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FALSE RAPS
against the
 American Football League
(AFL 1960 - 1969)

         The American Football League fielded teams from 1960 through 1969.  Through its many innovations on the field and in sports management and broadcasting, as well as its influence on the expansion of all of Pro Football to new U. S. markets, the AFL was the true genesis of Pro Football as it is known today. 
          In spite of that, the American Football League's place in football history is lessened by often uncontested claims first put forth by the NFL and its apologists in the 1960s, and perpetuated to this day by those unable or unwilling to review the actual facts. 
          One obvious effect of this downplaying of the importance of the American Football League and the abilities of its players is the absence from the "pro football" Hall of Fame of players like Johnny Robinson, Tom Sestak, John Hadl, Gino Cappelletti, Abner Haynes and others who would likely have been inducted on their first day of eligibility, had they played in the NFL.

          I want to set the record straight.  To do so, I'll cite the common canards against the AFL, and explain why I believe they are full of holes.   The claims were made not only by the NFL and its hide-bound owners such as George Halas and Wellington Mara, but by sportswriters from cities with NFL teams, represented by men like William N. Wallace of the New York Times; and national writers like Sports Illustrated's Tex Maule, who never had a good word for the AFL, and who, before he became an "impartial journalist", just coincidentally worked for Pete Rozelle in the LA Rams' front office.

 

1)  The AFL couldn't sign the best college players.
          
This claim was made while the ink was still wet on the AFL charter in 1959.  In the AFL's first draft (conducted in 1959, preparatory to the 1960 regular season), these six men were signed by American Football League teams:  BILLY CANNON (Oilers), future World Champion JOHNNY ROBINSON (Texans), RICHIE LUCAS (Bills), JACK SPIKES (Texans), RON BURTON (Patriots), and future Hall of Famer RON MIX (Chargers).  What did they have in common?   They were all first-round draft choices of NFL teams: 50% of the other league's first-rounders signed with the AFL in its first year.
            Also signed by the AFL that first season were such greats as TOM DAY (Bills), and ABNER HAYNES (Texans), future Hall of Famer JIM OTTO (Raiders), as well as future World Champion LARRY GRANTHAM (Titans).
            The next season, 1961, saw the American Football League sign players like BILLY SHAW (Bills); E.J. HOLUB, JIM TYRER, FRED ARBANAS, CURTIS McCLINTON and JERRY MAYS (all by the Texans); TOM GOODE, WALT SUGGS and HOUSTON ANTWINE (Oilers); and EARL FAISON, KEITH LINCOLN, BOB SCARPITTO and ERNIE LADD (Chargers).
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The AFL DID sign outstanding players, from its inception.  

 
2)  AFL players were a bunch of "NFL Rejects".

            Were the following players no good, because "they couldn't make it in the NFL", or were they examples of poor talent evaluation by Halas, Mara, and company:  GEORGE BLANDA (Oilers and Raiders), JACK KEMP (Chargers), LEN DAWSON (Texans), DON MAYNARD (Titans), RON McDOLE and JOHN TRACEY (Bills), ART POWELL (Titans),  LIONEL TAYLOR (Broncos).
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One man's poison is another man's meat.

 
3)  AFL college scouting was a joke.

            Whether by need or by chance, the American Football League revolutionized college scouting, not necessarily by their style of scouting, but by their choice of schools.  The NFL was just coming out of years of exclusion of black players, a policy it adopted in the 1930's to mollify powerful Redskins' owner and recognized bigot George Preston Marshall.  The old league essentially ignored small, predominantly black colleges, while the AFL actively recruited them for such players as ABNER HAYNES, ELBERT DUBENION, ERNIE LADD, BUCK BUCHANAN, LARRY LITTLE, WILLIE FRAZIER, CHARLIE JOINER, WILLIE BROWN and dozens of others.
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AFL college scouting was a portent of things to come.

 
4)  The AFL's two-point conversion was "bush league".
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The NFL adopted it in 1994.
 
5)  The AFL only "caught up" to the NFL after the Common Draft.

