The Merger...

Angry Pope

All Raider
Feb 2, 2006
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Talks about Al....

40 Years Of Peace

By IRA KAUFMAN The Tampa Tribune

Published: Jun 8, 2006

The statue of the Texas Ranger is still visible in the terminal at Love Field.

So is the legacy of that critical April 1966 meeting between Lamar Hunt and Tex Schramm in Dallas, where a pro football war that couldn't be won was about to end with a historic merger.

It took only two months of negotiations to find enough common ground between owners of the established National Football League and the upstart American Football League.

On June 8, 1966, the rival leagues issued a joint statement outlining the agreement that would eventually catapult pro football past baseball as America's most popular sport.

"In view of the growth of our game in the last 40 years, that merger was a very significant event," said Hunt, still the only owner in the history of the Chiefs franchise. "Back then, it was a sensible business decision. Nobody could have projected so many positives would emerge after Tex and I agreed to meet at that Texas Ranger statue."

But that road to NFL-AFL peace was fraught with intrigue, paranoia and babysitters.

By the spring of 1966, owners were hurting and players were rejoicing.

With two leagues bidding for their services, rookies found themselves awash in bonus money. Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams, who now owns the Titans, handed out almost $1 million in bonus checks during the 1966 draft, which was held just after Thanksgiving the previous year.

"We were paying offensive linemen $350,000 a year … it was crazy," Adams said. "That merger was a must, and it was the best thing for football. You've seen the results."

In 1960, the NFL had tried to ignore the AFL and its eight original teams, but the fledgling league had committed owners with deep pockets. The signing of Joe Namath by the Jets and NBC's $36 million deal to televise AFL games meant the new league was here to stay.

"I remember when Hunt's father [oil baron H.L. Hunt] said Lamar lost $11 million one season," former Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt said. "At that rate, he said, Lamar could only last another 150 years."

Competition for top college prospects was so intense, the NFL resorted to babysitting prospective draft picks. Executives would woo rookies, plying them with gifts, cash and women in an effort to seal the deal before draft day.

While the NFL successfully skimmed off most of the top talent, AFL teams like the Chiefs and Raiders landed their fair share. In Oakland, owner Al Davis embraced the challenge of backdoor deals and sequestered players, revealing a knack for duplicity that would help drive the merger.

"When Al Davis became president of the AFL, he said the gloves are off," said Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson, who led the 1962 Dallas Texans and 1969 Chiefs to championships. "When Al went after quarterbacks like John Brodie and Roman Gabriel, all of a sudden the attitude of the NFL changed."

Preliminary talks concerning a merger were quickly scuttled in 1965 when the NFL asked for a $50 million indemnity fee. Believing they had all the leverage, NFL owners also demanded that the Jets and Raiders would have to move in any merger scenario, rather than compete in existing NFL markets.

One year before the start of the Summer of Love, the tension between the leagues was palpable.

A merger made sense, but getting there was the problem.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle tabbed Schramm, the savvy Cowboys executive, to be the league's point man in clandestine negotiations with Hunt, representing the AFL.

But even while talks began April 6 in a parking lot outside Love Field, complications arose that threatened to dash any hopes for an agreement.

Two days after the initial Schramm-Hunt meeting, Davis was named AFL commissioner. Despite his new title, the hawkish Davis was not briefed by Hunt or an inner circle of AFL owners concerning the status of merger discussions.

Then the NFL fired a warning shot in May as the Giants signed kicker Pete Gogolak, who had played out his option year with the AFL's Buffalo Bills. It marked the first time a veteran had signed with a rival league, and some NFL owners were stunned by the audacity of Giants owner Wellington Mara.

"The Gogolak thing was definitely a surprise," Hunt said. "Especially to Tex. Things happened very quickly after that."

Davis already was well motivated to take on the NFL, but the Gogolak signing kicked him into overdrive. He devised a plan to sign targeted NFL players to "future contracts," starting with eight quarterbacks, including Gabriel and Brodie.

"Until then, frankly we didn't pay a lot of attention to the AFL," former Green Bay wide receiver Boyd Dowler said. "The Packers were having a lot of success and we would call them 'the other league.' Once the merger came and they announced we would play the AFL champions in the Super Bowl, we had everything to lose and nothing to win."

The June 8 merger announcement called for the first game ever between the rival leagues, and the Packers beat the Chiefs 35-10 in the first Super Bowl at the Los Angeles Coliseum before 32,000 empty seats.

"The first time we laid eyes on KC, [Packers guard] Fuzzy Thurston looked across the field and said, 'They're a big bunch of SOBs, aren't they?' " Dowler said. "Looking back, it was the right time for a merger. I'd call it the birth of the NFL as we know it today."

Davis was stunned by the timing of the merger, and the Raiders and Jets cast the only two dissenting AFL votes.

"Those two teams had different agendas," Hunt said. "This was an AFL ownership proposal - this was not about Al Davis or a war strategy. It's hard to believe 40 years has passed since the moment that set the tone for how our sport has grown."

Davis wasn't the only AFL mainstay who entered the new NFL landscape with a few regrets.

"The NFL had tried their best to kill us as a league," Dawson said. "I remember Paul Brown saying don't worry about it, they won't last more than a year or two. Then he ends up coaching the AFL's Bengals. How ironic was that?"

Before Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore agreed to join the 10 AFL teams in 1970 as part of a new American Football Conference, the rival leagues played in four Super Bowls.

After Vince Lombardi's Packers beat the Chiefs and Raiders handily, the Jets and Chiefs struck a belated blow for AFL equality.

"I remember the game the Jets upset the Colts because that gave impetus to the idea there was value to the AFL," said Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, a former linebacker for the Bills and Patriots. "There is no comparison to football then and now, and I'd have to say it was the merger that fueled our growth."


Key events that led to the historic agreement between the AFL and NFL:

Aug. 14, 1959 - The first meeting of the American Football League, in a Chicago hotel.

Sept. 9, 1960 - Denver defeats Boston 13-10 before a crowd of 21,597 at Boston University Field in the inaugural regular-season game of the eight-team American Football League.

Jan. 29, 1964 - The AFL signs a five-year, $36 million TV contract with NBC to begin with the 1965 season.

Jan. 2, 1965 - Owner Sonny Werblin announces the Jets have reached agreement with QB Joe Namath on a $427,000 deal.

April 6, 1966 - Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and Cowboys executive Tex Schramm meet in a parking lot at Love Field in Dallas to formally open merger discussions.

April 8, 1966 - Al Davis is named to replace Joe Foss as AFL commissioner and immediately embarks on a plan to sign NFL quarterbacks.

May 17, 1966 - NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle announces the Giants have signed former Bills K Pete Gogolak to a three-year deal worth $96,000.

May 26, 1966 - The Raiders announce they have signed Rams QB Roman Gabriel to a $400,000 package.

May 28, 1966 - QB John Brodie, making $38,000 with the 49ers, informs club executives the Houston Oilers have offered him $250,000 per season.

June 7, 1966 - Patriots owner Billy Sullivan informs Davis the two leagues are on the brink of a merger.


Here are the major stipulations of the NFL-AFL merger, announced June 8, 1966:

• Pete Rozelle would serve as commissioner when the two leagues officially merge in 1970 to form one league with two conferences.

• All existing franchises would be retained and no franchises would be transferred from present locations.

• The leagues agreed to play a world championship game, beginning in January 1967.

• A common draft would be held, effectively ending a prolonged bidding war over the top college prospects.

• AFL clubs agree to pay an $18 million indemnity, to be funneled to the Giants and 49ers for sharing markets.

• Two new franchises would be added by 1968 (became Saints and Bengals).

• Two more teams by 1970, or soon thereafter (expansion delayed until Bucs and Seahawks in 1976).

• Interleague preseason games would begin in 1967.

• Continued two-network TV coverage.

•The history and records of the American Football League would be incorporated into the new NFL, but the AFL name and logo would be discontinued.
That was a good read. Thanks AP!
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