Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

What The Original NFL Looked Like

Posted on December 22, 2016 by Martin Banks

The National Football League is rich with history. The league, formed in 1920, hosted a variety of teams, some dissolved or renamed prior to the league’s first Super Bowl in 1967. The fact that only two current NFL teams, the Decatur Staleys – now the Chicago Bears – and the Chicago Cardinals – now the Arizona Cardinals – were founding members of the league shows how considerable and diverse the NFL’s team-based history is.

From the Boston Braves to the Portsmouth Spartans, some early NFL teams are unknown among fans today, though it’s well worthwhile to dig back into history to see their uniforms, success and overall history to get a better grasp of the league’s evolution:

Chicago Cardinals

f21866_chicago_cardinalsThe Cardinals are the oldest team in the NFL, acquiring the Cardinals name in 1901 while starting as the Morgan Athletic Club in Chicago’s South Side. Although showing a strong performance in recent years, the franchise has mostly suffered, only winning championships in 1925 and 1947. Despite being the oldest team, they have yet to win a Super Bowl, their last opportunity coming in January 2009 in Super Bowl XLIII when losing to the Steelers.

The Cardinals’ logo featured their namesake, with a red shirt and beige pants.


Portsmouth Spartans


The first iteration of today’s Detroit Lions, the Portsmouth Spartans moved to Detroit in 1934. They have retained the same color scheme since 1930, so their appearance was the same as what you see on the Lions’ field today. Legends like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson have graced the uniform, though the team has not won a championship since 1957 and has yet to even appear in a Super Bowl game.

The Portsmouth Spartans built a tough reputation early on, highlighted by the famous iron man Green Bay game in 1932, when the Spartans coach did not make one substitution and won 19-0 with only 11 players. They also played the league’s first playoff game ever, on an 80-yard field due to a blizzard in Chicago. It was a notable year for the franchise, when they were nationally recognized upon their 1934 move.

Green Bay Packers

One of the league’s oldest and most successful franchises, the Packers joined the NFL in 1921 and never looked back, winning nine NFL championships prior to 1966 and 1967, when they won the first two Super Bowls. Vince Lombardi, the namesake of the league’s Super Bowl trophy, coached the team from 1959 to 1967 during this incredible era of success.


Cheeseheads is the name for the franchise’s passionate fans, connected to Wisconsin’s famous cheese industry. The Packers’ uniform history has evolved from a plain gold jersey with nine thin navy-blue stripes adorning the words Acme Packers to today’s green and gold/yellow hybrid emerging in the early ’50s, when the modern metallic gold helmet was also introduced. Vince Lombardi revamped the uniforms in 1959 after several changes, with the jersey then looking very similar to today’s.

Boston Braves/Redskins

The Washington Redskins name was born in 1933, when the Boston Braves moved to Washington. The franchise won championships in 1937 and 1942, also winning Super Bowls in 1982, 1987 and 1991 under legendary coach Joe Gibbs. Although there have been demands for a name change among some, team owner Dan Snyder has not budged, preserving the name and Indian-depicting logo, similarly to how it has existed for more than 80 years. The logo today is similar to how it was in 1933.


The team’s coloring and logo/mascot actually bears more resemblance to the original team’s outfitting today than it did in 1965 and 1970. Name controversy aside, the colors and general appearance remain mostly intact.

In addition to other historical longtime franchises like the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and often-changing Rams, the above franchises show a fascinating evolution among specific teams and the league in general.



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