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          The American Football League Hall of Fame archives contain thousands of items about the AFL.   Newspaper articles about the American Football League . . . stories, columns and letters to the editor about the American Football League.  Photos and collector cards of American Football League players.  Game programs, ticket stubs, game reports and box scores of American Football League games.
           It would be virtually impossible to put all that information on a website, but this page will periodically post selected historic items about the American Football League, as they were written by the sportswriters and fans in the 1960s, as well as more recent articles.  In some cases the dates are approximate.

NOTE:  In the interest of conserving space on this site, at the bottom of the page, I have links to articles on the AFL that are already available at other sites.



Fantasy Football: Craze's roots go back to Oakland [and the American Football League]
November 27, 2004 By Glenn Dickey, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer


On a rainy November night in Manhattan in 1962, Fantasy Football had a very humble beginning.

In the early years of the American Football League, the Raiders took a two-week swing through the East, during which they played the Buffalo Bills, New York Titans (who became the Jets in 1963) and the Boston (now New England) Patriots. To save money, they stayed in the East for that period, instead of flying back to Oakland after each game.

So one night in '62 Raiders limited partner Bill Winkenbach, Oakland Tribune beat writer Scotty Stirling and Raiders public relations man Bill Tunnell sat in a New York hotel room and planned the scheme that would form the basis for Fantasy Football .

"It was really Wink who came up with the idea," said Stirling, now head of college scouting for the Sacramento Kings. "He was an amazing guy, very smart, who had made a lot of really good business investments. He loved playing with different ideas."

Winkenbach, who died several years ago, also came up with the whimsical name for the game: Greater Oakland Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPL).

"We basically put the thing together there and brought it home the next day," Stirling said.

As soon as they returned, Winkenbach enlisted the aid of Tribune sports editor George Ross, who is retired and living in the Sierra Nevada area in the small Plumas County town of Graeagle.

"Wink had played around with a fantasy baseball concept in the '50s and we had talked about it, so I was familiar with the idea," Ross said. "I could see right away that it would be easy to set up and something everybody would enjoy."

At the beginning, the only players were members of the Tribune staff and people connected with the Raiders.

"One of the reasons I liked it was that it forced the reporters who were involved to follow the whole league, not just the Raiders," Ross said, "so they wrote better stories."

The rules were similar to today's games -- drafting players whose statistical success determines the payoffs -- but the money involved was not. A participant earned just 25 cents for a passing touchdown, for instance, and the only "big money" payoffs were $2.50 for kickoffs returned for touchdowns and a whopping $5 for a touchdown by a defensive lineman.

There were eight club owners for the first year, including Winkenbach, Ross, Stirling and Tunnell. The commissioner was a local high school teacher, Tom Crawford. Bill Downing, one of the original owners, was the second commissioner.

Teams had to choose four receivers, four halfbacks, two fullbacks, two quarterbacks, two kick returners, two placekickers, two defensive backs or linebackers and two defensive linemen.

The first player chosen was Houston quarterback George Blanda, for a logical reason: Blanda threw at least 40 passes a game and a fair percentage of them went for touchdowns. Blanda still holds club records for the Oilers/Titans with 68 passes in a 1964 game against Buffalo and 36 touchdown passes in the 1961 season.

Research for the drafts was very primitive, with little of the information that is available today. The basic information was supplied by the Street and Smith yearbooks, but that information was all from the previous season. Even when a midseason draft was added in the '70s, information was sketchy.

"I remember one year one club drafted a tight end, J.V. Cain, who was playing for the Cardinals -- but he had died some weeks before," said Andy Mousalimas, longtime owner of the Kings X sports bar in Oakland and a club owner that first year. (Cain had a fatal heart attack in training camp on July 22, 1979).

The first few drafts were held in Winkenbach's rumpus room, after which the team owners would go to dinner at an Oakland restaurant.

"We had fun with it," Stirling said. "Wink had a wood lathe in his basement and he carved a figure of a football with a dunce cap on it. The loser each year would get that and he had to display it prominently in his house. If one of us visited him and he didn't have it out, he could be fined."

Mousalimas opened the Kings X in November 1968, and the next year the draft was held in his bar. He also started sports trivia contests to bring in more business.

"I think that's what really started the spread of the game," Stirling said. "A lot of guys came over from San Francisco to play our game and the trivia contests, and pretty soon, San Francisco bars had their own leagues."

The game, under different names, soon spread across the country. "I heard later that the guys in New York who started the Rotisserie League claimed they were the first," Stirling said, "but they weren't. We were."

"Scotty and I used to talk about maybe taking this idea to a game company and trying to sell it," Ross said, "but we never did. I don't know how much money we would have made, but before we could do anything, it seemed everybody was playing it."

Even in Oakland, there were multiple leagues. Upset when Mousalimas suggested some rules changes, Winkenbach split with him, and Mousalimas started his own Kings X League. Tribune employees also started their own league.

Now, of course, the game is huge nationwide. All football publications include sections on Fantasy Football, there are entire magazines devoted to it and even some TV stations show stats for Fantasy League players. Mousalimas was invited to a Fantasy Football convention in Las Vegas two years ago by Emil Kladec, a publisher of one of the magazines.

"He had reserved 500 rooms at the MGM Grand," Mousalimas said. "I said to him, 'Are you crazy?' He said, 'There are 2-3 million playing this game. Do you think I can't get 500 of them to come here?' Of course, he filled them all. "



The San Diego Union-Tribune
July 14, 2005

Alworth was AFL's Lindbergh in cleats

Lance Alworth was more mythical figure than football player, more Pegasus than "Bambi" the wide receiver. Lance Alworth was the first man to fly, his liftoffs coming from remarkable, hidden engines, and he had the graceful landing gear of Astaire. His whereabouts practically were unknown. Radar didn't cut it.

Aviation was all but invented in San Diego, as was the modern passing game, with Sid Gillman piloting the Chargers and Don Coryell San Diego State during the 1960s. It was a decade of innovation,

                                         UNION-TRIBUNE FILE
       The San Diego Chargers retired receiver Lance Alworth's No. 19 jersey Thursday. Alworth, shown in a file photo during a Charger photo day circa 1968, wore the Chargers uniform from 1962-70 and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.


of wonderful flight, and Alworth provided the perfect drawing tools for the aeronautical engineer.

It's impossible to even dream up a receiver more fun to watch, and during his nine seasons with the Chargers of the American Football League, Alworth was San Diego's shining star, the cover boy for a town crying out to find its legs and grow into its body.

In 1978, Alworth became the first AFL player to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and today the Chargers are holding a media conference to announce his No. 19 jersey is being retired. Dan Fouts is the only other Charger so honored. Tackle Ron Mix, another Hall of Famer, had his No. 74 put away, but the late Chargers owner Gene Klein took it back when Mix went to play for the hated Raiders (if you recall, Louie Kelcher later wore 74).

It is an honor long overdue. No Charger should wear 19 and, frankly, it should have been retired before 14.

"I was surprised," says Alworth, who has done well away from football in the San Diego real estate and construction business. "From a long-term perspective, it's almost like a little closure. Thanks to God-given talent, you go out there and play because you love it and suddenly it's over. It can't last; then you adjust to a new life.

"It's great to be appreciated, to know maybe they enjoyed what I did as much as I enjoyed what I did."

Alworth played as important a role as anyone in this becoming a major league city, and one can even question if the AFL could have survived up to its merger with the NFL without him. He was the young league's dynamic face.

"Every time you played San Diego, the game plan focused directly on Alworth," says current Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, a '60s linebacker with the Bills and Patriots. "At some point in time, he was going to take advantage of you."

Alworth was national. When America saw him flying around in those powder blues, it saw San Diego. Kids wanted to be like "Bambi." Why not? Handsome, gracious, incredibly fast, smart, gifted. He could be your son, if you were lucky. What was not to like?

"He's still the impish little boy," says Keith Lincoln, who teamed with Paul Lowe in the terrifying backfield on those accelerated Gillman teams. "But don't be fooled by that 'Bambi' thing. He was a tremendous competitor with special gifts. Lance is put together well, with a great set of legs . . . phenomenal strength."

Among receivers, Alworth was the most photogenic, and he ranks with the handful of all-time pass catchers (85 touchdowns, almost 19 yards per catch), with Jerry Rice, Don Hutson, Paul Warfield – the list is short.

A case can be made for Alworth being the best. The quarterback who threw him the most passes during the '60s believes he is.

"I'll tell you, in my opinion, if he could have played under the same rules receivers do today, Lance would be the all-time all-timer, doubling everything guys do now," says John Hadl. "I hate to think what he could do with these "no-touch-'em" rules. He was the greatest receiver. I feel pretty strong about it. He was fun to watch, a great athlete and competitor."

It was Raiders owner Al Davis, then an assistant to Gillman, who signed Alworth out of Arkansas under the Sugar Bowl goalposts after the game. His admiration for Alworth goes beyond description.

"You guys will do anything to get me on the phone," Davis says. "When the password is Lance Alworth, that's a good password for me. He was the standard of excellence of all professional football among receivers, not just the AFL. Nobody denied his greatness. There are few I'd signify as legendary. He's one."

In those days, Alworth had to lock up at the line of scrimmage with physical cornerbacks such as Willie Brown. "It would have been more fun this way; I would have caught a lot more passes," he says. "I've been shocked by some of the rule changes, but it would be a lot more fun now to get a paycheck."

While I'm speaking to Alworth, he's working on his pension papers. He turns 65 next month. He no longer has to worry about the likes of Brown, although father time hasn't caught up with him yet, either.

Alworth doesn't do autograph shows, but stuff is brought to his office for him to sign. "A guy brings in 200, 300 items, I sign them, and he hands me a check for $21,000," he says. "In 2½ hours, that's a thousand more than I made in a year when I was playing."

As Davis once expertly said: "Lance Alworth was one of maybe three players in my lifetime who had what I call 'it.' "

Lance Alworth was more than that. But "it" will do.

Nick Canepa: (619) 293-1397;


Jan. 16, 2005, 12:53AM

Fighting against racial slights
In January 1965, 21 blacks made history by forcing AFL All-Star Game out of New Orleans
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

After a year in which Houston hosted two of the biggest events in sports — the Super Bowl and the baseball All-Star Game — and landed the 2006 NBA All-Star Game, today the city marks the 40th anniversary of a lesser-known event that remains unique in the history of sports in America.

Only 15,446 fans filtered into Jeppesen Stadium for the American Football League's East-West All-Star Game on Jan. 16, 1965. The West All-Stars won in a rout 38-14, and it's not uncommon for participants to say they don't remember a thing about the events of the day.

And yet the game — more accurately, the events that led it to Houston in the first place — was a revolution akin to Muhammad Ali's refusal to enter the draft or Harry Edwards' efforts to organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics by black American athletes.

When 21 black football players refused to play the All-Star Game as scheduled in New Orleans because of race-related slights, threats and insults they suffered in that city, they staged a signal event in the volatile mixture of sports and society that continues today.

"Someone had to take a stand and stop players from being treated as second-class citizens," said Ernie Ladd — then a 6-9, 300-pound defensive tackle, now a businessman in Rayville, La. "It's a great story. Spike Lee should do a movie about it.

"We didn't do it for publicity. We did it because of what was right and what was wrong."
The walkout of 1965 came in a time of great change and upheaval across the South in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ironically, it took place in a city that had made great progress in undoing past wrongs.
Like many Southern states, Louisiana adopted the policy of "massive resistance" in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling in 1954, said Charles Martin, a history professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who studied the history of New Orleans' segregation laws while a graduate student at Tulane University.

In late 1955, the Sugar Bowl had enraged segregationists by inviting Pittsburgh, which had one black player on its roster, to play Georgia Tech on New Year's Day. Within six months, the state Legislature passed a law that prohibited interracial sports events in Louisiana.

"The Sugar Bowl was in favor of (relaxing segregation rules) because they saw sports as part of tourism," Martin said. "But there was resentment in other parts of the state because they saw it as violating laws regarding desegregation and public accommodations. The Sugar Bowl people tried to get an exemption for their game, but the Legislature wouldn't do it."

That law was struck down by the Supreme Court in May 1959. Five years later, a year before the AFL controversy, the Supreme Court overturned another state law that mandated segregated seating at all public events in Louisiana.

In December 1964, almost one month to the day before the AFL players arrived in New Orleans, the Supreme Court also ruled, in the Heart of Atlanta Hotel case, that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevented discrimination in public accommodations.

The Sugar Bowl had successfully hosted an integrated Syracuse team against LSU a couple of weeks before the AFL game, and Martin said the city's business establishment favored change as it sought to attract convention traffic to the city and built its bid to get an NFL franchise.

"You had the business elite wanting to abandon the Old South ideas of discrimination and segregation and massive resistance," Martin said. "It was the old-style Southern politicians that didn't want to change. The business types were pragmatic. They might prefer the old ways, but it was no longer pragmatic to do so."

Unwelcome guests

It was against that backdrop that the AFL All-Stars began to filter into the city a week before the scheduled Jan. 17, 1965, game.
Sid Blanks, a rookie running back for the Oilers who had been the captain of an otherwise all-white team at Texas A&I in the early 1960s, said the problems started at the airport.

