagles, 1933
The Eagles chose their name to commemorate the Blue Eagle logo that symbolized President Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration to lead America out of the Great Depression. Becoming immediate members of the NFL, they won three NFL Championships in 1948, 1949 and 1960 but have not won a Super Bowl, despite making two appearances in 1980 and 2004. The 1960 team was also the only team in history to defeat the Packers while coached by Vince Lombardi, in the playoffs.
T7. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1933
The Steelers name derives from Pittsburgh’s status as one of America’s most prominent steel manufacturers and, like the Eagles, the team has played their entire franchise history in the same city. The only current AFC member on this list, the team has had two major periods of success. Under coach Chuck Noll and quarterback Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers won four Super Bowls from 1974 to 1979, and two more with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the 2005 and 2008 seasons. The Steelers have a reputation as one of the most stable franchises in NFL history, as the team has only had three different coaches since 1969 (Noll from 1969-1992, Bill Cowher from 1992-2007 and Tomlin from 2007 to the present).
In 1943, with the league suffering from player shortages as many men served overseas in the Second World War, the two teams merged for one season and were known as the Steagles.
6. Boston Braves/Boston Redskins/Washington Redskins: 1932
Originating as the Boston Braves, the team took on its current name in 1933, one year into its existence, before moving to Washington in 1937. The team won the NFL Championship in 1937 and 1942, before going on to win three Super Bowls under the coaching of Joe Gibbs in 1982, 1987 and 1991. The team’s name has currently come under significant controversy, as many feel it is highly offensive to First Nations communities across North America, but team owner Dan Snyder has so far declined to consider a team name change seriously, claiming the team’s history is closely associated with its name.
The team was synonymous with racism even before recent years, however, as former owner George Marshall influenced NFL owners to ban African-American players from 1933-1945 throughout the league, and did not desegregate his own team until the 1960s. While changing the name of a team that has existed for over 80 years is not to be taken lightly, the derogatory nature of the team’s name and history should override all other considerations and needs to be changed to remain respectful to all. The balance between change and maintaining a team’s history is not easy, but is necessary in this case.
5. Portsmouth Spartans/Detroit Lions: 1930
Starting as the Portsmouth Spartans, the team did not move to Detroit until 1934. They have won four NFL Championships in 1935, 1952, 1953 and 1957, but have not appeared in a Super Bowl game. The team also has the dubious distinction as the only NFL franchise to ever have an 0-16 season in 2008. The team’s current colour scheme has remained intact since 1930, with the exception of a brief experimentation with maroon uniforms in 1948. One of the NFL’s oldest franchises, their fans will be hoping that current superstar Calvin Johnson can do what former running back Barry Sanders could not, and lead them to their first Super Bowl appearance in team history and their first NFL championship appearance since the Eisenhower era.
4. New York Giants: 1925
The Giants were one of five teams introduced into the NFL in 1925, but were the only one to survive into the modern era. Winning four NFL Championships in 1927, 1934, 1938 and 1956 and four NFL Super Bowls in 1986, 1990, 2007 and 2011, the Giants are the third-most successful franchise in the league’s history. It is also impressive to note that, unlike teams like the Steelers or 49ers, the Giants have never had a sustained championship, instead winning championships in seven different decades. Their 16 division championships have also been equally split into the pre-Super Bowl and post-Super Bowl eras, winning eight in each.
3. Green Bay Packers, 1921
The Packers play in the smallest professional market of any of the major North American sports teams, yet have thrived when many of their bigger-market competitors have struggled. Named after Curly Lambeau’s Indian Packing Company, and playing as an informal company team for two years before becoming a professional team, they have also become connected to Wisconsin’s cheese industry and developed a fanbase nicknamed the Cheeseheads. After joining the NFL in 1921, they won nine NFL championships in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961, 1962, 1965, won the first two Super Bowls in 1966 and 1967 and won two more in 1996 and 2010. Vince Lombardi coached the team from 1959-1967, winning five championships, and later had the Super Bowl trophy named after him.
2. Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears, 1920
The Bears and Packers are age-old rivals, having played each other nearly 200 times since their first game against each other in 1921, two years after the two teams were first formed in 1919. The Bears currently lead the overall matchup 93-89-6.
The Bears were originally formed as the Decatur Staleys, established by the Staley food starch company as a company team in 1919, but then became an independent professional organization in 1920 moved to Chicago in 1921 to become the Chicago Staleys. The team changed their name to the Bears in 1922. They were one of the founding members of the NFL and won eight NFL Championships in 1921, 1932, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946 and 1963, but have won only one Super Bowl, in 1985. They have often been known for their strong team defense, and first nicknamed the “Monsters of the Midway” in the 1940s, a former nickname of the University of Chicago.
1. Morgan Athletic Club, Racine/Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals: 1898
The oldest football team in the NFL, the Cardinals are now in their third century of existence. The team started off as the Morgan Athletic Club in Chicago’s South Side, and gained the nickname Cardinals in 1901. They spent the majority of their existence in Chicago, before moving to St. Louis in 1959 and to Arizona for the 1988 season. Along with the Bears, they are one of the two original founding members of the NFL remaining. They have, however, been far less successful than the Packers, Bears or Giants, winning just two championships in their team’s history, in 1925 and 1947, both in the pre-Super Bowl era. Aside from being featured in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, their greatest moment in recent memory came when Kurt Warner led them to Super Bowl XLIII in January 2009, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers.