NFL Improved By Rival Leagues
As much as I love the National Football League, there are always improvements that could be made. Throughout its history, the NFL has usually performed as a stagnant organization, only making changes and improvements when forced to by competition.
The AFL of the 1960’s was a very successful league on it’s own, even before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. After the merger the NFL was an improved product, thanks in part to improvements inspired by or directly taken from the AFL. The AFL brought about more colorful jerseys and logos on helmets. The bulk of the AFL teams used a more wide open offense highlighted by deep passing attacks. Before the AFL started using a scoreboard clock to track the game time the NFL had kept time solely on a wristwatch of the head official, so the fans had no idea how much time was left in the game. Perhaps the idea put forth by the AFL that had the biggest impact on the NFL was revenue sharing; it was an AFL idea to have all team share equally their gate receipts and television money, thus establishing a more competitive field. Without the AFL coming along the NFL may not have improved in these or other ways.
When the USFL came forward in the mid 1980s, most people scoffed at the idea of another professional football league. While the USFL was not a success like the AFL over twenty years before, the NFL (although they’d never admit it) ended up improving its game by using ideas put out there by the USFL. The USFL used the two point conversion as an option after touchdowns were scored, much like the CFL, AFL, and college football; the NFL would take a few years to see the light but would eventually adopt the two point conversion. The USFL, like the World Football League of the 1970s, also showed that professional football could succeed in places like Tennessee and Jacksonville, Florida; the NFL would later expand to Jacksonville and allow the Oilers to relocate to Tennessee. The USFL also proved that Baltimore was hungry for a pro football team when the Baltimore Stars won the USFL championship in the league’s final year; this was the first pro football Baltimore had after losing their beloved Colts to Indianapolis in 1984, the NFL would later allow the Browns to relocate to Baltimore to become the Baltimore Ravens. One controversial rule that the USFL introduced, and one that was criticized heavily by both sports reporters and the NFL itself at the time, was the Instant Replay rule for reviewing controversial plays. The NFL resisted for a long time in adopting Instant Replay, many people say part of their issue was that the league didn’t want to give credibility to the USFL for anything; the rule was later added to the NFL and is now used in an almost identical way as it was used in the USFL.
Throughout history, whenever the NFL has been challenged by a rival league, almost always the end result has been a better National Football League. If you don’t count the poorly conceived XFL, it’s been a long time since the last viable football competition has stepped up against the NFL… maybe it’s time again.