Chiefs Hall of Honor

AFL

History

AFL ORIGINS


Alan Ameche ends the dramatic ’58 title game.




On December 28, 1958, Lamar Hunt sat on a bed in his hotel room in Houston watching the stirring finish of the 1958 National Football League championship game, as the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants, 23-17, in sudden- death overtime. Hunt, the 26-year-old son of Texas oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, had spent much of the previous two years trying to decide whether he wanted to invest in a baseball team or a football team. But after watching the game, his mind was made up. “My interest emotionally was always more in football,” he said later.

“But clearly the game sort of in my mind made me say, ‘Well that’s it. This sport really has everything. And it televises well.’ And who knew what that meant?” Over the next two months he intensified his efforts to land an existing or expansion team in the National Football League.

AFL ORIGINS

The stationery on which Hunt sketched out his original idea.



In February of 1959, after a fruitless meeting in Miami with the owner of the Chicago Cardinals NFL franchise, Hunt returned by plane to Dallas. Unable to buy an existing franchise, and repeatedly rebuffed in his efforts to persuade the NFL to expand, it seemed his efforts to acquire a pro football team were in vain. But on the flight, he recalled later, “it was as if a light bulb came on.” It occurred to Hunt that he could explore the possibility of forming his own football league. Borrowing airline stationery, he sketched out a rough outline of the prospective new league. Later in the spring, he met with Houston oilman Bud Adams, who agreed to join the enterprise. In the coming months, Hunt would line up other investors in Minneapolis, Denver, Los Angeles and New York to join his team in Dallas and Adams’ club in Houston.

On August 14, less than two weeks after his 27th birthday, Hunt called to order a meeting in Chicago, and the American Football League was officially born. World War II flying ace and former South Dakota Gov. Joe Foss was named the league’s first commissioner.

AFL ORIGINS

The league’s recruiting brochure for its first season.




Within two weeks of the AFL’s formation, the NFL announced that it would put an expansion franchise in Dallas to compete with Hunt’s flagship team. In November, the AFL’s Minneapolis franchise defected to the older league (where the team would become the expansion Vikings in 1961). As the NFL moved aggressively to smother the AFL’s challenge, many observers thought that the new league was doomed. “lf Bud Adams and Lamar Hunt insist on war, then they themselves, and the cities they represent will be the losers,” wrote the Houston Post’s Jack Gallagher, after the NFL announced it would move into Texas. “From here it would appear that the wisest move the AFL can make at this time is to disband.” Instead, Hunt and the other owners persevered, and began the 1960 season with eight franchises: the Dallas Texans, Houston Oilers, Boston Patriots, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders. The American Football League’s first season kicked off with the Denver Broncos beating the Boston Patriots 13-10, on Sept. 9, 1960 in front of 21,597 at Boston University Field.

AFL ORIGINS

The Foolish Club (back row, Sullivan, Kunz, Wilson, Hunt, Wismer, Valley and Hilton; front row, Adams and Foss).



The league’s style of play was wide open and TV friendly (with a two-point conversion option after touchdowns, and names on the back of players’ jerseys). The AFL also was buoyed by an innovative joint television package, the first of its kind in professional sports. The five-year, $8.5 million deal with ABC paid each of the AFL’s clubs $170,000 per season. (The NFL would introduce its own joint TV deal a year later.) Attendance was disappointing in most cities, with the Chargers moving from Los Angeles to San Diego after their initial campaign.

At a meeting in 1961, Raiders owner Wayne Valley, reflecting on the widespread losses, said the league’s owners should call themselves “The Foolish Club.” The Texans, competing in the same city with the NFL expansion Cowboys in 1960, barely outdrew them at the box office – with league player of the year Abner Haynes starring for the Texans-but lost more than a million dollars in the process.

AFL ORIGINS

The new logo was a variation on the old one.



“They have horses and cattle running in the middle of the main street in the city.”

The Dallas Texans, behind NFL castoff Len Dawson at quarterback, defeated two-time defending champion Houston in a thrilling 20-’I7 double-overtime game for the 1962 AFL Championship. But the Texans had lost $2.5 million in their first three seasons in Dallas, and on Feb. 8,1963, Lamar Hunt announced that he would move the franchise to Kansas City, Missouri, if the city would sell 25,000 season tickets. Despite the ticket drive stalling at 15,000, the Texans left town May 14, bound for Kansas City.

