Requiem of An Upset – The Sequel: Judas Falls as AFL Gains Complete Vindication

Have you ever started a project only to have one of your partners try to sabotage it from within?? If you ever got back at that party wouldn’t you want it to be one where it came back and haunted at the most inopportune time??

 

Well sit down have we got a story for you. During the 1960’s, the NFL and AFL were rival leagues with the AFL’s having originated on the heels of the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game. Principles moved quickly to form a new football league that would rival the 40 year old NFL and had a new style of play that was scoffed at by the sporting press. The AFL fought for over half a decade for respect.

 

After an aggressive bidding war for players brought the rival leagues to the table to talk merger, a byproduct would be a championship game between the two leagues. The Super Bowl beginning in 1966. Sports writers of the time and most pundits thought the play in the NFL was superior to their younger counterpart. Although the AFL fought for respectability for the first 6 years, their Kansas City Chiefs were handled by the Green Bay Packers 35-10 in the inaugural game, and Oakland Raiders 33-14 in the second edition. Surely talk of a merger was still there but loyalists to both leagues were still at ends until the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

After losing Super Bowl III, the Baltimore Colts were the only team of the 92 who have participated in the Super Bowl, NOT to be issued a ring for doing so.

The shock and awe was so great that the sporing press scrambled to give the Jets credit for a David vs. Goliath type  upset victory. Yet beneath the surface, the establishment raged at the thought of the AFL being on a par with the NFL. Think not??  To the left of this paragraph lies the remnant of that embarrassment. To not commission a championship ring along with the fallout from Baltimore Colt brass losing Don Shula, and swapping franchise’s with Robert Irsay (Rams) a few years later was tantamount to the size of the loss. This is the sequel to our original Requiem of An Upset.

So seismic was the loss that commissioner Pete Rozelle decided to come up with a new round of playoffs called the wild card round. This would allow the team with the 2 best records who didn’t win their division to enter the championship race with the 2 division winners. Many believed that it was a move to keep a tremendous underdog like the Jets from making it to the Super Bowl. Another slap at the AFL if you will… Given the new landscape the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers lined up to take on the AFL East Champion New York Jets and West Champion Oakland Raiders.

Enter the Kansas City Chiefs of Hank Stram and Lamar Hunt. It was Hunt who was the founder of the AFL and began with his team in Dallas and not Kansas City. As we entered 1969, the tenth AFL season, it was fitting that his team would have the last shot to win the overall championship in the last game ever for the AFL. They were the winningest team in league history and had played in championships in 1962 and the first Super Bowl in 1966.

On-board they had players who had spent their entire careers with them like FS Johnny Robinson and DE Jerry Mays (both should be in the Hall of Fame). Yet they finished the season with a loss in the finale to the Oakland Raiders. Couple that with the fact the 1968 season ended with a humiliating 41-6 loss to those same Raiders, confidence wasn’t that high outside Kansas City. The underdog  Chiefs upset the New York Jets 13-6 to make it to the AFL Championship Game. There they bested the Raiders in Oakland 17-7 to make it to New Orleans and Super Bowl IV.

sbiv2Their opponent would be Judas, otherwise known as the Minnesota Vikings. What are we talking about?? It has to do with the origin of the American Football League and told in our championship ring series for the ’69 Chiefs.

So January 11th, 1970 was the last game ever for the AFL. Starting with the 1970 regular season, the NFL would have an all inclusive regular season combining both leagues.  How did that game appear on television?? Here is the game in it’s entirety

SUPER BOWL IV: FIRST HALF

part 1(00h41m22s-01h22m44s)

SUPER BOWL IV: SECOND HALF

EPILOGUE: So there you have it. The AFL ended the 1960’s on a par with the NFL, not only on the field but in Super Bowl competition with a 2-2 record. The regular season of 1970 had the AFL’s 10 teams joined by the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers in the newly formed American Football Conference. League play between the 26 team NFL began in 1970 yet the Super Bowl stayed an American staple as a championship game born from two rivaling leagues. Yet so many ironies  can be pointed out within these stories.

One irony is the AFL’s founder, Lamar Hunt and the Chiefs were able to get revenge on the Minnesota Vikings ownership group that tried to sink the new league. Ironically it came in the last ever game but it came. Another irony is the fact that New Orleans was the site for Super Bowl IV and was where the 1964 AFL All Star Game was to have been played.  New Orleans, at the time had wanted an AFL team and bid to host this game to showcase the city as a sports town. After multiple incidents of discrimination against many of it’s African American players, the AFL All Stars called for a boycott of the game being in New Orleans.

