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How The AFL-NFL Merger Changed Pro Football Forever, and how the Dallas Cowboys and The Baltimore Colts Sought Redemption in a Super Bowl For The Ages
It was the end of an era in Pro Football, when two different leagues merged into one new league in 1970. The American Football League (“AFL”) and the National Football League (“NFL”) became one league after years of competing against each other in a war of survival during the 1960’s. The AFL, which was created in 1959, was considered by the media, sports fans, and those who played and coached in the older and already established NFL, to be just an amateur league. Throughout the 1960’s the AFL was in the shadow of the NFL until they got respect in 1969, when the New York Jets upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III to give the AFL its first Super Bowl Trophy.
The merger created two conferences. One was the American Football Conference (“AFC”), where all ten teams of the former AFL were placed into from the merger. Three former NFL teams agreed to join the new AFC Conference (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cleveland) and were paid handsomely to do so. This was done in order to have an even number of teams with the new National Football Conference (”NFC”), where all of the former NFL teams were placed. Both conferences now had thirteen teams in the new merged league for the 1970 season.
As the league merged, two teams were seeking vindication from a history of tough losses. First, in the NFC, there was the Dallas Cowboys, who were an elite team in the old NFL since 1966, but could never win the big game to get to play in a championship game. Then, there were the Baltimore Colts of the AFC who were an elite team in the NFL since coach Don Shula took over as head coach in 1963. In his second year as head coach, Shula guided the Colts to the 1964 NFL Championship game, but lost to the Cleveland Browns. Like Dallas, Baltimore could not win the big game. The Colts still were getting over the shock of losing to the underdog, the AFL’s New York Jets, in Super III the year before. Not only did the Colts embarrass the old NFL, who thought they were still superior over the AFL, but they disappointed the Baltimore fans for losing to the inferior AFL Jets. The loss left a cloud hanging over the Colts’ franchise since then, who now desperately wanted vindication as they made their way in a new league and a new conference on the road to Super Bowl V.
1970 saw the comeback of a lifetime for Quarterback/Kicker George Blanda who helped put the Oakland Raiders into the playoffs with several heroic come from behind wins. At age 43, Blanda showed middle aged America that age was just a number.
A new playoff format introduced a “wild card” slot for the team that did not win their division, but had the best record among the other teams in the conference.
Monday Night Football was created, and changed prime time television sports forever, as well as changing the way pro football was televised by the other networks.
Memorable players such as: Larry Czonka, John Brodie, Daryle Lamonica, Bubba Smith, Terry Bradshaw, Craig Morton, John Unitas, Len Dawson, and so many others took center stage on the gridiron in 1970.
Hall of Fame coaches such as John Madden, Tom Landry, Hank Stram, Bud Grant, Don Shula, and Paul Brown, showed their strategic intellect in play calling by guiding their teams to the playoffs in 1970.
1970 was the beginning of a new era in pro football, and one which helped shape the modern NFL as we know it today fifty years later.
by Ian S. Kahanowitz
Page Count: 294
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Publish Date: Pre-Release
Imprint: Sunbury Press
SPORTS & RECREATION / Football
SPORTS & RECREATION / History
HISTORY / United States / State & Local / General