American Football Wiki

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American Football League (AFL)
American football
Year Founded:
1959 (began play in Fall 1960)
League Information
Joe Foss, Commissioner (1959–1966)
Al Davis, Commissioner (1966)
Milt Woodard, President (1966–1970)
Team Information:
Number of teams:
8 teams (1960-65), 9 (1966-67), 10 (1968–1970)
Last Champions
Kansas City Chiefs (1969)
Most Championships Won:
3: Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs (1960, 1962, 1969)
Television Broadcast/Internet
Television Networks:
Official Website
Remember The AFL tribute site

The American Football League (AFL) was an American Professional Football league which fielded teams from 1960-69, before the NFL merged with it in 1966, effective in 1970. Present-day Pro Football is essentially the American Football League with another name. On-field game elements, including the two-point conversion, names on players' jerseys, official time shown on stadium scoreboards (instead of on a stopwatch in the NFL referee's pocket), and wide-open offensive play were all characteristics of the AFL, which the NFL later adopted. At a time when the NFL was just getting past about fifteen years of intentional exclusion of black players, the AFL revolutionized the Pros' method of stocking teams, by scouting and signing players from small and predominantly black colleges. The first black head scout, the first black starting quarterbacks of the modern era, and the first black middle line-backer were to be found in the American Football League. Off the field, national television of all league games, with all teams sharing in the TV revenue, as well as sharing of gate revenue with visiting teams, was initiated by the American Football League. The AFL was the first Pro Football league to have its players "miked" for television, and the first to have more than one announcer in the booth, and several moving sideline cameras at field level, as opposed to the NFL's single camera fixed at the fifty-yard line.

In 1959, Lamar Hunt was refused when he wanted to buy an existing NFL team, or an expansion team for Dallas. He formed the AFL, and the prevously complacent anti-expansion NFL immediately co-opted the Minnesota franchise intended for the AFL. Though it had told Hunt it did not want a team in Dallas, it reversed itself and put the Cowboys there with the express purpose of driving out the AFL Texans. It offered Rankin Smith a franchise in Atlanta to lure him from joining the AFL with the Miami franchise, and it gave New Orleans a team when Louisiana congressmen helped push through the merger with the AFL that the NFL accepted when it tired of competing for fans and for star players. Thus, four NFL teams came to be, because of the American Football League.

Finally, the American Football League gave the sport the AFL-NFL World Championship game, whch evolved into the "Super Bowl", which never would have existed had not the AFL challenged the NFL monopoly.

League history

The National Football League had grown to become one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the United States, rivaling Major League Baseball as the main sport league in the United States. One franchise that did not share in the success of the league was the Chicago Cardinals, who were overshadowed by the more popular Chicago Bears. The team was reportedly for sale (with the intent of relocation), and one of the men who approached the Cardinals was Lamar Hunt, son and heir of Texas millionaire oilman H. L. Hunt.[1] Hunt offered to buy the Cardinals and move them to Dallas, Texas, where he had grown up. While Hunt negotiated with Cardinals ownership, similar offers were made by Bud Adams, Bob Howsam, and Max Winter.[2]

When Hunt, Adams, and Howsam were each unable to secure a controlling interest in the Chicago Cardinals, they approached NFL commissioner Bert Bell and proposed the addition of expansion teams. Bell, wary of expanding the 12-team league and risking its new found success, rejected the offer.[3] On his return flight to Dallas, Hunt conceived the idea of an entirely new league and decided to contact the others who had shown interest in purchasing the Cardinals. He contacted Adams, Howsam, and Winter (as well as Winter's business partner, Bill Boyer) to gauge their interest in starting a new league. Hunt's first meeting with Adams was held in March 1959.[4] Hunt, who felt a regional rivalry would be critical for the success of the new league, convinced Adams to join and found his team in Houston. Hunt next secured an agreement from Howsam to bring a team to Denver, Colorado.[5]

After Winter and Boyer agreed to start a team in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the new league had its first four teams. Hunt also approached Willard Rhodes of Seattle, Washington, but that effort failed when Rhodes was turned down by Husky Stadium and had no place for his team to play.[6] Hunt also sought franchises in Los Angeles, California and New York City. During the summer of 1959 he sought the blessings of the NFL for his nascent league, as he did not seek a potentially costly rivalry. Within weeks of the July 1959 announcement of the league's formation, Hunt received commitments from Barron Hilton and Harry Wismer to bring teams to Los Angeles and New York, respectively.[7]

