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Football Explained: From Pro To Union

Instead of jumping too far forward, I wanted to provide a timeline of important events from the first pro football player to the founding of the NFL Players Association. This is redacted from Wikipedia, The History of Pro Football by Denis J. Harrington and other sources.

1892: The first known pro football player, William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, plays for the Allegheny Athletic Association. Formerly a legendary guard at Yale, Pudge was more ringer than pro, paid $500 to play one contest against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. His 35 yard fumble recovery touchdown was the decisive play in a riveting 4-0 victory.

1893: Grant Dibert signs the first professional football contract with the Pittsburgh Athletic Club.

September 3, the first professional game is played in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, between the Latrobe YMCA and the Jeannette Athletic Club. Latrobe wins, 12–0.

The Red and Black of Watertown, New York is founded; currently the oldest semiprofessional team in the United States.

1897: The Latrobe Athletic Association pays its players for the entire season, becoming the first fully professional football team.

The Morgan Athletic Club, on the South Side of Chicago, is founded. This team later became the Chicago Cardinals, and is currently the Arizona Cardinals, making them the oldest continuously operating professional football team. Go figure.

1902: The first known professional football league, known as the National Football League (not the same as the modern league) begins play.

Field goals are changed to 3 points, touchdowns are changed to 6.

Jim Thorpe signs with the Canton Bulldogs.

1919: Earl “Curly” Lambeau founds the Green Bay Packers.

1920: The league that would become the NFL, the American Professional Football Association, is founded in a car dealership.

1922: The APFA officially changes its name to the National Football League.

1925: The Galloping Ghost, Red Grange, makes his professional debut on Thanksgiving Day. The college legend helps legitimize the NFL and becomes its first superstar. Grange stars in two silent films "One Minute to Play" (1926) and "Racing Romeo" (1927).

1926: Grange’s agent, C.C. “Cash and Carry” Pyle, forms the first American Football League (AFL). The league would fold after one season.

The Chicago Bears, led by Bronko Nagurski, and the Portsmouth Spartans (later the Detroit Lions) end the season tied with the best records. To determine the champion, the league votes to hold its first playoff game. Because of cold weather, the game is held indoors at Chicago Stadium, forcing temporary rule changes. Chicago wins, 9–0.

1934: CBS Radio broadcasts the Thanksgiving game between the Bears and the Lions.

1935: Eagles’ owner Bert Bell suggests the first NFL draft.

A second AFL is formed.

The first Pro Bowl is played.

The NFL names its first commissioner, Elmer Layden.

1943: Player shortages lead to a merger by the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Steagles.

1944: The Steelers separate from the Eagles and merge with the Chicago Cardinals, forming the Carpets. No, I’m not making this up.

1946: Bert Bell is named commissioner.

1946: The Los Angeles Rams sign Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, the first African Americans players in the NFL.

Unlimited free substitutions are reinstated allowing for offensive and defensive specialist.

The LA Rams and Washington Redskins televise home games.

September 16, the Cleveland Browns formely of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), led by coach Paul Brown, and the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles, face off in the NFL opener. The Browns stomp the Eagles 35-10, in a match widely considered "not as close as it looked".

The Pro Bowl returns. Huzzah.

1956: The NFL Players Association forms.

. . .

That's all for today, I'll be back with something more substantial tomorrow.