Origin of NFL Teams: 1922-Present

The National Football League (NFL) was formed in 1922 out of the American Professional Football Association (APFA), which was founded in 1920.

The Chicago Cardinals were founded by Chris O’Brien in 1898, using the name Cardinals starting in 1901.  In 1920, the Cardinals became charter members in the APFA, joining the NFL in 1922.  In 1960, the team moved to St. Louis for 28 years.  In 1988, the Cardinals moved to Phoenix; in 1994, the team started calling themselves the Arizona Cardinals.

The Green Bay Packers were founded in 1919 by George Calhoun and Curly Lambeau, joining the APFA in 1921 and the NFL in 1922.

The Chicago Bears were founded in 1920 by George Halas, who helped form the APFA, as the Decatur Staleys.  In 1922, he joined the NFL, after moving the team to Chicago in 1921 and calling them the Bears in 1922.

The Philadelphia Eagles joined the NFL in 1933 with owners Bert Bell and Lud Wray being awarded the remnants of the Frankford Yellow Jackets that went bankrupt in 1931.

The New York Giants, owned by Tim Mara, joined the NFL  in 1925.

The Detroit Lions started out in the NFL as the Portsmouth (OH) Spartans in 1930.  Owner George Richards moved the team to Detroit in 1932, calling them the Lions.

The Washington Redskins, founded by George Preston Marshall, joined the NFL in 1932 as the Boston Braves.  In 1933, he changed their name to the Redskins and in 1937, he moved them to Washington, D.C.

The Pittsburgh Steelers joined the league in 1933 as the Pirates.  Owner Art Rooney changed their name to the Steelers in 1940.

The Cleveland Rams started out in the American Football League (of the 1930’s) in 1936, joining the NFL in 1937.  They moved to Los Angeles in 1946 and they moved again in 1995 to St. Louis.

The San Francisco 49ers started out in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946, joining the NFL in 1950.

The Cleveland Browns were a charter member of the AAFC in 1946 under Paul Brown, joining the NFL in 1950.  After team owner Arthur B. Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, calling them the Ravens, a new Cleveland Browns franchise rejoined the NFL in 1999.

The Baltimore Colts started out as the Miami Seahawks of the AAFC when, in 1947, they moved to Baltimore as the Colts.  In 1950, they joined the NFL, but after a 1-11 season they disbanded.  In 1952, the Dallas Texans joined the NFL, replacing the New York Yanks. After one season, with the second half being played on the road only, the Dallas Texans were purchased by a civic group from Baltimore, led by Carroll Rosenbloom. For the 1953 season, they were again called the Colts.

The Dallas Cowboys joined the NFL in 1960 as an expansion team.

The Buffalo Bills became a charter member of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960 under founder Ralph C. Wilson, joining the NFL in the merger of the two leagues in 1970.

The New England Patriots were a charter member of the AFL in 1960 as the Boston Patriots.  After joining the NFL in 1970, they moved to Foxboro, MA in 1971, calling themselves the New England Patriots.

The New York Jets started out as the New York Titans, a charter member of the AFL, in 1960.  In 1963, they changed their name to the Jets, joining the NFL in 1970.

The Tennessee Titans started out as the Houston Oilers, a charter member of the AFL, in 1960 and joined the NFL in the merger of 1970.  In 1997, they moved to Memphis, TN and in 1998 they moved again to Nashville, TN, calling themselves the Titans.

The Denver Broncos joined the AFL as a charter member in 1960.  They later joined the NFL in the merger in 1970.

The Kansas City Chiefs started out as the Dallas Texans, a charter member of the AFL, in 1960, moving to Kansas City, MO as the Chiefs in 1963.  They later joined the NFL in 1970.

The Oakland Raiders joined the AFL as a charter member in 1960, joining the NFL in the merger in 1970.  In 1982, they moved to Los Angeles, only to move back to Oakland in 1995.

The San Diego Chargers started out as the Los Angeles Chargers, a charter member of the AFL in 1960, under the ownership of Barron Hilton.  They moved to San Diego in 1961, joining the NFL in 1970.

The Minnesota Vikings joined the NFL in 1961 as an expansion team.

The Atlanta Falcons joined the NFL in 1966 as an expansion team.

The Miami Dolphins joined the AFL in 1966 as an expansion team by founders Joseph Robbie and Danny Thomas.  They later joined the NFL in the merger of 1970.

The New Orleans Saints joined the NFL in 1967 as an expansion team.

The Cincinnati Bengals joined the AFL in 1968 as an expansion team under the direction of Paul Brown, joining the NFL in the merger of 1970.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the NFL in 1976 as an expansion team.

The Seattle Seahawks also joined the NFL in 1976 as an expansion team under the ownership of John Nordstrom.

The Carolina Panthers joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1995 under owner Jerry Richardson.

The Jacksonville Jaguars also joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1995.

The Baltimore Ravens started out as the Cleveland Browns, when Owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore in 1996, calling them the Ravens.

The Houston Texans joined the NFL as an expansion team in 2002 under owner Robert McNair.

44 Responses to Origin of NFL Teams: 1922-Present

  1. brian says:

    Trying to locate reproduced patch from old boston bulldogs 1929 hope someone can help

    • foreshock says:

      Hello Brian,
      Thanks for viewing my blog and for asking for help on your search for the Boston Bulldogs 1929 patch. The Boston Bulldogs played for only the 1929 season and then folded before the 1930 season. The Bulldogs were in reality the Pottsville Maroons who relocated after the 1927 season and were inactive for the 1928 season.

      Perhaps they did not design a patch for that year, since they were the Maroons before and they folded after one season? Have you heard of or seen a patch, logo, or flyer with the bulldog design before? Hopefully, I or somebody else will come across it in our search for info on the early NFL. I will keep my eyes open for anything related to a patch from the 1929 Bulldogs.

      Best regards, Greg

    • michael Helo says:

      thats a good one bryan

  2. Joannie M. says:

    My Grandfather was Bert “Birdie” Maher. He played for the Detroit Herald in 1920. I am looking for any photos or info on the team. If anyone can help.

  3. […] my grandmother’s eye or either a thorn in her side; depending upon which day it was. J  But the National Football League, what we call the NFL, was founded in the early 1900s.  Back then, the sport was very different.  […]

  4. Marie Buller says:

    I’m in my late eighties, I remember seeing movies of football games,the uniforms were very scant, little padding, in the nineteen thirties and fourties. The games were not as violent and we didn’t hear about any serious injuries like today. Why? And can we go back to the old game rules of those years?

  5. George says:

    Just stumbled on your site, it’s awesome. I like history and very much like the NFL so this is a great combination; I have followed the since I was a child. Also I have heard of the Boston Bulldogs but I have yet to see a logo. Hope you find it.

  6. One thing missing here: the current Cleveland Browns started in 1999 and retain ownership of the legacy and records of the original Browns (now the Ravens) as part of the injunction the city of Cleveland got against Modell when he moved the old Browns to Baltimore. Otherwise, this is a great intro to how each team got into the NFL. Bookmarking.

  7. Terry S. says:

    Thanks for the information. Because of all the controversy over the Redskins, I was wondering about the origin of other team names.

  8. Jeff Lakin says:

    No mention of the Indianapolis Colts in the history. It start “The Indianapolis Colts started as the Miami Seahawks, moved to Baltimore as the Colts and then moved to Indianapolis in 1984 by owner Robert Irsay.

    • Rich Little says:

      The Miami Seahawks were in Florida in for one year in the AAFC in the 1940s, they moved to Baltimore as the Colts and were one of 3 teams that the NFL accepted in the 1949/50 merger. The Browns & 49ers were the other two. The Colts of Baltimore folded after one year and the NFL started a teams in Dallas; after a 1-11 season the Dallas franchise was moved to Baltimore for the 1953 season. Baltimore did not have an NFL team in 1951.

  9. person says:

    In between dallas cowboys and Cleveland Browns they have the Baltimore colts, It’s not in bold, but it’s there

  10. tommy allen says:

    Looking to see if I can find any info on the Beden Redwings during the 1920’s. Mydad told me my Grand father played Guard for them and sometimes played full back for short yardage needs. His nam was William Allen he went by buck all his life I was told in football they called him the Iron Horse. I have a picture of him in uniform with 3 other players but no team insignia. Any ino will be apreciated

  11. Braxton McMahan says:

    You forgot to mention the Cleveland Browns joining the league again as an extension team in 1999 when the city of Cleveland sued the Baltimore Ravens for the rights to the name and any championships won when the Ravens were the Browns, which resulted in the city of Cleaveland winning. But other than that very accurate.

