The National Football League (NFL) commenced in 1920, and has continued to be the premier league for American football. In the 1940’s, the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) surfaced as a rival league. The NFL ultimately absorbed the AAFC in 1949, shutting down the operations for all its teams with the exception of the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and the Baltimore Colts.
The NFL championship showdown in 1958 between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts attracted an unprecedented 45 million television viewers. At the time, Major League Baseball (MLB) was the America’s favorite game, but the 1958 NFL title game on NBC directed more attention to professional football. Several franchise requests were denied, triggering the formation of a rival league, the American Football League (AFL).
Lamar Hunt, owner of the Dallas Texans, and seven additional owners are responsible for the establishment of the AFL. Meanwhile, the NFL expanded, announcing the additions of two new franchises in Dallas, Texas and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Both cities were to have franchises in the AFL as well. Nevertheless, the AFL altered its plans to add a franchise in Minneapolis, selecting Oakland, California instead. The AFL teams hit the field in 1960.
Hunt’s Dallas Texans opted to move to Kansas City, Missouri in 1962. By now, the AFL had attracted attention from professional football fans with its quicker paced offense and passing attack style of play.
The veracity of the AFL’s interest level raised eyebrows in 1965 when they landed a television package with NBC. Furthermore, top quarterback prospect Joe Namath chose the AFL’s New York Jets over the NFL, signing what was the most lucrative contract in professional football.
Thus, the leagues began to vie for fans, players, and coaches. With intentions of avoiding future bidding wars for key players and personnel, owners from each league began discussing the possibility of a merger.
On June 8, 1966, the NFL and AFL announced that the two leagues were to merge, and that all AFL teams would continue to exist in the newly-aligned American Football Conference (AFC). Most of the NFL teams would represent the National Football Conference (NFC).
Following the 1966 seasons, the two champions of each league would meet in what would later be dubbed as the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, Hunt’s team, the Kansas City Chiefs, represented the AFL while the NFL’s most successful franchise, the Green Bay Packers, represented the NFL. The overwhelmingly favored Packers captured the first Super Bowl championship.
It was not until 1970 when the two leagues actually aligned as one. The NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts transferred to the AFC in 1970.