Note: There were three earlier and unrelated major Professional Football leagues of the same name in the United States: one in 1926, one in 1936-1937 and one in 1940-1941. Several minor leagues with the same name have existed, including one based in the American South and Southwest (1934), one in the American Midwest (1938-1939), and one on the Pacific Coast (1944). The American Association changed its name to the American Football League in 1946.
|Sport||American Professional Football|
|No. of teams||8 (1960-1965), 9 (1966-1967),|
In 1966, a merger between the two leagues was announced, but was not finalized until 1970. During its final two years of existence, the AFL teams won two upset victories over the NFL teams in Super Bowl III and IV, the former considered among one of the biggest upsets in American sports history. When the merger took place all ten AFL franchises became part of the merged league's new American Football Conference. Three teams from the original 16 team NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts, moved to the American Football Conference. The remaining 13 original NFL teams became the inaugural members of the National Football Conference. The AFL logo was incorporated into the newly minted AFC logo. The NFL retained its old name and logo and owned the rights to all AFL products including the eagle logo. However, the NFL itself has licensed products (see External Links, below) which declare that the 1960-1969 American Football League was "the genesis of modern pro football".
The National Football League had grown to become one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the United States. One franchise that did not share in the success of the league was the Chicago Cardinals, who were overshadowed by the more popular Chicago Bears. The team was reportedly for sale (with the intent of relocation), and one of the men who approached the Cardinals was Lamar Hunt, son and heir of Texas millionaire oilman H. L. Hunt. Hunt offered to buy the Cardinals and move them to Dallas, Texas, where he had grown up. While Hunt negotiated with Cardinals ownership, similar offers were made by Bud Adams, Bob Howsam, and Max Winter.
When Hunt, Adams, and Howsam were each unable to secure a controlling interest in the Chicago Cardinals, they approached NFL commissioner Bert Bell and proposed the addition of expansion teams. Bell, wary of expanding the 12-team league and risking its newfound success, rejected the offer. On his return flight to Dallas, Hunt conceived of an entirely new league and decided to contact the others who had shown interest in purchasing the Cardinals. He contacted Adams, Howsam, and Winter (as well as Winter's partner, Bill Boyer) to gauge their interest in starting a new league. Hunt's first meeting with Adams was held in March 1959. Hunt, who felt a regional rivalry would be critical for the success of the new league, convinced Adams to join and found his team in Houston. Hunt next secured an agreement from Howsam to bring a team to Denver, Colorado.
After Winter and Boyer agreed to start a team in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, the new league had its first four teams. Hunt also approached Willard Rhodes of Seattle, Washington, but that effort failed when Rhodes was turned down by Husky Stadium and had no place for his team to play. Hunt also sought franchises in Los Angeles, California and New York City. During the summer of 1959 he sought the blessings of the NFL for his nascent league, as he did not seek a potentially costly rivalry. Within weeks of the July 1959 announcement of the league's formation, Hunt received commitments from Barron Hilton and Harry Wismer to bring teams to Los Angeles and New York, respectively.
On August 14, 1959, the first league meeting was held in Chicago, and charter memberships were given to Dallas, New York, Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul. On August 22 the league officially was named the American Football League. Although Bell had given his public approval, individual NFL owners soon began a campaign to undermine the new league. AFL owners were approached with promises of new NFL franchises or ownership stakes in existing ones. Only the party from Minneapolis accepted, and the Minnesota Vikings joined the NFL the next year. The NFL also announced on August 29 that it would bring expansion teams to Houston and Dallas, to start play in 1961.
Two more cities were awarded AFL franchises later in the year. Ralph Wilson, who owned a minority interest in the NFL's Detroit Lions, announced he was placing a team in Buffalo, New York after he had been rejected by Miami. Buffalo was officially awarded a franchise on October 28. During a league meeting on November 22, a 10-man ownership group from Boston, Massachusetts (led by William H. (Billy) Sullivan) was awarded the AFL's eighth team. On November 30, 1959, Joe Foss, a World War II Marine fighter ace and former governor of South Dakota, was named the AFL's first commissioner. Foss commissioned a friend of Harry Wismer's to develop the AFL's eagle-on-football logo. Hunt was elected President of the AFL on January 26, 1960.
See also: American Football League Draft.
The AFL's first draft took place the same day Boston was awarded its franchise, and lasted 33 rounds. The league held a second draft on December 2, which lasted for 20 rounds. Since the Raiders joined after the AFL draft, they inherited Minnesota's selections (read next section).  A special allocation draft was held in January, 1960, to allow the Raiders to stock their team, as some of the other AFL teams had already signed some of Minneapolis' original draft choices.