"I couldn't get any transportation to the hotel," Blanks said. "I finally got a skycap to tell me, 'You need to get the right cab because you're colored.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'They won't pick you up.' I asked why not, and he said, 'It's a little different here. If you're colored, you can't ride in just any cab.' "

In an interview with NFL Films for a documentary on the history of blacks in pro football, San Diego Chargers defensive end Earl Faison said the insults and racial slurs increased even when players were able to track down a "colored" taxi to get them to their hotel.
"I was checking in to the hotel and heard voices in the background asking, 'Is that Ernie Ladd?' " Faison said. "And another guy said, 'No, Ernie Ladd is a bigger n----- than that. That Ladd is a big n-----.' "

When the players decided to visit Bourbon Street that night, Faison said insult nearly turned to injury — and worse.

"We walked past four or five different clubs (and were refused entry)," Faison said. "One guy shouted, 'You so and so, get off the street. John F. Kennedy is not playing here tonight.' "

At one club, Faison said, "A guy pulls out a gun and says, 'You are not coming in here. You n------ are not coming in here.' "

Ladd said he does not remember having a gun pulled on him. But he does remember the insults and the snubs and the anger.

"Walt Sweeney, one of our teammates with the Chargers, stopped a cab for us to go back to the hotel," Ladd said. "The cab driver wouldn't let us get inside. Sweeney wanted to bust the guy's head, but I said, no, we would walk back to the hotel.

"When we got back, Earl and I had a discussion, and I told Earl that I wasn't going to play in New Orleans under those conditions. Earl agreed and got in touch with (Jets offensive lineman) Sherman Plunkett, who got us in touch with the other guys on the East squad."

The next morning, Broncos defensive back Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin, a native of Port Arthur, met fellow Texan Clem Daniels, a running back from the Oakland Raiders, in the hotel lobby and suggested the two have breakfast.

"We walked into the restaurant, and Clem hung up his coat, and this little old lady came over and threw his coat on the ground," Gonsoulin said. "I said, 'Clem, don't worry about it. Just go get it and put it back on the hanger.' Then this woman came over and threw it back down again.

"We finished breakfast, and we agreed it was too bad that New Orleans hadn't come around to the times yet. Then we left, and I got on the bus to go to practice. Then I looked around, and there were no black players on the bus. We got to practice, but we stayed for only 15 or 20 minutes. We agreed it wasn't right to stay."

The 21 black players — more than a third of the players on the two 29-member squads — gathered at a hotel meeting room and voted 13-8 not to play.
They ignored pleas from promoter Dave Dixon, who was leading New Orleans' bid to land a pro football franchise, and NAACP chapter president Ernest N. "Dutch" Morial, the first black graduate of LSU's law school and later the first black mayor of New Orleans.

"We had a similar experience at an exhibition game a year earlier in Atlanta, and we had people there who lied to us and said things would be made right. We were not going to be taken in again," Ladd said.

They appointed Buffalo Bills tight end Ernie Warlick as their spokesman, and Warlick quickly drafted a brief statement.

"The American Football League is progressing in great strides, and the Negro players feel they are playing a vital role in the league's progression. They are being treated fairly in all cities in the league," Warlick wrote. "However, because of adverse conditions and discriminatory practices experienced by Negro players while here in New Orleans, the players feel they cannot perform 100 percent as expected in the All-Star Game and be treated differently."

Warlick might not have been as vocal as Ladd or running back Cookie Gilchrist, his Bills teammate, but the slights and insults cut just as deeply.

"I had served four years in the military. Then I played five years in the Canadian Football League," he said. "I was outside my country, but I had no problem going anywhere in Canada. Then I came back to my country and couldn't do things because of the color of my skin. So we decided to make a stand."

The next day, Monday, Jan. 11, AFL commissioner Joe Foss announced that the game would be moved to Houston.

"Dixon assured me that New Orleans was ready in all aspects for a game between racially mixed teams. Evidently, it isn't," Foss said. "They contacted as many businessmen as possible and got them to agree to treat the Negro players well. But they just couldn't get to everyone. Negro players run into problems in nearly every city. But I guess what went on in New Orleans was more than they could be expected to take. I can't say that I blame them."

As the players left for Houston, Warlick remembers that it was considerably easier to get a cab back to the airport than it had been a couple of days earlier traveling in the other direction.

"The same taxis that wouldn't give us a ride were now taking us in," he said. "So if we didn't do anything else, maybe that was one area where we brought about some change."

Moving to Houston

The players reconvened Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston, where Warlick remembers the AFL contingent as being the first racially mixed group allowed to stay at the Shamrock Hilton Hotel.

But Ladd said Houston wasn't always hospitable to black athletes.
A few years earlier, he said he experienced his most embarrassing moment in football at the hands of Lloyd Wells, who was then a prominent sportswriter for the Houston Defender newspaper.

"Houston treated (blacks) pretty poorly for a time. They made the black spectators sit in the end zone my first year in the league (1960)," Ladd said. "Lloyd Wells tried to get the players to strike, and I made a mistake by not listening to him.

"I'll never forget him saying, 'Ernie Ladd, you're gutless like a worm. Stand up and show some guts.' By then it was too late to do anything, but I'll never forget him saying, 'Look at you, you big old gutless Ernie Ladd. You can run, but you can't hide.' "

By January 1965, those days had ended, particularly by comparison to the incident that Chronicle sports columnist Wells Twombly facetiously called "the second great battle of New Orleans."

The nature of what had gone before, however, tends to overshadow the fact that the 1965 AFL All-Stars might have been the greatest aggregation of athletes to set foot in this city.

Nine of the 58 players are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

An astonishing 43 are among the 100-plus AFL players listed in one fan's cyberspace version of the AFL Hall of Fame.

The game, not surprisingly, was something of an anticlimax. The West won in a walk, and Twombly wrote of the action, "A sloppier football game you haven't seen since the last Houston Oiler intra-squad scrimmage."

San Diego running back Keith Lincoln was the Most Valuable Player on offense with an 80-yard touchdown run and a 73-yard TD reception from the Chiefs' Len Dawson on the first offensive play of the game. Broncos defensive back Willie Brown, who later as a member of the Raiders would contribute one of the iconic images of pro football with NFL Films' slow-motion footage of his interception TD return in Super Bowl XI, was the defensive MVP.

Chargers quarterback John Hadl threw three scoring passes for the West. Blanks, the Oilers' rookie running back, set an All-Star record for kickoff returns and had a five-yard TD run for the East's only offensive touchdown.
The West players received $700 each as All-Star winners. The East players had to settle for $500 each.

'Stand up and fight'Dixon said NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle called him a few days after the walkout, told him the league still wanted a franchise in New Orleans and sent league employee Buddy Young, one of pro football's first black stars in the late 1940s and early '50s, to town on an inspection tour.

Young suggested a public display, such as having dinner with Dixon in one of New Orleans' finest restaurants, would go a long way toward offsetting the bad publicity.
And so Dixon called in a favor with Roy Alciatore, owner of the venerable Antoine's.

"Restaurants had been sort of integrated by that time," Dixon said. "If whites and blacks wanted to have dinner together, they would do so in the private rooms. So I called Roy and said, 'Roy, here's my situation. I want to sit in the middle of the restaurant, and I'd like to have John Ketry (one of Antoine's longest-tenured staffers) as my waiter. He said, 'Let's do it.' "

Young and Dixon dined together at Antoine's, and in 1967, the Saints came marching in to New Orleans as an NFL expansion franchise.

For AFL alumni, meanwhile, the All-Star walkout remains a source of great pride. Several AFL loyalists maintain that players in the staid, established NFL would never have stood up against the abuse, and they believe the esprit de corps the incident created among AFL players helped lead to the merger with the NFL a year later.

"The AFL owners like Lamar Hunt (Chiefs) and Bud Adams (Oilers) and Sonny Werblin (Jets) and Barron Hilton (Chargers) were the greatest men I've known over the years," Ladd said. "Our owners understood us, they took a stand, and they helped make pro football.

"The NFL had great players, but they weren't real men. Whatever the owners told them, they did. The AFL gave birth to men who would stand up and fight. There were no yellow-bellied cowards in the AFL."

Gonsoulin said the incident helped recruit players to the AFL in the final stages of the bidding war between the leagues.

"They knew they would be treated right in the AFL," he said. "It had to happen sooner or later. Somebody had to stand up, and I'm glad it was the AFL."

"I got hate mail and was invited to go back to Africa," said Warlick, who was a television sportscaster in Buffalo and later worked as a regional sales manager before retiring two years ago. "But when I think back, it was one of the thrills of my life.

"We were a unified group. Every time we get together as a group, we talk about how unified we were. We hung together and got along.

"It's a great thrill that I've carried with me ever since."

Gonsoulin, who lives in Silsbee, said he was in Ohio two years ago for a banquet honoring Hunt when he ran into Daniels, his one-time breakfast companion in New Orleans.

"We were waiting for dinner, and he said, 'Let's just you and I go out,' " Gonsoulin said.

"So we went to dinner and struck up a conversation, and I asked if he remembered what had happened that time in New Orleans. He said, 'Sure, but I didn't know if you remembered it.' I said, 'It's in my mind forever. That was a real turning point when they did those things to you.'

"And so we sat around the rest of the evening, talking about old times. We had a good time together. And nobody bugged us."




Box Seats  


Defending and Remembering the A.F.L.
Copyright 2006 by the New York Times.  Click the article or the photo to enlarge them.

Photo by Mike Groll

Angelo Coniglio has made his cause defending the honor of the American Football League, which merged with the National Football League in 1970.


Sunday, March 18, 2007
Copyright 2007 by the Buffalo News

Bitterness cut by cancer, Gilchrist seeks old friends

There have been some amazing developments coming across the NFL news ticker lately.

The Texans paid $8 million to aging running back Ahman Green of the Packers, who missed 13 of Green Bay’s last 27 games with injuries.

The Atlanta Falcons paid $18 million for Ovie Mughelli — a free-agent fullback, the most anonymous position in the sport.

The San Francisco 49ers made Bills cornerback Nate Clements the richest defensive player in football with an $80 million contract. OK, it’s mostly back-loaded, which means Clements is likely to see “only” $30 million before he’s through, but that’s still better than a sharp stick in the eye.

Amid all those fresh riches came a phone call from Cookie Gilchrist, who was, in my opinion, the greatest all-around football player ever. The news from Cookie was not good. “I have throat cancer,” he revealed. “I weigh 179 pounds.”

Gilchrist against the Kansas City Chiefs in 1964

This is from a man who was once a giant of the sport, a back who played at 252 pounds, had a 31-inch waist, minimal body fat and who ran 40 yards, the classic measurement in football, in 4.6 seconds, comparable to Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears star of today.

Gilchrist was the Bills’ first star, the man who captured the imagination of Western New York’s sporting public when he signed as a surprise free agent in the summer of 1962 after the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League mistakenly violated a no-trade clause in his contract by attempting to deal him to Montreal.

Days after he signed with Buffalo he appeared in a preseason AFL game against the Jets in New Haven, Conn. “On the opening kickoff he knocked down the player assigned to block him,” remembered retired Bills trainer Eddie Abramoski, “broke the wedge like a bowling ball and tackled the kick returner on the 15-yard line.” For Bills’ fans it was love at first impact.

Two years later, surrounded by teammates such as quarterback Jack Kemp, Hall of Fame guard Billy Shaw, center Al Bemiller, tackle Stew Barber and tight end Ernie Warlick, he powered the Bills to Buffalo’s first major-league championship with a 20-7 victory over the favored San Diego Chargers in old War Memorial Stadium.

Today he speaks of other teammates. “Dr. Dale Hazlett is my oncologist,” he said. “She saved my life. She and the medical team at Allegheny- Kiski Valley Hospital, Dr. Hauer, Dr. Lizzaro and Dr. Brent, are the reason I’m still alive.”

Gilchrist had been living in Philadelphia for years, but when he became ill a lifelong friend moved him to her house in the Western Pennsylvania area where they both grew up, which is how he came to be treated at Allegheny-Kiski Valley.

Cookie had brooded for years about coming along at the wrong time in football history. He never made more than $30,000 a season during his career. In today’s market he would have been worth millions a year, a fact that left him embittered. Like other players from his era — such as impoverished ex-Bills tackle Donnie Green, for whom his former linemates on the “Electric Company” recently held a fund-raiser — he has to get along on a pittance of an NFL pension.

In Gilchrist’s case some bitterness was understandable. One of the greatest high school players ever to come out of talent-rich Western Pennsylvania, Cookie was headed to Michigan State when Paul Brown, then major domo of the Browns, signed him to a contract even though the NFL had a rule against signing players out of high school. Brown stashed him on a team in the minor-league Ontario Rugby Football Union, with the idea of bringing him to the Browns when he was NFL eligible. Instead Cookie quickly tore up the ORFU and signed in the Canadian league, where he stayed until the Bills won a battle with the Los Angeles Rams to sign him.

Coming into the league this way, he lacked the leverage enjoyed by the high draft choices, who benefited from a bidding war between the AFL and NFL. He signed for less than the going rate and his pay never caught up.

His illness has worn away some of the old bitterness. “Now I’m just happy to be alive,” he said.

Gilchrist would like to hear from his old friends and fans. He can be reached at 2870 Meadow St., Natrona Heights, PA 15065-1818.

Former sports editor Larry Felser's columns appear in the Sunday editions of the Buffalo News

(You can read Cookie's response to Felser by clicking HERE.)


Sunday, July 14, 2007
Copyright 2007 by the Buffalo News

Coniglio calls the AFL the “genesis of modern professional football."

