In 1966, the National Football League merged with the rival American Football League. Then, in 1967, the winners of each league played in the first ‘AFL-NFL World Championship Game’. The NFL’s Green Bay Packers won the first two championship games, and the trophy was soon named after their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi. The championship game was renamed in 1969, and the Super Bowl was born.
In 1970, the NFL officially absorbed the AFL, creating one league with two conferences – the NFC and the AFC.Then, the Miami Dolphins won Super Bowl VII, finishing the 1972 season undefeated. This remains the NFL’s only perfect season, and it even gave birth to a legend. It was claimed that the ‘72 Dolphins popped champagne when the league’s last unbeaten team finally chalked up their first loss of the year, but coach Don Shula eventually admitted this was untrue.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been at the forefront of championing diversity and inclusivity within the NFL. In previous years they became the first team to hire an African-American coach, the first to hire an African-American coordinator, the first to start an African-American quarterback, and had the league’sfirst African-American Super Bowl MVP. In response to the firing of high-profile African-American head coaches despite the numerous wins on their CVs, the NFL established the ‘Rooney Rule’ in 2003. Named after Pittsburgh’s owner, Dan Rooney, the rule means that teams have to interview at least one ethnic-minority candidate for head coaching and football operations positions. The Steelers then went on to hire their first African-American head coach in 2007, and Mike Tomlin eventually won Super Bowl XLIII.
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest against police brutality and racial injustice. The then-49er was both praised and criticised for his actions, but he soon found himself out of the NFL. Kaepernick later became an important figure in the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, and inspired many other athletes, in various sports leagues across the world, to begin taking the knee before games.
On the field, the two decades belonged to the New England Patriots. Under coach Bill Belichick, winning simply became routine. In 20 years, they appeared in nine Super Bowls and won six, although the Patriots weren’t without their controversies. In 2014, New England’s quarterback, Tom Brady, was accused of having the balls used in that year’s AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts deflated. Brady was eventually suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. However, it was business as usual in New England that year, as they went on to win Super Bowl LI.
The Patriots’ success was driven by their superstar quarterback,Tom Brady. Brady was a completely unknown sixth-round draft pick when injury thrust him into the starting line-up in 2001, but he never looked back. He was the face of the team throughout their dynasty, which ended with a win in Super Bowl LIII. Even with Super Bowl-winning drives, a full trophy cabinet, and the undying love of every single Patriots fan, Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. There, aged 43, he won his seventh ring in Super Bowl LV, cementing his legacy as the Greatest of All Time and his place as the hero of another franchise.