Prompted by the NFL's disdain for the new league, newspaper, radio and TV reporters from NFL cities took to calling former NFL players who went to the AFL "NFL Rejects", implying that if a player had spent time in the NFL and then played with an AFL team, he was "washed up" and not good enough to play in the "superior" NFL. That assessment was contradicted by the play of the following "NFL Rejects": Jack Kemp, Babe Parilli, Ron McDole, Art Powell, John Tracey, George Blanda, Don Maynard, Len Dawson, and Lionel Taylor. They all started their careers in the NFL. In the American Football League, they all set standards at their respective positions.
In November 1959, Minneapolis owner Max Winter announced his intent to leave the AFL in order to accept a franchise offer from the NFL. In 1961, his team began play in the NFL as the Minnesota Vikings. Los Angeles Chargers owner Barron Hilton demanded that a replacement for Minnesota be placed in California, in order to reduce his team's operating costs and to create a rivalry. After a brief search, Oakland was chosen and an ownership group led by local real estate developer Chet Soda was formed. After initially being called the Oakland "Señores", the Oakland Raiders officially joined the AFL on January 30, 1960. The AFL's first major success came when the Houston Oilers signed Billy Cannon, the All-American and 1959 Heisman Trophy winner from LSU. Cannon signed a $100,000 contract to play for the Oilers, despite having already signed a $50,000 contract with the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. The Oilers filed suit and claimed that Rams general manager Pete Rozelle had unduly manipulated Cannon. The court upheld the Houston contract, and with Cannon the Oilers appeared in the AFL's first three championship games (winning two). 
On June 9, 1960, the league signed a five-year television contract with ABC, which brought in revenues of approximately US$2,125,000 per year for the entire league. On June 17, the AFL filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, which was dismissed in 1962 after a two-month trial. The AFL began regular-season play (a night game on Friday, September 9, 1960) with eight teams in the league — the Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, and Oakland Raiders. Raiders co-owner Wayne Valley dubbed the AFL ownership "The Foolish Club," a term Lamar Hunt subsequently used on team photographs he sent as Christmas gifts.
The Oilers became the first-ever league champions by defeating the Chargers, 24-16, in the AFL Championship on January 1, 1961. Attendance for the 1960 season was respectable for a new league, but not nearly that of the NFL. Whereas the more popular NFL teams in 1960 regularly saw attendance figures in excess of 50,000 per game, AFL attendance generally hovered between 10,000-20,000 per game. With the low attendance came financial losses. The Raiders, for instance, lost $500,000 in their first year and only survived after receiving a $400,000 loan from Bills owner Ralph Wilson. In an early sign of stability, however, the AFL did not lose any teams after its first year of operation. In fact, the only major change was the relocation of the Chargers from Los Angeles to San Diego.
The date was August 8, 1961. The AFL, desperate to prove that it was the real deal, challenged the Canadian Football League to an exhibition game. It was decided that the game would be between Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Buffalo Bills. The Bills and Ticats were chosen because they were geographically close to one another. It was thought that beating a CFL team would prove that the AFL was at least the second-best football league in North America. After all, the NFL had sent several teams against teams from the CFL and had won every game so it was thought that victory against the CFL would be easy. Playing at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario, the game proved to be a disaster for the AFL as the Ticats crushed the Bills 38-21 playing a mix of AFL and CFL rules. The Bills returned to Buffalo and it marked the only time a pro football team from Canada defeated a pro football team from the United States. Afterwards, no team from the United States ever challenged a team from Canada again.
While the Oilers found instant success in the AFL, other teams did not fare as well. The Oakland Raiders and New York Titans struggled on and off the field during their first few seasons in the league. Oakland's eight-man ownership group was reduced to just three in 1961, after heavy financial losses their first season. Attendance for home games was poor, partly due to the team playing in the San Francisco Bay Area—which already had an established NFL team (the San Francisco 49ers)—but the product on the field was also to blame. After winning six games their debut season, the Raiders won a total of three times in the 1961 and 1962 seasons. Oakland took part in a 1961 supplemental draft meant to boost the weaker teams in the league, but it did little good. They participated in another such draft in 1962.
