5 Things You Didn’t Know: The NFL


Its season is shorter and has fewer scheduled games than any other major American pro sport; nonetheless, the NFL has a firm hold on the title of "national obsession" in the U.S. In fact, it’s a Sunday and Monday night (and sometimes Thursday night) ritual from September through early February for its tens of millions of fans.

As the nation’s top dog, the powerhouse league has faced more than its share of challengers through the years, all eager to get a piece of its hugely lucrative pie. They include the World Football League of the early 1970s, the USFL of the early ‘80s, Vince McMahon’s 2001 XFL, and (excluding the AFL of the 1960s) its toughest challenge, the All-America Football Conference of the 1940s -- none of which lasted beyond four seasons. The NFL has an impressive -- though not perfect -- winning record as the defendant in antitrust lawsuits, and its tremendous influence is slowly stretching beyond America’s vast and lucrative borders.

Without further ado, we present five things you didn’t know about the NFL.

1- The Redskins were the NFL’s last segregated team
By 1961, 13 of the league’s 14 teams had, to some degree, been desegregated and featured black players on their rosters. The one hold-out could be found in the nation’s capital. The Washington Redskins were the league’s last all-white team, and whether it was coincidental or not, they were also the worst (from 1959 through 1961, their record was 5-30). Team owner George Marshall had staunchly refused to desegregate, claiming he would do so when the Harlem Globetrotters hired white players. That all changed with the incoming presidential administration.

JFK had been elected, in part, thanks to his pro-civil rights platform, and having the league’s only all-white team in the nation’s capital was an eyesore for the administration. JFK, therefore, instructed his Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall, to threaten Marshall with federal retribution if the team didn’t hire black players; namely, they would be evicted from District of Columbia Stadium. In doing so, it became the first time in history that the federal government had attempted to desegregate a professional sports team.

2- The NFL scores forfeits 2-0
According to the official NFL rulebook, a forfeit occurs: “... when a game is not played because of the failure or refusal of one team to participate. In that event, the other team, if ready and willing to play, is the winner by a score of 2-0” (the points earned in a safety). Why a two-point safety? Because those points are the league’s only scores that are not credited to any one player.

This little-discussed rule is even less frequently applied, since dating back to 1920 there has been just one forfeit. Specifically, December 4, 1921, when the Rochester Jeffersons lost by forfeit to the Washington Pros/Senators. Since the league was just a year old and this rule was not yet established, the referee scored the game 1-0. No word on whose stats got padded with the point.

3- It was created in an automobile showroom
Organized professional football dates back to 1920 and a legendary meeting in Canton, Ohio. Fittingly, it featured a handful of former athletic standouts, such as George Halas and Jim Thorpe, hanging out in an automobile showroom, slamming beers and talking sports on a Friday night. Among other things, they settled on a name, the American Professional Football Association, and a membership fee, $100.

Since then, more than just the name has changed. Today, the NFL is a revenue juggernaut. According to Forbes, the mean value of the NFL’s 32 teams exceeds $950 million, making the NFL the world’s richest and most profitable professional sports league. It can further boast of having the world’s most valuable sports franchise, the Dallas Cowboys, valued at a cool $1.5 billion.

4- The origin and meaning of the 25 stars on the
NFL’s logo are unknown
The top portion of the league’s iconic logo, or ”shield,” has had 25 white stars against a blue background since the 1940s, and despite plenty of research on the part of the NFL’s brand and marketing operations, it is unknown precisely what they’re meant to represent. This is just one reason why the league has decided to revamp the logo.
The league’s new logo will debut at the draft in April of 2008. Overall, it’s been streamlined: It is thinner, the background at the top is a darker shade of blue, the font of the NFL letters has changed, the football image in the top middle now resembles the football atop the Lombardi trophy, and it features four larger stars on each side, denoting the league’s eight divisions.
5- No TV broadcast tapes of the first Super Bowl are
known to exist
The first Super Bowl following the merger between the NFL and the upstart AFL was a far cry from today’s extravaganza; it was so lowly regarded, and its outcome seemingly obvious to so many, that the 1967 game between Green Bay and Kansas City didn’t even sell out.

Nonetheless, since CBS held the broadcast rights for NFL games and NBC held it for AFL games, both networks covered Super Bowl I, making it the only pro football game to be simulcast on two networks until the New England Patriots-New York Giants game on December 29, 2007.

In a decision that accurately reflects the lack of interest and assumed historical importance of the game, both networks destroyed their televised tapes. As a result, the only known footage of Super Bowl I was shot by NFL Films, a production company that, until two years before the game, had been privately owned and operated under the name Blair Motion Pictures.

Searched
As the each New Year rolls around, there’s only one reason why the NFL is searched -- the Super Bowl. In the very early years, the Super Bowl was little more than a football game between conference champions that attracted football fans. Today, it is organized and marketed so effectively that tens of millions of rabid fans, and an untold number of non-fans, tune in for a variety of reasons. For example, 2007’s Super Bowl XLI featured entertainment by Cirque du Soleil, Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto, DJ Louie Vega, Billy Joel, and Prince, not to mention the phenomenon of the highly anticipated -- and increasingly expensive -- commercials that run during the game.

Interest
No surprise here: The NFL’s future with the public’s interest looks pretty well set. In 2006, the league signed six-year, multibillion dollar extensions with CBS, NBC and FOX, assuring about $2 billion in TV revenue per year until 2011. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has also hinted about granting a franchise outside the U.S. -- notably to Toronto or Mexico City -- further expanding the league’s fan base.

Additional public interest, albeit unwelcome, continues to come from the NFL’s status as the pro sports league with arguably the worst image problem in the U.S. -- thanks to the likes of Michael Vick, Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson.