The American Football League was formed in 1960 with eight teams, but struggled with low attendance and financial problems. In 1964, it gained credibility with a TV contract and attendance records. The AFL merged with the NFL in 1970 after the New York Jets’ Super Bowl III win gave it legitimacy.
The American Football League is a professional soccer league that was not created with the idea of competing with the National Football League, although that is ultimately what it did. The American Football League was formed in 1960, decades after the establishment of the National Football League, following the vision of Lamar Hunt. The league began play with eight teams: the Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, and Oakland Raiders. The American Football League had humble beginnings, however, as low attendance and financial problems plagued the early years. But things have never gotten so bad as to force the teams to fold.
The American Football League began gaining credibility in 1964, when it entered into a television contract with NBC and set league attendance records. While there was no initial intention to compete with the National Football League, on occasion a team in each league has drafted the same college player, and where that player chose to go has turned into a win for that league. Gale Sayers chose the NFL. Joe Namath picked the AFL.
The National Football League has also started franchises – most notably the Dallas Cowboys – to compete directly with American Football League teams. Amid concerns about rising player salaries caused by interleague competition, Hunt and Dallas Cowboys owner Tex Schramm drew up plans for a merger in 1966. The merger was to be completed by 1970, and starting from the 1966 season, the champions of America’s Football League and the National Football League would meet in the “World Championship Game” – later renamed the Super Bowl.
However, the American Football League was still largely viewed as inferior, and the results of the first two championship games—easy wins by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers—did little to change that perception. Things changed in 1969, however, when the American Football League’s New York Jets (formerly the Titans) – underdogs by 18 points – defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Namath had famously guaranteed victory over the heavily favored Colts days before the game, and the win gave the American Football League a legitimacy it had lacked. The leagues merged the following year and became the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference of the NFL. In the first Super Bowl of the new NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs – Lamar Hunt’s team, which had moved from Dallas and was renamed – beat the Minnesota Vikings.