The 10 Oldest NFL Teams
The National Football League is a global brand, and the league’s biggest game, the Super Bowl, had a global viewership of around 150 million in 2023. This is a far cry from the humble beginnings of the NFL over 100 years ago.
In this article, we will explore the history of the NFL and discover the 10 oldest NFL franchises, tracing their origins back to the league’s early days.
Original NFL Teams
The NFL was formed in 1920 under the American Professional Football Association (APFA) name. The league was renamed the National Football League (NFL) in 1922.
There were 14 teams in the inaugural APFA season:
- Akron Pros
- Buffalo All-Americans
- Canton Bulldogs
- Chicago Cardinals
- Chicago Tigers
- Cleveland Tigers
- Columbus Panhandles
- Dayton Triangles
- Decatur Staleys
- Detroit Heralds
- Hammond Pros
- Muncie Flyers
- Rochester Jeffersons
- Rock Island Independents
Just two of the teams that played in this first season have been ever present in APFA or NFL history; the Chicago Cardinals (now Arizona Cardinals) and the Decatur Staleys (now Chicago Bears).
The Oldest NFL Franchises
Let’s look at the oldest NFL franchises and their histories in more detail.
Arizona Cardinals (1920)
The origins of the Arizona Cardinals can be traced back to 1898 Chicago and an amateur team called “Morgan Athletic Club”. The team would soon change names to the Chicago Cardinals, and by the time the NFL was formed in 1920, they were an established name in MidWestern professional football.
The Cardinals joined 13 other teams to make up the first American Professional Football Association season in 1920, paying a $100 franchise fee to join. Despite several renamings and relocations, the team has been ever-present in the NFL since its formation.
The team has been renamed seven times since 1899 and has been called the Racine Normals (1899–1900), Racine Cardinals (1901–1906; 1913–1919), Chicago Cardinals (1920–1943, 1945–1959), Card-Pitt (1944), St. Louis Cardinals (1960–1987), Phoenix Cardinals (1988–1993) and finally the Arizona Cardinals since 1994. Despite being the oldest team in NFL history, the Cardinals have won just two NFL championships and have never won the Super Bowl.
Chicago Bears (1920)
The Chicago Bears were known initially as the Decatur Staleys, and they played against the Chicago Cardinals in the first APFA season in 1920. They have played in every NFL since, making them the joint oldest NFL franchise with their former Chicago rivals.
Like most original NFL teams, the Staleys were formed by the owner of a local company, A. E. Staley, and just a year after being founded, they joined what would become the NFL.
The franchise has been renamed three times, but unlike the Cardinals, it has never been relocated. The team has remained in Chicago since its formation. The franchise was known as the Decatur Staleys in 1920 and the Chicago Staleys in 1921 before being renamed to the Chicago Bears in 1922 – a name they have kept ever since.
Despite winning just one Super Bowl in 1985, the Bears enjoyed early success, winning eight NFL championships between 1921 and 1963.
Green Bay Packers (1921)
Formed in the same year as their rivals, the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers entered the NFL in its second season in 1921, making it the third oldest NFL franchise. The Packers also have their origins in business and take their name from the Indian Packing Company, which sold canned meat.
Green Bay has never relocated or changed names, and the franchise holds the distinction of being the sole NFL team owned by fans. The franchise is also the most successful in all NFL history, winning a combined 13 NFL Championships and SuperBowls since joining the league in 1921. The Pack has played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, since 1957 and boasts one of the best atmospheres in the NFL.
New York Giants (1925)
The New York Giants were founded in 1925 and joined the NFL in the same year. They are one of the oldest and most successful franchises in NFL history, sitting behind only the Packers and the Bears in total Championships or SuperBowls (8).
Despite being named after New York, the team has played in the neighboring state of New Jersey since 1976.
Detroit Lions (1930)
The Detroit Lions were originally called the Portsmouth Spartans and joined the NFL in 1930, one year after their formation. This makes them the fifth oldest franchise in NFL history, and like many other historic teams, its origins are based in the Midwestern United States. They were renamed the Detroit Lions in 1934 and have kept the name since.
Unfortunately, Lions fans do not have the storied history of many of their old rivals. They won four NFL championships between 1935 and 1957 but success has been elusive ever since. They have never appeared in a Super Bowl and made the playoffs just three times in the last twenty seasons.
Washington Commanders (1932)
Originally known as the Boston Braves, the Commanders are one of the oldest franchises in the NFL, having joined the league in 1932. The team was known as the Redskins from 1933 to 2020 but was renamed following public pressure due to the name’s racist connotations.
The team has been based in Washington D.C, since 1937 and has enjoyed a combined five championship or Super Bowl wins. However, Commanders fans haven’t enjoyed much success in recent times, as their last Super Bowl came in 1991.
Pittsburgh Steelers (1933)
The Pittsburgh Steelers joined the NFL in 1933, making them the sixth-oldest team in the league’s history. Originally known as the Pittsburgh Pirates, they were renamed the Steelers in 1940. They were briefly called the Phil-Pitt “Steagles” in 1943 and Card-Pitt in 1944 but reverted to the Steelers in 1945 – a name they have held since.
The Steelers are known for their dedicated fan base known as the “Steeler Nation,” and they play their home games at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers have been highly successful, especially since the start of the Super Bowl era in 1966. They have six Super Bowl victories, making them the fifth most successful franchise in NFL history.
Philadelphia Eagles (1933)
Like their rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Philadelphia Eagles joined the NFL in 1933, making them one of the oldest teams in history. Other than the brief merger with the Steelers (known as the Steagles) in 1943, the Eagles have had no other name changes or relocations in their history.
The Eagles fans were some of the most long-suffering in the history of the NFL, as the team didn’t win a Championship or Super Bowl from 1960 until 2017 when the team overcame Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
Los Angeles Rams (1936)
2022 Super Bowl champs, the LA Rams, have undergone several name changes and relocations since they joined the NFL as the Cleveland Rams in 1936. The team is one of the oldest in NFL history, but they have not been ever-present in the league, unlike every other team on this list.
The Rams did not play in the 1943 NFL season due to a shortage of players because of World War Two. The team restarted as the Cleveland Rams in 1944 before relocating to Los Angeles from 1946 to 1994, St. Louis from 1995 to 2015, before returning to Los Angeles Rams in 2016. The franchise has a combined four NFL Championship and Super Bowl wins, with the most famous coming in 2000 with the Rams team known as The Greatest Show on Turf.
Cleveland Browns (1950)
The Cleveland Browns were founded in 1944 and joined the NFL in 1946. Like the LA Rams, they are one of the oldest NFL teams but have not played in every season since joining.
The franchise suspended operations between 1996 and 1998 due to financial issues for the then-owner Art Modell. Despite Modell’s plans to move the Browns to Baltimore in 1995, the team has remained in Cleveland since it was formed.
The team enjoyed early success in the NFL, winning four championships between 1950 and 1964, but nothing since. The Browns have reached the playoffs just three times since 1994.
History doesn’t equal success
The oldest NFL franchises hold a special place in the hearts of football fans worldwide. Many football fans love teams like the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears because of their tradition and history.
Like most sports teams, these historic franchises have seen periods of success and rebuilding, but it’s clear from their respective records that history alone doesn’t equal success.