|National Football League|
|CEO||Roger Goodell (Commissioner)|
|No. of teams||32, divided into two sixteen-team conferences, each of which consists of four four-team divisions.|
|Most recent champion(s)||New England Patriots|
The National Football League (NFL) is the largest and most prestigious professional American football league, consisting of thirty-two teams from United States cities and regions. The league's teams are divided into two conferences: The American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). Each conference is then further divided into four divisions consisting of four teams each, labeled North, South, East, and West. During the league's regular season, each team plays sixteen games over a seventeen-week period, generally from September to December. At the end of each regular season, six teams from each conference play in the NFL playoffs, a twelve-team single-elimination tournament that culminates with the NFL championship, the Super Bowl. This game is held at a pre-selected site which is usually a city that hosts an NFL team. One week later, selected all-star players from both the AFC and NFC meet in the Pro Bowl, currently held in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Super Bowl is the most watched event in America every year and Super Bowl weekend has become an almost unofficial national holiday.
The NFL was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association and adopted the name National Football League in 1922. The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States, and has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world, averaging over 67,000 spectators per game.
The game of American Football was created in 1876 by Walter Camp, often referred to as the father of American Football. As time elapsed, on November 12, 1892, Yale All-America guard William (Pudge) Heffelfinger was paid $500 by the AAA to play in a game against the PAC, becoming the first person to be paid to play football. In 1899, Chris O'Brien formed a neighborhood team, which played under the name the Morgan Athletic Club, on the south side of Chicago. The team later became known as the Normals, then the Racine (for a street in Chicago) Cardinals, the Chicago Cardinals, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals, and, in 1994, the Arizona Cardinals. The team remains the oldest continuing operation in pro football.
The road to modern football was a difficult one. There were various attempts at forming the National Football League. The first such one was in 1902, and was somewhat successful. However, due to complete disorganization, players were able to move from one team to another without any restrictions. The highest bidder would earn their services. Not only this, but dramatic rising salaries and the use of players still in college conflicted with many of the goals of the league. This in turn, forced people to think about a league in which all players would be bound to similar restrictions and rules.
The American Professional Football Association was founded in 1920 at a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio. Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe was elected president. The group of eleven teams, all but one in the Midwest, was originally less a league than an agreement not to rob other teams' players. In the early years, APFA members continued to play non-APFA teams.
In 1921, however, the APFA began releasing official standings, and the following year, the group changed its name to the National Football League. The Chicago Bears of present day also came to existence in 1922. However, the NFL was hardly a major league in the 1920s. Teams entered and left the league frequently. Franchises included such colorful representatives as the Providence Steam Rollers, the Decatur Staleys, and the LaRue, Ohio Oorang Indians, an all-Native Americans in the United States outfit that also put on a performing dog show.
1926 marked the rise and fall of the American Football League. After failing to get star Red Grange a five-figure contract and a third part in ownership, Grange's manager, C.C. Pyle broke away from the National Football League and formed the American Football League (AFL). Unfortunately, this experience fell apart as the AFL folded at season's end. In 1926, a rule was passed that prohibited college students from signing whose class had not yet graduated.
It seemed as though football would remain an experiment, a dream in the making forever. Yet as former college stars like Red Grange and Benny Friedman began to test the professional waters, the pro game slowly began to increase in its popularity. One factor in the league's rising popularity was the institution of an annual National Football League championships in 1933, and the forming of two divisions to create structure in the National Football League.
The Packers won an unprecedented third consecutive title, beating out the Spartans, who were led by rookie backs Earl (Dutch) Clark and Glenn Presnell.
Up till now, there had been no real racial barriers. However, in 1933, black players disappeared from the NFL. Not surprisingly enough, this occurred just after the acceptance of Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall, who effectively dissuaded other NFL owners from employing black players until the mid-forties. In fact, he kept blacks off his team (which eventually became the Washington Redskins) until he was forced to integrate by the Kennedy administration in 1962.
1939 marked the existence of the Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl is a game to honor the league's All-Star players who have performed at the highest level. Initially, it was a game featuring the championships team against a group of the league's best individual players. The first Pro Bowl game took place at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles, on January 15, 1939. The title winners, New York Giants, defeated the Pro Bowl All-Stars 13-10.
In the same year, an NFL game was televised for the first time when NBC broadcast the Brooklyn Dodgers-Philadelphia Eagles game from Ebbets Field to the approximately 1,000 sets then in New York.
Green Bay defeated New York 27-0 in the NFL Championship Game, December 10 at Milwaukee. NFL attendance exceeded 1 million in a season for the first time, reaching 1,071,200.
The beginning of the decade saw Elmer Layden appointed as the first commissioner of the NFL on March 1, 1940; Storck, the acting president, resigned, April 5, 1940. The NFL headquarters were also moved to Chicago during the year.
The contract of Commissioner Layden was not renewed, and Bert Bell, the co-owner of the Steelers, replaced him on January 11, 1946. Bell moved the league headquarters again: from Chicago to the Philadelphia suburb of Bala-Cynwyd.
The racial barrier for African-Americans was broken when halfback Kenny Washington (March 21, 1946) and end Woody Strode (May 7, 1946) signed with the Los Angeles Rams to become the first African-Americans to play in the NFL in the modern era. Guard Bill Willis (August 6, 1946) and running back Marion Motley (August 9, 1946) joined the AAFC with the Cleveland Browns.
By the end of World War II, pro football began to rival the college game for fans' attention. The spread of the T formation led to a faster-paced, higher-scoring game that attracted record numbers of fans. In 1945, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, California, becoming the first big-league sports franchise on the West Coast. In 1950, the NFL accepted three teams from the defunct All-America Football Conference, expanding to thirteen clubs.
In the 1950s, pro football finally earned its place as a major sport. Slowly, but surely, the sport was rising in popularity. The NFL embraced television, giving Americans nationwide a chance to follow stars like Bobby Layne, Paul Hornung, Otto Graham, and Johnny Unitas. The 1958 NFL championship was played in Yankee Stadium and drew record TV viewership, making national celebrities out of Unitas and his Baltimore Colts teammates as Don Ameche scored the winning touchdown in overtime in one of the more exciting championship games ever played. It came at precisely the right moment to spur greater fan interest. That same year, the league changed its name from National Football League to National-American Football League. This change, however, lasted only three months before it reverted back to the original National Football League (NFL).
In addition, the Pro Bowl game that had been dormant since 1942 was revived under a new format. It matched the all-stars of each conference at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The American Conference defeated the National Conference 28-27, January 14, 1951.
The sudden-death overtime rule was used for the first time in a pre-season game between the Rams and Giants at Portland, Oregon, August 28, 1955. The Rams won 23-17 three minutes into overtime.
The 1956 was a season of changes. It marked the founding of the National Football League (NFL) Players Association. CBS became the first network to broadcast some NFL regular-season games to selected television markets across the nation.
The decade closed with the creation of a rival league on August 22, 1959. For the fourth time, the American Football League was created to rival the National Football League by Lamar Hunt.
The AFL adopted the two-point option on points after touchdowns on January 28, 1960. A no-tampering verbal pact, relative to players' contracts, was agreed to between the NFL and AFL, February 9, 1960. The NFL owners voted to allow the transfer of the Chicago Cardinals to St. Louis, March 13, 1960.
Later, the AFL signed a five-year television contract with ABC, June 9, 1960. The Boston Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills 28-7 before 16,000 at Buffalo in the first AFL preseason game, July 30, 1960. The Denver Broncos defeated the Patriots 13-10 before 21,597 at Boston in the first AFL regular-season game, September 9 of the same year.
In 1961, the Houston Oilers defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 24-16 before 32,183 in the first AFL Championship Game, January 1. Detroit defeated Cleveland 17-16 in the first Playoff Bowl, or Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, between second-place teams in each conference in Miami, January 7, 1961.
The Western Division defeated the Eastern Division 47-27 in the first AFL All-Star Game, played before 20,973 in San Diego, January 7, 1962.
The rise of professional football was so fast that by the mid-1960s, it had surpassed baseball as Americans' favorite spectator sport in some surveys. When the NFL turned down Lamar Hunt's request to purchase either an existing or expansion NFL franchise, he formed the rival American Football League (AFL), in 1960. He encouraged, wheedled, and cajoled seven other like-minded men to form this new league. The group of the eight founders of the AFL teams was referred to as the "Foolish Club." One of them, fellow Texan Bud Adams of Houston, Texas, had likewise tried but failed to be granted an NFL franchise. Hunt's goal was to bring professional football to Texas and to acquire an NFL team for the Hunt family.
