The History of The AFL: Making Amends

As The Chancellor of Football, it’s imperative the history of the NFL and AFL is preserved and showcased for future generations. One of my favorite friends to Taylor Blitz Times is Chris Burford. Not only was he the starting wideout for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I, he was the first player signed in the history of the American Football League. He also suggested a great book to me last year. The Ten Gallon War which covered the days when the Chiefs / Dallas Texans battled the Cowboys for the heart of Dallas.

chris burfordAt the end of the highlight for Super Bowl I, he’s the one who puts on the Cowboy hat and heads out as John Facenda’s voice offers “In another year it will be the turn of the AFL. But this first spectacle of a sport belonged to Green Bay.”

These words echoed in my mind when Chris commented on an article which was the earlier incarnation of one I did on the ’66 Chiefs here.

“The major press were all in the NFL’s corner and denigrated our teams throughout the 60′s…however, when all was said and done after 10 years and 4 Super Bowls, the score was AFL 2 NFL 2…..(Chiefs 1-1), and the football world knew we could play with or against anybody….was a great time in pro football and a joy to have played in the AFL, from the beginning and through the emergence of the league….John Facenda, the Sabol’s, Pete Rozelle, Sports Illustrated, and the NFL propaganda machine notwithstanding.”

Full comment and original article here.

I thought it would be fitting to share with Chris one of my older archives where the late Steve Sabol had the late John Facenda narrate The History of The AFL. It’s told in a very respectful vain. The importance of this is even in the highlight for Super Bowl III, NFL Films narrated it with an NFL slant. Steve Sabol some time around 2000, later apologized for it. Going over the top about “One more moment for the master”- John Unitas trying to bring the Colts from behind instead of focusing on Joe Namath, the AFL, and the Jets victory. Which further validates Chris’ point.

So without further adieu lets take you back to this gem recorded in 1987 yet was produced in 1982.

Unfortunately I started two a day practice and didn’t get the other two shows recorded. What most folks don’t understand is there is still a battle between the AFL and NFL. For those that were there, some like Al Davis, didn’t want a merger. Others went on yet have their memories intact of the 10 year war and are fighting to be remembered and recognized. How the late DE Jerry Mays and FS Johnny Robinson were on the All Time AFL team, yet not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, are glaring omissions.

Websites like mine and Todd Tobias’ Tales From The American Football League do what we can to recognize these players. I know this doesn’t totally make amends Chris but something I wanted to share this Memorial weekend.

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SUPER BOWL III CHAMPION 1968 NEW YORK JETS: The Demons From Super Bowl III

One of the great things about the NFL and its history are the stories behind the men. Unfortunately the greatest lessons come from those that come up short in big games. Everyone loves a David v. Goliath scenario when the underdog pulls off an upset. When a landmark incident takes place like Super Bowl III, all eyes follow the winner who have vanquished a favored foe and the game is revered and talked about for years to come.

sbiii.3Super Bowl III has been rehashed, talked about, re-shown, and re-released in 1997 (as a video broadcast) for a generation to see for themselves a landmark game that changed the course of the NFL. It validated the AFL , its history, along with legitimizing the merger between the two leagues. It was the centerpiece to a  Hall of Fame career for Joe Namath and allowed Weeb Ewbank to become the only coach to win a championship in both leagues. Yet what does all this fallout do to the men who lost that event?? Is the harm irreparable for  the men who came up short in Super Bowl III?? How easy is it to forget and move on??

 

Surely the Baltimore Colts could go on and win another championship and set things straight, right?? Here are the accounts of  Bill Curry, Mike Curtis, and the late Bubba Smith. As you listen to the recount through their eyes, you will get a different feeling about Super Bowl III than ever before.

Copy of Joe Namath's Super Bowl III ring.

Copy of Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III ring.

What is ironic, these are interviews celebrating their Super Bowl V championship for the America’s Game series. What makes these poignant is the honesty reflected in their voices. What makes these stories resonate is this was a game 45 years ago and made even more impactful is this was the last interview for Bubba Smith to talk about this with his passing away in August 2011.

CHAPTER I:  The updated story from our upcoming book as written July 12,  2010 and showcased online:

SUPER BOWL III RUNNER UP 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS
Wow Talk about shock and awe!!!

The Jets 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III was one of those events that defined an era. Everyone has spoken of the great accomplishment, the AFL arriving on the big stage but so few people talk about the vanquished 15-1 Baltimore Colts and Don Shula. The loss was so devastating and embarrassing that the NFL didn’t issue a championship ring. A team that was 3hrs away from being the greatest team in NFL history received THIS WATCH when they failed to win the game…wow! Think the NFL thought highly of their championship season? Now before you ask, the answer is yes the teams that lost Super Bowls I, II, and IV did receive rings.

superbowliiiwatch

 

Let’s take you back to 1968…The Colts were motivated to win it all in 1968 because in 1967 they had the BEST record ever to NOT make the playoffs:11-1-2 including a win over the Packers who would go on to win Super Bowl II. The Rams had an identical record and won the tiebreaker for giving the Colts their one loss. The Colts were in the Western Conference and for the better part of the 60’s couldn’t unseat the Packers. Except in 1964 when Paul Hornung was suspended for gambling, yet the Colts were upset in Cleveland in the Championship game. Yes you heard me correctly…the Packers and Colts were in the WESTERN CONFERENCE back then. So Vince Lombardi steps down and the Packers run out of steam and the Colts go 13-1 in 1968. So in TWO seasons they had only lost 2 games going 24-2-2. No regular season overtime back then hence the two ties.

