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NFL History

In its first four years of operation, the National Football League (originally the American Professional Football Association) was chosen by a vote of team owners at their post-season meeting in February of the following year.

In 1924, the league decided that its season would begin on Sept 27 and end on Nov. 30, and that the championship would be based on the best winning percentage of all games played between league teams within that time period. Only wins and losses counted; a tie was simply ignored, as if the game had never been played.

That led to an odd situation in 1932, when the Green Bay Packers won 10 of their 14 games, but lost 3 and tied 1. The Chicago Bears had a 6-1-6 record and the Portsmouth Spartans were 6-1-4. Under today's system, in which a tie counts as half a win and half a loss, the Packers would have had their fourth straight championship. But with tie games left out of the formula, the Bears and Portsmouth were tied for first place with .857 winning percentages and the Packers were third .769.

The result was the first playoff game, and probably the strangest game of any kind, in NFL history. Scheduled for Dec. 18 Comiskey Park, the Bears' home field, the playoff had to be moved indoor, to Chicago Stadium, because of heavy snow. The field was only 80 yards long-60 yards from goal line to goal line-and 45 yards wide.

The Bears won the game, 9-0. Much more important, there was so much public interest in a post-season championship that the league decided to have one every year. For the 1933 season, the NFL was reorganized into the East and West Divisions, each with its own champion, and a post-season game to determine the league champion.

That simple but effective playoff system remained in place until 1967, when the NFL expanded to 16 teams and realigned into four divisions, two in each conference. That required playoffs between division champions to determine the conference championships.

The American Football League, founded in 1960, used the NFL's format for its first nine seasons, with two divisions and a league championship game between the division champions. In 1969, the last year of its existence, the AFL instituted a four-team playoff. In the first playoff round, the first-place team from each conference played the second-place team from the other conference, with the winners meeting for the championship.

In 1970, the AFL merged into a new, bigger NFL, made up of the American and National Football Conferences. Each conference was split into three divisions. Partly because a three-team playoff is unwieldy and partly to create more fan interest in the regular season, the NFL added something new to the playoff mix: a wild-card, the team with the best record among those that finished second in their divisions.

When the NFL grew to 28 teams in 1978, a second wild-card team was added. From 1990 through 2001, there have been three wild-card teams from each conference. Since 2002, when the NFL expanded to 32 teams, there have been eight divisions of four teams each. The division champions and two wild-card teams from each conference now advance to the playoffs.

Because of the 57-day strike by players in 1982, an unusual playoff format was used that season. There were only nine regular season games, and eight teams from each conference entered the 15-game playoff tournament.

NFL Champions 1920-69
Year Champion Record Head Coach
1920 Akron Pros 6-0-3 Fritz Pollard /Elgie Tobin
1921 Chicago Staleys 9-1-1 George Halas
1922 Canton Bulldogs 10-0-2 Guy Chamberlin
1923 Canton Bulldogs 11-0-1 Guy Chamberlin
1924 Cleveland Bulldogs 7-1-1 Guy Chamberlin
1925 Chicago Cardinals 11-2-1 Norm Barry
1926 Frankford Yellow Jackets 14-1-2 Guy Chamberlin
1927 New York Giants 11-1-1 Earl Potteiger
1928 Providence Steamroller 6-1-2 Jimmy Conzelman
1929 Green Bay Packers 12-0-1 Curly Lambeau
1930 Green Bay Packers 10-3-1 Curly Lambeau
1931 Green Bay Packers 12-2-0 Curly Lambeau
1932 Chicago Bears* 7-1-6 Ralph Jones
Season Result Winning Coach
1933 Chicago Bears 23, New York Giants 21 George Halas
1934 NY Giants 30, Chicago Bears 13 Steve Owen
1935 Detroit Lions 26, New York Giants 7 Potsy Clark
1936 Green Bay Packers 21, Boston Redskins 6 Curly Lambeau
1937 Washington Redskins 28, Chicago Bears 21 Ray Flaherty
1938 New York Giants 23, Green Bay Packers 17 Steve Owen
1939 Green Bay Packers 27, New York Giants 0 Curly Lambeau
1940 Chicago Bears 73, Washington Redskins 0 George Halas
1941 Chicago Bears 37, New York Giants 9 George Halas
1942 Washington Redskins 14, Chicago Bears 6 Ray Flaherty
1943 Chicago Bears 41, Washington Redskins 21 Hunk Anderson/Luke Johnsos
1944 Green Bay Packers 14, New York Giants 7 Curly Lambeau
1945 Cleveland Rams 15, Washington Redskins 14 Adam Walsh
1946 Chicago Bears 24, New York Giants 14 George Halas
1947 Chicago Cardinals 28, Philadelphia Eagles 21 Jimmy Conzelman
1948 Philadelphia Eagles 7, Chicago Cardinals 0 Greasy Neale
1949 Philadelphia Eagles 14, Los Angeles Rams 0 Greasy Neale
1950 Cleveland Browns 30, Los Angeles Rams 28 Paul Brown
1951 Los Angeles Rams 24, Cleveland Browns 17 Joe Stydahar
1952 Detroit Lions 17, Cleveland Browns 7 Buddy Parker
1953 Detroit Lions 17, Cleveland Browns 16 Buddy Parker
1954 Cleveland Browns 56, Detroit Lions 10 Paul Brown
1955 Cleveland Browns 38, Los Angeles Rams 14 Paul Brown
1956 New York Giants 47, Chicago Bears 7 Jim Lee Howell
1957 Detroit Lions 59, Cleveland Browns 14 George Wilson
1958 Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17 (OT) Weeb Ewbank
1959 Baltimore Colts 31, New York Giants 16 Weeb Ewbank
1960 Philadelphia Eagles 17, Green Bay Packers 13 Buck Shaw
1961 Green Bay Packers 37, New York Giants 0 Vince Lombardi
1962 Green Bay Packers 16, New York Giants 7 Vince Lombardi
1963 Chicago Bears 14, New York Giants 10 George Halas
1964 Cleveland Browns 27, Baltimore Colts 0 Blanton Collier
1965 Green Bay Packers 23, Cleveland Browns 12 Vince Lombardi
1966 Green Bay Packers 34, Dallas Cowboys 27 Vince Lombardi
1967 Green Bay Packers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17 Vince Lombardi
1968 Baltimore Colts 34, Cleveland Browns 0 Don Shula
1969 Minnesota Vikings 27, Cleveland Browns 7 Bud Grant