By the late 1950s the National Football League had just survived the Korean War as far as losing players to that war, World War II losing players to that war, some not coming back, the Great Depression with all the money that was lost in the country as well as the NFL. And the fact that America went through that for about 15 years. If you don’t have enough money to pay your bills and a lot of Americans were in that situation during the Great Depression, you’re not going to go to sporting events. So by the late 1950s or even before that, when the NFL was approaching its 40th Season, they had proven they were a survivor.
The NFL had already proven they were a survivor and with the economic boom of the 1950s and with the NFL growing in popularity with NFL champions like the New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions (yes the Detroit Lions), Baltimore Colts, Los Angeles Rams with Sid Gilman with his spread vertical offense and of course the Cleveland Browns led by Paul Brown one of the top 3-5 head coaches of all-time, as well as a great general manager, the 1950s was a boom decade for the NFL. There was a lot of great football and great players in that decade, the NFL was finally making money and making very good money and they only had twelve franchises.
And with the NFL’s revenue sharing system where each club shares its broadcast revenue, there was a lot of money to go around. And the less clubs that they had the more money each club can keep for themselves. That was the theory which is why the NFL didn’t expand sooner and into places like Boston, Buffalo, Miami, Houston, Dallas, San Diego and others all markets capable of supporting NFL franchises.
What the All American Football Conference proved in the 1940s and 50s, was that 12 pro football franchises wasn’t enough that there was more money to be made and a lot more money to be made and there were a lot more players that could play pro football in America that a 12 club league could support. That’s where the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers all came from and when the AAFC folded, those clubs went to the NFL. The Cleveland Browns finished off the AAFC by winning the last championship there. And then went to the NFL in the 1950s and won five NFL Championships in that decade.
This was all setting the stage for the American Football League to come into existence all those markets that the NFL said the hell with, all wanted their own pro football franchise. And all of those players that could play in the NFL, but were overlooked, all found homes in the AFL in cities like Boston, Buffalo, the New York, Kansas City, Houston, Denver, Oakland and San Diego. Just to start off with followed in the late 60s by Cincinnati and Miami. The AFL represented a shot for football fans who were turn down by the NFL, to have their own franchise and for players to get another shot at pro football career.
The NFL saw the AFL as a threat right away which is why they rewarded an expansion franchise to Dallas in 1960 and Minneapolis in 1961. Because they knew there were a lot of football fans in those two markets and that the AFL wanted to expand there. Without the AFL, we probably never heard of players like quarterback Len Dawson who’s in the Hall of Fame and QB Jack Kemp who’s famous for several other reasons, most of them positive.
As well as all the African-American players that were turned away because of their race by the NFL. Like Hall of Famers like Chiefs linebacker Willie Lanier, LB Bobby Bell who’s a better version of Lawrence Taylor, defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, wide receiver Otis Taylor who should be in the Hall of Fame and so many others. The AFL was a second chance society for people who deserved it.