Throughout the years, a number of teams in the National Football League (NFL) have either moved or merged.

In the early years, the NFL was not stable and teams moved frequently to survive, or were folded only to be resurrected in a different city with the same players and owners. The Great Depression era saw the movement of most surviving small-town NFL teams to the large cities to ensure survival. Franchise mergers were popular during World War II in response to the scarcity of players. Few of these relocations and mergers were accompanied with widespread controversy.

Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late 20th century when a vastly more popular NFL, free from financial instability, allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. Despite a Pete Rozelle promise to Congress not to relocate franchises in return for a law exempting the league from certain aspects of antitrust laws, making possible the AFL-NFL merger, several franchises have relocated in the years since the merger and the passage of the law (Public Law 89-800) which sanctioned it.

While owners invariably cited financial difficulties as the primary factor in such moves, many fans bitterly disputed these contentions, especially in Baltimore, St. Louis, and Cleveland, each of which eventually received teams some years after their original franchises left. However, Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States, has not had an NFL team since 1995 and the league is promoting an expansion there.[1] Another city that is often mentioned as a potential site for a moved franchise is Toronto, Ontario, the site of frequent speculation regarding a future franchise.

Additionally, with the increasing suburbanization of the U.S., the building of new stadiums and other team facilities in the suburbs instead of the central city became popular from the 1970s on, though at the turn of the 2000 millennium a reverse shift back to the central city became somewhat evident.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Teams making more significant moves, in chronological order[edit | edit source]

Quasi-moves: movement of more or less intact teams from one city to another[edit | edit source]

The NFL considers these separate franchises but there is significant continuity from one to the other

  • Canton Bulldogs: mothballed for the 1924 season when the owner of the Cleveland Bulldogs bought it and took the players and nickname to Cleveland. Franchise resurrected in 1925
  • Cleveland Bulldogs: to Detroit, Michigan in 1928 as the Detroit Wolverines
  • Duluth Eskimos: to Orange, NJ as the Orange Tornadoes in 1929 (separate franchises but same players)
  • Newark Tornadoes: The Newark franchise was forfeited to the league and ordered to be disposed of to the highest bidder after the 1930 season. The next franchise granted was the Boston Braves (now Washington Redskins franchise) in 1932. So, while it is possible that Newark franchise was sold to the Boston group in 1932, there is no documentation available. Neither Newark nor Boston played in 1931. The team itself joined the minor-league American Association later in the 1930s and adopted the name Newark Bears.
  • Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers corporate entities and players (but not franchises) swap cities after the 1940 season after complex ownership deal.
  • Boston Yanks franchise to New York City as the New York Bulldogs in 1949 (separate franchise but same owner and players)
  • New York Yanks (formerly New York Bulldogs) folded after the 1951 season; players transferred to new Dallas Texans franchise for the 1952 season
  • Dallas Texans: operated out of Hershey, PA for the last five games of the 1952 season, playing their last three games in Akron, OH. Franchise folded after season's end and players awarded to new Baltimore Colts franchise in 1953.
  • Baltimore Colts and Los Angeles Rams corporate entities (but not players) swap cities after 1971, in similar move to 1940 Eagles-Steelers relocations.
  • Cleveland Browns: to Baltimore as the Ravens in 1996. In 1995 Browns owner Art Modell announced plans to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season. The NFL, the city of Cleveland and Modell reach an agreement whereby the Browns franchise and history would remain in Cleveland to be resurrected by 1999. Modell was given a new franchise for Baltimore, made up of players from the 1995 Cleveland Browns. For more information on this particular move, see Cleveland Browns relocation controversy.