The Titans fared a little better on the field but had their own financial troubles. Attendance was so low for home games that team owner Harry Wismer had fans move to seats closer to the field to give the illusion of a fuller stadium on television. Eventually Wismer could no longer afford to meet his payroll, and on November 8, 1962 the AFL took over operations of the team. The Titans were sold to a five-person ownership group headed by Sonny Werblin on March 28, 1963, and in April the new owners changed the team's name to the New York Jets. 
The Raiders and Titans both finished last in their respective divisions in the 1962 season. The Texans and Oilers, winners of their divisions, faced each other for the 1962 AFL Championship on December 23. The Texans dethroned the two-time champion Oilers, 20-17, in a double-overtime contest that was at the time professional football's longest-ever game.
In 1963, the Texans became the second AFL team to relocate. Lamar Hunt felt that despite winning the league championship in 1962, the Texans could not succeed financially competing in the same market as the Dallas Cowboys, who had entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1960. After meetings with New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami, Hunt announced on May 22 that the Texans' new home would be Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City mayor Harold Roe Bartle (nicknamed "Chief") was instrumental in his city's success in attracting the team. Partly to honor Bartle, the franchise officially became the Kansas City Chiefs on May 26.
The San Diego Chargers, under head coach Sid Gillman, won a decisive 51-10 victory over the Boston Patriots for the 1963 AFL Championship. Confident that his team was capable of beating the NFL-champion Chicago Bears (he had the Chargers' rings inscribed with the phrase "World Champions"), Gillman approached NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and proposed a final championship game between the two teams. Rozelle declined the offer; however, the game would be instituted three seasons later.
During the American Football League's existence, and henceforth, the league was characterized as a "no defense league", a "wide-open offensive league" or a "basketball league". Analysis of the scoring in the AFL from 1960 through 1969 compared to that of the NFL for the same ten seasons shows that the average combined score by both teams in regular season games from 1960 through 1969 in the American Football League was 45.6 points per game. The NFL's average over the same period was 43.5 points per game. On average, each AFL team scored only about one point more per game than each NFL team in the 1960s. However in 1965, the NFL averaged 46.1 total points per game, to the American Football League's 42.9 points.
Another factor which may have affected the AFL's reputation as a high-scoring league is that its scoring was more evenly distributed than the NFL's. In 1960, in its 12 game season the AFL's highest scoring team, the NY Titans, scored 382 points, while the lowest-scoring Patriots had 286. In the NFL, in their 12 game season, the Cleveland Browns amassed 362 points, the Dallas Cowboys generated 177 points. However, all of the AFL teams were new franchises in 1960. Much has been argued about whether the AFL's best teams were as good as the NFL's best in the early 1960s. However, the AFL was a much more competitive league, and its lower-division teams would likely have done well against the weakest NFL teams.
Many NFL offenses relied on slow, plodding, short-gain drives, while AFL teams generally reflected the philopsophy of one of Professional Football's greatest coaches, Sid Gillman: quick strikes, long passes, halfback options, etc. The very fact that AFL games were more exciting to watch may have led to the idea that they had "no defense"; but they had their share of good defensive coaches and teams. Lou Saban's Buffalo Bills, for example, did not allow a rushing touchdown in seventeen consecutive games over the 1964-1965 seasons.
Nevertheless, with players like the Chargers' speedy Lance Alworth, possibly the best receiver of his era; and the first two Pro Football players to achieve and then break the mark of 100 catches in a season, the Broncos' Lionel Taylor and the Oilers' Charlie Hennigan; with flashy backs like the Raiders' Clem Daniels and the Chargers' Lincoln and Lowe; and bruising fullbacks like the Bills' Cookie Gilchrist and the Patriots' Jim Nance, offense was what caught the attention of American Football League fans.
A series of events throughout the next few years demonstrated the AFL's ability to achieve a greater level of equality with the NFL. On January 29, 1964 the AFL signed a lucrative US$ 36 million television contract with NBC (to start in the 1965 season), which gave the league money it needed to compete with the NFL for talent. A new single-game attendance record was set on November 8, 1964 when 61,929 fans packed Shea Stadium to watch the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
The bidding war for players between the AFL and NFL escalated in 1965. The Chiefs drafted Kansas star Gale Sayers in the first round of the 1965 draft (held November 28, 1964), while the Chicago Bears did the same in the NFL draft. Sayers eventually signed with the Bears. A similar situation occurred when the New York Jets and the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals both drafted University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath. In what was viewed as a key victory for the AFL, Namath signed a $427,000 contract with the Jets on January 2. It was the highest amount of money ever paid to a collegiate football player, and is cited as a contributing factor to the eventual merger between the two leagues.
In March 1965, Minneapolis lawyer Joe Robbie met with Commissioner Foss to inquire about an expansion franchise. On May 6, Robbie secured an agreement to bring a team to Miami, Florida from city mayor Robert King High. League expansion was approved at a meeting held on June 7, and on August 16 the AFL's ninth franchise was officially awarded to Robbie and television star Danny Thomas. The Miami Dolphins joined the league for a fee of $7.5 million, and started play in the AFL's Eastern Division in 1966.
In 1966, the rivalry between the AFL and NFL reach an all-time peak. On April 7, Joe Foss resigned as AFL Commissioner. His successor was Oakland Raiders head coach and general manager Al Davis, who had been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of that franchise. No longer content with trying to outbid the NFL for college talent, the AFL under Davis actively started to recruit players already on NFL squads. Davis's strategy focused on quarterbacks in particular, and in two months he convinced seven NFL quarterbacks to sign with the AFL. But while Davis intended to help the AFL win the bidding war, some AFL and NFL owners saw the escalation as detrimental to both leagues.
The same month Davis was named commissioner, Lamar Hunt and Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm held a series of secret meetings in Dallas to discuss their concerns over rapidly increasing player salaries, as well as the practice of player poaching. Hunt and Schramm completed the basic groundwork for a merger of the two leagues by the end of May, and on June 8, 1966 the merger was officially announced. Under the terms of the agreement, the two leagues would hold a common player draft. The agreement also called for a title game to be played between the champions of the respective leagues. The two leagues would be fully merged by 1970, and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle would remain as commissioner of the merged league. The AFL also agreed to pay indemnities of $18 million to the NFL over 20 years. In protest, Davis resigned as AFL commissioner on July 25 rather than remain until the completion of the merger, and Milt Woodard was named President of the AFL. 
On January 15, 1967, the first-ever World Championship Game between the champions of the two separate professional football leagues, the AFL-NFL Championship Game (retroactively referred to as Super Bowl I), was played in Los Angeles. After a close first half, the NFL champion Green Bay Packers overwhelmed the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10. The loss reinforced for many the notion that the AFL was indeed the inferior league. Packers head coach Vince Lombardi stated after the game, "I do not think they are as good as the top teams in the National Football League."
The second AFL-NFL Championship (Super Bowl II) yielded a similar result. The Oakland Raiders—who easily beat the Houston Oilers to win their first AFL championship—were overmatched by the Packers, 33-14. The more experienced Packers capitalized on a number of Raiders miscues, and never trailed. Green Bay defensive tackle Henry Jordan offered a compliment to Oakland and the AFL, when he said, "...the AFL is becoming much more sophisticated on offense. I think the league has always had good personnel, but the blocks were subtler and better conceived in this game."
The AFL added its tenth and final team on May 24, 1967, when they awarded the league's second expansion franchise to an ownership group from Cincinnati, Ohio headed by NFL legend Paul Brown. Although Brown had intended to join the NFL, he agreed to join the AFL when he learned that his team would join the NFL once the merger was completed. The Cincinnati Bengals began play in the 1968 season, and finished last in the Western Division.
The eight new teams of the American Football League essentially made 280 additional positions available for American professional football players. One source of talent that had been traditionally ignored by the NFL was small, historically black colleges. Black players who did manage to make NFL rosters were subject to unwritten but stringent "quotas" for the number of black players on a team and the positions that could be filled by blacks. At that time, there were no black quarterbacks, centers, or middle linebackers in the NFL.
The American Football League, in contrast, actively recruited from the black colleges, and used black players at positions not permitted to them in the NFL. For example, in 1963, the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs became the first team in pro football history to use the first overall pick of a draft on a player from a small black college – defensive tackle Buck Buchanan of Grambling State, while the NFL's New York Giants relegated Buchanan to their 19th round pick that year (Buchanan was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990).
Eighteen black players from Eddie Robinson's Grambling teams made AFL rosters in the sixties. The larger NFL had just fourteen; on a per-team ratio the AFL had about two Grambling players per team, NFL teams had about one. The same could be said in general for the ratio of all black players in each league. The effect was cumulative, more and more outstanding black players opted for the AFL, recognizing their chances to play were greater there. The Denver Broncos made Marlin Briscoe the first modern starting black quarterback, and Gene Mingo the first ever black placekicker in professional football. Willie Lanier (also destined for the Hall of Fame), for example, became pro football's first black middle linebacker with the Chiefs. Hank Stram's strategic innovations were not the only ideas copied by old-line NFL teams after the merger: so were his "color-blindness" and his team's use of blacks at formerly "white" positions.