  12. Ra says:

    No mention of the Providence SteamRollers

  13. john t. says:

    I have a program from the 1926 Hartford blues who were in the NFL for one year. john t.

  14. Bill F. says:

    So who would be considered the NFL Charter teams? I was asked by my grandson and my guess is: Cardinals, Packers, Bears, Eagles, and Giants. Any input?

    • foreshock says:

      That would be correct Bill, along with several other teams that are no longer in operation. After these teams, the NFL added the Redskins, the Lions, the Steelers and the Rams before WW II.

      • Bill F. says:

        OOPS! After closer checking of dates, If the NFL was established in 1922 Charter means only those teams, Then that would include only Cards, Packers and Bears. the others joined in 1924 and after.

  15. CARLO HINES says:


  16. Seamac507 says:

    I am a panthers fan but I have always had a nagging empty feeling about the NFC South . Now I realize why.. all the teams, Atlanta , NO, Carolina and Tampa are all expansion teams. There are no classic ‘old school teams’ in the division and it is the only division solely made up of the new expansion teams (save possibly the AFC South if you think the Indy Colts are “newbie”).. I want to trade our spot in the the NFC south with Dallas or Miami.

  17. Nice info. We live in Massillon OH. PAUL Brown was from here and is buried in the cement art behind our home. So we are giant football fans. These info is informative and cool. Thanks for thia. We enjoyed reading it after Sunday dinner.

  18. leek says:

    I bet no one knows the cardinals is the oldest team

  19. Melissa says:

    Great info, always wondered were all the teams originated from but it looks like your saying the Dallas Texans spawned two teams. The Baltimore Colts, know in Indianapolis, and the Kansas City Chiefs. Is that correct?

    • foreshock says:

      Sort of…the first Dallas Texans team that became the Baltimore Colts was part of the NFL. In 1960, the new Dallas Texans joined the upstart AFL before moving to Kansas City as the Chiefs.

  20. justisquenzer says:

    did the bears ever won a super bowl back in the day

  21. Dan M. says:

    I always like to show the origin of the Patriots to my friends so I can convince them that New England isn’t a country

  22. Matthew Donnelly says:

    Baltimore Colts relocated to Indianapolis for the 1984 season after Colts owner Robert Irsay’s feud with the city of Baltimore over a new football only stadium. Still remember the images of the Mayflower trucks pulling away in the snow in the still dark early morning hours headed for Indianapolis.

    • Francis groover says:

      The indy Colts went to retire johnny unitis jersey and he said no because he wasn’t a indy Colt he was a Baltimore colt

  23. Vinnie Tripi says:

    You forgot to mention that the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis

  24. Nick says:

    Cool man it’s almost 1:30 in the morning and came across this while watching a rerun of the 2012 Super Bowl with the Giants and the Patriots I really enjoyed reading it it was awesome huge Eagles fans I never knew that they were called The Yellow Jackets before the Eagles

  25. Lexi says:

    The cardinals were not frist it was the packers and bears

    • foreshock says:

      The Cardinals were in the NFL in it’s first year, 1920, along with the Decatur Staley’s (who weren’t called the Bears until 1922). The Packers didn’t join the NFL until 1921.

  26. Francis groover says:

    Thank you for your blog. I learned so much of how the teams came to be. It seems like the nfl was much simpler back then

    • Will says:

      The NFL does NOT recognize the Frankford franchise as a “continuation” for the Eagles of Philadelphia.

      The Yellow-Jackets officially folded after the 1931 season. Then on July 9, 1933, the NFL granted an “expansion franchise” to Bert Bell and Lud Wray, and awarded them the remains of the Yellow Jackets organization.

  27. ronald andras says:

    Does anyone have a logo of the Pontiac Arrows (semi-pro team) that the Detroit Lions had to use their quarterback because of the Lions quarterback injuries .
    thanks , Ron Andras , Harper Woods , Michigan
    P.s , i love your web site

  28. ronald andras says:

    reference to the Detroit Lions, back in the 1950’s the Lions needed a quarterback because all of their quarterbacks were hurt .The Lions went to a semi -pro team in the Pontiac area and signed from the “Pontiac Arrows ” their quarterback and his name was Karl Sweetan . Question : I don’t remember how long Karl Sweetan played for the Detroit Lions . I’m 80 years years old and i remember him .
    thanks , Ron Andras , Harper Woods , Michigan

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