The AFL introduced features that the NFL did not have, such as wider-open passing offenses, players' names on their jerseys, and an official clock visible to fans so that they knew the time remaining in a period (the NFL kept time by a game referee's watch, and only periodically announced the actual time). The newer league also secured itself financially after it established the precedents for gate and television revenue sharing between all of its teams, and network television broadcasts of all of its games. While the NFL virtually ignored small and historically black colleges as a source of player talent, the AFL actively recruited from such schools and AFL teams installed blacks at positions from which they were tacitly excluded in the NFL, such as quarterback and middle linebacker.
The AFL also forced the NFL to expand: The Dallas Cowboys were created to counter Hunt's AFL Dallas Texans (AFL) franchise. The Texans moved the franchise to Kansas City as the Chiefs in 1963; the Minnesota Vikings were the NFL franchise given to Max Winter for abandoning the AFL; and the Atlanta Falcons franchise went to Rankin Smith to dissuade him from purchasing the AFL's Miami Dolphins.
The ensuing costly war for players between the NFL and AFL almost derailed the sport's ascent. By 1966, the leagues agreed to AFL-NFL Merger as of the 1970 season. The ten AFL teams joined three existing NFL teams to form the NFL's American Football Conference. The remaining thirteen NFL teams became the National Football Conference. Another result of the merger was the creation of an AFL-NFL Championship game that for four years determined the so-called "World Championship of Professional Football." After the merger, the then-renamed Super Bowl became the NFL's championship game.
Green Bay earned the right to represent the NFL in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game by defeating Dallas 34-27, January 1, 1967. The same day, Kansas City defeated Buffalo 31-7 to represent the AFL. The Packers defeated the Chiefs 35-10 before 61,946 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the first game between AFL and NFL teams, January 15, 1967. The winning players' share for the Packers was $15,000 each, and the losing players' share for the Chiefs was $7,500 each. The game was televised by both CBS and NBC. In fact, this game was later known as the first "Super Bowl," or Super Bowl I.
The "sling-shot" goal post and a six-foot-wide border around the field were made standard in the NFL, February 22, 1967.
The AFL established a playoff format for the 1969 season, with the winner in one division playing the runner-up in the other, January 11, 1969. An AFL team won the Super Bowl for the first time, as the Jets defeated the Colts 16-7 at Miami, January 12, 1969 in Super Bowl III. The title Super Bowl was recognized by the NFL for the first time.
Kansas City defeated Minnesota 23-7 in Super Bowl IV at New Orleans, January 11, 1970. The gross receipts of approximately $3.8 million were the largest ever for a one-day sports event.
Four-year television contracts, under which CBS would televise all NFC games and NBC all AFC games (except Monday night games) and the two would divide televising the Super Bowl and AFC-NFC Pro Bowl games, were announced, January 26, 1970.
Art Modell resigned as president of the NFL, March 12, 1970. Milt Woodard resigned as president of the AFL, March 13, 1970. Lamar Hunt was elected president of the AFC and George Halas was elected president of the NFC, March 19, 1970.
The Super Bowl trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi trophy on September 10, 1970, as a tribute to the man who changed the face of professional football. Lombardi passed away after losing his fight with cancer.
Baltimore defeated Dallas 16-13 on Jim O'Brien's 32-yard field goal with five seconds to go in Super Bowl V at Miami, January 17, 1971. The NBC telecast was viewed in an estimated 23,980,000 homes, the largest audience ever for a one-day sports event.
Pittsburgh defeated Dallas 21-17 in Super Bowl X (1976) in Miami. The Steelers joined Green Bay and Miami as the only teams to win two Super Bowls; the Cowboys became the first wild-card team to play in the Super Bowl. The CBS telecast was viewed by an estimated 80 million people, the largest television audience in history. The 1970s would be dominated by the Steelers, who would win four Super Bowls.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the NFL solidified its dominance as America's top spectator sport and its important role in American culture. The Super Bowl became an unofficial national holiday and the top-rated TV program most years. Monday Night Football, which first aired in 1970 brought in high ratings by mixing sports and entertainment. Rules changes in the late 1970s ensured a fast-paced game with lots of passing to attract the casual fan.