On August 14, 1959, the first league meeting was held in Chicago, Illinois, and charter memberships were granted to Dallas, New York, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul. On August 22 the league officially was named the American Football League. The NFL's initial reaction was not as openly hostile as it had been with the earlier All-America Football Conference (Bell had even given his public approval), yet individual NFL owners soon began a campaign to undermine the new league. AFL owners were approached with promises of new NFL franchises or ownership stakes in existing ones. Only the party from Minneapolis accepted, and the Minnesota group joined the NFL the next year in 1961; the Minneapolis group joined Ole Haugsrud in the new NFL team's ownership group, with Haugsrud dubbing the team the Minnesota Vikings. The older league also announced on August 29 that it had conveniently reversed its position against expansion, and planned to bring NFL expansion teams to Houston and Dallas, to start play in 1961.[8] (The NFL did not expand to Houston at that time, the promised Dallas team – the Dallas Cowboys – actually started play in 1960, and the Vikings began play in 1961.)

Two more cities were awarded AFL franchises later in the year. Ralph Wilson, who owned a minority interest in the NFL's Detroit Lions, announced he was placing a team in Buffalo, New York after he had been rejected by Miami. Buffalo was officially awarded a franchise on October 28. During a league meeting on November 22, a 10-man ownership group from Boston, Massachusetts (led by Billy Sullivan) was awarded the AFL's eighth team.[9] On November 30, 1959, Joe Foss, a World War II Marine fighter ace and former governor of South Dakota, was named the AFL's first commissioner. Foss commissioned a friend of Harry Wismer's to develop the AFL's eagle-on-football logo. Hunt was elected President of the AFL on January 26, 1960.

The AFL Draft

Further information: American Football League Draft

The AFL's first draft took place the same day Boston was awarded its franchise, and lasted 33 rounds. The league held a second draft on December 2, which lasted for 20 rounds. Because the Raiders joined after the AFL draft, they inherited Minnesota's selections (read next section).[10][11] A special allocation draft was held in January, 1960, to allow the Raiders to stock their team, as some of the other AFL teams had already signed some of Minneapolis' original draft choices.

Crisis and success (1960–61)

In November 1959, Minneapolis owner Max Winter announced his intent to leave the AFL to accept a franchise offer from the NFL. In 1961, his team began play in the NFL as the Minnesota Vikings. Los Angeles Chargers owner Barron Hilton demanded that a replacement for Minnesota be placed in California, to reduce his team's operating costs and to create a rivalry. After a brief search, Oakland was chosen and an ownership group led by local real estate developer Chet Soda was formed. After initially being called the Oakland "Señors", the Oakland Raiders officially joined the AFL on January 30, 1960.

The AFL's first major success came when the Houston Oilers signed Billy Cannon, the All-American and 1959 Heisman Trophy winner from LSU. Cannon signed a $100,000 contract to play for the Oilers, despite having already signed a $50,000 contract with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. The Oilers filed suit and claimed that Rams general manager Pete Rozelle had unduly manipulated Cannon. The court upheld the Houston contract, and with Cannon the Oilers appeared in the AFL's first three championship games (winning two).[12][13]

On June 9, 1960, the league signed a five-year television contract with ABC, which brought in revenues of approximately $2,125,000 per year for the entire league. On June 17, the AFL filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, which was dismissed in 1962 after a two-month trial.[12] The AFL began regular-season play (a night game on Friday, September 9, 1960) with eight teams in the league — the Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, and Oakland Raiders. Raiders' co-owner Wayne Valley dubbed the AFL ownership "The Foolish Club," a term Lamar Hunt subsequently used on team photographs he sent as Christmas gifts.[14]

The Oilers became the first-ever league champions by defeating the Chargers, 24–16, in the AFL Championship on January 1, 1961. Attendance for the 1960 season was respectable for a new league, but not nearly that of the NFL. Whereas the more popular NFL teams in 1960 regularly saw attendance figures in excess of 50,000 per game, AFL attendance generally hovered between 10,000-20,000 per game.[15] With the low attendance came financial losses. The Raiders, for instance, lost $500,000 in their first year and only survived after receiving a $400,000 loan from Bills owner Ralph Wilson.[16] In an early sign of stability, however, the AFL did not lose any teams after its first year of operation. In fact, the only major change was the relocation of the Chargers from Los Angeles to nearby San Diego.

On August 8, 1961, the AFL, challenged the Canadian Football League to an exhibition game that would feature the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Buffalo Bills. Playing at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario, the Ticats defeated the Bills 38–21 playing a mix of AFL and CFL rules.