Franchise mergers[edit | edit source]

Teams moving between cities/boroughs within their metropolitan area, chronologically by team's first such move[edit | edit source]

  • Orange Tornadoes to nearby Newark, NJ in 1930, renamed the Newark Tornadoes
  • New York Giants: from Manhattan to The Bronx in 1956, temporarily relocated to New Haven, CT for the second half of the 1973 and the entire 1974 season, then temporarily relocated to Queens for the 1975 season, then permanently to East Rutherford, NJ in 1976
  • Philadelphia Eagles: from North Philadelphia to West Philadelphia (University City) in 1958, and then on to South Philadelphia in 1971
  • Oakland Raiders: from San Francisco to Oakland in 1962
  • New York Jets: from Manhattan to Queens in 1964 and to East Rutherford, NJ in 1984
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: to the North Shore from the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 1970
  • San Francisco 49ers: from Golden Gate Park to Hunters Point neighborhood in 1971, and to Santa Clara, California in 2014
  • Dallas Cowboys: to Irving, Texas in 1971, and to Arlington, Texas in 2009
  • Boston Patriots: to Foxborough, MA in 1971 and renamed New England Patriots
  • Buffalo Bills: to Orchard Park, NY in 1973
  • Detroit Lions: to Pontiac, MI in 1975 and back to Detroit in 2002
  • New Orleans Saints: from Uptown New Orleans to the Central Business District in 1975
  • Los Angeles Rams: to Anaheim, CA in 1980
  • Minnesota Vikings: from suburban Bloomington to downtown Minneapolis in 1982
  • Miami Dolphins: to unincorporated northern Dade County (now the city of Miami Gardens) in 1987
  • Washington Redskins: to Landover, MD in 1997
  • Arizona Cardinals: from the eastern Phoenix suburb of Tempe to western suburb of Glendale in 2006

Temporary moves, in chronological order[edit | edit source]

The following are not actually relocations, but temporary moves because these teams' home stadiums were either under construction or otherwise adversely affected:

Ultimate disposition of the 14 charter franchises[edit | edit source]

By the start of the 1920 APFA season, the nascent National Football League was composed of 14 franchises. Of those teams, only two are still in operation as of 2012 (denoted in bold):

The case of the Indianapolis Colts[edit | edit source]

The Indianapolis Colts have perhaps the most complex history of any football team in the NFL. The Colts can trace their history as far back as 1913, with the founding of the Dayton Triangles. The team then went through the following changes:[5]

  • Franchise became a road team in 1924, although it retained the "Dayton Triangles" name.
  • Franchise established a permanent home base in Brooklyn, New York and renamed Brooklyn Dodgers in 1930.
  • Changed name to Brooklyn Tigers in 1944. In the same year, the Boston Yanks are founded.
  • Merged with Boston Yanks in 1945 as the wartime "The Yanks."
  • Franchise canceled in 1945 by league and the team's temporary merger with the Boston Yanks is made permanent, as a parallel team (AAFC New York Yankees) is founded by the Tigers' former owner.
  • Boston Yanks moved to New York in 1949 and become New York Bulldogs. Renamed New York Yanks in 1950, absorbing much of the former AAFC New York Yankees' roster that year.
  • Team dissolved in 1951 and replaced by the Dallas Texans.
  • Texans, in turn, became a road team halfway through the 1952 season and were dissolved shortly thereafter; they are replaced by the second incarnation of the Baltimore Colts in 1953, which absorbed the team name of a previous Baltimore Colts franchise, as well as its marching band.
  • Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and Los Angeles Rams owner Robert Irsay swap ownership of teams following the 1971 season. (Their heirs continued to own both franchises until 2010, when Rosenbloom's children sold the Rams to Stan Kroenke.) The Rams later move to St. Louis in 1995.
  • Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 to become the Indianapolis Colts, which still play to this day. The marching band stays in Baltimore and associates itself with the Baltimore Ravens when they debut in 1996.

Officially, all of these teams except for the second Baltimore Colts and the Indianapolis Colts are considered separate franchises.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The lukewarm attitude of Los Angelenos towards having an NFL franchise in such a large market has been an embarrassment to the otherwise successful league.Canadian expansion not on NFL radar
  2. Willis, 2010, p. 323–325.
  3. Peterson, 1997, p. 122.
  4. McDonough, 1994, p. 50.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Official 2005 National Football League Record and Fact Book. New York: Time Inc. Home Entertainment. (2005). ISBN 1-932994-36-X
  • Carroll, Bob; with Gershman, Michael, Neft, David, and Thorn, John (1999). Total Football:The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270174-6
  • McDonough, Will (1994). 75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc. ISBN 1-57036-056-1
  • Peterson, Robert W. (1997). Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507607-9
  • Willis, Chris (2010). The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8108-7669-9

External links[edit | edit source]

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