American football truly became the fans game with the advent of live television broadcasts. The fast-paced action and central focus (the man with the ball) makes football the perfect sport for television. The first college football game to be televised was a September 1939 match up between Fordham University and Waynesburg College. (Trivia factoid: Fordham won 34-7.) Not quite a month later, a pro game between the Brooklyn Dodgers (yes, a football team) and the Philadelphia Eagles was broadcast via television. The Dodgers won that game 23-14. Suddenly fans who lived far away from where football was actually played could follow their teams.
We are the Champions
There’s just something about football that brings out the competitive nature of its players and its fans. At the end of the season, each team wants to be able to say, “We’re Number 1!”
Pro football has a pretty clear system for determining its champion. From 1920 to 1932, the champion was determined strictly by won-loss record. Beginning in 1932, a championship game was played at the end of each season between the top two teams. From 1960 to 1966, two pro football champions were named—one by the NFL and one by the rival American Football League.
When the leagues began a merger in 1966, the two league champions competed in a world championship game. On January 15, 1967, the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first of what we now call the Super Bowls. It wasn’t until the fifth championship game that the name Super Bowl was officially used.
Beginning in 1970, the newly merged league was divided into two conferences—the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. Conference champions are determined through a series of playoffs. The conference champions meet in the Super Bowl, one of the most widely watched sporting events in the world.
College has experimented with many systems for determining a national champion. Every year since 1869, a college football champion has been named using various polls or research foundations. The National Collegiate Athletic Association list no less than 34 separate polls and ranking systems that have been used to determine what some call the “mythical championship “ title. In many years, more than one team is named champion.
Currently, college teams compile points through a complicated system that looks at records, scores, polls, strength of schedule and the color of the coach’s eyes. (Just kidding on that last one—kind of.) The top teams as determined by this elaborate system are invited to Bowl Championship Series games with the system ideally matching up the first and second ranked teams. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out so smoothly and fans constantly debate who truly deserves the title of national champion.
As we said at the outset, American football has always been a confusing game.