Movement and instability (1962–63)

While the Oilers found instant success in the AFL, other teams did not fare as well. The Oakland Raiders and New York Titans struggled on and off the field during their first few seasons in the league. Oakland's eight-man ownership group was reduced to just three in 1961, after heavy financial losses their first season.[17] Attendance for home games was poor, partly due to the team playing in the San Francisco Bay Area—which already had an established NFL team (the San Francisco 49ers)—but the product on the field was also to blame. After winning six games their debut season, the Raiders won a total of three times in the 1961 and 1962 seasons. Oakland took part in a 1961 supplemental draft meant to boost the weaker teams in the league, but it did little good. They participated in another such draft in 1962.[12]

The Titans fared a little better on the field but had their own financial troubles. Attendance was so low for home games that team owner Harry Wismer had fans move to seats closer to the field to give the illusion of a fuller stadium on television.[18] Eventually Wismer could no longer afford to meet his payroll, and on November 8, 1962 the AFL took over operations of the team. The Titans were sold to a five-person ownership group headed by Sonny Werblin on March 28, 1963, and in April the new owners changed the team's name to the New York Jets.[19][20]

The Raiders and Titans both finished last in their respective divisions in the 1962 season.[21] The Texans and Oilers, winners of their divisions, faced each other for the 1962 AFL Championship on December 23. The Texans dethroned the two-time champion Oilers, 20–17, in a double-overtime contest that was, at the time, Professional Football's longest-ever game.[12]

In 1963, the Texans became the second AFL team to relocate. Lamar Hunt felt that despite winning the league championship in 1962, the Texans could not succeed financially competing in the same market as the Dallas Cowboys, which entered the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1960. After meetings with New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami, Hunt announced on May 22 that the Texans' new home would be Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City mayor Harold Roe Bartle (nicknamed "Chief") was instrumental in his city's success in attracting the team. Partly to honor Bartle, the franchise officially became the Kansas City Chiefs on May 26.[22]

The San Diego Chargers, under head coach Sid Gillman, won a decisive 51–10 victory over the Boston Patriots for the 1963 AFL Championship. Confident that his team was capable of beating the NFL-champion Chicago Bears (he had the Chargers' rings inscribed with the phrase "World Champions"), Gillman approached NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and proposed a final championship game between the two teams. Rozelle declined the offer; however, the game would be instituted three seasons later.[23]

Watershed years (1964–65)

A series of events throughout the next few years demonstrated the AFL's ability to achieve a greater level of equality with the NFL. On January 29, 1964, the AFL signed a lucrative $36 million television contract with NBC (beginning in the 1965 season), which gave the league money it needed to compete with the NFL for players. An NFL owner was quoted as saying to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that "They don't have to call us 'Mister' anymore". A single-game attendance record was set on November 8, 1964, when 61,929 fans packed Shea Stadium to watch the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.[24]

The bidding war for players between the AFL and NFL escalated in 1965. The Chiefs drafted University of Kansas star Gale Sayers in the first round of the 1965 AFL draft (held November 28, 1964), while the Chicago Bears did the same in the NFL draft. Sayers eventually signed with the Bears.[22] A similar situation occurred when the New York Jets and the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals both drafted University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath. In what was viewed as a key victory for the AFL, Namath signed a $427,000 contract with the Jets on January 2, 1965 (the deal included a new car). It was the highest amount of money ever paid to a collegiate football player, and is cited as the strongest contributing factor to the eventual merger between the two leagues.[25]

In early 1965, the AFL considered adding its first expansion team, to begin play in Atlanta in 1966. An AFL franchise was awarded to Rankin Smith of that city. The NFL quickly offered Smith a franchise, which Smith accepted. In March, 1965, Joe Robbie had met with Commissioner Foss to inquire about an expansion franchise for Miami, Florida. On May 6, after Atlanta's exit, Robbie secured an agreement with Miami mayor Robert King Higho bring a team to Miami. League expansion was approved at a meeting held on June 7, and on August 16 the AFL's ninth franchise was officially awarded to Robbie and television star Danny Thomas. The Miami Dolphins joined the league for a fee of $7.5 million and started play in the AFL's Eastern Division in 1966.[26]

Peak of rivalry and merging of leagues (1966–67)

For more details on this topic, see AFL-NFL Merger.

In 1966, the rivalry between the AFL and NFL reached an all-time peak. On April 7, Joe Foss resigned as AFL commissioner. His successor was Oakland Raiders head coach and general manager Al Davis, who had been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of that franchise. No longer content with trying to outbid the NFL for college talent, the AFL under Davis started to recruit players already on NFL squads. Davis's strategy focused on quarterbacks in particular, and in two months he persuaded seven NFL quarterbacks to sign with the AFL.[27] Although Davis's intention was to help the AFL win the bidding war, some AFL and NFL owners saw the escalation as detrimental to both leagues.