Amherst fan wants everyone to remember the AFL


Jerry Sullivan

Angelo F. Coniglio can’t help himself. He admits he’s a zealot and a sucker for lost causes. Coniglio has been crusading for the American Football League since the day it went under. Even back then, he knew it would be a long and often frustrating battle.

Back in the 1970s, soon after the AFL-NFL merger, Coniglio wrote an impassioned defense of the AFL in Pro Football Weekly. In that piece, Coniglio predicted that by 2009, which would have been the 50th season of the newly defunct league, “no one will remember the AFL except fans with long memories and scrapbooks.”

The memories are fading. The scrapbooks are collecting dust in the fans’ attics. But today, at age 70, Coniglio remains the most devoted fan of the AFL. He believes the AFL and its players helped revolutionize pro football and should have a celebrated place in the history of the sport.

“I feel the AFL never got the credit it should have, said Coniglio, a Buffalo native and longtime Amherst resident. “I have a 1964 AFL card set that has 10 [NFL] Hall of Famers. You still hear people say the AFL wasn’t any good until there was a common draft. I don’t believe that.”

Five years ago, after retiring as a civil engineer, Coniglio created an AFL Web site (RemembertheAFL. com). It’s a terrific site, the expression of one fan’s love for a league and a sport. If you’re one of those people who gets goose bumps when you think about Mike Stratton’s hit on Keith Lincoln, you’ll go nuts over it.

Coniglio has been a fan of the Bills since their AAFC days. But the AFL is his passion. When the Jets won the Super Bowl, he felt as if his team had won.

On his site, Coniglio calls the AFL the “genesis of modern professional football.” He says the league was ahead of its time on the two-point conversion, player names on uniforms, shared gate and TV receipts, wide-open offense and the liberal use of African- American players.

Now, with 2009 approaching, Coniglio hopes to give the AFL a 50-year testimonial. If you click on his site, you’ll see a logo with a big letter “A” and the numbers 50 and 2009 in gold underneath. There’s a link to “Celebrate the AFL”, which reprints his letter to Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt in November 2005. Coniglio asked Hunt to help plan an AFL celebration in 2009, which would have been the league’s 50th season.

Naturally, Coniglio had a few suggestions for Hunt, the man credited with forming the AFL. Coniglio said the NFL should design a commemorative AFL logo, based on the patch the Chiefs wore in Super Bowl IV. He proposed an “AFL Sunday” during the 2009 NFL season, with former AFL teams playing each other in throwback uniforms.

Coniglio made plans for his own AFL Reunion — in Buffalo. He sent out word on his Web site and heard back from about 30 former players and at least that many fans. Former Chiefs star Abner Haynes loves the idea. Bob McCullough, a former Broncos tight end, sent Coniglio an $80 check as a show of good faith.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Ernie Warlick, who played for the Bills in the AFL days. “Ang is a one-man crusade. I know him well and how much this means to him. From the standpoint of the players, it would be great to see the guys you played against. I just don’t know if we’d get the overall support that’s necessary.”

Coniglio has pushed hard, but one-man crusades don’t get very far. The idea never quite took off. Hunt never got back to him. The legendary Chiefs owner died a year later. “I didn’t realize how sick he was at the time,” Coniglio said.

Coniglio also wrote to Bills owner Ralph Wilson. Marv Levy replied and said it was a good idea, but that was the end of it. Coniglio got together with executives from the Pro Football Hall of Fame at a Bills Quarterback Club meeting. They asked if he’d mind the NFL being involved. Coniglio agreed that an AFL tribute would succeed only with the NFL’s cooperation.

But he never heard back from the Hall of Fame. Coniglio let the idea go for awhile. He returned McCullough’s $80 and devoted his time to a data base of everyone who played in the AFL.
“The reunion would take a lot of planning and work,” he said. “I don’t want to do it unless it’s a success. I didn’t want to get people’s hopes up.”

Then he got a letter from Pete Moris, associate PR director for the Chiefs, who said Kansas City was putting an AFL tribute in its media guide in Hunt’s honor. He asked if Coniglio could contribute. Coniglio agreed.

“He said many AFL teams are talking about having their own recognition in 2009,” Coniglio said. “He said maybe we could get something going. That’s my goal. I don’t claim ownership. I’d love to see the AFL get its due.”

It won’t be easy. The NFL will probably do something in 2009. But a reunion is a different matter. The pensions of old-timers is a bitter issue right now, and it’s hard to see the league getting behind an event that would gather many of those ex-players together.

Of course, no one can stop Coniglio if he decides to hold a little reunion of his own. Like the old AFL, it might turn out to be bigger than the NFL ever bargained for.

Jerry Sullivan's commentaries appear regularly on the Sports pages of the Buffalo News


          The following is an excerpt from a story by Doug Koztoski in the September, 2007 issue of Tuff Stuff Magazine.  The complete story is in the magazine, avalable at your local sports newsstand or card store, or at  (Click on the article to enlarge it.)


Remembering the AFL
Dedicated fan of the old football league is on a mission
By Barry Wittenstein /

NY Times photo by Mike Groll

Angelo Coniglio is a publicity hound. Angelo Coniglio is living in the past. Angelo Coniglio is a hothead.
"I am passionate and I'm sarcastic, too," the 70-year-old resident of Buffalo and die-hard Bills fan tells me. "But all that I do is not for my own glorification, but to get the AFL the respect that I feel it deserves."
The 'AFL' Coniglio is referring to is not the Arena Football League, but the old American Football League that existed from 1960 until 1970, when it merged with the National Football League.
But even though Coniglio says the NFL was "embarrassed and outflanked" by the AFL, the younger upstart league lost its name, its identity and its history once the merger was completed.
And, to borrow from a movie title, that's 'What's Eating' Angelo Coniglio.
"I do get frosted when NFL Films calls the Jets' Super Bowl win one of "The NFL's Greatest Games," Coniglio continues, "or when the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a display on the AFL boycott of New Orleans over that city's mistreatment of the black 1965 AFL All-Stars, and essentially gives the NFL credit for that seminal civil-rights action. The main reason I'm so passionate is that I believe in justice and fairness, and the AFL was not fairly treated by the NFL-dominated sports media during the 1960s. That mistreatment has spilled over to this day."
For those who don't know, the history of the AFL and its attempt to join the established NFL is a fascinating one. It is a story of money, politics and power.
In the late 1950s, led by the late billionaire Lamar Hunt, then 27, an upstart eight-team league was formed when the NFL refused to expand or offer franchises to the founding members of the AFL. Self-described as "The Foolish Club," these businessmen joined Hunt and set up teams in Oakland, Kansas City, San Diego, New York, Houston, Buffalo, Boston, Miami, Cincinnati and Denver.
Compared to the NFL's plodding "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense, the AFL's offense was wide-open and exciting, and featured Joe Namath, the Chargers' acrobatic wide-receiver Lance Alworth and running backs O.J. Simpson and Cookie Gilchrist of Buffalo.
Coniglio contends that the NFL took advantage (read: stole) many of football's innovations without giving proper credit to the younger league. To support his point, he lists the many rules that the NFL incorporated from the AFL after the merger following Super Bowl IV.
"Fans should know," Coniglio reminds me, "that with the official scoreboard clock, names on jerseys, revenue and gate sharing that helps small market teams compete, the two-point conversion and the emergence of black athletes, today's pro football is really the American Football League. They just call it the NFL."

"For those who were around for the AFL, I want to help them remember. For those who weren't around, I want them to hear the truth, which they don't get much of regarding this topic"
-- Ange Coniglio


    The 1960s featured an intense rivalry between the two leagues fed by the stubborn dictatorship of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who represented the old-school owners.
With each league holding its own draft, bidding wars for the top players escalated to the point when the Jets drafted and were able to sign University of Alabama star quarterback Joe Namath for an astronomical $400,000 -- huge money for that era. But the signing, and the Jets' Super Bowl victory five years later, facilitated the end of hostilities and essentially gave the original owners in the AFL what they wanted -- entry into the NFL.
So, why wasn't everybody happy when the merger occurred?
"The owners got what they wanted," Coniglio maintains. "They ignored the pleas of fans to keep the leagues separate, or at least to retain the name and logo of the AFL. The players lost out because there was no more competition for talent.
"History is written by the winners," he continues. "The NFL downplays the existence of the AFL."
Coniglio has gone so far as to build a website devoted to the history of the old league. Called Remember the AFL, it is a respository of articles, links, cards, letters and memorabilia. Basically anything that has to do with the history of the AFL. Without advertising, smooth pull-down menus or flash introductions, it is a jewel.
Conliglio's site is also important in that it provides a bulletin board in an online meeting place for former AFL players and fans to correspond with each other.
Recently, when Coniglio found out that former AFL and Bills star running back Cookie Gilchrist was seriously ill, he posted the news on the website and sent out an e-mail to his extensive mailing list (which includes 300 former AFL players or relatives) with contact information to send Gilchrist get-well wishes. Many did and Gilchrist, once he recovered, wrote back to Coniglio thanking him and his fans for showing their concern.
But this effort by Coniglio, who is a retired civil engineer and former university professor, isn't a yearning for his youth nor a way to fill up his golden years. This mission to keep the memory of the old league alive dates back 39 years to 1970 when he made a prediction that would make Nostradamus proud. While working for Pro Football Weekly, he wrote:
"The year 2009 will be praised in song and story, not as the 50th anniversary of the AFL, but as the 90th of the NFL. And no one will remember the AFL existed, except for a few fans with scrapbooks and long memories."
That this prophesy is about to come true is not something Coniglio wishes to see. Which is why he he has begun his current campaign two years in advance to give the NFL enough time to plan, organize and produce the throwback memorabilia and events for a proper celebration.
To that end, he recently sent out another e-mail to the 1000 members on his mailing list urging a letter-writing campaign to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Among some of his suggestions, he says, are a commemorative AFL patch to be worn by all AFL teams for the entire 2009 season, original AFL logos to appear on the fields of the former AFL teams, and an "AFL Sunday" where each former AFL teams plays another former AFL team, both wearing AFL uniforms.
So far, he hasn't heard back from Goodell nor Mitchell and Ness, the clothing company which he asked to produce a throwback collection.
"In response to my letter to Goodell urging a 'Celebration of the AFL' in 2009, with AFL throwback uniforms, an AFL players' reunion, etc.," Coniglio says, "I got a form letter back."
"It said, 'Thanks for your interest in the NFL.'"

Barry Wittenstein is an editorial producer for


The Dallas Morning News
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Copyright 2007 by The Dallas Morning News

Ex-linebacker tougher than ever as he faces cancer
Kevin Sherrington

The toughest pro football player of the last half-century wrote a brief, heartfelt note last month to his old Fort Worth North Side classmates.

Sherrill Headrick wanted them to know he had cancer, which had spread from his liver to his adrenal glands and right lung. No chemotherapy or radiation could help him now. Medication would only delay the inevitable, giving him a few extra months, maybe a year.

Still, he was grateful.

I told Mary Dale long ago I wanted to know when my time was going to be up so I could tell everyone I loved how much I love them. ... Well, this is my time ...

If you grew up with Headrick or were a teammate at TCU or with the old Dallas Texans or Kansas City Chiefs, or if you saw him play middle linebacker, or if you've simply read the harrowing stories, you'd have a hard time believing anything could beat him, even at 70.

In his first game for the Texans, he hurt his neck but didn't come out of the game. Tests later revealed he'd played with a broken vertebra. He didn't miss the next game, either.

"That guy's crazy!" the Texans' quarterback, Len Dawson, told teammates. "He's a psycho!"

Over nine seasons in the AFL, five as an All-Star, "Psycho" lived up to the nickname. He once dislocated a finger so badly that bone breached skin.

Popping the finger in place, he told a trainer to "tape one of those popsicle sticks on it."

Clearing up a legend: He never beat his head against lockers before games.

"I didn't need to do that to get ready," he said from his home in River Oaks, just south of Fort Worth. "I liked football more than anybody."

He's not sure where the toughness came from, but he knows why he relied on it.

The last preseason game of his rookie season, he stood helplessly on the sideline and watched an opposing offense move down the field. Headrick heard someone tell Hank Stram, the Texans' coach, to put the TCU kid in the game. Stram said no, they were going to cut him the next day. If Headrick got hurt, he'd have to be paid off.

But the farther the offense advanced, the more Stram steamed. Finally, he relented.

Headrick went in and essentially never came out, no matter what his condition.

"If I ever sat down," he explained, "I was afraid I'd never get back in."

Headrick said he played until his body "just quit." The pain in his back got so bad that, after he retired from football, he spent most of the next year in a hospital bed. He went to work for a friend in the restaurant business. They wheeled the bed into an office, where Headrick made calls on his back.

He's not sure how many surgeries he's had. Eighteen or 19. He can still drive, still walk, but not far or for long.

When he was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1993, he all but had to crawl up the steps.

"I've got metal knees, metal hips, metal shoulders," he said. "I've had carpal tunnel in my hands, a broke neck and disks removed in my back.

"I'm not much of a specimen anymore. Maybe that's why the bug decided to eat me up."

The man with the highest pain threshold Stram ever saw gets weaker by the day. More and more, Headrick has to lean on his wife of two decades, Mary Dale, who handles most of his daily correspondence with teammates such as E.J. Holub, Ed Budde, Fred Arbanas and Johnny Robinson.

Much of Headrick's legendary toughness remains, if motivated by a different perspective. He's no longer afraid of what he might lose, anyway.

"I'm not just going to lay around and die," he said softly. "I've got too much I want to do."