The date was August 5, 1967. In the previous season, the Packers, the best team in Professional Football, had destroyed the competition in their own league and continued their dominance in the first AFL-NFL World Championship, defeating the AFL's Chiefs. The first AFL-NFL game after that pitted the NFL's Detroit Lions against the AFL's lowly Denver Broncos in an exhibition game at the University of Denver Stadium. Denver had been 4-10 in 1966, third-worst in the AFL. The Lions had been minimally better, at 4-9-1, but of course they played in the tough West Division of the superior NFL, against the likes of the Colts and the Packers. The Lions of 1967 were expecting big things. They had a new head coach, former Lions’ great Joe Schmidt. The team had quarterbacks Karl Sweetan and Milt Plum, and future star defensive back Mel Farr. The Broncos also had a new head coach in Lou Saban, and the stellar fullback Cookie Gilchrist was starting his second season there. But Denver had already lost its first exhibition game to the Miami Dolphins, an AFL expansion team.
Before the game against the maligned Broncos, Detroit defensive tackle Alex Karras had scornfully remarked "If the Lions lose this game, I'll walk back to Detroit"! The Broncos gained 227 yards rushing, to defeat the Lions 13-7. On the bus following the game, Roger Brown, the Lions’ defensive tackle moaned, “The Denver Broncos….It didn’t happen!“ Karras reneged on his vow, and flew back to Detroit with the rest of the defeated Lions. For months afterwards, a standard joke on Denver radio was "Alex Karras has been sighted walking North on Route 287"., etc.
While many AFL players and observers felt their league was the equal of the NFL, the first two Super Bowls did little to prove it. That perception changed on January 12, 1969, when the AFL Champion New York Jets shocked the heavily favored NFL Champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The Colts, who entered the contest favored by as many as 18 points, had completed the 1968 NFL season with a 13-1 record, and won the NFL title with a convincing 34-0 dismantling of the Cleveland Browns. Led by their stalwart defense—which allowed a record-low 144 points—the 1968 Colts were considered one of the best-ever NFL teams. 
By contrast, the Jets allowed 280 points, the highest total for any division winner in the two leagues. They had also narrowly beaten the favored Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship. Jets quarterback Joe Namath recalled that in the days leading up to the game, he grew increasingly angry when told New York had no chance to beat Baltimore. Three days before the game, a frustrated Namath responded to a heckler at the Touchdown Club in Miami by declaring, "We're going to win Sunday, I'll guarantee you."  
Namath and the Jets made good on his guarantee as they held the Colts scoreless until late in the fourth quarter. The Jets won, 16-7, in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in American sports history.    With the win, the AFL finally achieved parity with the NFL and legitimized the merger of the two leagues. That notion was reinforced one year later in Super Bowl IV, when the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs upset the NFL champion Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in the last championship game to be played between the two leagues. The Vikings, favored by 12½ points, were held to just 67 rushing yards.
The last game in AFL history was the AFL All-Star Game, held in Houston's Astrodome on January 17, 1970. The Western All-Stars, led by Chargers quarterback John Hadl, defeated the Eastern All-Stars, 26-3. Hadl was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Prior to the start of the 1970 NFL season, the merged league was split into two conferences of three divisions each. All ten AFL teams made up the bulk of the new American Football Conference. To avoid having 16 teams in one conference and 10 in the other, the leagues voted to move three NFL teams to the AFC. Motivated by the prospect of an intrastate rivalry with the Bengals as well as his personal animosity with Paul Brown, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell quickly offered to include his team in the AFC. He helped convince the Pittsburgh Steelers (the Browns' archrivals) and Baltimore Colts (who already shared the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. market with the Washington Redskins prior to the merger) to follow suit, and each team received US $3 million to switch.  All the other NFL squads became part of the National Football Conference.
Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Charlie Joiner, who started his career with the Houston Oilers (1969), was the last AFL player active in Professional Football, retiring after the 1986 season, when he played for the San Diego Chargers.