The same month Davis was named commissioner, several NFL owners, along with Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, secretly approached Lamar Hunt and other AFL owners and asked the AFL to merge. They held a series of secret meetings in Dallas to discuss their concerns over rapidly increasing player salaries, as well as the practice of player poaching. Hunt and Schramm completed the basic groundwork for a merger of the two leagues by the end of May, and on June 8, 1966, the merger was officially announced. Under the terms of the agreement, the two leagues would hold a common player draft. The agreement also called for a title game to be played between the champions of the respective leagues. The two leagues would be fully merged by 1970, and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would remain as commissioner of the merged league. The AFL also agreed to pay indemnities of $18 million to the NFL over 20 years. In protest, Davis resigned as AFL commissioner on July 25 rather than remain until the completion of the merger, and Milt Woodard was named President of the AFL.[25][28]

On January 15, 1967, the first-ever World Championship Game between the champions of the two separate professional football leagues, the AFL-NFL Championship Game (retroactively referred to as Super Bowl I), was played in Los Angeles. After a close first half, the NFL champion Green Bay Packers overwhelmed the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs, 35–10. The loss reinforced for many the notion that the AFL was an inferior league. Packers head coach Vince Lombardi stated after the game, "I do not think they are as good as the top teams in the National Football League."[25]

The second AFL-NFL Championship (Super Bowl II) yielded a similar result. The Oakland Raiders—who had easily beaten the Houston Oilers to win their first AFL championship—were overmatched by the Packers, 33–14. The more experienced Packers capitalized on a number of Raiders miscues and never trailed. Green Bay defensive tackle Henry Jordan offered a compliment to Oakland and the AFL, when he said, "...the AFL is becoming much more sophisticated on offense. I think the league has always had good personnel, but the blocks were subtler and better conceived in this game."[29]

The AFL added its tenth and final team on May 24, 1967, when it awarded the league's second expansion franchise to an ownership group from Cincinnati, Ohio, headed by NFL legend Paul Brown.[17] Although Brown had intended to join the NFL, he agreed to join the AFL when he learned that his team would be included in the NFL once the merger was completed.[30] The Cincinnati Bengals began play in the 1968 season, finishing last in the Western Division.

Legitimacy and the end of an era (1968–70)

While many AFL players and observers believed their league was the equal of the NFL, their first two Super Bowl performances did nothing to prove it. That perception changed on January 12, 1969, when the AFL Champion New York Jets shocked the heavily favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The Colts, who entered the contest favored by as many as 18 points, had completed the 1968 NFL season with a 13–1 record, and won the NFL title with a convincing 34–0 win of the Cleveland Browns. Led by their stalwart defense—which allowed a record-low 144 points—the 1968 Colts were considered one of the best-ever NFL teams.[31][32]

By contrast, the Jets had allowed 280 points, the highest total for any division winner in the two leagues. They had also only narrowly beaten the favored Oakland Raiders 27–23 in the AFL championship game. Jets quarterback Joe Namath recalled that in the days leading up to the game, he grew increasingly angry when told New York had no chance to beat Baltimore. Three days before the game, a frustrated Namath responded to a heckler at the Touchdown Club in Miami by declaring, "We're going to win Sunday, I'll guarantee you."[25][28][33]

Namath and the Jets made good on his guarantee as they held the Colts scoreless until late in the fourth quarter. The Jets won, 16–7, in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in American sports history.[34][35][36][37] With the win, the AFL finally achieved parity with the NFL and legitimized the merger of the two leagues.[31] That notion was reinforced one year later in Super Bowl IV, when the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs upset the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings, 23–7, in the last championship game to be played between the two leagues. The Vikings, favored by 12½ points, were held to just 67 rushing yards.[38]

The last game in AFL history was the AFL All-Star Game, held in Houston's Astrodome on January 17, 1970. The Western All-Stars, led by Chargers quarterback John Hadl, defeated the Eastern All-Stars, 26–3. Hadl was named the game's Most Valuable Player.[39] Prior to the start of the 1970 NFL season, the merged league was organized into two conferences of three divisions each. All ten AFL teams made up the bulk of the new American Football Conference. To avoid having an inequitable number of teams in each conference, the leagues voted to move three NFL teams to the AFC. Motivated by the prospect of an intrastate rivalry with the Bengals as well as by personal animosity toward Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell quickly offered to include his team in the AFC. He helped persuade the Pittsburgh Steelers (the Browns' archrivals) and Baltimore Colts (who shared the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. market with the Washington Redskins) to follow suit, and each team received US $3 million to make the switch.[40][41] All the other NFL squads became part of the National Football Conference.

Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Charlie Joiner, who started his career with the Houston Oilers (1969), was the last AFL player active in professional football, retiring after the 1986 season, when he played for the San Diego Chargers.



The American Football League stands as the only professional football league to successfully compete against the NFL. When the two leagues merged in 1970, all ten AFL franchises and their statistics became part of the new NFL. Every other professional league that had competed against the NFL before the AFL-NFL merger had folded completely: the three previous leagues named "American Football League" and the All-America Football Conference. From an earlier AFL (1936–1937), only the Cleveland Rams (now the St. Louis Rams) joined the NFL and are currently operating, as are the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers from the AAFC. A third AAFC team, the Baltimore Colts (an unrelated predecessor to the 1953-1983 Baltimore Colts or to the current Indianapolis Colts franchise), played only one year in the NFL, disbanding at the end of the 1950 season.[28] The league resulting from the merger was a 26-team juggernaut (since expanded to 32) with television rights covering all of the Big Three television networks and teams in close proximity to almost all of the top 40 metropolitan areas, a fact that has precluded any other competing league from gaining traction since the merger; failed attempts to mimic the AFL's success included the World Football League (1974–75), United States Football League (1983–85), XFL (2001) and United Football League (2009–11), none of which have survived beyond three seasons.

The AFL was also the most successful of numerous upstart leagues of the 1960s and 1970s that attempted to challenge a major professional league's dominance. All nine teams that were in the AFL at the time the merger was agreed upon were accepted into the league intact (as was the tenth team added between the time of the merger's agreement and finalization). For comparison, the World Hockey Association (1972–79) managed to have four of its six remaining teams merged into the National Hockey League, which actually caused the older league to contract a franchise, but WHA teams were forced to disperse the majority of their rosters and restart as expansion teams. The merged WHA teams were also not financially sound, as three of the four were forced to relocate within 20 years. The American Basketball Association (1967–76) managed to have only four of its teams merged into the National Basketball Association, and the rest of the league was forced to fold. The Continental League, a proposed third league for Major League Baseball that was to begin play in 1961, never played a single game.

Rule changes

The NFL eventually adopted many ideas introduced by the AFL. One was including the names on player jerseys. The older league also adopted the practice of using the stadium scoreboard clocks to keep track of the official game time, instead of just having a stopwatch used by the referee. The AFL played a 14-game schedule for its entire existence, starting in 1960. The NFL, which had played a 12-game schedule since 1947, changed to a 14-game schedule in 1961, a year after the American Football League instituted it. The AFL also introduced the two-point conversion to professional football thirty-four years before the NFL instituted it in 1994 (college football had adopted the two point conversion in the late 1950s). All of these innovations pioneered by the AFL, including its more exciting style of play and colorful uniforms, have essentially made today's professional football more like the AFL than like the old-line NFL. The AFL's challenge to the NFL also laid the groundwork for the Super Bowl, which has become the standard for championship contests in the United States of America.


The NFL also adapted how the AFL used the growing power of televised football games, which were bolstered with the help of major network contracts (first with ABC and later with NBC). With that first contract with ABC, the AFL adopted the first-ever cooperative television plan for professional football, in which the proceeds were divided equally among member clubs. It featured many outstanding games, such as the classic 1962 double-overtime American Football League championship game between the Dallas Texans and the defending champion Houston Oilers. At the time it was the longest professional football championship game ever played. The AFL also appealed to fans by offering a flashier style of play (just like the ABA in basketball), compared to the more conservative game of the NFL. Long passes ("bombs") were commonplace in AFL offenses, led by such talented quarterbacks as John Hadl, Daryle Lamonica and Len Dawson.

Despite having a national television contract, the AFL often found itself trying to gain a foothold, only to come up against roadblocks. For example, CBS-TV, which broadcast NFL games, ignored and did not report scores from the innovative AFL, on orders from the NFL. It was only after the merger agreement was announced that CBS began to give AFL scores.

Expanding and reintroducing the sport to more cities

The AFL took advantage of the burgeoning popularity of football by locating teams in major cities that lacked NFL franchises. Hunt's vision not only brought a new professional football league to California and New York, but introduced the sport to Colorado, restored it to Texas and later to fast-growing Florida, as well as bringing it to New England for the first time in 12 years. Buffalo, having lost its original NFL franchise in 1929 and turned down by the NFL at least twice (1940 and 1950) for a replacement, returned to the NFL with the merger. The return of football to Kansas City was the first time that city had seen professional football since the NFL's Kansas City Blues/Cowboys of the 1920s; the arrival of the Chiefs, and the contemporary arrival of the St. Louis Football Cardinals, brought professional football back to Missouri for the first time since the temporary St. Louis Gunners of 1934.