“The thought then, particularly back East, was, ‘Man, you’re going to a cow town’,” remembered Len Dawson. “They have horses and cattle running in the middle of the main street in the city.”‘ Renamed the Chiefs, the franchise played its first game in Kansas City, a pre- season contest against Buffalo, before a crowd of 5,721 at Municipal Stadium. That 1963 season was dominated by the high-flying San Diego Chargers, who won the 1963 title with a 51-10 route of the Boston Patriots.

AFL ORIGINS

The newspaper headlines were more reliable than the Texans’ marquee.

AFL ORIGINS

NBC’s deal helped solidify the AFL’s foothold.



The same spring that the Texans moved to Kansas City, the bankrupt New York Titans were purchased by a five-man ownership group headed by Music Corporation of America mogul David A. “Sonny” Werblin, who renamed the team the Jets. With two of its key franchises in better circumstances and shaky situations in Oakland and Denver also stabilized-the AFL went on to (set attendance records in 1963. Less than a month after the ’63 season and only days after the NFL signed a record contract with CBS-TV, the AFL responded with its new agreement, a five-year $36 million dollar deal with NBC-which Werblin helped broker-that put the AFL franchises on a more equal footing with the teams in the older league. With that, the AFL owners moved more aggressively in the war for rookie players. “Well,” said Steelers owner Art Rooney when he received news of the NBC deal, “they don’t have to call us Mister anymore.”

AFL ORIGINS

Young Namath gets magazine covers.



On January 2, 1965, Jets owner Sonny Werblin announced the signing of strong-armed Alabama quarterback Joe Namath to the richest contract in pro sports history, $427,000 over four seasons. The charismatic Namath’s appeal transcended the world of sports. Sports Illustrated put the signing on its cover with the headline, “Football Goes Show Biz.”

After averaging 14,000 fans during their final season at the Polo Grounds and 42,000 their first year at Shea Stadium, the Jets – with the rookie Namath starting by the third week – began selling out Shea, averaging 58,000 fans per game for the season. The success of players like Namath and the AFL’S TV contract with NBC further escalated the war between the leagues, leading to widespread “baby-sitting” leagues sending representatives to tend to players days before the draft.

In the most celebrated case, the Chiefs’ scout Lloyd Wells coaxed Otis Taylor out of the back window of a Dallas hotel room – the front door of which was being closely guarded by NFL representatives– to sign a deal with Kansas City. On the field, the Buffalo Bills – behind quarterback Jack Kemp – won AFL titles in 1964 and ’65.

AFL ORIGINS




The successful protest marked one of the first instances of professional athletes working together to make a social statement.

In January 1965, 80 AFL players traveled to New Orleans for the AFL All-Star Game. Many of the 21 black players confronted a jolting series of racial slights, from the moment they arrived at the airport and tried to get taxi service. From Bourbon Street to the French quarter, black players were repeatedly denied entrance into clubs and cab rides back to the hotel, and subjected to routine abuse on the street. At one club where the players were denied entrance, a bouncer pulled a gun on Chargers’ defensive end Ernie Ladd.

The repeated acts of racism prompted a meeting among black players in which they voted to boycott the game. A day later, AFL Commissioner Joe Foss announced that the AFL supported the black players and that the game would be moved to Houston. The successful protest marked one of the first instances of professional athletes working together to make a social statement.

AFL ORIGINS

The protest over discrimination in New Orleans earned headlines and a switch to Houston for Ladd (77), Gilchrist (36) and other stars.

AFL ORIGINS

In the Spring of 1966, with the bidding war between the leagues for rookie players continuing its ruinous path and teams in both leagues awash in red ink, Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm called for a secret meeting with Chiefs’ owner and AFL founder Lamar Hunt. On April 6, Schramm met Hunt under the statue of the Texas Ranger in the terminal of Love Field in Dallas. Over the next two months, the two men represented their respective leagues during the ongoing secret negotiations that culminated in the June 8,1966 announcement that the NFL and AFL would merge fully by 1970, with Pete Rozelle serving as the commissioner of the combined leagues (spelling an end to the brief, eventful reign of Al Davis as AFL Commissioner). With the merger, the two leagues also announced the first “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” to be held following the 1966 regular season. In a July memo to Rozelle, Hunt suggested the game could be called the “Super Bowl.”

