The NFL is without a doubt the most popular of the current sporting leagues in the USA and is really the only show in town for most Americans. However, it wasn’t always like that. Only a few decades ago, there were actually two professional football leagues in the USA with the NFL (The National Football League) having to compete with the AFL (The American Football League). Of course, the two eventually merged and we are left with the NFL we know and love, but I’m going to take you on a trip back in history to take a closer look at this merger.
The NFL had its inaugural season in 1920 and for a few decades, the league ran unopposed but throughout the 1950’s, various owners who were refused expansion teams in the NFL decided to band together and create a new league called the AFL. The AFL had their first year in 1960 and their original lineup of an Eastern division of the New York Titans, Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, and the Houston Oilers, and a Western division of the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and Dallas Texans. It is incredibly likely you will recognize most, if not all of those teams. The way that the AFL first got some attention and recognition was when they signed 75% of the first round NFL draft picks from the 1960 NFL draft. While the league took a few years to become legitimate (first few years had low attendance and the competition was uneven), a few TV contracts soon added legitimacy to the league. They also added a few teams and had some relocations throughout the lifetime of the league.
Over the next few years, the competition of the two leagues led to player contracts and salaries skyrocketing far past what they had ever been, which was actually hurting both leagues, the two leagues agreed to a merger in 1966. There was a common draft between the two leagues and the champion of each league would play against each other in a championship game, which would go on to become the Super Bowl. They operated as separate leagues until 1970 and in this period, the AFL proved they were equal to the NFL skill wise by winning a few of these championships.
However, in 1970, it was decided that the AFL would be absorbed into the NFL. The 10 teams in the AFL (along with a few from the NFL) all ended up becoming the American Football Conference and the NFL teams became the National Football Conference. A number of the best players of all time such as George Blanda, Lance Alworth, Ron Mix, Joe Namath and many more got their start in the AFL. And the group of coaches is even more star studded as guys like Al Davs, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh all got their starts in the AFL.
As you can see, the NFL has a lot to thank the AFL for and so do the fans, as the NFL we know and love would not be here had it not been for the AFL.