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The Full 100-Year History of the Mythical ‘NFL Championship Belt’

The Full 100-Year History of the Mythical ‘NFL Championship Belt’ article feature image

Back in 2013 when “Thrift Shop” was the No. 1 song in the world, Barack Obama was still president and the words “twerk” and “selfie” were added to the dictionary, a magical sports idea was born.

What if we took the idea of a championship belt from fighting sports like boxing, wrestling, etc. and applied it to other sports?

I believe the idea was originally born from Reddit, although Grantland and Chris Ryan brought it to the mainstream in this piece.

The idea, like in combat sports, is simple: A team has the “championship belt,” and in order to take it, you have to beat that team.

I’m sure there are variations of the idea, but for the sake of this conversation, I’m keeping it to that one and only rule. We’re not delineating playoffs from the regular season or anything else: If the game counts on the schedule, it counts for the belt.

In that Grantland piece, Ryan & Co. tracked the NBA belt during that 2012-13 season. Others on Reddit and beyond have tracked it across similar time frames.

What I haven’t seen, however, is someone who has tracked a championship belt across an entire league’s history. I mean, who in their right mind would embark upon such a journey?

Well, apparently me.

What lays before you is an entire history of the NFL, of which we have 100 seasons — a perfect number for this type of piece. In a nutshell, I went back to the very first game in NFL history, which took place on September 26, 1920, between the Rock Island Independents and the St. Paul Ideals.

The Independents won that game, 48-0, and started the lineage of the belt. From there, I was able to trace each step leading to, well, today.

Some broad facts before we dive into into the truly fun stuff — i.e. graphs and tables of every belt pass, how long each team has had it, the number of days each team has had it and more.

  • The Chicago Bears have won the most games while holding the belt at 100. For this stat, I didn’t count winning the belt — only subsequent wins once holding it. The Green Bay Packers are second with 86 wins.
  • The Packers have actually held the belt the most times with 34. The Bears are right behind with 33, and the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles are next in line with 26 belt holds a piece.
  • The Bears have held the belt for a whopping 4,453 days. That’s nearly double the next team, the New York Giants, who have held it for 2,350 days.
  • The current holder of the belt is the most current champion, the Kansas City Chiefs, although often the Super Bowl winner doesn’t finish with it.

The Full NFL Belt Lineage

One cool thing about the table above: It’s searchable, so type in any team name into the bar at the top of the table to see their specific lineage with the belt.

For example, the Minnesota Vikings won the belt quite a few times starting in the 1960s, owned it three times in the 70s, twice in the 80s and then three times in the 90s. Since that 1997 victory, though, they’ve been somewhat in a drought, winning it once in 2002 for a seven-game run and then once more in 2012. They haven’t held it since that time.

Some more fun facts for you: All current 32 NFL teams as they stand have held the belt at least once. Only two of them, though, have failed to win a single game while holding the belt: The Arizona Cardinals and the Houston Texans. Houston has had wins with the Oilers, but notably that’s not the same franchise, as they moved to Tennessee and became the Titans.

The lineage had only one bump in the road in the 100-year history of the league. In 1927, the Cleveland Bulldogs won the belt and finished the season on a two-game winning streak to hold it through the offseason. That franchise folded, however, so the belt reverted back to the previous holder, the New York Yankees, who eventually lost it in the 1928 season to the Providence Steam Roller — and yes, it’s Steam Rollers with no “s” on the end.

NFL Belt Total Metrics

The table above shows each team by how many games they’ve won while holding the belt, the number of times they’ve held it and the number of days they’ve held it.

As mentioned above, the Chicago Bears have won the most games at 100, followed by the Green Bay Packers (86), New England Patriots (65), New York Giants (57) and Dallas Cowboys (43). The Bears did most of their damage early on in the NFL: Since 1994, they’ve held the belt only once (in 2009 and 2018), winning just a combined three games.

And it’s the Packers who currently hold the record for most belt holds at 34, followed by the Bears (33), Washington Redskins (26), Philadelphia Eagles (26) and Giants (25). The Bears have held the belt for a whopping 4,453 days, which is over 12 full years!

The current team with the lowest number of days holding the belt is the Texans, who won it in 2007 but lost to the Indianapolis Colts the next week.

Who Held the Belt After Every Season?

The very first offseason belt holder was the Decatur Staleys, who retained it despite not winning the league that first NFL year. That title went to the Akron Pros, who finished the season 8-0-3. This was before there were any playoffs at all, so the team with the best winning percentage was declared the victor.

One fun aspect of the belt lineage is that quite often the champion or Super Bowl winner won’t held the belt through the offseason. Those meaningless Week 17 games? Not so meaningless in the context of the belt.

NFL Belt Streaks

The longest streak of games won with the belt belongs to the Canton Bulldogs, who will likely retain that distinction forever. They started that particular streak in October 1922, eventually winning 22 games and spanning across three seasons.

The next longest streak is 13, which the Bears, Denver Broncos and Packers have all accomplished. Only 11 times out of the 559 belt holds have teams posted a double-digit win streak.

In terms of days held, the Bulldogs of course hold that record at 749 days — getting by the two-year mark. The Giants in 1938 started a 392-day belt hold; they’re the only other team to hold it a full year. The 1941 Bears fell one day short actually, holding the belt for 364 days before losing it.

A Visual Representation of Belt Wins

(Click the play button in the bottom-left hand corner of the graphic below.)

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