                 The claim here is that the Common Draft (which starting in 1967 lumped both leagues together so that there was no competition for college players) was the reason that the Jets and the Chiefs became "good enough" to compete with (read: "beat") the NFL's best. 
                 Hogwash.  The 1968 Jets had only seven men on their roster who were obtained  from the Common Draft, three starters.  The Jets beat the over-rated Colts primarily with players who had been in the AFL for years, including DON MAYNARD, BILL MATHIS, LARRY GRANTHAM and CURLEY JOHNSON, who had all been on the team since they were called the Titans of New York.  The two biggest stars of the game, Matt Snell and Joe Namath, were both signed by the AFL during the "signing wars" before the Common Draft. 
[The Colts had twelve players on their roster from the Common Draft.  Maybe they should have had more "AFL Rejects"!] 
                 Similarly, the core players of the Chiefs team that won the World Championship the following year were veteran AFL players.
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The A
FL's best teams didn't need a Common Draft to beat the "best teams in the history of the NFL".

 

6 Players like TOM SESTAK and ABNER HAYNES didn't play long enough to be chosen for induction to the "pro football" Hall of Fame.

                 SESTAK played only seven years, but made the AFL's All-Time Team. 
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There are six men already in the "pro football" Hall of Fame who played seven or fewer years. 
 
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               HAYNES played eight years and accumulated the all-time AFL combined yardage record. 
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There are twenty men already in the Hall of Fame who played eight or fewer years.  Of course, in both examples, those who are in did not play in the AFL.  I could list many more similar examples.

 
7)  The AFL was a "basketball league" ~ NO DEFENSE.

             Fan Dave Hollender has compiled the following statistics: the average score by both teams in regular season games from 1960 through 1969 in the American Football League was 45.6 points per game.  The NFL's average over the same period was 43.5 points per game. 
               So, on average, each AFL team scored about one point more per game than each NFL team in the 1960's.  In 1965, the NFL averaged 46.1 total points per game, to the American Football League's 42.9 points.  Which one was the "basketball league" that year?
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I must admit these stats surprised me, because I always felt the AFL's offenses were better than the NFL's.   Maybe it was because of the flashier style of offense, rather than the points produced.  The fact remains that A
FL scoring was virtually the same statistically as NFL scoring..

Though it lasted only ten years, three of the AFL's original eight coaches were Hall of Fame calibre: Lou Saban, the only man to win two consecutive AFL titles; Hank Stram, who won three; and Sid Gillman, whose Chargers were in five of the first six AFL title games, and whose professionalism and inventiveness forced the other AFL teams to emulate his.

M
any coaches who eventually shaped modern Professional Football had roots in the American Football League. Bill Walsh is often cited for an impressive "coaching tree" of assistants who went on to become head coaches. But Walsh was an assistant to the Oakland Raiders' Al Davis, who learned the trade from Sid Gillman.  Walsh's coaching tree is thus an offshoot of Gillman's coaching tree.  Besides Davis, others who coached for Gillman included Dick Vermeil, Chuck Knox  and George Allen, as well as Chuck Noll, the only head coach to win four Super Bowls. The numbers on Gillman's coaching tree indicate the Super Bowls won by his coaching "descendants", a total of twenty.  

Over forty percent of Super Bowls have been won by coaches whose philosophies were influenced by ONE outstanding AFL coach.  The conservative NFL scoffed at the flashy offenses of the American Football League and called it a 'basketball league'.  That haughty league has since had its own style transformed by men whose coaching philosophy can be traced back to one of the AFL's greatest offensive minds. Today's Professional Football reflects virtually every aspect of the Ameican Football League, except its name and logo.

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CONCLUSIONS

               I believe I have rebutted all of the above claims with facts.  The following are my opinions, based on those facts.
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               The American Football League, throughout its ten years, was as much a 'Major League' as the NFL was.  It had stars who performed at a high level, many over its entire existence.  Its best teams were as good as the best teams in the NFL, and the NFL's worst teams were no better than the weakest AFL teams. 
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                In 1966 and 1967, the NFL Green Bay Packers were the best Professional Football team in America.  No one knows which were the best teams from 1960 through 1965.  The best Professional Football teams in  1968 and 1969 were, respectively, the American Football League's New York Jets and the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs:  NFL 2, AFL 2.
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               The above line of reasoning, and the clear evidence elsewhere of the American Football League's innovations on and off the football field, and its impact on expanding Professional Football to new regions, suggests the following:
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              Many former A
FL players are not in the "pro football" Hall of Fame only because of the league they played in.
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              The merits of the former players of the AFL should be reconsidered, the annual maximum of two "senior" inductees to the "pro football" Hall of Fame should be waived, and former AFL players should be admitted on the basis of the comparison of their performances with existing enshrinees from the NFL of the 1960s.  The most glaring of these omissions is JOHNNY ROBINSON, whose qualifications, when considered with the three AFL Championships and one World Championship he has won, exceed those of NFL players from the same era who are in the Hall of Fame. 

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