And what's that?

"I just want to see all my friends."

Comment by the webmaster: Isn't it strange that "the toughest pro football player of the last half-century" isn't in the "pro football" hall of fame?  Click here to see more about Headrick.

Kevin Sherrington is a Sports Columnist for The Dallas Morning News ~



Jets celebrate Super Bowl team 40 years later
Posted 10/26/2008  
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Joe Namath and his former New York Jets teammates were back together in front of the fans, 40 years after they pulled off an improbable Super Bowl victory.

The 1968 team that won the championship was honored during a halftime ceremony at the Meadowlands, where 36 former players, wearing their Jets throwbacks, were reintroduced one by one to the crowd.

"A lot of you fans remember our team and we're here to say thank you," Namath told the cheering fans.

All 36 Jets posed with the championship trophy one more time, something no other Jets team has been able to do since that win guaranteed by the Hall of Fame quarterback.

"It's mindboggling to a degree," Namath said before the ceremony. "It doesn't feel like it's 40 years as ex-athletes. A lot of us still keep that enthusiastic football mind going, and football season seems to regenerate it. Thank goodness for the fans. This '68 championship for the Jets, they haven't let it go and we're thankful for it."

The Jets beat Oakland 27-23 in the AFL championship, setting up a matchup with the NFL's heavily favored Baltimore Colts. Despite the talk that the Jets were a huge underdog, Namath boldly proclaimed that the Jets would win the game at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Jan. 12, 1969.

"It was the heart speaking and the feelings speaking," Namath said, "and that's all and I'm glad we won."

Coach Weeb Ewbank was told of the guarantee by Frank Ramos, the team's public relations director, as the two were driving to the media hotel the Friday before the Super Bowl. Ramos gave Ewbank a copy of the Miami Herald, which prominently displayed Namath's proclamation.

"He looks at that and said, 'Dadgummit, Joe. Why did he have to go and say that?' Ramos recalled. "He said, 'We had them right where we wanted them.' He was really upset about that, but when we got down to the hotel, the first question they asked him was, 'What do you think about what your quarterback said?' He said, "It ain't often my quarterback whistles Dixie.'

"He just took it in stride - until he got a hold of Joe."

Ewbank then let his quarterback know how he felt.

"I was sincerely sorry that I upset the coach and anybody, but, hey, things worked out," Namath said with a grin. "The linemen hated me for a while. They wanted to beat me up and choke me, the offensive linemen, because they were the ones who had to go in the pits against them."

Namath, of course, made good on his guarantee, helping the Jets beat the Colts 16-7. Matt Snell ran for a touchdown, and Randy Beverly had two of the Jets' four interceptions in the victory.

"My fondest memory still lives on," Beverly said. "You always see them around Super Bowl time. That's my two interceptions. If you like, I could relive them."

The former players had a celebration at a Manhattan hotel Saturday night, when they caught up with each other and discussed the memorable moments from that incredible season all over again.

"I didn't know the significance of that game when we played," left tackle Winston Hill said. "I just thought it was another big game. I never thought it would last for 40 years. ... We should do this every couple of weeks."

The Associated Press



This article from The Buffalo News reviews two new books about the American Football League, one by Larry Felser and one by Dave Steidel.  It's followed by three News excerpts from Felser's book, about the AFL-NFL merger. 
[Comments in blue are mine.] ~

day, November 25, 2008
Copyright 2008 by the Buffalo News

“The Foolish Club” AFL owners in 1961were, seated from left: Bud Adams and Commissioner Joe Foss. Back row from left: Billy Sullivan, Cal Kunz, Ralph Wilson, Lamar Hunt, Harry Wismer, Wayne Valley
and Barron Hilton.
(Click image to enlarge.)

How the ‘Foolish Club’ fooled them all

Two books depict history of the AFL


If you’re under 50, you probably don’t remember the American Football League. Here’s a chance to catch up.

We’re talking about the real AFL — Harry Wismer and the New York Titans, Buster Ramsey’s Bills, Butch Songin and the Boston Patriots, the Los Angeles Chargers, the Dallas Texans, those crazy Denver Broncos socks, Youell Field in Oakland.

Two books published in time for the 2008 season offer reminiscence about the league that existed from 1960 to ’69 before the AFL-National Football League merger was consummated in 1970. Both books have a Western New York connection.

The first, “The Birth of the New NFL — How the 1966 AFL/NFL Merger Transformed Pro Football” comes from a familiar voice — longtime Buffalo News sports editor, columnist and Bills beat reporter Larry Felser.

The other is an offering from a fan, Dave Steidel, a high school counselor and coach in Pennsylvania who fell in love with the upstart league as a youngster and never let go. An inspiration for Steidel’s work, “Remember the AFL,” is Ange Coniglio of Amherst [], who has devoted much of his life and passion to preserving the memory of the old league and defending its place in the pro football universe.

Felser and Steidel approach the subject differently.

Felser’s book is chock-full of anecdotes and tales of experiences from a reporter who was on the scene from the AFL’s opening in 1960 until the merger. He knows firsthand most of the principals in the story.

For this reporter, it’s hearing again many stories shared by Felser over Saturday night road trip dinners while covering the Bills from 1981-90. Delightful tales of personalities such as Wismer, Sid Gillman, Commissioner Joe Foss, Lou Saban, Al Davis and countless others. There’s even some interesting perspective on the great Vince Lombardi, an AFL nemesis in leading the Green Bay Packers to victories over Kansas City and Oakland in the first two Super Bowl games.

Felser weaves these stories masterfully in a narrative that not only tells the story of the AFL’s founding in 1959, but also traces it back to the first pro football amalgamation in 1950 when the NFL swallowed up the remains of the old All-American Football Conference, leaving Buffalo out. The NFL’s attitude was just as smug then as it was before Joe Namath and the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. In 1950, the haughty NFL believed that its champion Philadelphia Eagles would hold sway over the four-time AAFC champion Cleveland Browns. They were wrong. The Browns won in a rout, a portent of what was to come in the ’60s.

The eight original AFL owners, the so-called “Foolish Club,” took a flyer on the future of pro football. Felser describes how the league survived — barely at times — in the early years, and the role that Bills owner Ralph Wilson played as a behind-the-scenes figure in events that led up to the 1966 merger. That agreement between the leagues resulted in the first AFL-NFL championship game (later to be known as the Super Bowl) and the first common draft in 1967. There were more skirmishes before the two leagues became one realigned entity in 1970 with Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh moving over from the NFL to form two balanced conferences, the AFC and NFC.

Wilson was a key negotiator in the AFL’s landing a national television contract with NBC, which threw the league an important lifeline. Also his secret negotiations with Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom helped lead to the full-blown merger talks.

Steidel’s output is more of a source book. He writes a wrap-up for each AFL team in each season of the league’s operation. The wrap-ups are accompanied by individual statistics and generously sprinkled with photos and other illustrations.

Steidel’s interest in the AFL began by accident. As a youngster he purchased some bubble gum cards that he expected would depict NFL heroes such as Norm Van Brocklin, Jim Brown, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and others. Instead, he found himself being introduced to the stars of the new league — Abner Haynes, Paul Lowe, Ernie Ladd, Jack Kemp and Gino Cappelletti. Steidel was hooked.

Many of the illustrations are reproductions of cards from the collections of Steidel and others, [including Coniglio's wife, Angie Bongiovanni]. There are also artist renderings of original team logos and depictions of each season’s uniform design of the AFL teams. The original uniforms (1960 and ’61) of the Bills, for example, were copies of the Detroit Lions’ Hawaiian Blue and Silver motif and not the familiar red, white and blue.

“Remember the AFL” also includes many pages of trivia contests and rankings of AFL players and stadiums. Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium tops Steidel’s list of the AFL’s worst facilities. “The Rockpile” was no gem, but it seems there were other facilities in the league that were just as primitive though they may have been lacking in fans as passionate as the Buffalo crowds.

Felser is a professional reporter and writer, while Steidel is admittedly an amateur. [ . . . ]

If you just want to jog your own memories from those AFL years or want to visit a more innocent era in the history of the game, either book should hold your interest and feed your football appetite.


day, November 26, 2008
Copyright 2008 by the Buffalo News

  The AFL Bills used
a little-known rule to
claim QB Jack Kemp
from the San Diego
Buffalo News file photo
(Click image to enlarge.)



Signed, sealed, delivered

Gogolak, Kemp contracts changed pro football history

The groundwork for the modern National Football League was laid in 1966, when owners from the NFL and the upstart American Football League agreed to a merger. Former Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser revisits that pivotal time in his new book, The Birth of the New NFL: How the 1966 NFL/AFL Merger Transformed Pro Football” (Lyons Press, $14.95). The News is running three excerpts from the book. Today’s first installment focuses on how the AFL shed its reputation as a Mickey Mouse League and won acceptance from the NFL.

It wasn’t called the “First Super Bowl,” and “virtual football” was far off in cyberspace — an unknown concept in 1964 — but it was the first game played between the NFL and AFL; the mythical first game, that is. It took place in the pages of Sports Illustrated as the product of sportswriter Tex Maule’s imagination.

The AFL had been in business for five seasons, and it had signed its landmark television contract with NBC. But in the perception of many owners, general managers, and coaches in the NFL, along with their allies in the media, it was still a “Mickey Mouse League.”

Both league championship games in 1964 had been unexpectedly one-sided. The Baltimore Colts possessed the NFL’s No. 1 offense and defense that season and were heavy favorites

to beat the Cleveland Browns. Instead, the Browns’ defense throttled Johnny Unitas, Baltimore’s great quarterback, while Cleveland quarterback Frank Ryan threw three touchdown passes and wide receiver Gary Collins averaged 26 yards on his five catches in a 27-0 victory.

The AFL title game was similar. The Buffalo Bills were a heavy underdog, but their defense smothered the San Diego Chargers’ high-scoring attack and the Bills’ run-oriented, conservative offense slowly pounded the Chargers into submission, 20-7.

The public may not have shared the NFL old guard’s feelings that their young rival was a Mickey Mouse league, but there was no clamor for an interleague playoff to settle the matter. In the minds of most football fans outside the franchise territories of the AFL, there was nothing to settle: The NFL remained clearly superior.

When Maule sat down to create a faux super bowl after the 1964 season, the outcome was preordained: The Browns won, 47-7.

Gogolak pact opened floodgates

In April 1966, Al Davis, the new commissioner of the AFL, didn’t need any literary license. Wellington Mara, owner of the New York Giants, had given him a great gift to create a compelling story; it came under the heading of nonfiction. Mara signed Pete Gogolak, Buffalo’s kicker, who was technically a free agent. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had approved Gogolak’s contract with the Giants. The AFL’s new warlord was happily stunned that his enemies had given him a license to go to war. As soon as the signing became public, Davis told his staff at AFL headquarters, “The NFL will never know what hit it.”

To a certain extent, the NFL people had been deluding themselves for years. At first, when the challenging league made do with NFL retread quarterbacks on most of its teams, there was understandable scoffing among the established league’s players. The Boston Patriots’ quarterback was Butch Songin, who had kicked around the Canadian Football League for years. Al Dorow and Cotton Davidson took the same route to quarterback the New York Titans and Dallas Texans, respectively.

Tommy O’Connell, once the Cleveland Browns’ starter, came out of retirement after serving as head coach for a year at Drake University to lead Buffalo. Frank Tripucka, who had led a gypsy life in the pros, was the Denver Broncos’ starter. Babe Parilli, the Oakland Raiders’ starter, had been a great college quarterback for Bear Bryant at Kentucky, but he had been a disappointment in the NFL.

Jack Kemp of San Diego was getting a second chance. Kemp, who played college football at little Occidental, had such a strong passing arm that three NFL teams had him developing on their taxi squads at different times.

Kemp, 25, was the only young starting quarterback in the league. Songin was 36 years old, Houston’s George Blanda 33, Tripucka 32, and Dorow and O’Connell were 30, giving the AFL the look of a “jock Jurassic Park.” It stayed that way for several years due to a quarterback drought in the college draft. In the six years that the NFL and AFL fought it out for prize rookies, there were just seven quarterbacks drafted and signed who became consistent NFL starters — Joe Namath of the Jets, Don Meredith of the Cowboys, Fran Tarkenton of the Minnesota Vikings, Norm Snead of Philadelphia, John Hadl of San Diego, Billy Kilmer of the San Francisco 49ers and Roman Gabriel of the Los Angeles Rams.

With their quarterback supply line from the colleges failing them, the AFL teams improvised wherever they could in order to stay competitive. One of the most famous improvisations came in 1962 from the Buffalo Bills. Lou Saban was in his first season as the Buffalo coach, and he was not satisfied with the quarterbacking of Warren Rabb, who had been so successful in college leading Louisiana State’s “Chinese Bandits.” Saban wanted better for his improving team.

In the Bill’s time of need, it happened that Kemp, who had led the Chargers to the AFL’s Western Division championship in 1960 and 1961, was on the injured list with a broken capsule on the middle knuckle of his passing hand due to hitting an opponent’s helmet. The forecast was that Kemp would be off the field for many weeks.

The AFL then had a little-known technical rule mandating that if an injured player were officially placed on his team’s injured list 24 hours or closer to a weekend game, then that player would be exposed to a waiver claim until 24 hours after the game. Sid Gillman badly needed the extra roster slot for San Diego’s upcoming game, so he took the risk of placing Kemp on waivers over the weekend. Gillman reasoned that the rule was so arcane and furthermore had never been used before, and that no one would be alert enough to claim Kemp. He was wrong.

