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What is the American Football League?

By Leo J
Updated May 16, 2024
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The American Football League is a professional football league that was not created with the idea of competing with the National Football League, though that's ultimately what it did. The American Football League was formed in 1960 - decades after the establishment of the National Football League - behind the vision of Lamar Hunt. The league began play with eight teams: the Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans and Oakland Raiders. The American Football League had humble beginnings, though, as low attendance and financial problems plagued the early years. But things never got bad enough to force teams to fold.

The American Football League started to really gain credibility in 1964, when it formed a television contract with NBC and set league records for attendance. While there was no initial intent to compete with the National Football League, on some occasions a team in each league drafted the same college player, and where that player chose to go turned into a victory for that league. Gale Sayers chose the NFL. Joe Namath chose the AFL.

The National Football League also started franchises - most notably the Dallas Cowboys - to directly compete with American Football League teams. Amid concerns about the rising player salaries caused by competition between the leagues, Hunt and Dallas Cowboys owner Tex Schramm formed plans for a merger in 1966. The merger was to be completed by 1970, and beginning with the 1966 season, the champions of the American Football League and National Football League would meet in the "World Championship Game" - later renamed the Super Bowl.

Nevertheless, the American Football League was still largely considered inferior, and the results of the first two championship games - easy victories by the NFL's Green Bay Packers - did little to change that perception. That changed in 1969, though, when the New York Jets (formerly Titans) of the American Football League -- 18-point underdogs -- upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Namath had famously guaranteed victory over the heavily favored Colts days before the game, and the win gave the American Football League a legitimacy it had been lacking. The leagues merged the next year and became the American Football Conference and National Football Conference of the NFL. In the first Super Bowl of the new NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs - Lamar Hunt's team, which had relocated from Dallas and was renamed - beat the Minnesota Vikings.

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Discussion Comments
By anon23670 — On Dec 30, 2008

No need to post this; I'm just bringing an error to your attention.

The referenced Super Bowl win by Kansas City over Minnesota was actually the last AFL-NFL game (in the 1969-70 season). The first all-NFL Super Bowl was the following season -- and while the champion Baltimore Colts did indeed represent the AFC, they were one of three "old NFL" clubs placed there to balance the conferences.

By malena — On Feb 03, 2008

If it weren't for the AFL, the NFL wouldn't have become as great as it is, and we probably wouldn't have the Super Bowl. And if we didn't have the Super Bowl, we wouldn't have the annual competition between ad agencies to see who can create the most memorable Super Bowl ad. It always comes back to making a buck! ;)

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