As many readers know, I have a very warm spot in my heart for the American Football League, and as I sat to do a blog still a few weeks from camp craziness beginning, I thought I would take a look back at some of the ways in which the AFL made a permanent mark on pro football.
For one thing, when the merger was completed the National Football League all of a sudden had 10 more franchises, many in cities that might never have gotten teams if there had never been an AFL.
Without any question, Denver was one of those cities. Even today, it is the 18th largest television market and listed on most surveys as approximately the 23rd largest American population center, so the NFL would have been in no big hurry to put a team here.
The AFL was the only pro football league to compete successfully with the NFL, and its success over a decade brought several big time changes to the game of pro football.
Here are a few to ponder:
Denver, Miami, Cincinnati, Oakland, Buffalo, San Diego, Houston, Boston and Kansas City were all of a sudden in the NFL. If not for the AFL, perhaps as many as 17 of today’s NFL teams might never have existed, including franchises awarded in the NFL to keep them out of the AFL-Minnesota and Atlanta, for two.
Names on player jerseys-that was an AFL original, and now all teams have them.
The stadium scoreboard clock kept the official time in the AFL, instead of the NFL referee stopwatch system.
The AFL always played a 14-game schedule, while the NFL stuck with a 12-game slate until 1961, after the AFL introduced the longer season.
The two-point conversion — that was an AFL staple from the beginning, and the NFL started using it 34 years after the AFL began!
Colorful uniforms — remember the Broncos of 1960? The Chargers’ lightning bolt?
The existence of the AFL led to the pro football championship game-in other words, THE SUPER BOWL!
The first ever financially cooperative TV plan for pro football was the AFL’s contract with ABC.
The AFL had a far flasher style of play, with great stress on the passing game. Far more passing than the more conservative NFL.
The “bomb”-passing attacks in San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City and even Denver helped change pro football to a more wide open game.
The AFL had a huge social impact, leading to a positive explosion of African-American players on the field, which also continued to impact more blacks in positions of scouting and coaching long after the AFL ceased to exist.
A very significant sociological moment in pro football and American sport came after the 1964 season, when the AFL all-star game was scheduled to be played in New Orleans, at Tulane Stadium. However, after numerous black players were denied service at local hotels and other establishments, black and white players alike called for a boycott. The players successfully lobbied for the game to be moved to Houston, where the 1964 AFL All-Star Game was played. One of the leaders of that movement was Cookie Gilchrist, the great Buffalo fullback who played two seasons for the Broncos during his great career.
The AFL had coaches whose techniques dramatically impacted pro football then, and pro football now as well. AFL coaches included Hank Stram, Sid Gillman, Al Davis, Lou Saban, as well as assistant coaches like Bill Walsh (he was with the Raiders), Chuck Noll (the Chargers), Chuck Knox (Jets), John Madden, and many others.
In 1969, the final year of the AFL as an entity separate from the NFL (after the merger had already been announced), pro football’s first wild card playoff games were played. The Chiefs were a wild card and upset the Raiders in the championship game, which was the final actual AFL game ever played. Kansas City became the first Super Bowl champion to win two playoff games on the road and the first actual wild card team to win the Super Bowl, defeating the Minnesota Vikings.
The NFL is the most popular sports league in American sports history, and we are about to embark on another season that surely will prove to be fantastic.
But there are footprints and footnotes to history that we should never overlook, and the AFL provided many of them that still impact the game.
Until next time, thanks for reading!