The AFL stands as the only professional football league to successfully compete against the NFL. When the two leagues merged in 1970, all ten AFL franchises and their statistics became part of the new NFL. Every other professional league that competed against the NFL: the three previous leagues named "American Football League"; the AAFC; the USFL; the WFL; and the XFL folded completely. From an earlier AFL (1936-1937), only the Cleveland Rams, and from the AAFC, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers joined the NFL and are currently operating (a third AAFC team, the Baltimore Colts, is not related to the current Indianapolis Colts franchise: the original Colts played only one year in the NFL before disbanding at the end of the 1950 season)
The NFL adopted many ideas introduced by the AFL, including names on player jerseys and revenue sharing of gate and television receipts. The older league also adopted the practice of using the stadium scoreboard clocks to keep track of the official game time, instead of just having a stop watch used by the referee. The AFL played a 14-game schedule for its entire existence, starting in 1960. The NFL, which had played a 12-game schedule since 1947, changed to a 14-game schedule in 1961, a year after the American Football League instituted it. The AFL also introduced the two-point conversion to professional football thirty-four years before the NFL instituted it in 1994 (college football had adopted the two point conversion in the late 1950s). All of these innovations pioneered by the AFL, including its more exciting style of play and colorful uniforms, have essentially made today's pro football more like the AFL than like the old-line NFL. The AFL's challenge to the NFL also laid the groundwork for the Super Bowl, which has become the standard for championship contests in the US.
Hunt's vision not only brought a new professional football league to California and New York, but introduced the sport to Colorado, restored it to Texas and later to fast-growing Florida, as well as bringing it to New England for the first time in 12 years. In addition, the AFL also adopted the first-ever cooperative television plan for professional football, in which the league office negotiated an ABC-TV contract, the proceeds of which were divided equally among member clubs.
Three NFL franchises were awarded as a direct result of the AFL's competition with the older league: the Vikings, who were awarded to Max Winter in exchange for dropping his bid to join the AFL; the Falcons, whose franchise went to Rankin Smith to dissuade him from purchasing the AFL's Miami Dolphins; and the Saints, because of successful anti-trust legislation which let the two leagues merge, and was supported by several Louisiana politicians. Thus, if not for the AFL, at least four of current NFL teams would likely not have existed. Further, the success of the expansion process engendered by the AFL-NFL conflict certainly led to more expansion, ultimately to the thirty-two team league as it exists in 2008.
The AFL also spawned coaches whose style and techniques profoundly affect the play of professional football until this day. In addition to AFL greats like Hank Stram, Lou Saban, Sid Gillman and Al Davis were eventual hall of fame coaches such as Bill Walsh, a protegé of Davis with the AFL Oakland Raiders; and Chuck Noll, who worked for Gillman and the AFL LA/San Diego Chargers from 1960 through 1965. Others include Buddy Ryan (AFL's New York Jets) and John Madden (AFL's Oakland Raiders). Additionally, many prominent coaches began their pro football careers as players in the AFL, including Sam Wyche (Cincinnati Bengals), Marty Schottenheimer (Buffalo Bills), and two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Flores (Oakland Raiders). Flores also has a Super Bowl ring as a player (1969 Kansas City Chiefs).
Perhaps the greatest social legacy of the AFL was the domino effect of its policy of opportunity for black players, which not only led to the explosion of black talent on the field, but the eventual entry of blacks into scouting, coordinator, and ultimately head coaching positions, long after the league ceased to exist. 
The AFL's free agents came from several sources. Some were players who could not find success playing in the NFL, while another source was the Canadian Football League. In the late 1950s, many players released by the NFL, or un-drafted and unsigned out of college by the NFL, went North to try their luck with the CFL, and later returned to the states to play in the AFL.
In the league's first years, men like the Oilers' George Blanda, the Chargers/Bills' Jack Kemp, the Texans' Len Dawson, the Titans' Don Maynard, the Raiders/Patriots/Jets' Babe Parilli, the Pats' Bob Dee proved to be AFL standouts. Other players such as the Broncos' Frank Tripucka, the Pats' Gino Cappelletti, the Bills' Cookie Gilchrist and the Chargers' Tobin Rote, Sam Deluca and Dave Kocourek also made their mark to give the fledgling league badly-needed credibility. Rounding out this mix of potential talent were the true "free agents", the walk-ons and the "wanna-be's", who tried out in droves for the chance to play professional football.
The American Football League took advantage of the burgeoning popularity of football by locating teams in major cities that lacked NFL franchises, and by using the growing power of televised football games (bolstered with the help of major network contracts, first with ABC and later with NBC). It featured many outstanding games, such as the classic 1962 double-overtime American Football League championship game between the Dallas Texans and the defending champion Houston Oilers. At the time it was the longest professional football championship game ever played.
