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The Oceanic Football League, formerly known as the American Football League, is a professional league in American football (also known as gridiron football) based in the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand. Established in 1991, it is considered the successor to the National Football League, which was the top professional league in the United States before Doomsday. Its success is widely considered to be a testimony to the resilience and ingenuity of the American community in the Commonwealth. It is not as popular as Australian rules football or rugby, but is considered an important niche sport in the ANZC.
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The Gridiron Experiment
In 1985, coaches and entrepreneurs in American Samoa decided to resume play on the high school level and created an amateur league for adults. As the Samoan experiment proved popular with American refugees, Americans in Australia formed Girdiron Australia, an organization formed in 1987 that showcased American football across the country. Over the next few years, Samoans built contacts with businessmen in Australia who thought that a professional American football league would prove a successful niche sport. This lead to the establishment of the American Football League in the fall of 1991 with six franchises in Australia, New Zealand and American Samoa.
The American Football League had its inaugural season in 1991. There were six founding teams: Samoa Dolphins, Canberra Colts, Brisbane Cowboys, Tasmania Browns, Auckland Raiders and the Newcastle Giants. Team names were based off of old NFL teams as tribute to the American fans who packed the stadiums. Financial support was provided by the American Provisional Administration allowing the teams to purchase the necessary equipment. President George H. W. Bush himself was present at the opening kickoff.
Despite being an American sport, Samoans comprised the bulk of the rosters of the initial teams, along with expatriate/refugee Americans and native Australians and New Zealanders interested in the sport. Due to difficulties in travelling, all games were played in Australia with the Dolphins and Raiders playing away games the entire season. The Dolphins went on to win the first championship game against the Colts.
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The OFL has sponsored satellite leagues in Hawaii, Alaska, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Municipal States of the Pacific and Mexico. These foreign leagues are meant to build up interest in the sport there and a provide a potential player pool for the OFL teams. There are some future plans to create new expansion teams in Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea for the 2012 season.
As of the 2014-15 seasons, the Oceanic Football League consists of ten teams playing in two divisions:
- Samoa Dolphins (Pago Pago) (1991-)
- Tonga Seals
- Auckland Raiders (1991-)
- Brisbane Cowboys (1991-)
- Canberra Colts (1991-)
- Gold Coast Titans
- Darwin Bears
- Adelaide Rams
- Tasmania Browns (Hobart) (1991-)
- Western Broncos (Burnbury)
- PNG Ropens (Port Morseby)
- Newcastle Giants (1991-)
- 1991: Samoa Dolphins
- 1992: Samoa Dolphins
- 1993: Auckland Raiders
- 1994: Canberra Colts