The Bills did not understand the rule until they were secretly made aware of it by Jack Horrigan, the league’s public relations director who previously covered the team as a Buffalo Evening News sportswriter. Equipped with such solid information, Saban put in the claim and the Bills had their quarterback for the next eight seasons.

Kemp’s departure pointed up a flaw in San Diego’s high-powered offense: Young John Hadl wasn’t ready to be the starting quarterback yet. Gillman, the best-informed coach in the league, knew that Tobin Rote would be available for the next season. Rote had helped the Detroit Lions capture NFL title in 1957. In 1960 he jumped to the Canadian Football League, signing with the Toronto Argonauts for three years. His contract expired at the end of the Canadian season in November 1962. Gillman signed him immediately. In 1963 he led the Chargers to their first AFL championship.

NEXT: Al Davis moves from coaching to commissioner


day, November 27, 2008
Copyright 2008 by the Buffalo News

  Raiders owner Al Davis became the second Commisioner of the American Football League at age 36.
(Click image to enlarge.)



A young Al Davis moves from coaching ranks to commissioner’s office

The groundwork for the modern National Football League was laid in 1966, when owners from the NFL and the upstart American Football League agreed to a merger. Former Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser revisits that pivotal time in his new book, “The Birth of the New NFL: How the 1966 NFL/AFL Merger Transformed Pro Football” (Lyons Press, $14.95).

The News is running three excerpts from the book. Today’s second installment focuses on Al Davis, the former coach who served as AFL commissioner and ultimately owner of the Oakland Raiders.

Erasmus Hall, the legendary Brooklyn high school established in 1787, has seen generations of famous people file through its halls, from Barbra Streisand and Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to the late chess wizard Bobby Fischer and Moe Howard of the Three Stooges. Nevertheless, the school may never have graduated a student more distinctive than Al Davis, the most popular boy in his senior class.

By the time he reached 30, the “most popular boy” was working in professional football as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Chargers of the new American Football League and already becoming extremely unpopular with Chargers opponents. By the time he was 33, he was head coach of the Oakland Raiders, and the unpopularity had turned to loathing in both the National and American leagues. By the time he was 36, he was the second commissioner of the AFL, and loathing had collected a partner, fear, among the NFL owners who had to contend with Davis’ agenda of piracy.

In 1962, Bills owner Ralph Wilson, left, gave a $400,000 infusion of cash to the Raiders so the team could stay in Oakland. In exchange, Wilson received 25 percent of the team which was later coached and managed by Al Davis, right.  Jets' owner David Sonny Werblin is in the center.
(Click image to enlarge.)



Chargers named for credit card business

When the Chargers were founded as an original franchise in the AFL, they were based in Los Angeles. Sid Gillman, who had spent five years as coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, had been fired just as the new league was formed. Barron Hilton, the hotel scion and original owner of the Chargers, had been impressed by Gillman’s work with the Rams, especially his sophisticated passing offense. Sensing that an entertaining offense would be a help in attracting customers to a start-up operation, Hilton hired Gillman.

Hilton was in charge of the hotel chain’s blossoming credit card business — hence the name “the Chargers” — and Gillman ran the entire football operation. His selection of his first coaching staff was a masterpiece. First hired were two members of his former Ram staff, Jack Faulkner and Joe Madro. Then came Davis and Chuck Noll. Coaching staffs in those days were minuscule compared to the ones of the 21st century, and five men was the limit. It was enough, and three of them — Noll, Davis and Gillman himself — ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Faulkner breathed the first fresh air into the moribund Denver franchise as head coach and general manager. Noll coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories. Davis created “Raider Nation,” a dynasty and its raffish followers, which stayed near or at the top of pro football for more than four decades and into the new millennium.

Slick recruiting was second nature to Al from the time he worked at the Citadel. Paul Maguire, now an ESPN sportscaster, told the story of when he came out of Youngstown, Ohio, as a coveted tight end and punter. “Al told me if I came to the Citadel I wouldn’t have to take military and he’d get me a car,” said Maguire. “When I got there, I found out that everybody takes military at the Citadel. When I asked Al about the car, he said, ‘I’ll introduce you to this used-car dealer I know in Charleston. He’ll give you a good price.’ ” Maguire stayed at the school, and in his senior year he caught 11 touchdown passes. When he graduated, he signed with the Chargers to a contract proffered by a coach named Al Davis.

By the end of the 1962 season, it appeared the Raiders would either relocate, probably to New Orleans, or close down operations. Instead Wayne Valley, the managing partner, convinced his board of directors to give it another year, mainly because the team had received a $400,000 infusion of cash from Ralph Wilson, owner of the Bills, in exchange for 25 percent of the team. Wilson later said, “I knew it was against the constitution, but the league would have folded. I did it for the sake of the league.”

The Raiders then got an infusion of professionalism by hiring Davis as head coach and general manager. He had been recommended by Gillman. One of the first moves Davis made was to trade for Art Powell of the New York Titans, a big, fast, enormously talented receiver who had previously worn out his welcome in one year as a Philadelphia Eagle. It took him three years in New York to become a dispensable asset. The trade with the Titans came about because Davis was unafraid to take big risks. Powell caught 16 touchdown passes in his first year as a Raider. Davis made other risky moves, and they were what made the 1-13 Raiders of 1962 into the 10-4 Raiders in his first season as a head coach.

In 1966 the AFL owners elected Davis their new commissioner.

He quickly broadened his staff. He already had a strong public relations man in Jack Horrigan, the former Buffalo Evening News sportswriter whom he knew well and with whom he felt comfortable. Horrigan was a thick-skinned, wisecracking Irish Catholic with a reputation for great integrity and loyalty.

From the beginning of the AFL, the practice was to schedule each team for three consecutive games on their opposite coast.

When the Chargers came east to play Buffalo, New York and Boston, it was their custom to stay and train in either Niagara Falls, N. Y., or cross the bridge to Canada and set up camp in Niagara Falls, Ont. They would travel to New York and Boston by short hops in chartered props. Horrigan would visit the Charger coaches in their temporary headquarters in the Hotel Niagara on the American side of the Falls. “Their language would peel the wallpaper,” he said. “One day I saw a secretary in the hotel office quit her job because she couldn’t stand the obscenities wafting down from the coaches’ office as they argued.” Those visits were where Horrigan and Davis bonded.

I had my own opportunity to bond with Davis in April of 1966. Beverly and I were departing on our honeymoon and staying in a Miami Beach hotel room when the phone rang. We were startled. The call was unexpected and unwanted. The Miami stay was a one-day layover while we awaited our flight to the Bahamas for the rest of our honeymoon. No one was supposed to know where we were. I answered the phone and heard the voice of Al Davis, who had found me somehow. He wanted to hire me for his staff. I thought it over for 24 hours in consultation with my bride then declined Davis’s invitation. I was too happy in the newspaper business.

The most pressing administrative problem Davis encountered when he began the job was smoothing the way for Joe Robbie and Danny Thomas with the new franchise in Miami. It was during his conversation with Bills owner Ralph Wilson that more interesting news broke. “About six weeks after I was named commissioner,” Davis said, “I was visiting Ralph Wilson in his Detroit insurance office, since Ralph was serving as president of the league. We were talking about Miami. Suddenly one of his top people, Lou Curl, walked into the office with some big news — the New York Giants had just signed Pete Gogolak. Ralph was indignant, since Gogolak was his player, very important to the Bills.

“I told him, Ralph, don’t be indignant,” Davis said. “The NFL just handed us the merger.”

Next: Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers.



day, November 28, 2008
Copyright 2008 by the Buffalo News


Larry Felser book excerpt: Stepping out of the shadows

QB Bart Starr earned his share of limelight with Vince Lombardi

The 1966 season would be spectacular for the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Bart Starr.
The groundwork for the modern National Football League was laid in 1966, when owners from the NFL and the upstart American Football League agreed to a merger. Former Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser revisits that pivotal time in his new book, “The Birth of the New NFL: How the 1966 NFL/AFL Merger Transformed Pro Football” (Lyons Press, $14.95).

In the last of three excerpts from the book, Felser describes how Bart Starr completed Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.

Since November of 1959, when the Pack began a four-game winning streak, which ended Vince Lombardi’s first year as head coach and resulted in the team’s first winning season in 12 years, the coach’s light had outshone that of everyone else in the organization.

Lombardi’s only competition, if you could call it that, came from the Golden Boy, Paul Hornung, who had won the Heisman Trophy while playing with a rare losing team at Notre Dame. Hornung was a vanishing species in football, the triple threat. He was a smart and dogged runner, if not a swift one. A college quarterback, he could pass as well as serve as a reliable receiver.

He was an NFL leader in scoring, as he also served as Green Bay’s kicker. Hornung was a personable, witty star with a reputation as a playboy. He had enough stature, even with Lombardi, that he could get away with quite a lot.

As an after-dinner speaker, Hornung often kidded his coach by claiming that when Vince climbed into bed with his wife, Marie, one frigid Green Bay night, Marie cried out, “God! Your feet are cold!” To which the coach was supposed to have replied, “Marie, when we’re in bed, you may call me Vince.”

Ordinarily Lombardi was not enthused about sharing the spotlight with anyone. In the midst of the Packers’ spectacular defensive streak, the team’s public relations director, Chuck Lane, wrote a press release praising what he termed “Phil Bengtson’s defense.” Since Lombardi was also the general manager, it was Lane’s custom to forward the press release to the boss for approval. Instead of approving the press release, Lombardi angrily stormed down the hall into Lane’s office. He made it emphatically clear to Lane that it wasn’t Bengtson’s defense, that it was his, Lombardi’s, and that Bengtson was the assistant carrying out the head coach’s commands.

Lombardi enjoyed Hornung, but that did not alter his businesslike approach to reevaluating him at age 30. Hornung’s numbers had slipped in the previous two seasons. Don Chandler had been brought in as the field-goal kicker after Hornung had been successful on just 12 of 38 attempts in 1964. Once celebrated as a big-game player, the only notable play Hornung had contributed in his last few years was a 13-yard touchdown run which was vital to the Western Conference championship sudden-death playoff victory over the Colts. That wasn’t enough to cloud Lombardi’s judgment. Lombardi drafted Donnie Anderson and Jim Grabowski to replace Hornung and the superb fullback Jim Taylor.

After the 1966 season, Hornung would become a New Orleans Saint via the expansion allotment. That led to the public emergence of Bart Starr as a star of the highest magnitude. He had been one of the best quarterbacks in football for several years, a fact sometimes overlooked by the fans and even the media since Hornung and especially Lombardi overshadowed him.

Lombardi’s coaching philosophy seemed simple enough: aggressive defense, ball-control offense, discipline, and, above all, don’t make any mistakes. All coaches preach about not making mistakes, but it’s hard to follow through. Making mistakes is human, everyone does it. The idea is to keep mistakes to a bare minimum. By choosing players who lent themselves to discipline, who tolerated his constant nagging, abuse, and insults, who believed in what he preached, Lombardi achieved a team that kept mistakes to his desired bare minimum. Whether he would admit it or not, he could not have achieved it without Starr as his quarterback.

High school All-America teams are fairly common in these times, with the most prominent being those selected by Parade Magazine and USA Today. In 1952 the only one of any note was that selected by an organization called The Wigwam Wise Men of America, appearing in the Sporting News, which was still mainly the bible of baseball. The quarterback on that team was a youngster from Montgomery, Ala., named Bart Starr. It was the only prominent national publicity Starr would receive for the next five years.

He received a scholarship from the University of Alabama and had some mild success in his first two seasons, but as a junior he suffered a back injury that virtually put an end to his college career. By his senior year in 1956, a new offense had been installed, and the coaches felt he did not fit it. In those days the NFL draft lasted 30 rounds, mostly because the owners weren’t keen on having a lot of undrafted free agents at large who, at least theoretically, might pit one team against another for pricier contracts. Starr, on the basis of his early promise, was drafted in the 17th round, the 200th player selected. In a happy irony the Packers used their second-round selection to draft Forest Gregg of Southern Methodist and their fifth to draft Indiana’s Bob Skoronski. When the Lombardi era would reach fruition, Gregg would protect Starr from his right tackle position and Skoronski from left tackle.

Starr had been a Packer for three years before Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. It was not love at first sight, at least from the coach’s perspective. Lombardi inherited four quarterbacks when he was hired to coach Green Bay in 1959 — Starr, Lamar McHan, Babe Parilli, and Joe Francis. He wasn’t particularly impressed with any of them.

McHan started the first nine games, but when the Packers lost five straight in the middle of the season, Starr was promoted. After losing Starr’s first start, the Pack won four straight, including the last three on the road. In the final game Starr completed all 20 of his passes in a victory over the 49ers in San Francisco. The Packers averaged 25 points a game in those closing victories.

If Starr convinced Lombardi that he was the man for the job, it was a short-lived convincing. The coach again opened the quarterback assignment to McHan and Starr in training camp. Starr was given the start on Opening Day in 1960 in Chicago, but when the Pack lost to the Bears, Lombardi demoted Starr and promoted McHan once again.

It was the wrong decision. Green Bay won four straight, but McHan was disturbingly erratic, compiling a dismal quarterback rating of 36.3. Despite a 19-16 victory over Pittsburgh on October 30, according to Michael O’Brien in “Vince,” his biography of Lombardi, the coach told Starr, “You’re now my quarterback, and there will be no more changes.”

