Football Terms – American Football League
In pro football history, there have been numerous different leagues which carried the name American Football League, or AFL. Several of these contributed teams to the rival NFL. The final AFL was a former professional football league which competed (and eventually merged with) the NFL. While most references to the AFL involve the league formed in 1960, this was actually the seventh such league to use the AFL name.
Red Grange and the AFL
The first AFL was formed in 1926. The star of the league was halfback Red Grange, and it was comprised of teams such as the Chicago Bulls, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Quakers and Brooklyn Horsemen. While the Yankees made money, the financial instability of the league’s other eight teams caused the first AFL to fold after just one season.
The second AFL was in operation during the 1936 and 1937 seasons. After only two seasons, financial problems drove the six-team league out of business. Franchises included the Cleveland Rams, Boston Shamrocks, Rochester Tigers and Pittsburgh Americans. The Cleveland Rams (who departed for the NFL after only one season) would later evolve into the modern-day St. Louis Rams.
Unsuccessful Challenges to the NFL
The American Football League returned in 1938, this time as a six-team minor league. Having evolved from the Midwest Football League, the AFL changed to the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1939. While not originally intended to compete with the NFL, the league prepared to become a major league organization at the end of the 1939 season. But several team were lured away to form a new AFL, and the league promptly folded.
The new AFL was announced in a press conference on July 14th, 1940. The first season started with such teams as the Columbus Bullies, Buffalo Indians and Milwaukee Chiefs. This version of the AFL was the first major league football organization to play a double round robin tournament. While the league had some success, it was forced to suspend operations with the United States’ entry into World War II; it never returned for a third season.
In 1944, Bill Freelove, owner of the Los Angeles Mustangs franchise of the Pacific Coast Professional Football League, had his membership to the league revoked after raiding another team’s roster. In protest, Freelove started a new American Football League with teams such as the San Diego Gunners, Oakland Hornets and Hollywood Rangers. Following the 1944 season, the AFL merged with the PCPFL.
The next league to use the AFL moniker was formerly known as the American Association (founded in 1936). After a hiatus for World War II, they resumed operations in 1946 and adopted their new league name. They eventually formed a relationship with the NFL and established a series of farm teams. While they enjoyed success in the 30s and 40s, a number of teams went under in 1950 and forced the latest AFL to fold.
The Most Successful AFL
The last version of the AFL was started in 1960, and they operated in direct competition with the NFL from the beginning. They signed away many of the NFL’s first round draft choices, and the league quickly grew in popularity. An NFL/AFL merger was agreed to in 1966, but it would not take place until 1970. During their final two seasons before the merger, AFL teams won Super Bowls III and IV (including the famous Jets upset of the Colts).
The last AFL game was the AFL All-Star Game on January 17th, 1970. When the merger occurred, all 10 teams of the AFL were moved into the newly-created AFC conference (along with the Browns, Steelers and Colts).
Kicker Jan Stenerud was the last AFL player active in the modern-day NFL. After playing many years for the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs franchise, he finished his career in 1985 with the Minnesota Vikings.