The AFL appealed to fans by offering a flashier style of play, compared to the more conservative game of the NFL. Long passes ("bombs") were commonplace in AFL offenses, led by such talented quarterbacks as John Hadl, Daryle Lamonica and Len Dawson.
After the AFL-NFL merger agreement in 1966, and after the AFL's Jets defeated the "best team in the history of the NFL", the Colts, a popular misconception fostered by the NFL and spread by media reports was that the AFL defeated the NFL because of the Common Draft instituted from 1967 on. This apparently was meant to confirm that until the AFL did not have to compete with the NFL in the draft, it could not achieve parity. But the 1968 Jets had less than a handful of "Common Draftees". Their stars were honed in the AFL, many of them since the Titans days. As noted below, the AFL got its share of stars long before the "Common Draft".
Players who chose the AFL to develop their talent included Lance Alworth and Ron Mix of the Chargers, who had also been drafted by the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts respectively. Both eventually were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after earning recognition during their careers as being among the best at their positions. Among specific teams, the 1964 Buffalo Bills stood out by holding their opponents to a pro football record 913 yards rushing on 300 attempts, while also recording fifty quarterback sacks in a fourteen-game schedule.
Another example is cited by the University of Kansas site, which describes the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl, won by KU, and goes on to say "Two Kansas players, quarterback John Hadl and fullback Curtis McClinton, signed professional contracts on the field immediately after the conclusion of the game. Hadl inked a deal with the [AFL] San Diego Chargers, and McClinton went to the [AFL] Dallas Texans." Between them, in their careers Hadl and McClinton combined for an American Football League Rookie of the Year award, seven AFL All-Star selections, two Pro Bowl selections, a team MVP award, two AFL All-Star Game MVP awards, two AFL championships, and a World Championship. And these were players selected by the AFL long before the "Common Draft".
Despite having a national television contract, the AFL often found itself trying to gain a foothold, only to come up against roadblocks. For example, CBS-TV, which broadcast NFL games, ignored and did not report scores from the other league, but only until after the merger agreement was announced.
Starting with the 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, Professional Football will recognize the 50th anniversary of the American Football League's first season. Since 1971, the Hall of Fame exhibition game has been played between an AFC team and an NFC team. However, in 2009, the game will be between two of the 'original eight' franchises of the AFL, the Tennesee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) and the Buffalo Bills. Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. will be inducted into the Hall of Fame Class of 2009. Wilson and Titans owner Bud Adams are the only surviving members of the Foolish Club, the eight original owners of AFL franchises. For the game, each team will wear a throwback uniform from the AFL years (1960 - 1969), with the Titans wearing Oilers uniforms.
During the regular season, each of the 'original eight' AFL teams will take part in two Legacy Weekends, during which each will play another original eight team, with both teams in AFL throwback uniforms.
|Division||Team||First Season||Home Stadium||AFL Record (W-L-T)||AFL Titles|
|rowspan=5||Eastern||Boston Patriots||1960||Nickerson Field (1960–62), Fenway Park (1963–68), Alumni Stadium (1969)||64-69-9||0|
|Buffalo Bills||1960||War Memorial Stadium (1960-1969)||67-71-6||2|
|Houston Oilers||1960||Jeppesen Stadium (1960–64), Rice Stadium (1965–67), Houston Astrodome (1968–69)||72-69-4||2|
|Miami Dolphins||1966||Miami Orange Bowl||15-39-2||0|
|New York Titans/Jets||1960||Polo Grounds (1960–63), Shea Stadium (1964–69)||71-67-6||1|
|rowspan=5||Western||Cincinnati Bengals||1968||Nippert Stadium (1968-1969)||7-20-1||0|
|Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs||1960||Cotton Bowl (1960–62), Municipal Stadium (1963–69)||92-50-5||3|
|Denver Broncos||1960||Bears Stadium/Mile High Stadium (1960–69)||39-97-4||0|
|Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers||1960||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (1960), Balboa Stadium (1961–66), San Diego Stadium (1967–69)||88-51-6||1|
|Oakland Raiders||1960||Kezar Stadium (1960), Candlestick Park (1961), Frank Youell Field (1962–65), Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (1966–69)||80-61-5||1|
From 1960 to 1968, the AFL determined its champion via a single-elimination playoff game between the winners of its two divisions.The home teams alternated each year by division, so in 1968 the Jets hosted the Raiders, even though Oakland had a better record (this was changed in 1969). In 1963, the Buffalo Bills and Boston Patriots finished tied with identical records of 7-6-1 in the AFL East Division. There was no tie-breaker protocol in place, so a one game playoff was held in War Memorial Stadium in December. The visiting Patriots defeated the host Bills 26-8. The Patriots traveled to San Diego as the Chargers completed a three game season sweep over the weary Patriots with a 51-10 victory. A similar situation occurred in the 1968 season, when the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs finished the regular season tied with identical records of 12-2 in the AFL West Division. The Raiders beat the Chiefs 41-6 in a division playoff to qualify for the AFL Championship Game. In 1969, the final year of the independent AFL, Professional Football's first "wildcard" playoffs were conducted. A four-team playoff was held, with the second-place teams in each division playing the winner of the other division. The Chiefs upset the Raiders in Oakland 17-7 in the league's Championship, the final AFL game played. The Kansas City Chiefs were the first Super Bowl champion to win two road playoff games and the first wildcard team to win the Super Bowl, although the term "wildcard" was coined by the media, and not used officially until several years later.