Lombardi kept his word. Green Bay lost three of Starr’s next four starts, but he remained in the job. The Packers won their last three games and the Western Conference championship. In the NFL championship game against the Eagles in Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, Starr put the Packers ahead, 13-10, in the fourth quarter. The Eagles rallied to win the title, but it was the last postseason game Lombardi and Starr would lose.

[Webmaster's Note: 
        After "the merger", the Packers, of course, went on to win the first two World Championship games between the American Football League and the NFL, by substantial margins.  Predictably, this led to continued claims by NFL supporters that the AFL was years behind the older league.  These pundits conveniently forgot previous NFL championship game scores like Cleveland 56 - Detroit 10 (1954); Detroit 59 - Cleveland 14 (1957); Green Bay 37 - Giants 0 (1961); and Cleveland 27 - Baltimore 0 in 1964.  Previous to those debacles, of course, among other blowouts, was the infamous score of Chicago 73 - Washington 0 in 1940.
        The Packers were undoubtedly the best team in Professional Football in 1966 and 1967.  Their victories over the Chiefs and the Raiders were more a credit to their excellence than a condemnation of the AFL's status as a major league.  In the last two World Championship games between AFL and NFL champs, the Jets beat a Baltimore team that had clobbered the Browns 34-0 for the NFL championship; then the Chiefs defeated a Minnesota team that had won their NFL title over those same Browns 27 -7.  But no one said the Browns played in a "Mickey Mouse" league.]



USA Today ~ June 14, 2009

From upstart to big time, how the AFL changed the NFL
AP file photo
Bills owner Ralph Wilson, left, named Raiders then-coach Al Davis, now the team's owner, as the AFL's commissioner in 1966, before the start-up league merged with the NFL.
Watershed events that shaped the AFL:

•Aug. 14, 1959 -- Under the leadership of Lamar Hunt (owner of the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs), the newly formed AFL holds its first league meetings in Chicago.

•Sept. 9, 1960 -- The league begins play with eight franchises (it would eventually expand to 10). The Denver Broncos defeat the Boston Patriots 13-10 in front of 21,597 fans at B.U. Field.

•Jan. 1, 1961 -- The Houston Oilers topple the Los Angeles Chargers 24-16, becoming the AFL's first champions.

•Jan. 2, 1965 -- The New York Jets outbid the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals to secure the rights to Alabama quarterback Joe Namath with a record $427,000 contract. The deal comes nearly a year after the AFL signed a $36 million TV contract with NBC and would escalate the leagues' war over players.

•June 8, 1966 -- The NFL and AFL come to a truce after years of vying for fans' interest and players' rights. The leagues agree to merge after the 1969 season. A common player draft is instituted, and the leagues agree to an annual title game featuring their respective champions following the 1966 season.

Jan. 15, 1967 -- The NFL's mighty Green Bay Packers crush Hunt's Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, retroactively referred to as Super Bowl I. That game, played in Los Angeles, remains the only Super Bowl that failed to sell out.

Nov. 17, 1968 -- The Oakland Raiders defeat the Jets 43-32. But most fans don't realize it since NBC cuts away from the final 65 seconds of the game -- the Jets were leading 32-29 at the time -- to show the children's movie Heidi in its original 7 p.m. ET time slot. Fan outrage ultimately forces contractual amendments guaranteeing that televised games will be shown to their conclusion.

Jan. 12, 1969 -- Namath makes good on his infamous pregame guarantee as the Jets shock the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, considered by some the best team in NFL history entering the game, 16-7 in Super Bowl III. The victory officially legitimizes the AFL.

Jan. 11, 1970 -- Playing the final game with an AFL-affiliated participant, the Chiefs easily beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV.

-- Nate Davis
The American Football League began play in 1960 with eight franchises, all of them alive and well today.

The fledgling AFL not only offered professional football fans an alternative to the NFL, but ultimately proved to be the only pro football league to successfully go toe-to-toe with the more established league.

After half a dozen contentious years of competing for fans and players, the leagues finally called a truce. Each saw their teams win two Super Bowls before they ultimately joined forces before the 1970 season.

This summer, USA TODAY will take a look back at the AFL, which would have played its 50th season this year, and its contributions to the pro game, examining each of the league's 10 franchises — all current members of the AFC — and the impacts, stories and footprints that they stamped into football lore.


Maybe now, 50 years after the American Football League was conceived as an NFL alternative amid the growing popularity of pro football, Al Davis will set the record straight.

So, Al, who hatched that devious plot to add star power to the fledgling league?

Davis, the illustrious Oakland Raiders owner, was also the new AFL commissioner in 1966 when the league's war with the established NFL was at its peak. In one of the more cunning examples of the chicanery employed by the rival league to woo incoming players, the AFL surreptitiously called for a bogus meeting of the so-called "babysitters" utilized by the older league — while labeling it an NFL event — to coincide with the NFL draft.

The babysitters, unaware they were targets of the subterfuge, were commonly enlisted by NFL teams to try to persuade prospects not to sign with the AFL.

"I don't know who these people were devising these things," Davis recently contended.

Some background: For three years, beginning in 1964, the NFL instituted what was officially labeled "Operation Hand-Holding." According to America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation, the idea was conceived by Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves. The Rams planned to enlist operatives to establish relationships with college prospects before the draft, like a fraternity rush line, then sequester them in locales hidden from AFL officials who also planned to bid for their services. When NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle learned of the strategy, he quickly decided to implement it league-wide.

Rams publicist Bert Rose was drafted to run the program, which was set up in less than a month with about 80 babysitters — typically businessmen with ties to NFL power brokers — who took on their appointed tasks more for prestige than money. On one operation, 27 players were stashed in a hotel in Detroit, away from AFL eyes.

A common babysitter perk was a "gold card," which allowed them to hop on any United Airlines flight, with the cost billed to the NFL.

The phony babysitter meeting concocted by the AFL was to be held in the Pacific Northwest.

"We got the names and addresses of all the babysitters," Davis remembers. "We sent them all a memorandum that on the day of the draft, you are to meet in Portland, Oregon, at 5 o'clock, at a certain motel."

The plot was foiled, thanks to Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys' personnel chief.

"Gil caught on to it and stopped a good part of it," Davis says. "But a lot of them were at the airports, getting ready to go to Portland."

Brandt says one of two players from Oregon who eventually became Hall of Famers — cornerback Mel Renfro (whom the Raiders and their chief scout, Ron Wolf, lost to the Cowboys) or linebacker Dave Wilcox (who played his entire career with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers) — tipped him off.

Still, the effort to hoodwink the babysitters with such a calculated plot was classic. "I couldn't think of something like that," Davis maintains. "I'll put it on Ron."

Brandt suggests otherwise. "Al was pretty good," Brandt says. "He was really our only competition."

Doing whatever it took

Memories of the war between the leagues are still stirring with Davis, 79, who recalls names and other details from nearly a half-century ago as if he were plucking them from an encyclopedia.

Take the case of Memphis tackle Harry Schuh, whom the Raiders "stole" from the Rams. Oakland selected Schuh in the first round of the AFL draft; the Rams apparently were considering him for a high pick, too. Rams babysitter Harp Pool caught on that Schuh was stashed in a Las Vegas hotel.

"We had to pull an escapade," Davis says now. "We had to get him out of the hotel."

Asked where he wanted to go from there, Schuh harbored an exotic vision: Hawaii.

With Pool watching, Davis walked through the front of the hotel and retrieved keys for Schuh's room. But Davis was a decoy. Raiders assistants were simultaneously sneaking Schuh out of the back of the hotel, then to the airport for a week in Hawaii.

Brandt, hired by president/general manager Tex Schramm as the first employee of the expansion Cowboys (they began play in 1960 alongside the AFL's Dallas Texans, who moved and became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963), chuckles when recalling the buzz over Pool's telegram to Babysitter Central that read: "Boo hoo, I lost my Schuh."

That sentiment epitomizes the landscape during the 1960s rivalry, which featured a Wild West flavor as each league had its own commissioner, and there were essentially no rules. This gave college players choices that hardly existed before and haven't since.

In 1960, for example, Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon of LSU signed with both leagues — after originally agreeing to join the Cowboys on a personal services contract. (Dallas landed Cowboys stars Don Meredith and Don Perkins with such contractual arrangements).  

But Rozelle nixed Cannon's deal with the Cowboys, who were still in a start-up mode and yet to be formally approved as a franchise. Dallas also didn't participate in the 1960 college draft — which, incidentally, was held in secret as the NFL tried to conceal the priority placed on players for fear it would help the AFL.

Cannon, a running back, then signed with the Rams, who took him No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, and the AFL's Houston Oilers. Ultimately, the case went to court, and Cannon was allowed to choose where to play. He chose Houston and helped the Oilers win the first two AFL titles.

"If Rozelle had left me alone," Schramm said in his biography, Tex! The Man Who Built the Dallas Cowboys, "the NFL and the Cowboys would have ended up with Billy Cannon."

Dallas was also involved in the granddaddy case of babysitting lore.

The night before Thanksgiving in 1965, the Cowboys' babysitters, Buddy Young and a stockbroker named Wallace Reed, went to the Prairie View A&M campus and picked up coveted receiver Otis Taylor and a marginal lineman, Seth Cartwright. The players were "invited" to spend Thanksgiving weekend in Dallas and, as Brandt recalls, were stashed at the Holiday Inn off North Central Expressway in suburban Richardson.

The Chiefs worried when calls to Taylor's dorm room went unanswered. Finally, Chiefs general manager Don Klosterman called Taylor's mother and told her that he suspected her son had been kidnapped.

Chiefs operative Lloyd Wells — who was close to Taylor's family and had known the receiver since junior high — tracked down the players' whereabouts. The Cowboys' babysitters, though, wouldn't let Wells through the hotel lobby.

Brandt remembers that Reed, stationed outside the room, fell asleep.

"Too many cocktails," Brandt says.

That allowed Wells to whisper to Taylor from the parking lot. In addition to reminding his target of their kinship in pursuing women and the chance that he might lose his job if he didn't land Taylor, Wells passed along a promise from Klosterman: A red Thunderbird, which Taylor desired, was waiting in the parking lot at the Chiefs' headquarters.

Taylor — and Cartwright — climbed out the window. They flew to Kansas City, but not before Wells took them to Fort Worth for a flight after becoming suspicious of two men waiting at the terminal at Love Field in Dallas.

The red T-Bird was indeed waiting. Taylor drove it back to Texas after signing his contract with the Chiefs.

The same weekend of the Taylor adventure, Davis was in Jacksonville, sealing a deal to land Florida State receiver Fred Biletnikoff. The Raiders drafted Biletnikoff in the second round; the Detroit Lions took him in the third round of the NFL draft.

Immediately following the end of the Gator Bowl, pitting Florida State against Oklahoma, Davis rushed onto the field, contract in hand.

It was reminiscent of the scene in 1962 when Davis, as receivers coach for the San Diego Chargers, signed Arkansas star Lance Alworth under a goal post after the Sugar Bowl. Alworth, a second-round AFL pick, was drafted in the first round by the 49ers, eighth overall.

Now Davis had similarly beaten the NFL on another future Hall of Fame receiver.

"I signed Biletnikoff on national TV, with a lawyer from Florida State, because his mother and the Detroit Lions were on the sideline screaming, 'Don't sign it, Fred! Don't sign it!' " Davis says now. "They had the police there and everything. We got 'em held back in the middle of the field.

"It was just like getting married. 'Do you know, under your own volition, that you are signing this contract?'

"Fred says, 'Yes.'

"He didn't know a damn thing," Davis continues. "He just wanted that money. In those days, $5,000 to $10,000 was magic."

Looking back, there are what-if cases galore. The Chiefs lured future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell from his home-state Minnesota Vikings but lost out on a would-be Hall-of-Fame running back in their backyard: Gale Sayers of the Kansas Jayhawks.

Joe Namath might be the face of the AFL's coming of age as the New York Jets' quarterback who "guaranteed" a shocking upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. But he was also a first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Buffalo Bills' 1964 draft class? Carl Eller and Paul Warfield were members, and both wound up in the Hall of Fame … but never played a down for the Bills.

Imagine Ron Mix, the Hall of Fame tackle, joining the defending NFL champion Colts. Mix did. He was Baltimore's first-round pick in 1960, when he was also selected in the first round of the AFL draft by the Boston Patriots.

Fresh off the Southern California campus, the All-American wanted to join a star-studded Colts offense that included Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore.

When the Patriots called, Mix informed them that if he had to play with a team in the East, it would be the Colts. The "counteroffer," though, reflected the tendency of AFL teams to work together in luring talent. Boston's representative asked Mix if he would consider the AFL if he could play for the Chargers instead.

Then came the Colts' offer: A one-year deal with a $1,000 bonus and $7,500 salary.

The Chargers offered a guaranteed two-year, $17,000 contract that included a $5,000 bonus. Mix then asked the Colts for a one-year, $12,000 deal.

Mix recalls what Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom told him in rejecting the counteroffer.

"He told me that I was asking for 'Johnny Unitas money,' and that high a contract would disrupt the team's salary structure," says Mix, now a San Diego-based attorney.

Mix also remembers Rosenbloom expressing the sentiment that was widespread that year in the AFL's inaugural season: The new league wouldn't last.

When he began to play pro football, Mix points out, there were no agents and no combine.

"I wanted to play in the NFL, but I wanted to be treated somewhat fairly," Mix says.