All this took place during the week prior to the game. The AFL All Star Game was subsequently moved to Houston’s Jeppeson Stadium honoring the stance of the player’s right to be treated with respect. There was a backlash toward those players later recounted by Abner Haynes in NFL Films’ Black Star Rising (circa 1995), then Ernie Ladd & Earl Faison for HBO’s History of the AFL: Rebels With A Cause (circa 1995) by the AFL, but that is another story for another time.

One final irony was that in the end, where a city’s populace had discriminated against African American players in 1964, in 1969 we saw the Kansas City Chiefs become the first team to win the World Championship with African Americans comprising more than half of their starters. It was a powerful notion along with the 1968 Olympics that many of America’s athletes were black. Up until that point amongst those that played pro football, there was a quota system in place over in the NFL. “That players had to be stars just to play.” as recounted by Jim Marshall in Black Star Rising.

chancellor.e.thomas.w.lanier

Hall of Fame CB Emmitt Thomas and MLB Willie Lanier of the 69 AFL Champion Chiefs.

They weren’t taxi squad (special teams) or even second string players on NFL rosters. The Chiefs also were the first to win with an African American Middle Linebacker in Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, and had the first Hispanic quarterback to win a Super Bowl with Tom Flores. Flores would go on to glory later as an NFL head coach, yet it was ironic that his team beat the Vikings who were the first to have a Hispanic (Mexican American) to lead his team to the Super Bowl in Joe Kapp. The MVP was Chief QB Len Dawson who would go on to know a generation of NFL fans as half of the duo of Inside the NFL for nearly 30 years.

hof-lamar-huntThe AFL came to a close in the bowels of New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium, with Lamar Hunt and Hank Stram, receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Commissioner Pete Rozelle. There is no way that at that moment, Hunt had more than a feeling of irony that he was thwarted in an attempt to gain an NFL franchise in 1959. Now here he was being granted the ultimate prize with a rival league and could claim victory against the NFL. Not just for Super Bowl IV, but for the last 10 years.

The Chancellor & The Super Bowl LI Trophy

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

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The AFL: A True American Success Story

Roster from Ange Coniglio’s Remember The AFL.

Unlike other leagues that popped up and died, the American Football League lives on in the American Football Conference of the modern NFL.  With a burgeoning economy after World War II, Americans turned their attention to a life of leisure during the 1950s. Sports became the outlet for most of America. There was a clamor by many who felt slighted when it came to big league sports.  The furthest point west on the map where major professional sports was played, was Wisconsin & St Louis Missouri. Then something happened to change the landscape.  The AAFC football league folded and the San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL in 1950, along with the champion Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts.

This event helped propel the Cleveland Rams west to Los Angeles, where they joined San Francisco to be the first pro teams in California. Now other western cities wanted in on the action and all the other sports started to broaden their minds toward relocation.  Soon moves were made by an L.A. Councilwoman who massaged the beginnings of what came to be the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants move to California also in 1957.  Expansion was on soon with the Lakers in 1960 moving from Minneapolis.  Now Texans wanted an NFL team and had the money to gain an NFL franchise or so Lamar Hunt thought.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

AFL and Kansas City Chief founder Lamar Hunt holding a platter of AFL footballs.

Then the NFL had the landmark 1958 NFL Championship overtime game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts that transformed the spark of interest into a flame. Hunt and principles moved quickly to form the American Football League since the NFL had thwarted their attempts to bring football to Texas. Now you have to understand who we’re talking about here for a second.  Lamar Hunt was son of H.L. Hunt of Hunt Brothers Oil! We’re talking seriously deep pockets here. The NFL in its arrogance thought they would outlast a fledgling league like the AAFC just a decade before….damn were they wrong.

Once the idea of the AFL gained momentum, the NFL turned to espionage and tricky double dealing to sink the new league.  The eight cities that Hunt and the other AFL owners decided on were Dallas, Houston, Denver, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Buffalo. However the NFL bent the ear of the Minnesota ownership group, and told them they would give them an NFL franchise if they would decieve their brethren, by defecting to the NFL at the last minute. It almost worked but the AFL scrambled to move the eighth team to its new home in Oakland. Meanwhile the NFL put a team in Dallas to compete with Hunt’s Dallas Texans, they were called the Cowboys.

