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NFL Films to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the AFL

Most of us are too young to remember the good old days of Joe Namath and John Madden, two of the most influential people ever associated with the American Football League. Beginning September 16, Showtime will air a five-part documentary titled Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League. Airing every Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the programming provides insight into the unique brand of football and the originality of AFL member clubs. AFL footage courtesy of NFL Films, which chronicled and documented the league from 1960 to 1969.

What most people don’t realize is that the AFL has helped change the way all sports are played. You see before Michael Jordan stuck his tongue out as he slid through the air, before Tiger Woods pumped the punch sinking the winning putt, before all the touchdown dances seen in every football game today. There was no celebration after a great moment, it was considered disrespectful to your opponent because the sport was considered a gentlemen’s game.

Everything changed with the birth of the AFL. The AFL began when league founder Lamar Hunt was turned down by the NFL when he tried to buy an NFL team. Distraught that he couldn’t buy a team while he was flying in a plane, the idea came to him. Through a lot of hard work, he put together an eight-team league and set out to prove he could build a league to rival the mighty NFL. The eight teams were the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Dallas Texans, Boston Patriots, New York Titans, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers and Houston Oilers.

While the league started out with hardly anyone to attend games, it quickly gained momentum as people began to see the flamboyant style of play. The guys were clapping hands on the field, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath was dressed in fur coats on the sidelines, it was fun and the seats quickly started to fill up.

While the league was fun to watch due to all the player enthusiasm, it wasn’t just a showboat league. The AFL had many talented players who ended up enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, legends like Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Brown, Bob Griese, Larry Little, OJ Simpson, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell. Even my nine- and four-year-old sons know the name John Madden, not because they saw him coach the Oakland Raiders, but because of his video game that they love to play. Not only did the AFL revolutionize professional football, it made buying merchandise from your favorite team a more common thing then and even now.

The AFL eventually merged with the NFL in 1970 and helped shape the league we know today. While some teams have remained in the same location since their inaugural AFL season, some have changed names or locations. The Dallas Texans are now the Kansas City Chiefs, the Boston Patriots adopted a region and play as the New England Patriots today, the New York Titans changed their name to the New York Jets York, their home, Shea Stadium near New York’s busy airports, and the Houston Oilers moved northeast to become the Tennessee Titans.

During the 2009-10 NFL season, the eight original AFL teams will wear their old retro uniforms when they face off in honor of the AFL’s 50th anniversary. While some of the uniforms are probably the worst thing seen since 1960s Batman and Robin starring Adam West. It shows how far football has come.

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