The American Football League (AFL) was founded in 1960 as an alternative to the established National Football League, founded in 1920. The AFL featured many exciting young players, new cities that hosted new teams, and new coaches that brought a more exciting offensive and defensive strategy to the teams, making the league a fan favorite.
On September 9, 1960, the AFL began to play with 8 teams split into 2 divisions.
Over the course of the next 10 years, a few changes were made to the teams in the league to better distribute the teams across the US in major cities. For example, the team in Los Angeles was relocated to San Diego and became the San Diego Chargers; the team in Dallas was relocated to Kansas City and became the Kansas City Chiefs. More changes included new teams being added, such as Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals.
When the AFL began playing games, they started with a mixture of older players from the existing NFL teams and some young players fresh from college. The National Football League rosters were veteran players such as Jack Kemp, George Blanda, Don Maynard, and Len Dawson. These were players that eventually had success in the new league and helped the AFL form an identity. But for the AFL to be successful, it also needed to develop young stars. So, beginning in 1960 and continuing throughout the league’s existence, it was able to bring young, exciting players into the AFL. As a result, players such as Billy Cannon, Lance Alworth, Buck Buchanan, and Joe Namath signed with the AFL, became stars, and helped make it a competitive league.
How New Coaches Changed The AFL
Another key ingredient to make the AFL popular with fans was new and innovative coaches. Coaches such as Sid Gillman, Hank Stram, Al Davis, John Madden, and Lou Saban helped shape new strategic offensive schemes not seen in the NFL for the previous 40 years.
In 1967, it was agreed that the two leagues would send their respective champions to an overall championship game. In that game, which would eventually be known as Super Bowl I, the Green Bay Packers of the NFL handily beat the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL. The next year, the established NFL proved its superiority by having Green Bay easily beat the Oakland Raiders. So, when Super Bowl III came around, it was expected that the NFL’s Baltimore Colts would beat the AFL’s New York Jets. However, the rising Jets star quarterback Joe Namath brazenly predicted victory over the heavily favored Colts and backed it up by leading the Jets to one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.
As a result of that stunning upset, the NFL sped up the merger process and agreed to merge all 10 AFL teams into one league. As a result, the last season for the American Football League was the 1969 season. Beginning with the 1970 season, the newly expanded National Football League began to play, with two conferences – the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. The American Football League was only in existence for ten years. Still, it provided new stars, new teams, new coaches, and a new style of play that has propelled the NFL to become the most successful professional sports organization in the United States.