The founding of the United States Football League in the early 1980s was the biggest challenge to the NFL in the post-merger era. The USFL was a well-financed competitor with big-name players and a national television contract. However, the USFL failed to make money and folded after three years.
In recent years, the NFL has expanded into new markets and ventures. In 1986, the league began holding a series of pre-season exhibition games, called American Bowls, held at international sites outside the United States. Then in 1991, the league formed the World League of American Football, (the recently defunct NFL Europa), a developmental league with teams in Germany and the Netherlands.
Although no team is based in a foreign country, NFL teams now play a number of games in other countries. For example, Mexico hosted an NFL regular-season game, a 2005 game between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals known as "Fútbol Americano", and 39 international preseason games were played from 1986 to 2005 as part of the American Bowl series. The Jacksonville Jaguars began playing one home game a year at Wembley Stadium in London, England in 2013 as part of the NFL International Series. The Buffalo Bills played one home game every season at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as part of the Bills Toronto Series from 2008 to 2013.
In the early years, the league was not stable and teams moved frequently. Franchise mergers were popular during World War II in response to the scarcity of players.
Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late 20th century when a vastly more popular NFL, free from financial instability, allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. While owners invariably cited financial difficulties as the primary factor in such moves, many fans bitterly disputed these contentions, especially in Cleveland (the Rams and the Browns), Baltimore (the Colts), Houston (the Oilers) and St. Louis (the Cardinals), each of which eventually received teams some years after their original franchises left (the Browns, Ravens, Texans and the Rams respectively). However, Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States, has not had an NFL team since 1994 after both the Raiders and the Rams relocated elsewhere.
As of 2006, The NFL season features:
The season concludes with a 12-team tournament used to determine the teams to play in the Super Bowl. The brackets are made up of six teams from each of the league's two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC), following the end of the 16-game regular season:
The 3 and the 6 seeded teams, and the 4 and the 5 seeds, face each other during the first round of the playoffs, dubbed the Wild Card Playoffs (the league in recent years has also used the term Wild Card Weekend). The 1 and the 2 seeds from each conference receive a bye in the first round, which entitles these teams to automatically advance to the second round, the Divisional Playoff games, to face the Wild Card survivors. In any given playoff round, the highest surviving seed always plays the lowest surviving seed. And in any given playoff game, whoever has the higher seed gets the home field advantage.
The two surviving teams from the Divisional Playoff games meet in Conference Championship games, with the winners of those contests going on to face one another in the Super Bowl.
The television rights to the NFL are the most lucrative and expensive rights not only of any American sport, but of any American entertainment property. With the fragmentation of audiences due to the increased specialization of broadcast and cable TV networks, sports remain one of the few entertainment properties that not only can guarantee a large and diversified audience, but an audience that will watch in real time.
Annually, the Super Bowl often ranks among the most watched shows of the year.
Under the current television contracts, which began during the 2006 season, regular season games are broadcast on five networks: CBS, Fox Broadcasting Company, NBC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. Regionally shown games are broadcast on Sundays on CBS and FOX, carrying the AFC and NFC teams respectively (the traveling team deciding the broadcast station in the event of inter-Conference games). These games generally air at 1:00 p.m. ET and 4:00 p.m. or 4:15 p.m. ET. Nationally televised games include NBC Sunday Night Football, ESPN Monday Night Football, the Thursday night NFL Kickoff Game, the annual Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day games, and, as of 2006, select Thursday and Saturday games on the NFL network, a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Football League.
Additionally, satellite broadcast company DirecTV offers NFL Sunday Ticket, a subscription based package, that allows most Sunday daytime regional games to be watched. This package is exclusive to DirecTV in the U.S. In Canada, NFL Sunday Ticket is available on a per-provider distribution deal on both cable and satellite.
Each NFL team has its own radio network and employs its announcers. Nationally, the NFL is heard on the Westwood One Radio Network, Sports USA Radio Network and in Spanish on Univision Radio and the United Stations Radio Network. Westwood One carries Sunday and Monday Night Football, all Thursday games, two Sunday afternoon contests and all post-season games, including the Pro Bowl. Sports USA Radio broadcasts two Sunday afternoon games every Sunday during the regular season.
The NFL also has a contract with Sirius Satellite Radio, which provides news, analysis, commentary and game coverage for all games, as well as comprehensive coverage of the draft and off-season on its own channel, Sirius NFL Radio.
