NFL Franchise Dates of Entry From 1920 to 2002

NFL teams and referee on the field.

Keith Allison/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The National Football League has been around in some form or another and stoking its fans since 1920. It was the American Professional Football Association back then, and it included only 10 teams. The APFA became the NFL two years later on June 24, 1922, and expanded to 18 teams. The rest, as they say, is history. There are 32 NFL teams, and football enjoys the greatest yearly revenues of any American sport.

NFL Teams by the Year They Were Established

Here's a timeline of when and how teams came into the league. 

  • 1920: The Arizona Cardinals were the Chicago Cardinals from 1920 until 1959, then they moved to and played in St. Louis until 1987. The team moved to Phoenix from there and was known as the Phoenix Cardinals, until 1993 when it took its present name. 
  • 1921: The Green Bay Packers entered the league. 
  • 1922: The Decatur (Chicago) Staleys of the APFA became the Chicago Bears
  • 1925: The New York Giants were one of five teams admitted to the NFL in 1925. The other four (the Pottsville Maroons, the Detroit Panthers, the Canton Bulldogs, and the Providence Steam Roller) didn't survive. Providence lasted the longest, folding in 1931. 
  • 1930: The Portsmouth Spartans were sold and moved from Ohio to Detroit on June 30, 1934, after four years in the NFL. They're now the Detroit Lions. 
  • 1932: The Boston Braves relocated to the District of Columbia on July 9, 1932, and became the Washington Redskins a year later.
  • 1933: The Philadelphia Eagles, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Cincinnati Reds came into the league in 1933. That particular Cincinnati team didn't survive, folding a year later. The Pirates would become the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Eagles and Steelers would briefly become the Steagles in 1943 when they merged for one year after losing so many players to the military during World War II.
  • 1937: The team now known as the Los Angeles Rams has bounced all over. They entered the league as the Cleveland Rams before moving to Los Angeles in 1946, then to St. Louis in 1995, and finally back to L.A. in 2016. 
  • 1950: The Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers entered the NFL in 1950. 
  • 1953: The Indianapolis Colts entered the league in 1953 as the Baltimore Colts, then moved to Indianapolis in 1984. 
  • 1960: The Dallas Cowboys arrived in the NFL. 
  • 1961: The Minnesota Vikings entered the NFL. 
  • 1966: The Atlanta Falcons made their debut. 
  • 1967: The New Orleans Saints joined the NFL. 
  • 1970: This was an eventful year. The American Football Conference was formed on May 17, 1969, prompting the entry of several teams when the American Football League merged with the NFL: the New England Patriots (previously the Boston Patriots), the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Denver Broncos, the Houston Oilers, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders, and the San Diego Chargers. The San Diego team moved in 2017, becoming the Los Angeles Chargers. The Houston Oilers relocated to Tennessee in 1998 and played for two years as the Tennessee Oilers before becoming the Tennessee Titans in 1999. Also in 1970, the Super Bowl trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy on September 10, a week after Lombardi's death from cancer at age 57.
  • 1976: The Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the league. 
  • 1995: The Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars became NFL teams. 
  • 1997: The Baltimore Ravens joined the NFL.
  • 2002: The Houston Texans replaced the departed Houston Oilers as an expansion team.