He wound up as one of 20 players who played in all 10 seasons of the AFL's existence.

Coming together

As badly as they wanted their competition to fold, Rosenbloom and many others within NFL circles sorely miscalculated the AFL's chances for survival. Schramm has claimed that, by 1966, NFL teams signed about 75% of college players drafted by both leagues, but such an advantage did not end the war.

In addition to securing key big-name players, the AFL put a dent in the established league because of myriad factors. The league expanded the sport to new markets that clamored for pro football. The AFL provided a flood of opportunity for African-American players, whose numbers in the NFL trickled. When the AFL began play, one NFL team, the Washington Redskins, still had never fielded an African-American player.

Then there was the appeal of the AFL's wide-open brand of play, exemplified by Sid Gillman's aggressive passing attack in San Diego.

One other factor fueled the war that ultimately forced the merger of the AFL and NFL: TV money.

The AFL signed a five-year, $36 million contract with NBC in 1964. It was worth almost five times the previous TV deal from ABC, and it allowed AFL teams — many of whom were struggling financially — to fund their war chests.

Reflective of the symbiotic partnership between the network and the league, NBC advanced five AFL teams $250,000 each to help pay bonuses for 1965 draft picks.

This intensified the war. Although the NFL's TV contract with CBS that began in 1964 was worth $28.2 million for two years — triple the value of the previous package — the NFL divided it among 14 teams.

"Remember, we only had eight teams," Davis says. (The Miami Dolphins began play in 1966, the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968.)

In 1965, the AFL's package was worth $900,000 annually per team; the NFL's equated to a shade more than $1 million annually per team.

While talk of a merger persisted and owners from both leagues worried about the impact of spiraling salaries, the leagues operated on a dictum that, despite the intensity of battles over players coming from college, they wouldn't sign the other league's veterans.

This was shaky antitrust ground during a period when the NFL was attempting to land an antitrust exemption from Congress.

"You could call it a gentleman's agreement," Davis recalls. "I don't know if I'm allowed to say that, but that's what it was."

The "agreement" was shattered in 1966 when the New York Giants signed the AFL's star kicker, Pete Gogolak, from the Bills. The three-year, $96,000 deal was largest ever for a kicker at the time.

Davis used that signing to declare full-scale war. "The NFL will never know what hit them," Davis told his AFL staffers.

Reflecting back, he says, "That opened the excuse for me to hold one team hostage by taking several of their players, and then players from around the NFL, and signing them — some contracts that we still have in the archives."

The AFL moved quickly to sign NFL stars Mike Ditka, John Brodie and Roman Gabriel — signings that were eventually nullified when the leagues agreed to merge.

While the war intensified, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and Schramm were engaged in a series of secret meetings that led to the agreement announced in June 1966. Under conditions of the merger, the leagues would hold the first common draft in 1967 and at the end of the 1966 season play the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game, which at Hunt's suggestion was later called the Super Bowl. In 1970, the leagues officially fused under the NFL umbrella that exists today.

Was the Gogolak signing the pivotal factor in striking the merger?

"I think so," Davis says. "But Lamar (who died in 2006) thinks that going to these meetings with Tex Schramm was pivotal, too. They ironed out all the details, but there's no question that the NFL felt threatened by all these players that were willing to leave."

One way or another, the war was headed for a cease-fire.

"I always felt that Pete was good," Davis says of Rozelle, "but he didn't want confrontation. The gorilla wins if he doesn't lose. We were the gorillas in those days. We had just gotten the TV contracts, and it was tough for them to stomach."

Willie Lanier remembers when the leagues reached their merger agreement as if it were yesterday. Lanier was heading into his senior year at Morgan State, eyeing a pro football career that would ultimately land him in the Hall of Fame as a middle linebacker.

Lanier wishes they had waited a year to strike a deal — or that there had been a filibuster on Capitol Hill as the agreement worked its way through congressional approval.

"The merger bill was tied to a tax bill as a rider," Lanier says. "I was just hoping that there would be a long enough delay that it wouldn't happen that year."

Lanier, now a businessman in Richmond, Va., found a term paper at his parents' home a couple of years ago that he produced as a college senior. The title: "The Monopolistic Aspects of Pro Football."

When the leagues merged, Lanier, who starred for the Chiefs from 1967-77, lost the chance to negotiate with AFL and NFL teams because there was just one draft.

"Timing," Lanier says with a chuckle, "is everything."

The article didn't mention that four NFL franchises owe their existence to the American Football League: The Minnesota Vikings' franchise was given to Max Winter by the NFL so that he would renege on his agreement to join the Original Eight of the AFL; the Dallas Cowboys were created to drive the AFL's Texans out of Dallas; the Atlanta Falcons' franchise was used by the NFL to convince Rankin Smith NOT to set up shop with an AFL franchise in Miami (I wonder how the Falcons' ownership would have liked to have the Dolphins' record over the last 40 years, instead of Atlanta's?); and the NFL gave New Orleans the plum of the Saints' franchise after Louisiana's U.S. Congressmen helped push through PL 89-500, which allowed the NFL to merge with the American Football League.

If not for the AFL, Professional Football could very likely still be playing "three yards and a cloud of dust" in just twelve cities, nine of them east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Al Davis was gracious not to mention how the AFL owners knifed him in the back by secretly agreeing to join the establishment, when, if Al had had his way, the AFL would have survived, and the NFL would be just a memory.


USA TODAY Series on the AFL:  

  How the AFL changed the NFL
   Boston Patriots
   Miami Dolphins
     CincinNati Bengals
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    New York TITANS/JETS



For a League of the Past, the Uniforms Live On
Copyright 2009 by the New York Times. 



Chris Schneider/Associated Press

The Broncos’ socks from the team’s American Football League uniform.

It’s every retailer’s dream: a product so hot that demand outstrips supply. The Denver Broncos could not have guessed that this season’s hot product would be one of the ugliest sports socks ever created, the brown-and-yellow, vertically striped leggings that the team wore a half-century ago.
That does not seem to bother Tim Kellond, who runs the Broncos’ team store in Denver. Kellond has sold more than 1,800 pairs of the high socks at $14.95 and receives about 250 calls a week from customers asking when more will arrive from the manufacturer who, he said, has run out of brown yarn.
“I thought I ordered a whole lot that would last until next year,” Kellond said. “My problem is deliveries. I get them in and sell them out in two hours.”
The socks have been an unexpected hit for the Broncos and the N.F.L., which is near the end of its season-long 50th-anniversary celebration of the American Football League. The original eight teams — the Buffalo Bills, the Denver Broncos, the Los Angeles Chargers (now the San Diego Chargers), the Boston Patriots (the New England Patriots), the Oakland Raiders, the Houston Oilers (the Tennessee Titans, the Dallas Texans (the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Titans (the Jets) — have been featured in legacy games that have included vintage uniforms.

The last of these 16 matchups will be Sunday when the Patriots play the Miami Dolphins, who joined the A.F.L. in 1966. The Cincinnati Bengals became the 10th team in 1968. The commemoration of the A.F.L. has provided a much-needed lift for the teams and the league, which were looking for ways to offset the effects of the recession on merchandise sales.
More than two dozen licensees have been making about 100 A.F.L.-related products, which have produced tens of millions of dollars in sales, said Leo Kane, the N.F.L.’s vice president for consumer products.
“This economy has been challenging, so it’s been a great story for our clubs to have a positive story out there,” Kane said.

CJ Gunther/European Pressphoto Agency

On Sept. 14, the Patriots and Bills wore uniforms like those of the teams in the AFL

Sales of throwback goods are a small slice of the $3 billion worth of N.F.L. merchandise sold annually, but they are proving to be the biggest sellers this year.
In New England, sales of A.F.L. and 50th anniversary goods have made up 20 percent of overall sales, compared with 12 percent last year, said Stacey James, a spokesman for the Patriots. The best sellers have been 50th-anniversary T-shirts for $19.95 and red jerseys worn in 1963.
The Chiefs, who started in 1960 in Dallas, played the Dallas Cowboys this season in a contest billed as “the game that never was” because the teams never faced each other when they were both in Texas. Sales of red sweatshirts with the original Dallas Texans logo have been hot sellers.
We didn’t have vertically striped socks, but it did very well,” said Jim Fisher, the manager of merchandise services for the Chiefs.
Russ Brand, the chief operating officer of the Bills, said 30 percent of all merchandise sales this year had been 50th anniversary or A.F.L. related.
“There was a lot of hype, and it’s certainly helped,” he said.
Bills fans have celebrated their team’s 50th anniversary at an exhibit at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, which has 900 team-related items, many of them from the collection of Greg Tranter, an avid fan.
The exhibit includes black-and-white photographs of players caked in mud at the old War Memorial Stadium, which had notoriously bad drainage. Tranter, who has 100,000 Bills-related items in all, is clearly fond of the team’s original, silver-and-blue uniform.
Few exist because old uniforms were given away to high schools at the end of the season, said Tranter, who grew up in Elmira, N.Y., and went to his first Bills game in 1965. His other favorites include a Johnny Hero doll in a 1965 Bills uniform and a straw hat that says “All the Way with O. J.”
The A.F.L. still resonates with fans not just because of the snazzy uniforms and innovative marketing, but because the league was a scrappy underdog derided as a Mickey Mouse league filled with N.F.L. rejects.
“The fans definitely felt that the A.F.L. represented something new,” said Angelo Coniglio, who runs “The owners were rebels, and they acted the part.”
That spirit lives on in an HBO Sports documentary from 1995, “Rebels with a Cause: The Story of the American Football League.” The one-hour program will be rebroadcast on Dec. 31 and several times in January.
“There are a lot of 20-somethings looking at all these funny uniforms and do not dig any deeper,” said Ross Greenburg, the president of HBO Sports. “This truly was the first sports league that became a power on its own.”

            Gee, I wonder haw many copies of the 'FULL COLOR FOOTBALL: The History of the American Football League' DVDs they might have sold, if they had been available this year? 


Monday, May 3, 2010
Copyright 2010 by the Buffalo News

Edgerson finally gets his due

Booker Edgerson is one of the most underrated star players ever to wear a Buffalo Bills uniform.

He's a little less underrated today.

Edgerson was introduced Monday as the Bills' Wall of Fame inductee for the 2010 season.

Edgerson was the shut-down cornerback on the Bills' American Football League championship teams of the 1960s.

Photo by James P. McCoy


Edgerson's 1964 Topps card

The AFL was famous for its wide-open passing attacks and great receivers. Edgerson was the player assigned to cover Hall of Famers like Lance Alworth, Don Maynard and Fred Biletnikoff and other stars like Otis Taylor.

"It's a great honor," Edgerson said. "It's something I am very, very proud of because I'm going to be put on the wall with some very distinguished ballplayers."

Edgerson, who played for the Bills from 1962 through '69, will be honored at a regular-season game yet to be determined this fall. He will become the Bills' 26th wall honoree and the eighth player honored from the 1960s.

The Bills won the AFL title in 1964 and '65 thanks in part to the best defense in the league.

Edgerson was a little like the Darryl Talley of his day. The '60s Bills had a lot of stars, and only so many of them could make it onto the all-league team. Edgerson played in the AFL all-star game only in 1965, a year in which the entire Bills team was named. (Talley, the Bills' star linebacker of the '90s, likewise often was overshadowed for postseason honors.) But it was Edgerson who had the pure speed to draw the toughest assignments in the secondary.

"I don't know if I was underrated or people were looking for different things back in those days," Edgerson said. "I like to think I was a very consistent ballplayer."

Edgerson made one of the greatest defensive plays in Bills' history. It came on Thanksgiving Day in San Diego in 1965. The Chargers were highly motivated to avenge their '64 title game loss to the Bills. In the third quarter, the fleet Alworth made a 65-yard gain on a catch-and-run, but Edgerson chased him down from behind at the 3-yard line and forced Alworth to fumble into the end zone. Bills linebacker John Tracey recovered for a touchback. The game ended tied, 20-20.

"We were in a zone defense and we very seldom ran zone defense," Edgerson said. "It was usually man to man. Lance was going across the middle. I was coming up to pick up either the tight end or the back coming out of the backfield. I saw him going across the middle catching the ball and I said wow. I just turned and took off and said, "Hey, do what you can.' When I caught up with him, was it a surprise? Yes and no. He said that he slowed down, and that could have been true. He shouldn't have because he got caught. ... That was a turning point in our championship [season]. And it's been a big conversation [point] with me all these years, too. It's been gratifying."

Edgerson and the Bills' defense shut down the potent Chargers' offense in both title games, 20-7 in '64 and 23-0 in '65.

"As you all know, we are the only champions that the Buffalo Bills have had," Edgerson said. "We won the last game."

Edgerson starred in football and track at Western Illinois. He ran a 100-yard dash time of 9.7 seconds and had a long jump of 24 feet, 6 inches. The college's football coach was Lou Saban, and Joe Collier was the top defensive coach. Saban and Collier brought Edgerson to Buffalo when Saban took the Bills' job in '62.

Both Edgerson and Bills cornerback mate Butch Byrd excelled at pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage.

"A lot of the receivers, they don't like to be touched," Edgerson said. "They concentrated more on being touched than on getting to where they needed to get to, and that was an advantage to us. As long as I threw them off stride, I felt I had an advantage."

Edgerson finished with 23 career interceptions. Byrd finished with 40. Edgerson's selection to the wall probably bodes well for Byrd's chances to get inducted.

