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American Football League

The American Football League, or AFL, was a professional league of American football which operated from 1960 to 1969. (There were three earlier, unrelated, and unsuccessful football leagues with the name of "American Football League", one in 1926, one in 1936-1937, and one in 1940-1941.) Of all the leagues that have attempted to challenge the dominance of the NFL, it was the only one to be truly successful. In 1970, the two leagues merged into a single league.

The AFL benefited from having been formed just at a time when professional football was beginning to catch up with (and eventually, in the 1960s, overtake) baseball as the most popular spectator team sport in the United States. It took advantage of this burgeoning popularity by locating teams in major cities that lacked NFL franchises, and by using the growing power of televised football games (bolstered with the help of a major network contract). At the same time, it successfully engaged the NFL in a costly bidding war for talented players. It was this bidding war, which was financially draining both leagues, that eventually led to the merger.

The AFL appealed to fans by offering a flashier alternative to the more conservative NFL. Team uniforms were bright and colorful. Long passes ("bombs") were commonplace in AFL offenses, led by such talented quarterbacks as John Hadl, Daryle Lamonica, and Len Dawson. Some innovative rules changes were also put into place, such as the two-point conversion (later adopted by the NFL in 1990s); the use of the scoreboard clock as the official game clock (adopted by the NFL when the leagues merged--prior to this time, the official game clock was maintained by an official on the sidelines, and often did not match the scoreboard clock very closely); the use of player names on jerseys, (also adopted by the NFL); and the sharing of gate revenues between home and visiting teams (also adopted by the NFL). In short, the NFL adopted virtually every pioneering aspect of the American Football League, except its name.

The AFL achieved its phenomenal success in spite of major bias by the print and electronic media. CBS-TV, which then carried NFL games, refused to give AFL game scores on its football broadcasts. Sports Illustrated ridiculed the new league, and even after it was established, showed its bias in lush, full page color action shots of the NFL, while it used black and white photos in its AFL coverage. In turn, each of the NFL teams in the first four Super Bowls, the Packers, the Colts, and the Vikings were heralded as "the greatest football team in history". Two out of three of those teams were defeated by their AFL opponents.

In 1966, the two leagues paved the way for a merger by agreeing to operate a common draft, and to carry out a championship game between the two league champions. The title game has come to be known officially as the Super Bowl, but originally this was just a nickname (coined, apparently, by AFL team owner Lamar Hunt, whose daughter owned a toy called a "super ball"); the game was, at first, officially called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The NFL champions in both 1966 and 1967, the Green Bay Packers, decisively defeated the AFL champions in the first two Super Bowls, thus confirming the view of many NFL supporters that the NFL was the superior league. However, the AFL champions won the last two Super Bowls before the merger was completed in 1970. The first of these two victories was carried out by the New York Jets over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, and was one of the most heralded upsets in sports history.

When the two leagues merged, the AFL had 10 teams, the NFL 16. These formed the basis for the National and American conferences of the newly merged NFL. Three teams from the NFL (the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers), moved to the American Conference so that both conferences would have the same number of teams. In order to produce an eight-team playoff tournament with six divisions, the NFL instituted the innovation of the wild card playoff team, where the best second-place finishers in each conference qualified. This innovation was later imitated by major league baseball.

AFL Teams

The original eight AFL teams were as follows:

Eastern Division

Boston Patriots (now New England Patriots)
Buffalo Bills
Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans)
New York Titans (now New York Jets)

Western Division

Dallas Texans (now Kansas City Chiefs)
Denver Broncos
Los Angeles Chargers (now San Diego Chargers)
Oakland Raiders

The eight-team format led to a type of scheduling that matched the league's fourteen-week schedule, such that each team played every other team exactly twice. Thus, every team had an identical schedule.

The league added a ninth team, the Miami Dolphins, in 1966, and a tenth team, the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968.

From 1960 to 1968, the AFL determined its champion via a single playoff game between the winners of its two divisions. In 1969, a four team tournament was instituted, with the second place teams in each division also participating.

AFL Championship Games

Commissioners/Presidents of AFL

  • Joe Foss........... November 1959-April 1966 Commissioner
  • Al Davis........... April 1966-July 1966 Commissioner
  • Milt Woodward...... July 1966-March 1970 President

External Links: AFL Hall of Fame (http://www.conigliofamily.com/AFLHallofFame.htm)



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