Three NFL franchises were awarded as a direct result of the AFL's competition with the older league: the Vikings, who were awarded to Max Winter in exchange for dropping his bid to join the AFL; the Falcons, whose franchise went to Rankin Smith to dissuade him from purchasing the AFL's Miami Dolphins; and the Saints, because of successful anti-trust legislation which let the two leagues merge, and was supported by several Louisiana politicians. Further, the success of the expansion process engendered by the AFL-NFL conflict (as well as later expansion pressures created by the WFL, USFL, and even the CFL) certainly led to more expansion, ultimately to the current thirty-two team league. Thus, if not for the AFL, at least 15 of today's NFL teams would probably never have existed: the ten teams from the AFL, and the five instigated by the AFL's presence.

The AFL also ended up radically altering the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before the merger, the Steelers had long been one of the NFL's worst teams. Constantly lacking the money to build a quality team, the Steelers had only posted eight winning seasons, and just one playoff appearance, since their first year of existence in 1933. They also finished with a 1-13 record in 1969, tied with the Chicago Bears for the worst record in the NFL. The $3 million relocation fee that the Steelers received for joining the AFC after the merger helped them rebuild into a contender, drafting eventual-Pro Football Hall of Famers like Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene, and ultimately winning four Super Bowls in the 1970s.[42]

Effects on players

Perhaps the greatest social legacy of the AFL was the domino effect of its policy of being more liberal than the entrenched NFL in offering opportunity for black players. While the NFL was still emerging from thirty years of segregation influenced by Washington Redskins' owner George Preston Marshall, the AFL actively recruited from small and predominantly black colleges. The AFL's color-blindness led not only to the explosion of black talent on the field, but to the eventual entry of blacks into scouting, coordinating, and ultimately head coaching positions, long after the league ceased to exist.[43][44]

The AFL's free agents came from several sources. Some were players who could not find success playing in the NFL, while another source was the Canadian Football League. In the late 1950s, many players released by the NFL, or un-drafted and unsigned out of college by the NFL, went North to try their luck with the CFL, and later returned to the states to play in the AFL.

In the league's first years, players such as Oilers' George Blanda, Chargers/Bills' Jack Kemp, Texans' Len Dawson, the NY Titans' Don Maynard, Raiders/Patriots/Jets' Babe Parilli, Pats' Bob Dee proved to be AFL standouts. Other players such as the Broncos' Frank Tripucka, the Pats' Gino Cappelletti, the Bills' Cookie Gilchrist and the Chargers' Tobin Rote, Sam DeLuca and Dave Kocourek also made their mark to give the fledgling league badly needed credibility. Rounding out this mix of potential talent were the true "free agents", the walk-ons and the "wanna-be's", who tried out in droves for the chance to play professional American football.

After the AFL-NFL merger agreement in 1966, and after the AFL's Jets defeated the "best team in the history of the NFL", the Colts, a popular misconception fostered by the NFL and spread by media reports was that the AFL defeated the NFL because of the Common Draft instituted in 1967. This apparently was meant to assert that the AFL could not achieve parity as long as it had to compete with the NFL in the draft. But the 1968 Jets had less than a handful of "common draftees". Their stars were honed in the AFL, many of them since the Titans days. As noted below, the AFL got its share of stars long before the "common draft".

Players who chose the AFL to develop their talent included Lance Alworth and Ron Mix of the Chargers, who had also been drafted by the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts respectively. Both eventually were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after earning recognition during their careers as being among the best at their positions. Among specific teams, the 1964 Buffalo Bills stood out by holding their opponents to a pro football record 913 yards rushing on 300 attempts, while also recording fifty quarterback sacks in a 14-game schedule.

Another example is cited by the University of Kansas website, which describes the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl, won by KU, and goes on to say "Two Kansas players, quarterback John Hadl and fullback Curtis McClinton, signed professional contracts on the field immediately after the conclusion of the game. Hadl inked a deal with the [AFL] San Diego Chargers, and McClinton went to the [AFL] Dallas Texans." Between them, in their careers Hadl and McClinton combined for an American Football League Rookie of the Year award, seven AFL All-Star selections, two Pro Bowl selections, a team MVP award, two AFL All-Star Game MVP awards, two AFL championships, and a World Championship. And these were players selected by the AFL long before the "Common Draft".

