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Sports Illustrated sees the light.

        Page 5



Copyright Sports Illustrated

July 13, 2009


GAME CHANGERS ~ Fifty years ago a group of would-be owners who couldn't get into the NFL launched a rival league that would transform the way pro football is played—and contribute mightily to its rise as the nation's most popular sport

Following the 1965 season Pete Gogolak asked for a better contract. Buffalo offered him $13,000 a year, up from $9,900. The New York Giants, whose straight-on kicker, Bob Timberlake, had missed 14 of 15 field goal tries in '65, trumped the Bills' offer to Gogolak, violating an unwritten agreement between the leagues not to raid each other's rosters. Gogolak jumped to the NFL for $32,000, and the bidding war for players was on. Fearing that such competition would ruin both leagues, the NFL and AFL agreed in 1966 to merge four years later.


San Diego Chargers 1962--70, Dallas Cowboys 1971--72

WHEN ALWORTH, a Mississippi native and Arkansas All-America, drove to San Diego for the first time, he thought he'd see "palm trees, beautiful and green." Upon crossing into the Golden State, however, he was surprised to find only mountains and desert. "I said, 'Wait a minute, where's California?'" he recalls. But for the player known as Bambi for his deerlike speed and moves, California soon turned into the dreamland he'd expected. In 11 pro seasons—nine with the Chargers—he caught 542 passes for 10,266 yards and 85 TDs. In 1978 he was the first AFL player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What does he cherish most about his AFL days? "How close everyone was, and how much fun we had." He settled in Del Mar, Calif., and owns a chain of railside storage facilities. Says Alworth, 68, "Life is super after football."

Seven-time AFL All-Pro > AFL All-Time Team > NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team

          Sports Illustrated couldn't completely reverse its 'sixties antipathy towards the American Football League.  Since it originally used few color action shots of the AFL, it apparently couldn't find any to use in its retrospective.  The above is from the print issue of King's story in the July 13, 2009 SI.  King wrote a great story.  He might have pointed out that the above play ended not with an Alworth touchdown, but with Booker Edgerson catching him from behind - something few defensive backs ever accomplished. ~ REMEMBER the AFL

The AFL raised the game's status in America

Early in 1959, nine of the 20 largest cities in the U.S., including Houston (7th in population), Boston (13th), Dallas (14th), San Diego (18th) and Buffalo (20th) did not have a pro football team. The 12-team NFL wanted to go slow with expansion, but Hunt's move pressed the accelerator, forcing the NFL to admit Dallas and Minnesota rather than cede those territories to the new league. The AFL brought football to five cities that didn't have a pro team (Boston, Buffalo, Denver, Houston and Oakland), second pro teams to New York and Los Angeles, and another to Dallas to compete with the NFL's expansion Cowboys, which also began play in 1960.

Not every city, though, was ready for pro football or willing to support a second team. Wilson had to float Raiders owner Wayne Valley a $400,000 loan to keep Oakland going beyond the first season. Barron Hilton's Los Angeles Chargers moved to San Diego after one season. Hunt took his Dallas Texans franchise to Kansas City after three years because Big D wasn't big enough for two pro teams.

Yet once AFL teams found their homes, the fan base grew rapidly—average attendance was a healthy 34,291 by 1966 (compared to 50,829 for the NFL)—as did league revenue and respect for the operation. Six years after the Orange Bowl turned down Wilson and his $25,000 franchise, lawyer Joe Robbie and entertainer Danny Thomas paid $7.5 million to put an AFL expansion team in the stadium.

The NFL eventually would have expanded into some of these cities, but it's inconceivable that the league would have more than doubled from 12 teams in 1959 to 26 in 1970, after the merger. And it's possible that cities such as Oakland, Buffalo and Kansas City might never have gotten teams if the AFL hadn't given them a shot. Spreading pro football to more parts of the country, and proving how popular the game could become—that was the AFL's greatest impact on America.


Chicago Bears 1949--58, Houston Oilers 1960--66, Oakland Raiders 1967--75

THERE'S ONE man, more than any other, who can appreciate Brett Favre's annual retirement dilemma. "I absolutely can identify with him," says Blanda, 81. "I've felt his pain." After 10 years as a QB and a kicker for the Bears, the 32-year-old Blanda was without an NFL job. He missed a season, then caught on with the AFL's Oilers in 1960 and quarterbacked them to the league's first two titles. "The AFL," says Blanda, "was a godsend." In '67 he joined the Raiders as kicker and backup QB, playing nine more seasons before retiring at 48 as football's alltime leading scorer, with 2,002 points. (He's now third.) A 1981 Hall of Fame inductee, Blanda splits his time between Oakbrook, Ill., and La Quinta, Calif., with his wife, Betty. They'll celebrate their 60th anniversary in December. The man knows a thing or two about longevity.

1961 AFL Player of the Year > Two AFL championships > AFL All-Time Team

~ End


Webmaster's Note: Goose Gonsoulin, Paul Lowe, and Daryle Lamonica are mentioned here, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Neither are Abner Haynes, Johnny Robinson, Jack Kemp, Tom Sestak nor numerous former AFL players who changed the game and were as good as or better than 1960s NFL players who have been inducted.  Why are these stars excluded?  Because they played in the AFL.  Click on their names to see why they belong.


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