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The National Football League (NFL) was created with eleven teams in 1920 and was named the American Professional Football Association, then in 1922 the league changed it’s name to the National Football League. Interestingly, the NFL was the idea from legendary athlete Jim Thorpe, a player-coach of the Canton Bulldogs and Leo Lyons the owner of the Rochester Jeffersons (a sandlot football team). After Lyons’s Jeffersons lost to Thorpe’s Bulldogs in a 1917 match, Lyons wanted to build a sport that rivaled Major League Baseball in popularity. From there, he suggested to Thorpe that a football league be formed. League plans didn’t start until 1918, due to the Spanish flu and World War I.
The following year, Lyons started challenging a number of nearby teams from Buffalo and Ohio to play under a league style format. It was in the following year, 1920, at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, the league was formalized, originally as the American Professional Football Conference, initially consisting only of the Ohio League teams, although some of the teams declined participation. One month later, the league was renamed the American Professional Football Association, adding Buffalo and Rochester from the New York league, as well as Detroit, Hammond, and several other teams from nearby circuits. The eleven founding teams initially struck an agreement on an end-of-season champion. Thorpe was elected president of the league. During the first yea, only four of the founding teams finished the 1920 season and the undefeated Akron Pros claimed the first championship. League membership grew to 22 teams – including more of the New York teams – in 1921, but throughout the 1920s the membership was unstable and the league was not a major national sport. On June 24, 1922, the organization changed its title a final time to the National Football League.
Two charter members, the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) and the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) are still in existence. The Green Bay Packers franchise, founded in 1919, is the oldest team not to change locations, and did not begin league play until 1921. The Indianapolis Colts franchise traces its history through several predecessors, including one of the league’s founding teams – the Dayton Triagles. Although the original NFL teams representing Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit no longer exist, replacement franchises have since been established for those cities.