In 2009, a five-part series, Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League, on the Showtime Network, refuted many of the long-held misconceptions about the AFL. In it, Abner Haynes tells of how his father forbade him to accept being drafted by the NFL, after drunken scouts from that league had visited the Haynes home; the NFL Cowboys' Tex Schramm is quoted as saying that if his team had ever agreed to play the AFL's Dallas Texans, they would very likely have lost; George Blanda makes a case for more AFL players being inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by pointing out that Hall of Famer Willie Brown was cut by the Houston Oilers because he couldn't cover Oilers flanker Charlie Hennigan in practice. Later, when Brown was with the Broncos, Hennigan needed nine catches in one game against the Broncos to break Lionel Taylor's Professional Football record of 100 catches in one season. Hennigan caught the nine passes and broke the record, even though he was covered by Brown: Blanda's point being that if Hennigan could do so well against a Hall of Fame db, he deserves induction, as well.

Influence on professional football coaching

The AFL also spawned coaches whose style and techniques have profoundly affected the play of professional football to this day. In addition to AFL greats like Hank Stram, Lou Saban, Sid Gillman and Al Davis were eventual hall of fame coaches such as Bill Walsh, a protegé of Davis with the AFL Oakland Raiders for one season; and Chuck Noll, who worked for Gillman and the AFL LA/San Diego Chargers from 1960 through 1965. Others include Buddy Ryan (AFL's New York Jets), Chuck Knox (Jets), Walt Michaels (Jets), and John Madden (AFL's Oakland Raiders). Additionally, many prominent coaches began their pro football careers as players in the AFL, including Sam Wyche (Cincinnati Bengals), Marty Schottenheimer (Buffalo Bills), Wayne Fontes (Jets), and two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Flores (Oakland Raiders). Flores also has a Super Bowl ring as a player (1969 Kansas City Chiefs).

Walsh is often cited for an impressive "coaching tree" of assistants who went on to become head coaches. But since Walsh was an assistant to Davis, who in turn learned the trade from Gillman, Walsh's coaching tree is thus an offshoot of Gillman's coaching tree. Besides Davis, others who coached for Gillman included Dick Vermeil, Knox, and George Allen, as well as Noll, the only head coach to win four Super Bowls. The numbers on Gillman's coaching tree indicate the Super Bowls won by his coaching "descendants", a total of twenty-four.

File:Gillman Coaching Tree.gif

Remarkable Players

Some of the greatest Pro Football stars of the 1960s played in the American Football League, including (only primary teams given):


Running Backs


Tight Ends

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Backs


Defensive Linemen

Punters/Kickers/'Utility Men'

Although the above list contains the names of outstanding stars, many of whom were Rookies of the Year, Most Valuable Players, perennial All-League players, League and World Champions, All-Time All-League players, and all-time Pro Football record holders, not one of them has been selected to the "pro football" Hall of Fame.

Hall of Famers

American Football League members who are in the Hall of Fame include:


Running Backs


Tight Ends

  • None!

Offensive Linemen

Defensive Backs


Defensive Linemen

Punters/Kickers/'Utility Men'

Coaches and Contributors

AFL League Structure and Historical Notes

AFL franchises

Division Team First Season Home Stadium AFL Record (W-L-T)[45] AFL Titles
Eastern Boston Patriots 1960 Nickerson Field (196062), Fenway Park (196368), Alumni Stadium (1969) 64-69-9 0
Buffalo Bills 1960 War Memorial Stadium (1960-1969) 67-71-6 2
Houston Oilers 1960 Jeppesen Stadium (196064), Rice Stadium (196567), Houston Astrodome (196869) 72-69-4 2
Miami Dolphins 1966 Miami Orange Bowl 15-39-2 0
New York Titans/Jets 1960 Polo Grounds (196063), Shea Stadium (196469) 71-67-6 1
Western Cincinnati Bengals 1968 Nippert Stadium (1968-1969) 7-20-1 0
Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs 1960 Cotton Bowl (196062), Municipal Stadium (196369) 92-50-5 3
Denver Broncos 1960 Bears Stadium/Mile High Stadium (196069) 39-97-4 0
Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers 1960 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (1960), Balboa Stadium (196166), San Diego Stadium (196769) 88-51-6 1
Oakland Raiders 1960 Kezar Stadium (four games in 1960), Candlestick Park (1960-1961), Frank Youell Field (196265), Oakland Coliseum (196669) 80-61-5 1

Today, two of the NFL's eight divisions are composed entirely of former AFL teams, the AFC West (Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, and Raiders) and the AFC East (Bills, Dolphins, Jets, and Patriots). Additionally, the Bengals now play in the AFC North and the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Oilers) play in the AFC South.