Internet radio broadcasts of all NFL games are managed through FieldPass, a subscription service. Radio stations are, by rule, prohibited from streaming the games for free from their Web sites; however, there are numerous stations that break this rule. The NFL on Westwood One and the NFL on Sports USA Radio are not available on FieldPass.
Every year during April, each NFL franchise seeks to add new players to its roster through a collegiate draft known as the "NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting," which is more commonly known as the NFL Draft.
Teams are ranked in inverse order based on the previous season's record, with the worst record picking first, and the second worst picking second and so on. The two exceptions to this order are made for teams that appeared in the previous Super Bowl; the Super Bowl champion always picks 32nd, and the Super Bowl loser always picks 31st.
The draft proceeds for 7 rounds. Rounds 1–3 are run on Saturday of draft weekend, rounds 4–7 are run on Sunday. Teams are given a limited amount of time to make their picks. If the pick is not made in the allotted time, subsequent teams in the draft may draft before them.
Teams have the option of trading away their picks to other teams for different picks, players, cash, or a combination thereof. While player-for-player trades are rare during the rest of the year (especially in comparison to the other major league sports), trades are far more common on draft day.
The first pick in the draft is often taken to be the best overall player in the rookie class. This may or may not be true, since teams sometimes select players based more on needs, or signability than on overall skill. Still, it is considered a great honor to be a first-round pick, and a greater honor to be the first overall pick. The very last pick in the draft is known as Mr. Irrelevant, and is the subject of a dinner in his honor in Newport Beach, California.
Drafted players may only negotiate with the team that drafted them (or to another team if their rights were traded away). The drafting team has one year to sign the player. If they do not do so, the player may reenter the draft and can be drafted by another team.
The NFL steroid policy has been acclaimed by some and criticized by others, but the policy is the longest running in professional sports, beginning in 1987. The current steroid policy of the NFL suspends players without pay who test positive for banned substances as it has since 1989: Four games for the first offense (a fourth of the regular season), eight games for a second offense (half of the regular season), and 12 months for a third offense. The suspended games may be either regular season games or playoff games.
In comparison to the steroid policies of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, the NFL has long been the most strict. While recently MLB and the NHL decided to permanently ban athletes for a third offense, they have long been resistant to such measures, and random testing is in its infancy.
Since the NFL started random, year-round tests and suspending players for performance enhancing drugs it has caught many more players using drugs. By April 2005, 111 NFL players had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, and of those 111, the NFL suspended 54. Only two NFL players have ever tested positive more than once, and they both retired.
There are 32 NFL teams. Each club is allowed a maximum of 55 players, though nearly every team keeps only 53 on their final roster in case of injury, during the regular season. Unlike Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, the league has no teams in Canada largely because of the historical existence of the Canadian Football League.
Most major metropolitan areas in the United States have an NFL franchise; the notable exception is the Los Angeles area, from which both the Raiders and Rams relocated following the 1994 season. The NFL is able to utilize the possible relocation of a franchise to Los Angeles as leverage, for example when trying to persuade local governments to contribute to the cost of new stadiums for its other franchises.
