August 14th, 1959 is a very important date in professional football history.
For years up to that point, the NFL and its 12 franchises dominated the world of professional football in America. On that fateful night, however, a group of men met to change the course of America’s premier football league forever. It was on that night that the American Football League (AFL) was born.
The AFL, which would kick off its inaugural season in 1960, was founded by a group of eight men (including Hall of Famer Lamar Hunt, Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, and Buffalo Bills owner/Hall of Famer Ralph Wilson Jr.) who each agreed to develop their own brand of professional football. The first eight teams for the fledgling league were the Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Titans, and the Oakland Raiders (do those teams sound familiar?). These eight teams would play their own schedule, declare their own champion, and would attempt to compete in the market with the NFL’s well-established franchises like Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Green Bay.
When the AFL was created no one paid much attention, and even fewer took the league seriously. In fact, many people felt the idea was so ridiculous that the eight founders of the league became known as the “Foolish Club.”
It was the “Foolish Club” that had the last laugh, though, as the AFL would soon develop into a very successful rival league and earn not only the respect of the NFL, but eventually earn equal status.
In 1966, just six short years after the creation of this league, the AFL merged with the NFL, and the Super Bowl era was born. The two separate leagues, which have since been renamed as the AFC and NFC, respectively, would each declare a separate champion. Those two champions would then play in the Super Bowl matchup to determine a world champion annually.
In 2009, the NFL is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the AFL. As fate would have it, history may be on the verge of repeating itself.
Last year, a group of like-minded people got together – just like the AFL founders of 50 years prior – and decided it was time for a new rival league, which has since been named the United Football League (UFL). This league will have many of the same rules of the NFL, and will be targeted primarily to markets that are “underserved” by the NFL. The league will feature four teams, over the course of a six-game season, and the four teams are the Las Vegas Locomotives, California Redwoods, Florida Tuskers, and New York Sentinels.
Just as the AFL struggled for respect early in its existence, the UFL has been laughed off as a joke that will likely go the way of the World Football League, NFL Europe, and the XFL. The one advantage that the UFL has that those other leagues did not, is that there are NFL caliber players and coaches who have “defected” into the UFL. From the executive ranks down to the players, the UFL is heavily staffed with people who bring a wealth of successful experience drawn from time spent in the NFL.
League commissioner, Michael Huyghue, left a 20-year career in the NFL to take on the role as UFL Commissioner. As for the four head coaches - Jim Fassel, Jim Haslett, Dennis Green, and Ted Cottrell – they bring more than 50 years of NFL coaching experience into the UFL.
The talent on the field is also full of NFL-caliber names. A few of those players are:
There are no guarantees that the UFL will reach the same heights that the AFL managed to 50 years ago, but the founders of the league have done everything in their power to give the UFL the best possible opportunity for success, and this week the UFL will finally get the opportunity to prove its worth!
The UFL will officially kick-off with its inaugural game on October 8th, with a matchup between the Las Vegas Locomotives and the California Redwoods. If you are laughing at the seemingly ridiculous nature of that matchup, remember that is exactly what NFL fans said 50 years ago about a matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Boston Patriots. It might have been a joke then, but 50 years later… can you imagine an NFL WITHOUT the Broncos or Patriots?
Could this game become a pivotal turning point in NFL history? I guess we will just have to watch and find out!