The AFL had some seriously rich men that wanted to see it succeed in Bud Adams, Ralph Wilson, Lamar Hunt, and Barron Hilton yet there were other ownership groups that struggled to make ends meet as the league got off the ground in 1960. Many teams were losing money at record rates, some to the tune of a million dollars or more.

It was former Boston Patriot owner Billy Sullivan who coined the phrase “The Foolish Club” when listening to his colleagues joke about revenues lost.  However John Madden recalled a reporter asking Lamar’s father H.L. Hunt “What did he think of his son losing $1 million  a year??” Hunt’s answer was cryptic to the NFL and the sporting establishment’s ears when he replied “Well, he’ll be ok. At that rate he’ll only be able to go on for another 150 years.” Damn!!  On 1960’s dollars??  Yikes!!

Although the NFL had been around forever, for the first time they were up against wealthy men who gained their fortunes as titans of industry outside of football. NFL owners George Halas, Carroll Rosenbloom, Tim and Wellington Mara, George Preston Marshall, and Art Modell were primarily football men and knew their asses were in trouble.  If it came down to the AFL’s pockets they would be in for a battle they couldn’t win.

The first few years had the established sporting press scoffing at the league’s style of play, uniforms, retread players and coaches, you name it. This is an era where if you went against the establishment, you had more than an uphill battle just for acceptance….I mean the radical 60’s were not yet underway. Yet here they were continuing the plan on expanding professional football to more points within the United States.

One of the first items the AFL did was secure a television contract to assist the teams that had financial problems like the Titans and Raiders.  The Raiders had also come to a point of folding when they contacted their fellow teams and said they couldn’t sustain operation financially.  Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson stepped in and lent the Raiders $450,000 to stay afloat because the league couldn’t operate with only 7 teams. As for the Titans and Harry Wismer, the Jets needed an ownership group that had the pockets and vision to rival that of the New York Giants. Enter Sonny Werblin.

Werblin spearheaded a group that purchased the bankrupt New York Titans, renamed them the Jets and helped negotiate the most lucrative television contract to date with NBC.  Over $1.8 million dollars went to each team in 1965 and with all of their teams solvent for future operation, new stadiums went up in San Diego (Los Angeles), Oakland, & Denver. Now the next move Werblin spearheaded was to draft Joe Namath and pay him a ridiculous $427,000 contract to be the star in New York. Uh oh…this single shot turned the draft into a who is going to pay the most for a players services between the two leagues.  Talk about impact.

An unwritten agreement existed between the two leagues to not sign each others current players.  Yet the NFL went underhanded, yet again, when the New York Giants signed kicker Pete Gogolak from the two time AFL Champion Buffalo Bills.  The AFL retaliated big time. It was recounted by Lamar Hunt, the founder of the Texans who had moved his team to Kansas City and renamed them the Chiefs, to meet Tex Schramm and discuss a possible merger. Hunt still lived in Dallas. They met at Love Field under the Texas Ranger statue and when the meeting was over, Hunt flew to Houston to elect Al Davis AFL Commissioner.  Joe Foss had been a good commissioner but now they needed a “war time President”.  Al Davis quickly helped teams realize they could bring the NFL to its knees if they created a bidding war by signing away their superstars.

The moves of signing away San Francisco quarterback John Brodie, Los Angeles’ Roman Gabriel, and Chicago’s Mike Ditka were the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The bidding for player’s talents had driven contracts up dramatically and the NFL grudgingly came to the table.  Al Davis was away about to sign another player when Hunt told him that they were going to meet the next day about a merger and they didn’t need the headlines. *Pay attention because this is the birthplace of the Chiefs / Raiders rivalry and the Al Davis against the world mentality takes place*  Davis signs the player which angers Hunt.

