The NFL started in 1920, teams came and went. That history would repeat itself in the 1930s and the 1940s. Stability finally occurred in the 1950s with the arrival of television. Television transformed North American sports. In 1950, Baseball, Boxing and Horse Racing were among the most popular sporting events in the country. Within 10 years, football, the NFL, would begin its ascent and by 1965 become the country's most popular sport.
In the old days, you could find Chicago Bears owner and coach George Halas at the Chicago Bears offices in the fall and part of winter, the rest of the year he would be in his Chicago sporting goods store. Andy Robustelli is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his work with the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants. Robustelli was a star with Los Angeles between 1951 and 1955 but requested a trade to New York because he could not be away from his thriving Stamford, Connecticut businesses and the Rams accommodated him. As Hall of Famer Artie Donovan once told me, his NFL of the 1950s bears absolutely no resemblance to today's NFL.
The National Football League was in the right place at the right time. There is no better TV game than football. A viewer can see everything as it develops on the field, the line of scrimmage, the quarterback handing off or passing the ball and the receiver catching it. It’s an easy game to watch and it didn't hurt that the New York Giants won a World's Championship in 1956 and played in the "Greatest Game of All Time" in 1958, losing in the NFL Championship game to Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. That game started the lasting love affair between Americans and football. The Giants became the darlings of Madison Avenue, led by the handsome Frank Gifford and football gained acceptance. By 1960, the CBS show "20th Century" hosted by Walter Cronkite caught the football bug. The CBS weekly documentary ran a program entitled, "The Violent World of Sam Huff." Huff, the Giants middle linebacker was profiled and miked during a pre-season game to give the viewers an inside look during an NFL game.
The move from the mom and pop operations, the old football families, the Maras in New York, the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, Halas in Chicago to today's corporate status did not come overnight. The NFL had to fend off a rival league between 1946-49, taking in three All American Football Conference franchises in 1950, and continued to be plagued by franchise failures until 1952. The NFL enjoyed some franchise success between 1953 and 1956 and started to make plans to expand with the goal of adding teams by 1961. The Giants-Colts 1958 Championship Game changed football. Dallas businessman Lamar Hunt, who struck out in his attempts to move the Chicago Cardinals to his home city talked to Houston businessman Bud Adams in 1959 about starting a rival league after Adams failed to purchase the Cardinals and move them to Houston. The new American Football League was born and all of a sudden, football took off.