AFL ORIGINS

Davis brought war to the NFL, but headlines blared the news of peace after press conference with Schramm, Rozelle and Hunt.

AFL ORIGINS

The Chiefs and Packers played to more than 30,000 empty seats at the Los Angeles Coliseum.



On January 15, 1967, the Kansas City Chiefs ran through the tunnel of the Los Angeles Coliseum to meet the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game-though even then, both the public and the media were routinely referring to it by Hunt’s name of “Super Bowl.” After seven seasons of competing against each other at a distance, the game marked the first time an AFL team had faced an NFL squad on the field Though the Packers led by just 14-10 at halftime, they broke the game open in the third quarter to win decisively, 35-10. The game would be watched by more than 65 million people, at the time the largest audience ever to watch a sporting event in America. Yet attendance was just 63,036, leaving more than 32,000 empty seats for pro football’s biggest game. A year later, the Packers would return for Super Bowl II Buchanan and the Chiefs reached Starr and the Packers early in the first Super Bowl; Hunt got the inspiration for the title of the game from the novelty toy; the Chiefs and Packers played to more than 30,000 empty seats at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

AFL ORIGINS

Super Bowl I scenes (clockwise from above): Stram, Rozelle, and Hunt surveyed the field before kickoff; Stram led the Chiefs on the field; McClinton received aid on the sideline; Dawson spent much of the day passing under pressure.

AFL ORIGINS

After boldly guaranteeing a win the Thursday night before the game, Namath and the Jets went out and delivered it on the third Super Sunday.



“We’re gong to win the game, I guarantee it.”

After being soundly defeated in the first two Super Bowls, and with the NFL considering a change in the playoff format in the future, the AFL pulled off an upset for the ages on January 12, 1969, as the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in Super Bowl III. Three nights before the game, at the Miami Touchdown Club awards dinner, the Jets quarterback Joe Namath had vowed, “We’re gong to win the game, I guarantee it.” Then the game’s biggest star, from the nation’s biggest city, cast as an underdog on the sport’s biggest stage, rose to the occasion and helped deliver the biggest upset in pro football history. Afterward, a still-stunned NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle confided to one aide, “Don’t worry, this may be the best thing that ever happened to the game.”

AFL ORIGINS

Dawson walked off to congratulations from Stram, and the AFL passed into history, but not until it had gained respect and parity with the older league.



On January 11, 1970, barely a decade after the created the upstart league, Lamar Hunt watched his Kansas City Chiefs take the field for the fourth Super Bowl, the final game in the history of the AFL, which would be fully absorbed into the NFL before the 1970 season. The Chiefs wore patches on their jerseys marking the AFL’s tenth anniversary, and on a muddy field in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, they dismantled the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, to even the series between the AFL and NFL at two games apiece. The telecast was watched by more Americans than saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and after the game, Chiefs’ quarterback and most valuable player Len Dawson received a congratulatory phone call from President Richard Nixon. Thus on the very same day that the American Football League finally earned the lasting respect it deserved, it also ceased to exist.

AFL Origins: AFL to AFC

With the full merger of the AFL into the National Football League in 1970, the 26 teams of the NFL were divided into two 13-team conferences. Thirteen of the 16 NFL teams remained together, in the renamed National Football Conference. But three NFL members-Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland- joined the 10 AFL franchises in the newly-formed American Football Conference.

At Lamar Hunt’s urging, the AFC’s bold block “A” logo bore more than a passing resemblance to the winged “A” of the AFL. In 1986, the AFC’s championship trophy was renamed in honor of Hunt. It remains the one piece of coveted hardware that the Chiefs haven’t yet won.

Last season before the 1970 AFL/NFL Merger (left). AFL Logo, 1959; and AFC Logo, 1970 (above).