Edgerson, 70, retired two years ago after serving 23 years at Erie Community College as director of equity and diversity.

             Edgerson made the American Football League Hall of Fame several years ago.   Byrd's there, too.  Click HERE to see more.  ~ REMEMBER the AFL


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Copyright 2011 by the Buffalo News

COLUMN: Larry Felser

Staff Sargeant Tommy Rieman speaks to two stars of the early days of the AFL, Mike Stratton and Keith Lincoln, at a Buffalo Bills Gala at Seneca Niagara Casino on Saturday. Proceeds are to go to wounded veterans.
James P. McCoy/Buffalo News
Felser: Bills' AFL titles were major league in every way
It takes a lot to get me aggravated about issues in sports, but one sure thing is the claim that Buffalo has never had a championship team in any of its major sports -- football, basketball or hockey.

Those arguing along that line take the position that the Bills' American Football League championships in 1964 and '65 don't count because the AFL was not major league.

That line of reasoning, I counter, is a crock. The most stable members of the eight-team league had been outbidding the rival NFL powers for serious talent from the beginning, 1960. The Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, signed the Heisman Trophy winner, LSU running back Billy Cannon, away from the powerful Los Angeles Rams. They took him right from under the nose of Rams GM Pete Rozelle, who would become the new NFL commissioner that year.

The AFL have-nots, particularly the Oakland Raiders, were underfunded and threatened to pull down the new league. Buffalo's owner, Ralph Wilson, secretly purchased a large chunk of the Raiders to keep them in business since they won only two games in 1961 and '62 and were scoffed at by the NFL. But by 1963, the Raiders, under the command of a young new coach and general manager, Al Davis, turned the scoffing to hate. The team won 10 games in Davis' first season and the Raiders became one of the most serious threats to the established league.

Davis had come from the San Diego Chargers, for whom he had been receivers coach under Sid Gillman, the head coach who taught the rest of the AFL how to be professional. By '63 the Chargers, owned by hotel magnate Barron Hilton, were the best team in the new league with the most dynamic offense in pro football. In the AFL championship game that year, they bludgeoned the Boston Patriots, 51-10. Keith Lincoln, their young running back, had one of the greatest championship games in pro football history, running for 206 yards on 13 carries, catching seven passes for 123 yards and completing his only pass for 20 additional yards.

By 1964, the Bills had blossomed under coach Lou Saban. They won the AFC's Eastern Division title and then met the Chargers for the league championship in War Memorial Stadium. Lincoln began the game as he had finished the Patriots a year earlier, running for 38 yards on the first play as San Diego took an immediate 7-0 lead. The Bills' offense went nowhere on their first possession, leading to what Bills public relations director Chuck Burr would label "the tackle heard 'round the world."

Lincoln caught a pass for 11 yards but Bills linebacker Mike Stratton arrived seconds after the ball and applied a crunching tackle that sent the Chargers star to the ground with broken ribs. He lay there for five minutes and it was evident he was through for the day. So were the Chargers. Today, Lincoln and Stratton are united again in Ralph Wilson Stadium for Bills' reunion day.

"One second earlier it's pass interference," said Stratton. "One second later it's a missed tackle."

Exactly one year later, the day after Christmas, 1965, the Bills would prove it wasn't a fluke with a 23-0 shutout over the Chargers in Balboa Stadium.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Copyright 2011 by the Buffalo News

COLUMN: Larry Felser

Davis led the fight for football's merger..

Davis learned the trade under the likes of John McKay and Sid Gillman


Al Davis, who died Saturday in Oakland, was an unforgettable character in pro football. He wore many different hats in his more than a half century of pleasing, surprising and often annoying his cohorts while also startling and outthinking his professional enemies.

The hats included that of coach, general manager and commissioner of the American Football League.

He learned his trade working for two great coaches, John McKay of USC and Hall of Famer Sid Gillman of the Chargers. When the Chargers used to fly east for three weekend games during the AFL days, a trifecta against the Jets, Patriots and Bills, it included a week-long stay at the old Hotel Niagara. The coaches worked on the same floor as the hotel's business department. The Chargers' coaches would argue so viciously and profanely that horrified secretaries would quit before the week was up.

In 1963, with the Raiders on the brink of insolvency and stuck with the worst record in the league, 1-13, the owners hired Davis as head coach. In his first season they finished with the second-best record in the league as five of his players finished either first or second in important categories.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson with late Raiders owner Al Davis, right, after Davis was named Commissioner of the American Football League in 1966.
Associated Press photo
Three years later he would change his job title again, this time to "Commissioner of the AFL." War with the NFL had broken out and Davis was the warrior the AFL needed to win that war. What ignited the fighting was what happened with Pete Gogolak, the Bills' star who had sensationally introduced soccer-style place kicking to American football. The Bills had won AFL titles in 1964 and '65, but Gogolak let it be known that he was eager for a change of teams. The NFL owners knew that signing a player from the rival league was akin to tasting forbidden fruit. There was an agreement between the leagues not to sign each other's free agents, or so they thought.
The New York Giants seemed the least likely taster but they had a serious problem: Their field-goal record was atrocious, 4 for 25, with kicks from 40 yards or beyond 1 for 11. Gogolak would be an improvement for the New Yorkers but Davis now saw Wellington Mara, the Giants' gentlemanly owner, as the unintentional conduit to some sort of merger between the leagues.

When the news of Gogolak's signing broke, Bills owner Ralph Wilson was in Davis' New York office. Wilson was furious over the signing of Gogolak. "Ralph, don't be angry," said Davis. "They just gave us the merger." Al was no longer just a warrior in this fight, he was the War Lord.

Davis then recruited the most successful talent scouts in the NFL and charged them with raiding the NFL for talent. In very little time the NFL cried "uncle." In a very long time the two leagues learned to get along since there were millions, eventually billions at stake. All Davis had wanted was to win football games, especially against the one-time enemy NFL teams. Al not only strong-armed the AFL to success, he restructured the Raiders with fresh talent and a quarterback he virtually stole from the Bills, Daryle Lamonica.

In 1969 Buffalo was a victim once more, this time at the hands of Davis. Wilson thought he won the lottery when he signed John Rauch away from Davis to coach the Bills. I ran into Al as we were leaving our Miami hotel the Sunday the Jets stunned the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

"Ralph just made a big mistake," said Davis, alluding to the Rauch signing. "I just promoted the best young coach in football to replace him."

The Raiders' new coach was John Madden.

A personal note: Years after the merger between the NFL and AFL serious dislike still reigned among NFL owners. For that matter there had never been much objectivity among the sporting press during the war years. Davis became a candidate for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, of which I was a voter along with my best friend in this business, the late Will McDonough of the Boston Globe. There were a number of old-guard voters who despised Davis and refused to vote for him. In 1992, McDonough proposed a change in the voting procedure and once it was passed enlisted me to help him exploit it. That opened the way for Al to get into the Hall, and I have never felt guilt pains about it.

Larry Felser, former News columnist,appears in Sunday's editions.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Copyright 2011 by the Buffalo News

Click HERE for Schaffer's 1960 Fleer football card


The New York Times
Pro Football

George Saimes, Top Defensive Back, Dies at 71
 Published: March 10, 2013

George Saimes, who was regarded as one of the American Football League’s best safeties, died on Friday in Canton, Ohio, his hometown. He was 71.

George Saimes in 1962

Associated Press

  The cause was leukemia, his daughter Linda Durley said.

Saimes spent seven seasons with the Buffalo Bills, helping the team win A.F.L. championships in 1964 and in 1965. He then played three seasons with the Denver Broncos.

He was a five-time A.F.L. All-Star and was named to the all-time A.F.L. defensive team in 1970. Known as a hard-hitting tackler, he had 22 interceptions in 121 games.

He had also been a star at Michigan State, where he played defensive back and fullback and was named the team’s most valuable player in 1961 and in 1962.

“George Saimes was one of the surest tacklers I ever saw,” his former Buffalo teammate Booker Edgerson said in an interview Saturday. “We know there wasn’t a better safety before him, and I don’t think there’s been any since.”

“I think that there should’ve been some consideration for him going into the Hall of Fame,” Edgerson added. “Unfortunately, a lot of defensive backs in the ’60s and ’70s never really got that consideration.”

After his playing days, Saimes stayed in football as a scout with the Washington Redskins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Houston Texans.

In addition to his daughter Linda, Saimes is survived by his wife, Betsy; two other daughters; and eight grandchildren.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 11, 2013, on page B8 of the New York edition with the headline: George Saimes, 71, Top Defensive Back.


Thursday, April 25, 2013
Copyright 2013 by the Buffalo News

  Larry Felser worked for The Buffalo News for 38 years,
the last 25 as the lead sports columnist for the paper.




Larry Felser, who chronicled Buffalo sports for more than 50 years and became an icon in the newspaper business, died Wednesday at age 80.

Felser worked for The Buffalo News for 38 years, his last 25 as the lead sports columnist for the paper. He was an authoritative, provocative voice who had a greater connection to the heartbeat of Buffalo sports fans than any newspaperman Western New York has known. He succumbed to a brief illness at the Beechwood Continuing Care facility in Getzville.

“Larry was basically the voice of sports in Buffalo for a generation,” said Howard Smith, former executive sports editor at The News. “He interpreted what went on, and his opinion really helped color the opinions of a whole generation of sports readers. ... He set the agenda for sports discussion in Buffalo for years and years.”

A Buffalo native, Felser began his newspaper career as a copy boy at the Courier-Express in 1953 and worked there for 12 years before joining The News. He covered the Buffalo Bills from their inception in 1960 to his retirement in 2001. He continued to write a weekly sports column in The News until 2012. He held the title of sports editor for the last 20 years of his News tenure.

Felser was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. In 1984, he received the Dick McCann Memorial Award for distinguished reporting of professional football, an honor that is displayed at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Felser was not the voice of the fans; he was the voice for the fans. He was not one to jump to rash conclusions.

“Today we’re used to so many people ripping so many sports figures every day of the week, just because there’s so much media and immediacy now,” Smith said. “Felser had a temperament and a poise in his writing, and a perspective. He wasn’t going to rip somebody for one bad game or one bad moment. He had wisdom to put it in perspective and understand that one bad game does not a disaster make.”

When unleashed, however, Felser’s criticism was stinging. He brought a two-fisted attitude but wrote with finesse. He censured with a scalpel, never a rusty knife.

“He felt a sense of duty to kind of look out for the fans’ interests in those teams, that they were doing it right and playing it straight,” said Vic Carucci, a former Bills beat writer for The News.

Felser’s voice carried weight. He gained national prominence in the late 1960s in part because of a weekly football column he wrote for The Sporting News. He had great sources and could get top football executives – from legendary coach Vince Lombardi to National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle to American Football League founder Lamar Hunt – on the phone whenever he wanted.

“I always had this list of guys in my mind that if they knocked you, you must be doing something wrong,” said Ernie Accorsi, respected former personnel chief of the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants. “If Larry Felser was gonna criticize you, you better look at yourself in the mirror, because you’re probably wrong.”

Despite his accomplishments, Felser maintained a feet-on-the-ground, Buffalo sensibility. “He loved bringing guys along, mentoring younger reporters about writing, ethics in the business, how to live on the road – he took pride in that,” said News sports writer Milt Northrop.

The respect Felser inspired was evidenced on his honeymoon. It was 1966, and Felser and his new bride, Beverly, were vacationing in Florida. Few knew their destination. But the newlyweds were awakened one morning by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who tracked them down. Davis offered Felser a job as a lead public relations man for the league.

Felser turned him down, largely because of his loyalty to Buffalo and The News.

“I am deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing of Larry Felser,” said Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. “He was the consummate professional – tough, but fair, and never one to shy away from clearly stating his opinion. I had tremendous respect for Larry, and we developed a deep friendship that lasted throughout our lifetimes. We shared some great laughs over the years, and that’s what I am remembering most today about Larry.”

Felser graduated from Canisius High School and Canisius College. He served in the U.S. Army for two years as a cryptographer, decoding messages.

“It’s ironic that he died this week because this was Larry’s favorite time of the year – the NFL draft,” said Northrop. “In the Army, most guys get weekend passes and go to the beach. Larry would get his pass and go to Columbia, S.C., to watch Alex Hawkins or to scout Clemson.”

Even though he immersed himself in the sports world, sports did not define Felser. He was a voracious reader, a political junkie who loved history and genealogy. He was proud of his Jesuit education and was a whiz at trivia. He loved to travel and went to Europe many times. He called himself “an avid gardener by marriage.”

He proudly considered himself “a foodie.” He relished eating snow grouse at La Maisonette in Cincinnati and bananas foster at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.

Yet he never strayed far from his Buffalo roots. Upon his retirement, he was one of only eight writers to have covered each of the first 35 Super Bowls. He could have kept going to the title game after retiring from full-time work but demurred. “I plan to watch the game on my couch with a beer in my hand, the way God intended,” he said.

“He was as strong a family man as I’ve known,” Smith said. “His wife and two daughters were Nos. 1 and 1 AA, and all the other stuff wasn’t as important. Maybe that’s what helped put it in perspective for him, because he knew that what was really important was his family, and the football game was not life and death.”

Felser and his wife shared their 47th wedding anniversary Tuesday. He also is survived by two daughters, Ellen Morfei and Lenise Anne “Niecy” Deakin, and four grandsons.


Click HERE for Jerry Sullivan's 2001 column about Larry's retirement.


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