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Sacco Sez: A look back as we start anew


The 2021 NFL season concluded with Super Bowl LVI, and the 2022 season is not yet upon us.

Broncos General Manager George Paton is getting ready for free agency and the draft. Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett has just about finished putting his staff together, surely all the while he and his family undoubtedly are just as busy with little details like a house to live in, moving vans from Green Bay, schools for the kids and so forth.

The press are busy speculating on matters like the draft and the quarterback position, not so much because something has changed, but more because their employment depends on it; hence those articles continue to appear.

Every team is 0-0, and that is a glorious time every year, with the hopes for each team in the NFL in a high place.

But when exactly did the setup of the NFL start to resemble what it looks like today?

I would say it was in 1933.

The NFL began in 1920 with 14 franchises in one league, with the championship awarded to the Akron Pros (won-loss record of 8-0), and teams still played schedules that included games against non-league opponents. Of those 14 teams, by the way, the last place team was the Muncie Flyers, who went 0-1 overall.

That was how the NFL looked in its earliest years and for much of its first 13 seasons. And then it decided to make significant changes.

"The NFL, which long had followed the rules of college football, made a number of significant changes from the college game for the first time and began to develop rules serving its needs and the style of play it preferred," the Pro Football Hall of Fame wrote. "The innovations from the 1932 championship game — inbounds line or hashmarks and goal posts on the goal lines — were adopted."

According to the league, the latter rules change resulted in a doubling of field goals and the reduction of tied games from 20 to five percent.

And the last change from that session was perhaps the most important. In a world that seems to be ruled by the passing game, this seems wild, but it was on Feb. 25, 1933 when the league legalized the forward pass from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.

The NFL also approved proposal to divide the NFL into two divisions, with the winner of each meeting in an annual championship game.

Among the three new franchises to join the league that year were two that would become legendary: the Pittsburgh Pirates owned by Art Rooney (of course, they became the Steelers over time) and the Philadelphia Eagles of Bert Bell, who later became commissioner of the NFL and stayed on until his death.

There have been innumerable changes in franchises since 1933, but that was the first year in which one could then look (or, today, look back) at the standings and see the NFL divided into divisions.

Today, every league has divisions, largely based on geography, with playoffs and playoff brackets at the end.

Americans love brackets, and that seems to be a concept that will be with us as long as there is sport.

Back in 1933, the Eastern Division included Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Redskins. The Western teams were the Chicago Bears, Portsmouth Spartans (later the Detroit Lions), Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cardinals.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1933, with the All-America Football Conference, the American Football League, a merger, expansion, games overseas and a technological revolution that has done much to remodel the game.

But the game is still the game — 11 vs. 11 with a football.

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