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1970 AFL-NFL Merger

By Wikipedia

The AFL-NFL Merger of 1970 involved the merger of the two major professional American football leagues in the United States during the time: the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL). It came as a result of an intense competitive war between the two leagues. The merger paved the way for the combined league to become the most popular and most powerful sports league in America.


After its inception in 1920, the NFL fended off several rival leagues. Prior to 1960, the most important rival was the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), which began play in 1946. The AAFC differed from the NFL in several ways, including:

  • Crowds at many AAFC games were generally larger than those at NFL games
  • The AAFC actively recruited black players, forcing the NFL to change its "no blacks" policy which it had reverted in 1932
  • The AAFC's perennial champions, the Cleveland Browns, were considered by many to be the best team in professional football during that time.

However, due to the AAFC's poor financial situation, it was eventually absorbed into the NFL in 1950.

Emergence of the AFL

After the NFL absorbed the AAFC, it went unchallenged by rival leagues until 1960. Lamar Hunt, son of oil millionaire H. L. Hunt, rebuffed in his attempts to gain at least part-ownership in an NFL team, conceived the idea of a rival professional football league, the American Football League. The league established teams in eight American cities: Boston, Buffalo, New York, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Oakland, and Los Angeles.

The AFL immediately took advantage of the NFL's shortcomings. The NFL had settled into to a methodical, grind-it-out brand of football, influenced by legendary but hide-bound founders such as George Halas, who were still coaching and administrating teams as they had in the 1920s. Though they had opened the door a crack to black players, they maintained an unwritten quota system, and ignored the plethora of small colleges which had sprung forth to accommodate the rush of "GI Bill" students after World War II. Many of these small colleges were predominantly black, so a valuable source of talent was largely ignored by the NFL.

The AFL signed stars from small colleges, such as: Elbert Dubenion (Bluffton); Lionel Taylor (New Mexico Highlands); Tom Sestak (McNeese State); Charlie Tolar and Charlie Hennigan (Northwestern State of Louisiana); Abner Haynes (North Texas State); and a host of others. From major colleges, it signed talented players like: LSU's Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon; Arkansas' Lance Alworth; Notre Dame's Daryle Lamonica, Kansas' John Hadl, Alabama's Joe Namath, and many more. The AFL also signed players the NFL had given up on: so-called "NFL Rejects" who turned out to be superstars that the NFL had mis-evaluated, including: Jack Kemp, Babe Parilli, Ron McDole, Art Powell, John Tracey, George Blanda, Don Maynard, and Len Dawson.

The AFL instituted many policies and rules that today are considered an integral part of professional football:

  • The two-point conversion
  • Official time on the scoreboard clock
  • Players' names on jerseys
  • Network television broadcasting league games, first on ABC and later with NBC
  • The sharing of gate and television revenues by home and visiting teams.

The NFL had none of these features before the American Football League came into being. Additionally, the AFL played a more exciting, wide-open game, with long passes and reverses; and it promulgated colorful uniforms and team logos.

War between the two leagues

Unlike the NFL's previous rivals, the AFL was able to survive and grow. After the AFL's Dallas team moved to Kansas City, it started to prosper. The New York team began to draw record crowds, aided by the signing of Namath. And by 1965, NBC paid the AFL $36 million to televise its games, insuring the league's financial survival.

As the rivalry between the leagues intensified, both leagues resorted to "dirty tricks" to sign players, and to "baby-sit" prospective draft picks to keep them away from the other league's representatives. But still, once they were signed, there was tacit agreement to honor the other league's contracts.

But that tacit agreement was shattered in early 1966, when the NFL New York Giants signed Pete Gogolak, the first professional soccer-style placekicker, who was already under contract and playing with the AFL's Buffalo Bills. That breach of trust by the NFL loosed the "dogs of war". When Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders took over as AFL Commissioner, he began stepping up the bidding war, immediately signed eight starting NFL quarterbacks, including John Brodie and Roman Gabriel, to contracts with AFL teams.

Meanwhile, both leagues spent a combined $7 million signing their 1966 draft picks.

The merger agreement

The intense rivalry led to serious merger talks between the two leagues. And by June 8, 1966, they announced a merger agreement. Under the agreement:

  • The two leagues would combine to form an expanded league with 24 teams, which would be increased to 26 teams by 1969, and to 28 teams by 1970 or soon thereafter (it actually took until 1976).
  • All existing teams would be retained, and none of them would be moved outside of their metropolitan areas.
  • AFL "indemnities" would be paid to NFL teams which shared markets with AFL teams.
  • Both leagues would now hold a "common draft" of college players.
  • While maintaining separate schedules through 1969, the leagues agreed to play an annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game beginning in January, 1967 (which would eventually be known as the Super Bowl).
  • The two leagues would officially merge in 1970 to form one league with two conferences. The merged league would still be known as the NFL.

The features of the merger depended on the passage of a law by the 89th United States Congress, exempting the merged league from antitrust law sanctions. When NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and other professional football executives appeared before the Congress' Subcommittee on Antitrust, chaired by New York congressman Emanuel Celler, two points were repeatedly made:

  • Rozelle promised that if the merger was allowed, no existing professional football franchise of either league would be moved from any city
  • Stadiums seating 50,000 were declared to be adequate for professional football's needs.

Eventually, Congress passed the new law to permit the merger to proceed.

As 1970 approached, three NFL teams, the Baltimore Colts, the Cleveland Browns, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, agreed to join the AFL teams to form the American Football Conference (AFC). The other NFL teams became part of the National Football Conference (NFC). However, the teams' owners had trouble deciding which teams went into which divisions. It was settled after various combinations were drawn up on slips of paper, put into a hat, and the official alignment was pulled out by Rozelle's secretary.

Meanwhile, all three of the major television networks signed contracts to televise games, thus ensuring the combined league's stability. CBS agreed to broadcast all NFC games, NBC agreed to broadcast all AFC games, and ABC agreed to broadcast Monday Night Football, making the NFL the first league to have a regular series of national telecasts in prime time.


Many observers believe that the NFL got the better of the bargain. Al Davis and New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin resisted the indemnity payments. Long-time sports writer Jerry Magee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote: "Al Davis taking over as commissioner was the strongest thing the AFL ever did. He thought the AFL-NFL merger was a detriment to the AFL." A very small minority believe that had Al Davis been given the opportunity to continue his efforts, the NFL would have folded, or capitulated to join the AFL, rather than the AFL losing its identity. That action was bitter for thousands of American Football League fans who wanted their league to continue. Those feelings were reinforced when American Football League teams won the final two AFL-NFL World Championship games after the 1968 (Jets) and 1969 (Chiefs) seasons.

Despite Rozelle's pledge to the 89th United States Congress, several teams have moved since the merger, from a few miles, to hundreds of miles and across several states: New York Giants, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders (twice), St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans (twice) and Boston/New England Patriots. Those teams moved to new stadiums built to attract them, paid for by public funds, except for the Patriots' new stadium. In addition, the following areas have used public funds to build new stadiums to keep or regain franchises: Kansas City, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Chicago.

Nevertheless, the result of the merger paved the way for a new era of prosperity for the NFL. Since 1970, the NFL has only been challenged twice. The WFL of 1974-75 and the USFL of 1983-1985. Both rival leagues were trounced long before talk of merger could be taken seriously.



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Courtesy of the NFL

NFL's record in Super Bowls before merger: 2-2

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It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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