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. After 1990, games were also played in Montreal and Berlin to promote the new World League of American Football (later NFL Europe) which started in 1991.
Several earlier pre-season games involved NFL teams and were played outside the United States, without being labeled "American Bowl" games. Between 1950 and 1983, there were 13 football games involving NFL or AFL teams played on foreign soil. Six games in Canada 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 involved an AFL team (the Buffalo Bills, who lost 38-21 to the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats).
Five games also used the American Bowl format without the name prior to 1986. One of these games was an AFL-NFL matchup, Boston vs. Detroit on August 25, 1969. Firstly, two games were played in Montreal in 1969. Then NFL exhibition games took place 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.
At least one American Bowl game was played annually between 1986 and 2003. As many as four were played per year in the early 1990s. The two participating teams were selected by the league. 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.
The largest crowd in NFL history was recorded at the American Bowl game at Mexico City on August 15, 1994, when 112,376 people attended the Governor's Cup game between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers.
There were three games in 1998, two in 2000, and thereafter one per year. There was no American Bowl game played in 2004, and from 2000 to 2005 all American Bowl games were played in either Mexico or Japan.
Two 1988 games in Montreal and Gothenburg, Sweden, and a 1993 game in Toronto, are not classed as American Bowl games. This is because they were not arranged by the NFL but, rather, the scheduled home team elected to play there. Montreal held an American Bowl in 1990. At the time Montreal had no CFL team, after the Concordes/Alouettes had folded in 1987, but before the new Alouettes relocated there in 1996. The NFL-backed World League saw the Montreal Machine franchise compete 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 was 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 termed the NFL International Series. In addition to these games, the Buffalo Bills began the Bills Toronto Series, a number of pre- and annual regular season games in Toronto; the Miami Dolphins beat the Bills 16-3 in the first such game, on December 7, 2008. The series ran from 2008 to 2013.
|Date||Winning Team||Score||Losing Team||Score||Stadium||City|
|August 3, 1986||Chicago Bears||17||Dallas Cowboys||6||Wembley Stadium||London|
|August 9, 1987||Los Angeles Rams||28||Denver Broncos||27||Wembley Stadium||London|
|July 31, 1988||Miami Dolphins||27||San Francisco 49ers||21||Wembley Stadium||London|
|August 6, 1989||Los Angeles Rams||16||San Francisco 49ers||13||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 6, 1989||Philadelphia Eagles||17||Cleveland Browns||13||Wembley Stadium||London|
|August 5, 1990||Denver Broncos||10||Seattle Seahawks||7||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 5, 1990||New Orleans Saints||17||Los Angeles Raiders||10||Wembley Stadium||London|
|August 9, 1990||Pittsburgh Steelers||30||New England Patriots||14||Olympic Stadium||Montreal|
|August 11, 1990||Los Angeles Rams||19||Kansas City Chiefs||3||Olympiastadion||West Berlin|
|July 28, 1991||Buffalo Bills||17||Philadelphia Eagles||13||Wembley Stadium||London|
|August 3, 1991||San Francisco 49ers||21||Chicago Bears||7||Olympiastadion||Berlin|
|August 4, 1991||Miami Dolphins||19||Los Angeles Raiders||17||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 2, 1992||Houston Oilers||34||Dallas Cowboys||23||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 15, 1992||Miami Dolphins||31||Denver Broncos||27||Olympiastadion||Berlin|
|August 16, 1992||San Francisco 49ers||17||Washington Redskins||15||Wembley Stadium||London|
|August 1, 1993||New Orleans Saints||28||Philadelphia Eagles||16||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 1, 1993||San Francisco 49ers||21||Pittsburgh Steelers||14||Estadi Olímpic||Barcelona|
|August 7, 1993||Minnesota Vikings||20||Buffalo Bills||6||Olympiastadion||Berlin|
|August 8, 1993||Dallas Cowboys||13||Detroit Lions||13||Wembley Stadium||London|
|July 31, 1994||Los Angeles Raiders||25||Denver Broncos||22||Estadi Olímpic||Barcelona|
|August 7, 1994||Minnesota Vikings||17||Kansas City Chiefs||9||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 13, 1994||New York Giants||28||San Diego Chargers||20||Olympiastadion||Berlin|
|August 15, 1994||Houston Oilers||6||Dallas Cowboys||0||Estadio Azteca||Mexico City|
|August 6, 1995||Denver Broncos||24||San Francisco 49ers||10||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 12, 1995||Buffalo Bills||9||Dallas Cowboys||7||SkyDome||Toronto|
|July 28, 1996||San Diego Chargers||20||Pittsburgh Steelers||10||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 5, 1996||Kansas City Chiefs||32||Dallas Cowboys||6||Estadio Universitario||Monterrey|
|July 27, 1997||Pittsburgh Steelers||30||Chicago Bears||17||Croke Park||Dublin|
|August 4, 1997||Miami Dolphins||38||Denver Broncos||19||Estadio Guillermo Cañedo||Mexico City|
|August 16, 1997||Green Bay Packers||35||Buffalo Bills||3||SkyDome||Toronto|
|August 2, 1998||Green Bay Packers||27||Kansas City Chiefs||24||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 15, 1998||San Francisco 49ers||24||Seattle Seahawks||21||BC Place Stadium||Vancouver|
|August 17, 1998||New England Patriots||21||Dallas Cowboys||3||Estadio Azteca||Mexico City|
|August 8, 1999||Denver Broncos||20||San Diego Chargers||17||Stadium Australia||Sydney|
|August 6, 2000||Atlanta Falcons||20||Dallas Cowboys||9||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 19, 2000||Indianapolis Colts||24||Pittsburgh Steelers||23||Estadio Azteca||Mexico City|
|August 27, 2001||Dallas Cowboys||21||Oakland Raiders||6||Estadio Azteca||Mexico City|
|August 3, 2002||Washington Redskins||38||San Francisco 49ers||7||Osaka Dome||Osaka|
|August 2, 2003||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||30||New York Jets||14||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
|August 6, 2005||Atlanta Falcons||27||Indianapolis Colts||21||Tokyo Dome||Tokyo|
(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||.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||.500||35||33|
|17||San Diego Chargers||3||1||2||0||.333||57||58|
|20||Kansas City Chiefs||4||1||3||0||.250||68||69|
|24||New York Jets||1||0||1||0||.000||14||30|