In early January, the St. Louis Rams announced they were moving back to Los Angeles after leaving 22 years ago. Los Angeles, despite being a large media market for the NFL, has not had a team since the Rams left and has been looking to relocate or create a team there. Moves, mergers, and name changes within the NFL are not uncommon. Fifteen teams of the 32 have moved or changed their name at least once over the NFL’s 96-year history.
The NFL began in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association and was renamed the National Football League in 1923. Only three of today’s 32 current teams existed in the NFL’s first year: the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals (then known as the Chicago Cardinals), and the Chicago Bears (then known as the Decatur Staleys). The map below shows the changes that have happened since then, including all of the relocations, name changes, and league entrances for all current NFL teams.
Player salaries and the league itself were small for the first two decades of professional football. Between 1920 and 1940, the league grew from only 3 to 9 teams. Then, in 1943 and 1944, the league shrunk. A shortage of players due to World War II caused some teams had to temporarily merge for a season or two. In 1943, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers merged to form the Steagles. The Pittsburgh Steelers temporarily merged again in 1944, but this time with the Chicago Cardinals to form a team called Card-Pitt.
After World War II, the league rebounded and experienced a major growth spurt in 1960. During this season, the league almost doubled in size from 12 teams to 21 teams. Teams that joined the league that season include the New England Patriots (then known as the Boston Patriots), Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets (then known as the New York Titans), and Kansas City Chiefs (then known as the Dallas Texans). After 1960, an additional 10 teams were added to the league, beginning with the Minnesota Vikings in 1961 and ending with the Houston Texans in 2002.
A Look at Moves and Name Changes
Quite a few teams have changed cities and/or names throughout their tenure in the NFL. The teams tied for the most relocations are the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams, with three moves each. The Arizona Cardinals also have changed their name more than any other team – five times.
The Arizona Cardinals began as the Chicago Cardinals in 1920 and remained in Chicago until 1959, with an exception in 1944 when the team merged with Pittsburgh to become Card-Pitt. In 1960, the team moved to St. Louis and shared a name with the city’s professional baseball team. Finally, in 1988, the Cardinals found their current home in Arizona’s capital and became the Phoenix Cardinals. In 1994, the team was renamed the Arizona Cardinals.
The Los Angeles Rams started in Cleveland in 1936. Ten years later, the team moved to Los Angeles for the first time, staying there for almost 50 years before leaving in 1994. From 1995 until earlier this year, the Rams were located in St. Louis.
In January 2016, NFL owners approved the move back to Los Angeles for the 2016 season. The return to California was prompted by stadium and attendance issues in St. Louis and the fact that L.A. is a large and currently unused market for the NFL. The San Diego Chargers or Oakland Raiders may also move back to L.A. for similar reasons. The NFL has also considered moving or expanding teams into other large markets, including San Antonio or Toronto.