Like other teams I’ve mentioned, this team that DIDNT win it all was the strongest Baltimore Colts team ever. They had a defense that set the league record for fewest points allowed in a 14 game season with 144 points. They held 11 of their 14 opponents to 10 pts or less including 3 shutouts. The great Johnny Unitas got hurt and Earl Morrall replaced him and became league MVP at quarterback. They had Tom Matte and Jerry Hill as arguably the best running tandem in football. Their only regular season loss in 1968 was to the Cleveland Browns who they would go on to blow out 34-0 in the NFL Championship game IN CLEVELAND. So with that it was as though they practically had an undefeated season and were lauded as the best team in NFL history.

Then came January 12th, 1969…wow!! One look at this watch shows you how embarrassed the NFL was to lose to the upstart AFL. The corporate pressures, corporate culture and such were so great that within 2 years coach Don Shula was gone. Within 4 years Carroll Rosenbloom would swap franchises with Robert Irsay, become owner of the Rams, would later marry Georgia, drown and she became Georgia Rosenbloom-Frontiere owner of the Los Angeles / St. Louis Rams. Of course this legitimized the AFL and NFL merging as well. Everyone talks about the champion but take a look across the river and pay attention to the team that loses it. The after affects can be frightening…

Would all of this have happened had the Colts WON Super Bowl III?

super.bowl.iii

CHAPTER II: A vignette of what was shared by Bill Curry, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Ernie Accorsi as the events and aftermath of Super Bowl III were recounted in 2007.

 

CHAPTER III/EPILOGUE: Again, what makes this unique are the events that take place hastening Don Shula’s departure, where he became the NFL’s All Time winning coach in Miami and not Baltimore. Even after winning Super Bowl V, Carroll Rosenbloom was still disenchanted with being the owner of the Baltimore Colts and swapped franchises with the Rams Robert Irsay in 1972.

super bowl iii3Was it ironic or a part of the story, that after winning Super Bowl V, the Baltimore Colts made it to the AFC Championship to defend their title?? Who did they lose to 21-0 to bring about the end of an era (1958-1971) where the Colts were among the NFL elite?? Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl. Another irony is Don Shula went on to become the winningest coach in NFL history in the stadium where Super Bowl III was held. The Orange Bowl. Don Shula went on to exorcise his demons. As for Carroll Rosenbloom, Ernie Accorsi, Bubba Smith, Mike Curtis, and Bill Curry??

 

So remember to pay close attention to the men and these moments. What will become of the principles of a landmark event for those on both sides of the equation?? A compelling study in the psychology of man and sport.  This is one of the reasons we love bringing you these real life stories with such richness.

Now before you scoff this is the view of former players whose lament intensified with age, try this view from many of the same players on the 25th anniversary of Super Bowl III. This was right before Super Bowl XXVIII

super-bowl-logo-1968Thanks for reading and share this with those who love football and football history. Teach them something that scores on ESPN won’t tell them.

On This Date In 1968: The Heidi Game -The Most Fantastic Finish Never Seen

One of the greatest games of football lore was the famous “Heidi Game” of 1968. It was back in the American Football League when the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets were forming quite a rivalry. The interest nationally between these teams actually took root the season before.

The Raiders and Jets had a short lived intense rivalry toward the latter years of the AFL.

The Raiders and Jets had a short lived intense rivalry toward the latter years of the AFL.

Quarterback Joe Namath had been a transcendent figure for the AFL since he was drafted back in 1965. However Jets brass believed they had finally built a team around him that could compete for the league championship. With their glamour quarterback in the media center of New York, there was some animosity brewing with rival teams. One was the Oakland Raiders whose defense, The 11 Angry Men, played a physical style of football that went beyond the whistle.

In what could have been the 1967 AFL Championship match-up, the 11-1 Western Division leading Raiders hosted the East leading 7-3-1 Jets. Oakland won an entertaining game 39-28, which was New York’s third loss in a row. This game was made famous when Ike Lassiter #77 smashed Namath in the face fracturing his cheekbone. Joe finished the game with 370 yards yet threw 3 costly interceptions. The backsliding Jets watched as they were leapfrogged by the Houston Oilers who stole the division and faced Oakland in the title game.

A 40-7 trouncing of the Oilers sent the Raiders (13-1) to take on Vince Lombardi’s Packers in Super Bowl II. However when a league is battling for respectability, it makes for great television when the league can showcase it’s stars in the championship and to a man the Jets believed they could take the Raiders. They would have to wait until the following season to measure themselves against the defending AFL champions. In a week 10 battle, each team came in 7-2 and again leading their divisions with battle lines drawn from the season prior. A national televised audience tuned in to NBC for the game of the year.

The Jets went away from this game knowing they could beat the Raiders and only a miracle finish kept them from winning. That knowledge kept the New Yorkers motivated and they would get revenge in the 1968 AFL Championship where they would win 27-23. From there they would proceed into history with their famous Super Bowl III upset of the Baltimore Colts. The AFL and Heidi gained extensive notoriety from the NBC gaffe and when the television contracts were reworked with the NFL merger, games would be shown in their entirety from then on.

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