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More MEMOIRS OF A MICKEY MOUSE FAN
a fan's History of the American Football League

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FOREWORD:   
          The nineteen-sixties were a time of turmoil, vision, and change.  The Cold War; the Kennedys; the race for the moon.  Personally, it was the decade of my marriage, and the births of my children: in short, the best time of my life.  In sports, too, the winds of change were blowing: goodbye, Bronko Nagurski, George Halas, three yards and a cloud of dust.  Hello, Lance Alworth, Tom Sestak, Joe Namath and Johnny Robinson.  So long to the Browns' orange pumpkins, hello to the Bolts!        


The 'sixties: it was Camelot, it was the Beatles, it was Mare Tranquilitatis, it was "Aquarius":
it was the
AFL.

Ange Coniglio ~ December 2004

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CHAPTER 1 - 1959:  In 1958, Texas oilman H. L. Hunt's son and heir, Lamar Hunt, wanted to bring professional football to Texas.  He was rebuffed in his efforts to establish an NFL franchise there, and in 1959, decided to form a new professional football league, which he called the American Football League.  In Chicago's Conrad Hilton Hotel, on August 14th, 1959, the franchises that initially joined Hunt's Dallas Texans were: K.S. (Bud) Adams' Houston Oilers, Harry Wismer's New York Titans, Bob Howsam's Denver Broncos, Barron Hilton's Los Angeles Chargers, and Max Winter and Bill Boyer's Minnesota franchise.  By November they had been joined by Ralph Wilson's Buffalo Bills and William H. (Billy) Sullivan's Boston Patriots.  In one of  the first acts of treachery by the NFL against the new league, Winter was lured away from the so-called "Foolish Club" and promised a franchise in the established league.  The eighth AFL franchise, replacing Minnesota, later became the Oakland Raiders, owned by a group including Chet Soda, Wayne Valley, E. J. McGah and Ed McGah Jr.
       Thus, Hunt's vision brought a new professional football league not only to California and New York, but to parts of the nation that did not have the game: New England, Colorado and Texas. It would later be brought to Missouri and Florida. The AFL also adopted the first-ever cooperative television plan for professional football, in which the league office negotiated an ABC-TV contract, the proceeds of which were divided equally among member clubs.
       On November 30th, Joe Foss, a WWII Marine flying ace and former governor of South Dakota, was named American Football League Commissioner.   Foss commissioned a friend of Harry Wismer's to develop the AFL's classic  eagle-on-football logo.

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Lamar Hunt
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Foolish Club, 1961
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Joe Foss                                               

       The AFL stocked its teams in two ways: signing "draftees" from the previous year's college graduates (the college draft); and signing "free agents" (players whose contracts in other professional football leagues had expired, or who had no professional experience).
       In advance of the inaugural 1960 season, the first AFL draft of college players (33 rounds) was held on November 22nd, 1959.   An additional draft of 20 rounds was held on December 2nd.  College stars signed by the AFL in its first draft included Ron Burton, HB, Northwestern (Patriots); Ron Mix, T, USC, and Paul Maguire, TE, The Citadel  (Chargers); Tom Day, T/G, North Carolina A&T (Bills); Chris Burford, E, Stanford, Abner Haynes, HB, North Texas State, and Johnny Robinson, HB, LSU (Texans); Goose Gonsoulin, HB, Baylor (Broncos); Larry Grantham, E, Mississippi and Bill Mathis, HB, Clemson (Titans); and Billy Cannon, HB, LSU, Don Floyd, T, TCU, Jackie Lee, QB, Cincinnati, and Bob Talamini, T/G, Kentucky (Oilers).  The roster size for the league was set at 35 active players.

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       The AFL's free agents came from several sources.   Some were so-called "NFL Rejects", players who supposedly were not good enough to play in that league.  But the success of men like the Oilers' George Blanda, the Chargers/Bills' Jack Kemp, the Texans' Lenny Dawson, Titans' Don Maynard, the Raiders/Patriots/Jets'  Babe Parilli, the Pats' Bob Dee, and many others, reinforces the conclusion that those found wanting were not these AFL stars, but rather the NFL personnel offices that let them go.
       Another source was the Canadian Football League.  Many players not drafted or signed out of college by the NFL in the late nineteen-fifties went North to try their luck with the CFL, and later returned to the states to play in the American Football League.  In that first year, these included the Pats' Gino Cappelletti ; and the Chargers' Sam Deluca and Dave Kocourek.
       Finally, there were the true "free agents", the walk-ons, the wanna-be's, who tried out in droves for the chance to play pro ball.  If even half of the apocryphal stories are true, there were dozens of ex-bartenders and ex-insurance salesmen who wound up playing in the AFL!  Boston fan Mike Allen recalls when "they called one of the fans out of the stands to report to the Pats dressing room to get into uniform."  The Buffalo Bills' archivist Denny Lynch, who once worked for the Patriots, confirms that the event did occur, and the player was Notre Dame's Bob Gladieux.

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to 1960

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Click here for an all-time roster of American Football League players.

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Last revision: 30 April 2012 ~ Angelo F. Coniglio, nospam.RemembertheAFL@aol.com