|Eastern Division||Western Division|
|Shield-->||width=5%||Season||width=18%||Date||width=18%||Winning Team||width=5%||Score||width=18%||Losing Team||width=18%||Venue||width=5%||Attendance|
|1960||January 1, 1961||Houston Oilers||24 - 16||Los Angeles Chargers||Jeppesen Stadium||32,183|
|1961||December 24, 1961||Houston Oilers (2)||10 - 3||San Diego Chargers||Balboa Stadium||29,556|
|1962||December 23, 1962||Dallas Texans||20 - 17 (2OT)||Houston Oilers||Jeppesen Stadium (2)||37,981|
|1963||January 5, 1964||San Diego Chargers||51 - 10||Boston Patriots||Balboa Stadium (2)||30,127|
|1964||December 26, 1964||Buffalo Bills||20 - 7||San Diego Chargers||War Memorial Stadium||40,242|
|1965||December 26, 1965||Buffalo Bills (2)||23 - 0||San Diego Chargers||Balboa Stadium (3)||30,361|
|1966||January 1, 1967||Kansas City Chiefs (2)||31 - 7||Buffalo Bills||War Memorial Stadium (2)||42,080|
|1967||December 31, 1967||Oakland Raiders||40 - 7||Houston Oilers||Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum||53,330|
|1968||December 29, 1968||New York Jets||27 - 23||Oakland Raiders||Shea Stadium||62,627|
|1969||January 4, 1970||Kansas City Chiefs (3)||17 - 7||Oakland Raiders||Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (2)||53,561|
Italics – Super Bowl Appearance
The AFL did not play an All-Star game after its first season in 1960, but did stage All-Star games for the 1961 through 1969 seasons. All-Star teams from the Eastern and Western divisions played each other after every season except 1965. That season, the league champion Buffalo Bills played all-stars from the other teams.
After the 1964 season, the AFL All-Star game had been scheduled for early 1965 in New Orleans' Tulane Stadium. After numerous black players were refused service by a number of area hotels and businesses, black and white players alike called for a boycott. Led by Bills players such as Cookie Gilchrist, the players successfully lobbied to have the game moved to Houston's Jeppesen Stadium.
As chosen by 1969 AFL Hall of Fame Selection Committee Members:
|All-Time AFL Team|
|Flanker||Lance Alworth||rowspan=2||End||Jerry Mays||rowspan=6||Kicker||rowspan=6||George Blanda|
|End||Don Maynard||Gerry Philbin|
|Tight end||Fred Arbanas||rowspan=2||Tackle||Houston Antwine|
|rowspan=2||Tackle||Ron Mix||Tom Sestak|
|Jim Tyrer||rowspan=3||Linebacker||Bobby Bell|
|Center||Jim Otto||George Webster|
|rowspan=2||Guard||Ed Budde||Nick Buoniconti||rowspan=5||Punter||rowspan=5||Jerrel Wilson|
|Billy Shaw||rowspan=2||Cornerback||Willie Brown|
|Quarterback||Joe Namath||Dave Grayson|
|rowspan=2||Running back||Clem Daniels||rowspan=2||Safety||Johnny Robinson|
|Paul Lowe||George Saimes|
The following is a sample of some records set during the existence of the league. The NFL considers AFL statistics and records equivalent to its own.
. Paul Brown. Jack Clary. PB, The Paul Brown Story. 1979. Atheneum. New York. 0-6891-0985-7.