The league started the American Bowl series in 1986 primarily to promote American football in other countries. After successful games in London's Wembley Stadium, the series was expanded to Japan. Since 1990, games have also been played in Montreal and Berlin to promote the new WLAF (later NFL Europe) which started in 1991. The 1997 game was played in Dublin, Ireland. These games usually played at times of local convenience; in the case of games in Japan, it was common for games to start at 5:00 AM local time.
The largest crowd in NFL history was recorded at the American Bowl game at Mexico City August 15, 1994, when 112,376 people attended the Governor's Cup game between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers.
The American Bowl was a fifth pre-season game, played the same weekend as the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, and did not take away a game from the participating teams' pre-season schedules.
At least one American Bowl game was played annually from 1986-2003. As many as four were played per year in the early 1990s. There were three games in 1998, two in 2000 and since then not more than one per year. There was no American Bowl game played in 2004, and in its last few years all American Bowl games were played in either Mexico or Japan.
The two teams that play in an American Bowl game are selected by the league. This game is always the fifth pre-season game for the teams involved instead of the normal four.
Not considered American Bowl games were several earlier pre-season contests played outside the United States. Between 1950 and 1983, there were 13 football games involving NFL or AFL teams played on foreign soil. Six games between 1950-1961 pitted NFL teams against CFL teams with the NFL team winning all six games. These games were a hybrid of US and Canadian football. One game was played between the AFL and the CFL (AFL's Buffalo Bills and CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, with Hamilton winning 38-21). All these games were held in Canada. There was also a game in 1960 that pitted the Chicago Bears against the New York Giants played in Toronto; this was in return for a 1958 CFL matchup that was played in Philadelphia.
The next five games were of the same format as the American Bowl (without the name) and featured four games between NFL teams and one game between an AFL team and an NFL team (Boston vs. Detroit, 8/25/69). The first two of these games were played in Montreal (1969), then in Tokyo (1976), Mexico City (1978), and London (1983) before the term American Bowl was coined. The game in Tokyo was called the "Mainichi Star Bowl" . The game in London was called the Global Cup.
There have been three international pre-season games during the American Bowl era that did not receive the American Bowl name: two 1988 matches in Montreal and Gothenburg, Sweden and a 1993 match in Toronto. These games were not part of the American Bowl series because they were not arranged by the NFL but, rather, the scheduled home team elected to play there. The Montreal match, as well as an American Bowl in the same venue in 1990, came during a time when Montreal did not have a Canadian Football League team (the Concordes/Alouettes had folded in preseason in 1987, while the new Alouettes would not relocate to the city until 1996). Montreal would also host the Montreal Machine of the NFL-backed World League of American Football in 1991 and 1992.
The last American Bowl was held in 2005. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cited the league's new international strategy in the abandonment of international pre-season games as well as the closure of NFL Europe, instead focusing on playing regular season games in foreign countries.
The pre-season game that was scheduled to take place in August 2007 (later postponed to 2009) between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks at Beijing National Stadium in Beijing, China has been named the China Bowl instead of the American Bowl; that game, too, was eventually canceled before being played.
The first regular season NFL game played outside the United States was held on October 2, 2005 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City before an NFL regular-season record of 103,467 fans. The Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 31-14. The New York Giants and Miami Dolphins played a regular season game at Wembley Stadium in London on October 28, 2007 (with the Giants winning 13-10), the first ever NFL regular season game to be played outside of North America; similarly, the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints followed suit in October 2008. These games are not recorded as American Bowls (as they are played during the regular season and not the pre-season); instead, the name for this series is the International Series. In addition to these games, the Buffalo Bills began playing in a series of games (some pre-season, some regular season) in Toronto, Ontario; the Miami Dolphins beat the Bills 16-3 in the first such game, on December 7, 2008.
(GP (Games Played), W (Wins), L (Losses), T (Ties), PCT (Winning Percentage), PTS FOR (Points For), PTS AG (Points Against))
|Rank||Team||GP||W||L||T||PCT||PTS FOR||PTS AG|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||8||4||4||0||0.500||134||162|
|3||Los Angeles Rams||3||3||0||0||1.000||63||43|
|5||Green Bay Packers||2||2||0||0||1.000||62||27|
|7||New Orleans Saints||2||2||0||0||1.000||45||26|
|12||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1||1||0||0||1.000||30||14|
|13||New York Giants||1||1||0||0||1.000||28||20|
|16||New England Patriots||2||1||1||0||0.500||35||33|
|17||San Diego Chargers||3||1||2||0||0.333||57||58|
|20||Kansas City Chiefs||4||1||3||0||0.250||68||69|
|24||New York Jets||1||0||1||0||0.000||14||30|
- 2006 NFL Record and Fact Book. p. 616. ISBN 1-933405-32-5.
- "NFL History - 1991-2000". NFL.com. Archived from the original on 23 August 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-08.
- "NFL.com International". NFL.com. Archived from the original on 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2006-09-09.