Since the 2002 season, the teams have been aligned as follows:
|American Football Conference|
|AFC East||Buffalo Bills 1||New Era Field||Orchard Park (town), New York|
|Miami Dolphins 7||Hard Rock Stadium||Miami Gardens, Florida|
|New England Patriots 2||Gillette Stadium||Foxborough, Massachusetts|
|New York Jets 3||MetLife Stadium||East Rutherford, New Jersey|
|AFC North|North||Baltimore Ravens||M&T Bank Stadium||Baltimore, Maryland|
|Cincinnati Bengals 8||Paul Brown Stadium||Cincinnati, Ohio|
|Cleveland Browns||FirstEnergy Stadium||Cleveland, Ohio|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Heinz Field||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|AFC South||Houston Texans||NRG Stadium||Houston, Texas|
|Indianapolis Colts||Lucas Oil Stadium||Indianapolis, Indiana|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||EverBank Field||Jacksonville, Florida|
|Tennessee Titans 4||Nissan Stadium||Nashville, Tennessee|
|AFC West||Denver Broncos 1||Sports Authority Field at Mile High||Denver, Colorado|
|Kansas City Chiefs 5||Arrowhead Stadium||Kansas City, Missouri|
|Los Angeles Chargers 6||StubHub Center||Carson, California|
|Oakland Raiders 1||Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum||Oakland, California|
|National Football Conference|
|NFC East||Dallas Cowboys||AT&T Stadium||Arlington, Texas|
|New York Giants||MetLife Stadium||East Rutherfeild, New Jersey|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Lincoln Financial Field||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Washington Redskins||FedEx Field||Landover, Maryland|
|NFC North||Chicago Bears||Soldier Field||Chicago, Illinois|
|Detroit Lions||Ford Field||Detroit, Michigan|
|Green Bay Packers||Lambeau Field||Green Bay, Wisconsin|
|Minnesota Vikings||U.S. Bank Stadium||Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|NFC South||Atlanta Falcons||Mercedes-Benz Stadium||Atlanta, Georgia|
|Carolina Panthers||Bank of America Stadium||Charlotte, North Carolina|
|New Orleans Saints||Mercedes-Benz Superdome||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Raymond James Stadium||Tampa, Florida|
|NFC West||Arizona Cardinals||University of Phoenix Stadium||Glendale, Arizona|
|Los Angeles Rams||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum||Los Angeles, California|
|San Francisco 49ers||Levi's Stadium||Santa Clara, California|
|Seattle Seahawks||CenturyLink Field||Seattle, Washington|
Electronic Arts publishes an NFL video game for current video game consoles and for PCs each year, called Madden NFL, being named after former coach and current football commentator John Madden, who commentates the game along with Al Michaels. Prior to the 2005–2006 football season, other NFL games were produced by competing video game publishers, such as 2K Games and Midway Games. However, in December 2004, Electronic Arts signed a five-year exclusive agreement with the NFL, meaning only Electronic Arts will be permitted to publish games featuring NFL team and player names. This prompted video game developer Midway Games to release a game in 2005 called Blitz: The League, with fictitious teams such as the "Washington Redhawks," and make references to NFL players such as the Washington Redhawks' left-handed QB "Ron Mexico," alluding to Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons, who allegedly used the alias at a walk-in clinic. In August 2006, Madden 07 was released with Seattle running back Shaun Alexander on the cover. In August 2007, Madden NFL 08 will be released with Vince Young on the cover.
In the NFL, players wear uniform numbers based on the position they play. The current system was instituted into the league on April 5, 1973, as a means for fans and officials (referees, linesmen) to more easily identify players on the field by their position. Players who were already in the league at that date were grandfathered, and did not have to change their uniform numbers if they did not conform. Since that date, players are invariably assigned numbers within the following ranges, based on their primary position:
Prior to 2004, wide receivers were allowed to only wear numbers 80–89. The NFL changed the rule that year to allow wide receivers to wear numbers 10–19 to allow for the increased number of players at wide receiver and tight ends coming into the league. Prior to that, players were only allowed to wear non-standard numbers if their team had run out of numbers within the prescribed number range. Perhaps most familiar to fans, Keyshawn Johnson began wearing number 19 in 1996 because the New York Jets had run out of numbers in the 80s.
Occasionally, players will petition the NFL to allow them to wear a number that is not in line with the numbering system. Brad Van Pelt, a linebacker who entered the NFL in the 1973 NFL season with the New York Giants, wore number 10 during his 11 seasons with the club, despite not being covered by the grandfather clause. In 2006, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush petitioned to the NFL to let him keep the number 5 which he used at University of Southern California. His request was later denied. Former Seattle Seahawks standout Brian Bosworth attempted such a petition in 1987 (to wear his collegiate number of 44 at the linebacker position), also without success.
It should be noted that this NFL numbering system is based on a player's primary position. Any player wearing any number may play at any position on the field at any time (though players wearing numbers 50–79 must let the referee know that they are playing out of position by reporting as an "ineligible number in an eligible position"). Normally, only players on offense with eligible numbers are permitted to touch the ball by taking a snap from center, receiving a hand-off or catching a pass. It is not uncommon for running backs to line up at wide receiver on certain plays, or to have a large lineman play at fullback or tight end in short yardage situations. Also, in preseason games, when teams have expanded rosters, players may wear numbers that are outside of the above rules. When the final 53-player roster is established, they are reissued numbers within the above guidelines.
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