10 Moments That Changed the NFL Forever
On August 20, 1920, seven men – including All-American hero Jim Thorpe – met inside an auto showroom in Canton, Ohio, to discuss the formation of the American Professional Football Association, the forerunner to the National Football League.
That meeting is perhaps the most important moment in pro-football history, creating a league that would survive shifting fortunes and steady competition to forever change the American sports landscape. But it is certainly not the last time football would be transformed. The AFL-NFL merger. Joe Namath and the New York Jets’ win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The first Monday Night Football telecast in 1970. Those were the big shakeups – but the real change has come from the aftershocks, the tiny shifts and schemes that altered everything, whether we knew it at the time or not.
So as the NFL prepares to honor its past at Super Bowl 50, we’re taking a look back at 10 of those micro moments that would ultimately change football forever – and transform the league into the billion-dollar behemoth it is today.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 1974 Draft
It’s difficult to imagine now, but the first four decades of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ existence were fairly grim. Then coach Chuck Noll arrived in 1969, and five years later the Steelers had the greatest draft not just in league history, but perhaps in sports history.
Coming off consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history, Pittsburgh was picking 21st overall in 1974; they took wide receiver Lynn Swann, the only Hall of Famer in the first round.
In the second round, they picked linebacker Jack Lambert, also a Hall of Famer. They didn’t have a pick in the third round, but in the fourth, they selected another Hall of Famer in wide receiver John Stallworth. They followed that up by taking Hall of Fame center Mike Webster in the fifth round.
With one draft, Pittsburgh had solidified a team that would go on to win four of the next six Super Bowls and cement its legacy as one of the NFL’s all-time dynasties. Most teams wonder “Why not us?” Because you didn’t pick four Hall of Famers in one year.