In the subsequent negotiations, the leagues agree to a merger with the two league’s champions playing in a new championship game, the Super Bowl, for the first four years and realignment into one all inclusive league in 1970.  Pete Rozelle remained commissioner over all of football, there was a common draft starting in 1966… and Al Davis….?? They left him out in the cold sort of..

al-davis-bustThis is where he received his dubious ownership distinction and awkward title President of the Managing General Partner for the Raiders.  He had only been a coach before, yet one of the  items that seemed spineless is the NFL made the AFL’s teams pay $3 million in reparation damages each and had Al Davis been there would never have acquiesced to such a demand.  Not when they had the NFL crawling to the table.  It was this animosity toward Pete Rozelle, Bud Adams and especially the Kansas City Chiefs and Lamar Hunt that raged on for many years. *This is where the animosity between Davis and Rozelle fostered…remember the court battles of the 1980s between the Oakland Raiders v the NFL??*

The patch worn by the Kansas City Chiefs on January 11, 1970 for Super Bowl IV. The final game of the AFL

In the first two Super Bowls Green Bay bested Kansas City and Oakland respectively.  The landmark win came when the Jets upset Baltimore to show that the AFL was on a par in Super Bowl III.  Then with a twist of fate, the ownership group who traitorously tried to sink the AFL by defecting, came into Super Bowl IV against the Kansas City Chiefs and AFL founder Lamar Hunt.  In the last game ever for the AFL, Kansas City buried the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 to bring not only the Super Bowl record to 2-2 between the two leagues, but able to have the satisfaction of kicking Judas’ ass in the process.

In conclusion: It was wrong to not include Davis and to me is the one of the few black eyes in this success story.  The AFL was swallowed into the monolith that is the NFL after expanding the AFL to 10 teams with Cincinnati, and Miami emerging.  These 10 teams were joined by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts, yes the Baltimore Colts who gave the NFL a black eye with that first loss. They didn’t go empty handed, each club was paid $3 million to move to the new AFC.  Yet AFL loyalists such as Davis wished the two leagues stay separate, and he truly believed they would have eventually folded the NFL.

This is the ring for the Raiders triumph in Super Bowl XI. Look at the middle pic of the side of the ring. There you’ll see the AFL Block “A” along with the AFL logo and not the bold modified AFC “A”.

In fact in the 3 Super Bowls the Raiders won in the post merger NFL, Davis always used the Block “A” of the AFL and not the bold modified block “A” of the AFC on their Super Bowl rings.  He didn’t relent until the 2002 AFC championship ring where he finally used the AFC “A”.

hof-lamar-huntThere you have it…how the AFL changed the sporting landscape after the first shot was fired by the folding of their predecessors, the AAFC.  San Francisco’s entering the NFL doesn’t get the impact that it should because so much focus was on champion Cleveland coming over.  The western expansion of American Football owes a debt of gratitude to the 49ers yet even more to those original owners.

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1964 AFL Champion Buffalo Bills

To the casual football fan, the legacy of the Buffalo Bills is that of a four time Super Bowl participant that lost them consecutively, or OJ Simpson and what later became of his life with a double murder trial.  Yet a further look into the legacy of MY beloved Buffalo Bills and you’ll find out about Robert Kalsu: The only professional football player to give his life serving his country in the Vietnam War.  You will also find that in the AFL, the Buffalo Bills came within a game of becoming a THREE-PEAT champion…and one of the most powerful champions in history.

Well when you think of the AFL you think of wide open offenses and high scoring football games.  It was the wild west up until this defensive mountain rose up to stop the onslaught of points.  It happened in Buffalo. Joe Collier developed a 4-3 defense that took advantage of cocking defensive end Tom Day #88 in the gap between the center and guard.  This was later made famous by Joe Greene and the Pittsburgh Steelers a decade later….yet I digress

A  solid front four that stopped the run with big Tom Sestak #70 that could get after the quarterback.  This team believed in roughing up the quarterback with safety blitzes the first to do so, George Saimes was the AFL pioneer with this tactic. Furthermore this was the first team to employ the bump and run tactics at cornerback, not the Oakland Raiders, in Charley Warner and Butch Byrd.

Byrd was arguably the best cornerback in Bills history and maybe the best in AFL history. He was 6-1 215 lbs, or 1 inch shorter and same weight as Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Ham a decade later. He punished receivers at the line of scrimmage yet could swoop in and pick off quarterbacks, leading the league with 7 interceptions.  Along with Mike Stratton, this defense sent 3 to the Pro Bowl and MLB Harry Jacobs should have gone.

On offense, the late Jack Kemp was quarterback yet the fuel to this team was Cookie Gilchrist.  Cookie ran for 948 yards and was the game closer when they needed to run the ball at the end of games.  He was the AFL version of Jim Brown with his power and speed.  Kemp had arrived a season before when he was placed on injured reserve by the San Diego Chargers.

