List of all pro football players since 1920

By Jeff Nixon
Jun. 24, 2014

Dear Pro Football Players:

I have always wanted to know how many men have played professional football in the U.S. - how many have died – and how many are still living, so I decided to conduct some research to see if I could find the answer.

Here are the results:

  • 23,204 men have played pro football
  • 6,082 have died
  • 17,122 players are still living

Click on this link:Scribd File to see the entire list of players. 

If you open the list, it is arranged alphabetically – by first name. If you click on a player's name, it will go to the Pro Football Reference.com website and give you the player's statistics. The list only includes players that have been on an "active" roster during the course of a year. It does not include the years that a player was on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) or IR (Injured Reserve) lists. I should note that the NFL gives a player a "credited" season toward their pension for any year they were on the PUP or IR list. Unfortunately, I do not have access to that information.

If you don't see your name on the list, or the years you played appears to be inaccurate, please let me know. I cannot say that this is a totally accurate list, but it is my best attempt. My apologies to any player that was inadvertently left off the list, or has erroneous information.

I want to thank Kenneth Crippen, the Executive Director of the Pro Football Researchers Association for identifying all of the players that have died over the last 92 years. Here is a link to his website: Pro Football Researchers Association. It took him an entire month to complete his part of the research, so if you want to, you can send him a thank you at this email address: [email protected] His website has a wealth of information on Pro Football and I encourage you to become a member and receive a subscription to his newsletter, the "Coffin Corner" and other great information.

The origin of professional football can be traced back to 1892, with William "Pudge" Heffelfinger's $500 contract to play in a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. In 1920 the American Professional Football Association was formed. This league changed its name to the National Football League (NFL) two years later, and eventually became the major league of American football. Primarily a sport of Midwestern industrial towns in the United States, professional football eventually became a national phenomenon. Football's increasing popularity is usually traced to the 1958 NFL Championship Game, a contest that has been dubbed the "Greatest Game Ever Played". A rival league to the NFL, the American Football League (AFL), began play in 1960; the pressure it put on the senior league led to a merger between the two leagues and the creation of the Super Bowl, which has become the most watched television event in the United States on an annual basis.

"He who knows only his own generation – remains always a child"- George Norlin