Most of us are to young to remember the good old days of Joe Namath, and John Madden two of most influential people ever associated with the American Football League. Starting on September 16, Showtime will air a five-part documentary entitled Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League. Airing every Wednesday at 8:00pm eastern, the programming gives insight to the unique brand of football and the originality of the AFL member clubs. Footage of the AFL is courtesy of NFL Films, which chronicled and documented the league from 1960-1969.
What most people don’t realize is that the AFL helped change the way all sports are played. You see before Michael Jordan was sticking his tongue out while gliding through the air, before Tiger Woods fist pump when sinking the winning putt, before all the touchdown dances seen in every football game today. There was no celebration after a big moment it was considered disrespectful to your opponent because sports were considered a gentlemen’s game.
That all changed with the birth of the AFL. The AFL started when league founder Lamar Hunt, was turned down by the NFL when he tried to purchase an NFL team. Distraught over not being able to purchase a team while flying on a plane the idea hit him. Through lots of hard work he put together a league of eight teams and set out to prove he could build a league to rival the mighty NFL. The eight teams were the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Dallas Texans, Boston Patriots, New York Titans, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers and Houston Oilers.
While the league started off with hardly anyone attending games, it soon picked up momentum when people began to see the flamboyant style of play. Guys were high fiving each other on the field, Joe Namath, quarterback for the New York Jets was attired in fur coats on the sidelines, it was fun and seats quickly started to fill up.
While the league was fun to watch because of all the enthusiasm the players exhibited, it wasn’t just a showboat league. The AFL had many talented players that ended up being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, legends like, Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Brown, Bob Griese, Larry Little, O.J. Simpson, Gene Upshaw, and Art Shell. Even my nine and four year old sons know the name John Madden, not because they watched him coach the Oakland Raiders, but because of his video game that they love to play. Not only did the AFL revolutionized Pro Football but it made buying merchandise of your favorite team a more common thing back then and even now.
The AFL eventually merged with the NFL in 1970 and helped shape the league we know today. While some teams are still in the same location since their inaugural AFL season, some have changed names or locations. The Dallas Texans are now the Kansas City Chiefs, the Boston Patriots adopted a region and play as the New England Patriots today, The New York Titans changed their name to the New York Jets, their home, Shea Stadium in close proximity to the busy airports of New York and the Houston Oilers moved northeast to become the Tennessee Titans.
During the course of the 2009-10 NFL season, the eight original teams of the AFL will wear their old retro uniforms when they play against each other in honor of the AFL’s 50th anniversary. While some of the uniforms are probably the worst thing seen since the 1960’s Batman and Robin with Adam West. It shows how far football has come.