Lamonica hands off to Cookie.

There was some technicality that kept him from returning to the San Diego Chargers and the Bills were off and running.  Gilchrist and Daryle Lamonica (yes Oakland “The Mad Bomber”) each ran for 6 TDs in the regular season while Elbert “Wheels” Dubenion was the deep threat catching passes for 1,139 yards and 10TDs. Jack Kemp led a steady ball control offense and was a Pro Bowl performer in 1964 with Gilchrist, Dubenion, and TE Ernie Warlick.  They went 12-2 in the regular season and the two games they lost were by a combined 9 points.  Going into the 1964 AFL Championship they would have to take on the defending Champion Chargers.  How strong were they??

Buffalo AFL Championship Trophies

If you take a look back to 1963, the Chargers nearly became the first team in pro football to have two 1,000 yard rushers in Paul Lowe (1,010 yds) and Keith Lincoln (826 yds).  They teamed with Hall of Fame WR Lance Alworth and ancient Tobin Rote, who was Jack Kemp’s backup, to roar to the AFL Title with a 51-10 pasting of the Boston Patriots. The widest margin of victory during the 10 years of the AFL for a championship game.  The following year the team transitioned into John Hadl as the starting QB and with a bullseye on their back returned to the ’64 championship game. Only this time they had to travel to Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium.

The Bills were the only team that could defense the Chargers of that era and did so to win the title 20-7.  In fact the most famous play in AFL history took place in this game when early on when Keith Lincoln was leveled by Linebacker Mike Stratton on a swing pass breaking several ribs.  The Chargers fighting spirit dissipated as they watched their star running back writhe in the mud in obvious pain.  A rubber match took place in ’65 out in San Diego and the Chargers didn’t come close to scoring in a 23-0 defeat. Buffalo was back to back AFL Champions.

Yet a look back at the 1964 Buffalo Bills and our fans would tell you “we could have beaten the Packers”.  However it was the Browns who won the NFL Title in 1964 with a great balanced team. Yes they had Jim Brown but “Lookie lookie, here comes Cookie!” We had the AFL’s version of Jim Brown in All Pro RB Cookie Gilchrist.

Lets take a look at the tale of the tape:

1964 Buffalo Bills: 400 pts for 242 against or a 158 point differential: All #1 AFL rankings

  • Jack Kemp 119 of 269 2,285 yds 13TDs 26 Ints (sucks teeth)
  • Cookie Gilchrist 230 car. 981 yds 6TDs
  • Defense held 3 teams to 10 pts or less, 50 sacks, 28 ints

1964 Cleveland Browns 415pts for 293 against or a 122 point differential: Which rank 2nd & 5th, over in the NFL

  • Frank Ryan 174 of 344 for 2,404 yds 25TDs 19 Ints
  • Jim Brown 280 car. 1,446 yards 7TDs
  • Defense held 2 teams to 10 pts or less, 28 sacks, 19 Ints

Yes I’m biased and the Bills would rope them into a defensive struggle like they did the high flying Chargers in the AFL Title game and win by a similar score.

Coach Lou Saban, Pete Gogolak, and Jack Kemp

Alas this team doesn’t get its due yet many firsts started with this team.  Another issue that took place a year before was the fact that the Oakland Raiders had run out of money and were on the verge of folding.  Knowing the league couldn’t operate with only 7 teams, it was Ralph Wilson that stepped in lending the Raiders $425,000 for a stake in the team.  Which is illegal but it had to be done to save the league.

Each team lives on in the present NFL for having done so. Another full circle situation with Lou Saban’s defense is defensive co-ordinator Joe Collier who built the AFL’s first superior 4-3 defense.  He would move on to become the Denver Broncos defensive co-ordinator in the post merger NFL and was the second team to make it to the Super Bowl playing the 3-4 defense in Super Bowl XII.  Take a wild guess as to who was his assistant at that time he taught the 3-4 defense to?? Bill Belichick who would take it with him and Bill Parcells to New York and the Giants and Lawrence Taylor with Harry Carson was born.

Another notable is longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer was a linebacker on this team. Then you have Pete Gogolak who was the first soccer style kicker.  How important was he? It was the New York Giants signing him to a contract with the rival NFL that touched off the bidding war that forced the AFL / NFL merger.  Which goes to show that the legacy of the 1964 Buffalo Bills is a lasting one and they were one of the best teams in AFL history.

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