AFL Playoffs

From 1960 to 1968, the AFL determined its champion via a single-elimination playoff game between the winners of its two divisions.The home teams alternated each year by division, so in 1968 the Jets hosted the Raiders, even though Oakland had a better record (this was changed in 1969). In 1963, the Buffalo Bills and Boston Patriots finished tied with identical records of 7–6–1 in the AFL East Division. There was no tie-breaker protocol in place, so a one game playoff was held in War Memorial Stadium in December. The visiting Patriots defeated the host Bills 26–8. The Patriots traveled to San Diego as the Chargers completed a three game season sweep over the weary Patriots with a 51–10 victory.

A similar situation occurred in the 1968 season, when the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs finished the regular season tied with identical records of 12–2 in the AFL West Division. The Raiders beat the Chiefs 41–6 in a division playoff to qualify for the AFL Championship Game. In 1969, the final year of the independent AFL, Professional Football's first "wild card" playoffs were conducted. A four-team playoff was held, with the second-place teams in each division playing the winner of the other division. The Chiefs upset the Raiders in Oakland 17–7 in the league's Championship, the final AFL game played. The Kansas City Chiefs were the first Super Bowl champion to win two road playoff games and the first wildcard team to win the Super Bowl, although the term "wildcard" was coined by the media, and not used officially until several years later.

AFL Championship Games

Eastern Division Western Division
Season Date Winning Team Score Losing Team Venue Attendance
1960 January 1, 1961 Houston Oilers 24–16 Los Angeles Chargers Jeppesen Stadium 32,183
1961 December 24, 1961 Houston Oilers (2) 10–3 San Diego Chargers Balboa Stadium 29,556
1962 December 23, 1962 Dallas Texans 20–17 (2OT) Houston Oilers Jeppesen Stadium (2) 37,981
1963 January 5, 1964 San Diego Chargers 51–10 Boston Patriots Balboa Stadium (2) 30,127
1964 December 26, 1964 Buffalo Bills 20–7 San Diego Chargers War Memorial Stadium 40,242
1965 December 26, 1965 Buffalo Bills (2) 23–0 San Diego Chargers Balboa Stadium (3) 30,361
1966 January 1, 1967 Kansas City Chiefs (2) 31–7 Buffalo Bills War Memorial Stadium (2) 42,080
1967 December 31, 1967 Oakland Raiders 40–7 Houston Oilers Oakland Coliseum 53,330
1968 December 29, 1968 New York Jets 27–23 Oakland Raiders Shea Stadium 62,627
1969 January 4, 1970 Kansas City Chiefs (3) 17–7 Oakland Raiders Oakland Coliseum (2) 53,561

Italics – Super Bowl Appearance Bold - Super Bowl Victory

AFL All-Star games

The AFL did not play an All-Star game after its first season in 1960, but did stage All-Star games for the 1961 through 1969 seasons. All-Star teams from the Eastern and Western divisions played each other after every season except 1965. That season, the league champion Buffalo Bills played all-stars from the other teams.

After the 1964 season, the AFL All-Star game had been scheduled for early 1965 in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium. After numerous black players were refused service by a number of area hotels and businesses, black and white players alike called for a boycott. Led by Bills players such as Cookie Gilchrist, the players successfully lobbied to have the game moved to Houston's Jeppesen Stadium.[46]

All-Time AFL Team

As chosen by 1969 AFL Hall of Fame Selection Committee Members:[47]

All-Time AFL Team
Offense Defense Special Teams
Position Player Position Player Position Player
Flanker Lance Alworth End Jerry Mays Kicker George Blanda
End Don Maynard Gerry Philbin
Tight end Fred Arbanas Tackle Houston Antwine
Tackle Ron Mix Tom Sestak
Jim Tyrer Linebacker Bobby Bell
Center Jim Otto George Webster
Guard Ed Budde Nick Buoniconti Punter Jerrel Wilson
Billy Shaw Cornerback Willie Brown
Quarterback Joe Namath Dave Grayson
Running back Clem Daniels Safety Johnny Robinson
Paul Lowe George Saimes

Prominent Exclusions from the Pro Football Hall of Fame

  • Weeb Ewbank, Head Coach of the AFL New York Jets' World Championship Game victory over the overrated NFL Baltimore Colts, and the only man to lead teams to NFL, American Football League, and World Championships, is not in the "pro football" Hall of Fame.
  • Daryle Lamonica, quarterback of the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders, who still holds the record for best winning percentage (80.1%) in the history of Pro Football, is not in the "pro football" Hall of Fame.
  • Johnny Robinson, defensive back for the Dallas Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, player on three AFL Championship teams and a World Champinship team, with an interception and a fumble recovery while playing with broken ribs in the World Championship game, is not in the "pro football" Hall of Fame.
  • Tom Sestak, defensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills and one of the most feared players of the 1960s, two-time AFL champion and member of the All-Time All-AFL Team, is not in the "pro football" Hall of Fame.


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External links