The Rise and Rise of the National Football League

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Matthew Andrews teaches American History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His courses use the history of sports to explore race relations, gender ideals, political protest, and American identity. Professor Andrews was asked by the UNC student body to give the honorific “Last Lecture” to the graduating class of 2015. His students have voted him their university’s “Best Professor” three times since 2016.


In 1969, more Americans watched Joe Namath lead the New York Jets to a win in Super Bowl III than watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. And professional football has only become more popular since. In this talk we will explore how a minor and disreputable sport–that was organized into league form in an automobile showroom and was played by (as one early player described his colleagues) “oversized coal miners and West Texas psychopaths”–evolved into the most popular sport in America. Along the way we will visit with Richard Nixon, Hunter S. Thompson, George W. Bush, Whitney Houston and “Wham-O’s Super Ball,” and ask the question: “Is there anything that can damage the popularity of ‘America’s game?’ ”



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Jeff Brownawell

Missed one important point

Matthew very much enjoyed your presentation, but I think you missed one more important point and that relates to how the game grow due to the interest and ease to gamble on every aspect of the game. Not just what team wins, loses by how many points or total points but then all the side bets that could be made just for one game. I can remember in the early 60’s my dad and uncles betting on football between their selves but never did they bet on baseball or basketball. Then when Fantasy football became a game inside the game down to a player level the interest in the NFL grew at the rapidest rate ever.
Just my thoughts and thanks for your discussion.

7 months ago
Stephen Youngkrantz


Excellent presentation. When discussing the violent aspects that draw viewers and the comparison to boxing, I suggest that the popularity of MMA fits right in this picture and, while I don’t think it will eclipse the popularity of football, it seems more suited for those who adore the “macho” destructiveness of football. Is Rollerball that far off?

6 months ago
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