The NFL is making a big deal this year about celebrating its 100th anniversary. Given the momentous occasion, it’s worth pointing out that Columbus played a significant role in the early days of The League.
The NFL started out as the American Professional Football Association, in Canton. In 1922 it changed its name to the National Football League and moved its headquarters to Columbus. After several years of the league offices being housed in Columbus homes, the NFL and its Commissioner, the legendary Joe Carr, moved to a proper office building in downtown Columbus, at 18 East Broad Street — an office building I pass by regularly. In fact, the building is being refurbished, and one of the placeholder signs on the front the building, pictured with this post, commemorates its role in the NFL’s history. During that Jim Thorpe and Red Grange era, the League struggled financially, with franchises starting up and folding regularly, but it always had a strong Ohio connection. In 1927, there were NFL teams in Cleveland (the Bulldogs, not the Browns) and Dayton (the Triangles) and other small towns, like Duluth, Frankford, and Pottsville, so having the headquarters in Columbus made sense. The headquarters remained here until 1941, when they were moved to Chicago.
I suppose if you get to 100 you’ve got to celebrate the occasion, but as I watch some of the promotional materials the NFL has produced I wonder: is the League going to be around for another 100 years? With the players growing bigger and faster all the time, and serious injuries becoming more and more the norm — so much so that every year the League rolls out new rules and penalties to try to stem the tide of crippling concussions and devastating hits — how long can the NFL last? In years to come, a radically different NFL might look back very fondly on its innocent early years, when it found its home in Columbus.