AFL-NFL Merger

From Academic Kids

The AFL-NFL Merger of American professional football leagues in 1970 was the result of many social and economic forces that came to a head in 1966.

After its inception in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, the NFL adopted its current name in 1922, and fended off several rival leagues. Prior to 1960, the most important of these was the All-America Football Conference (AAFC, 1946 - 1949), which was different than the NFL in several ways:

  • it actively recruited black players, forcing the NFL to change the "no blacks" policy it had reverted to in 1932
  • crowds at many AAFC games were larger than those at NFL games; and
  • its perennial champions, the Cleveland Browns, were considered by many to be the best team in professional football.

After the NFL absorbed the AAFC in 1950, it went unchallenged by rival leagues until 1960, when the American Football League (AFL, 1960 - 1969) began play in eight American cities.

The NFL had settled into to a methodical, grind-it-out brand of football, influenced by legendary but hide-bound founders such as George Halas, who were still coaching and administrating teams as they had in the 1920s. Though they had opened the door a crack to black players, they maintained an unwritten quota system, and ignored the plethora of small colleges which had sprung forth to accommodate the rush of "GI Bill" students after World War II. Many of these small colleges were predominantly black, so a valuable source of talent was largely ignored by the NFL.

In 1959, Dallas' Lamar Hunt, son of oil millionaire H. L. Hunt, rebuffed in his attempts to gain at least part-ownership in an NFL team, conceived the idea of a rival professional football league, the American Football League. After a false start involving Minneapolis, the league established franchises in Boston, Buffalo, New York, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Oakland, and Los Angeles.

From small colleges, the league signed stars such as: Elbert Dubenion (Bluffton); Lionel Taylor (New Mexico Highlands); Tom Sestak (McNeese State); Charlie Tolar and Charlie Hennigan (Northwestern State of Louisiana); Abner Haynes (North Texas State); and a host of others. From major colleges, it signed talented players like: LSU's Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon; Arkansas' Lance Alworth; Notre Dame's Daryle Lamonica, Kansas' John Hadl, Alabama's Joe Namath, and many more. The AFL also signed players the NFL had given up on: so-called "NFL Rejects" who turned out to be superstars that the NFL had mis-evaluated, including: Jack Kemp, Babe Parilli, Ron McDole, Art Powell, John Tracey, George Blanda, Don Maynard, and Len Dawson.

The AFL instituted many policies and rules that today are considered integral with professional football: the two-point conversion; official time on the scoreboard clock; players' names on jerseys; network television of all league games, first on ABC-TV and later with NBC-TV; and the sharing of gate and television revenues by home and visiting teams. The NFL had none of these features before the American Football League came into being. Additionally, the AFL played a more exciting, wide-open game, with long passes and reverses; and it promulgated colorful uniforms and team logos.

As the rivalry between the leagues intensified, both leagues resorted to "dirty tricks" to sign players and to "baby-sit" draftees, to keep the other league from negotiating with them. But still, once they were signed, there was tacit agreement to honor the other league's contracts. That agreement was shattered in early 1966, when the NFL New York Giants signed Pete Gogolak, the first professional soccer-style placekicker, who was already under contract and playing with the AFL's Buffalo Bills. That breach of trust by the NFL loosed the "dogs of war". Former flying ace and governor Joe Foss stepped aside and hawk Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders took over as American Football League Commissioner. Davis immediately signed eight starting NFL quarterbacks, including John Brodie and Roman Gabriel, to 1966 contracts with AFL teams.

That led to serious merger talks, and the leagues ultimately agreed to merge, with:

  • AFL "indemnities" paid to NFL teams which shared markets with AFL teams;
  • three of the sixteen NFL teams, Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, joining the (by then) ten AFL teams to balance the new AFC and NFC conferences;
  • a "common draft" of college players; and
  • a World Championship game to be played between the American Football League champions and the NFL champions.

The features of the merger were dependent on passage of a law by the United States 89th Congress, exempting the merged leagues from antitrust law sanctions.

Many observers believed that the NFL got the better of the bargain. Al Davis and New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin resisted the indemnity payments. Long-time AFL writer Jerry Magee of the San Diego Union wrote: "Al Davis taking over as commissioner was the strongest thing the AFL ever did. He thought the AFL-NFL merger was a detriment to the AFL." Many believe that had Al Davis been given the opportunity to continue his efforts, the NFL would have folded, or capitulated to join the AFL, rather than the AFL losing its identity. That action was bitter for thousands of American Football League fans who wanted their league to continue. Those feelings were reinforced when American Football League teams won the final two AFL-NFL World Championship games after the 1968 and 1969 seasons.

In order to have Congress agree to pass a law allowing the merger, in October 1966, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and other professional football executives appeared before the Congress' Subcommittee on Antitrust, chaired by New York congressman Emanuel Celler. In their appearances, two points were repeatedly made:

  • Rozelle promised that if the merger was allowed, no existing professional football franchise of either league would be moved from any city; and
  • Stadiums seating 50,000 were declared to be adequate for professional football's needs.

Rozelle's specific quotes included:

  • "Every franchise of both leagues will remain in its present location."; and
  • "Professional football operations will be preserved in the 23 cities and 25 stadiums where such operations are presently being conducted. This alone is a matter of considerable public interest--to local economies, stadium authorities and consumers. Without the plan, franchise moves and/or franchise failures will occur as a matter of course within the next few years."

That is, if the merger was permitted, pro football would keep its existing teams in the cities and stadiums that had teams in 1966.

Since the "stabilizing" merger, the following teams have moved, from a few miles, to hundreds of miles and across several states: New York Giants, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders (twice), Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans (twice) and Boston/New England Patriots. Those teams moved to new stadiums built to attract them, paid for by public funds, except for the Patriots' new stadium. In addition, the following areas have used public funds to build new stadiums to keep or regain franchises: Kansas City, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Chicago.

Professor Stephen F. Ross of the University of Illinois has stated that the best deterrent to franchise moves would be to have two separate leagues, since it is unlikely that one league would leave a major market, to be taken over by the other league.

Nevertheless, the merger is fact. Since 1970, there has been one major professional football league in the United States, currently (in 2004) with 16 teams in each of two conferences, the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. The conference champions play annually in the "Super Bowl", the NFL Championship Game.

External links

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