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American Inventions - Game 8, SMU

Our second Dallas-based invention isn't exactly an invention, but it's football and it's Texas and it's Super Bowl week, so close enough.

Lamar Hunt, one of the architects of today's "invention."
Lamar Hunt, one of the architects of today's "invention."

To mark the first season of basketball in the American Athletic Conference, we're featuring inventions that symbolize each of the other nine cities in the league, two inventions apiece. Here's the second invention we came up with for today's opponent, the SMU Mustangs.


OK, we're kind of stretching it a bit to call this an invention, but since it's Super Bowl week and a lot of the heavy lifting involved two men from Dallas, we're going with it. The story of the merger actually begins with the Chicago Cardinals in the 1950s. The Bidwells, who owned the Cardinals, were tired of playing second fiddle to the Bears and wanted to move somewhere else. Enter Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams, who were interested in moving the team to Dallas. Failing that, Hunt would have also been interested in an NFL expansion team in his hometown. He got neither, and the Bidwells ended up moving the team to St. Louis.

Hunt then decided to form his own football league, rounding up seven other rejected would-be NFL owners and creating the American Football League. (Interestingly, before the AFL kicked off, the NFL came back to Hunt and asked if he would be interested in an expansion team for Dallas. But by then he was committed to the AFL. The NFL gave the Dallas franchise to Clint Murchison, who hired Tex Schramm as general manager. More on him a little later.)

Hunt's team, the Dallas Texans, was successful on the field, but struggled financially against the Cowboys, forcing Hunt to move his team to Kansas City in 1963. The Chiefs continued winning, and their league became successful too. The AFL was set up in markets the NFL hadn't entered, like San Diego, Boston, and Buffalo. They found talent in the HBCUs the NFL had virtually ignored to that point, they signed their share of college stars, and players like Jack Kemp and Len Dawson, rejected by the NFL, found a second life in the new league. Then they got a national TV contract from NBC, giving them financial stability. It was then that they became a real competitor for the NFL.

Up until 1966, there had been a gentleman's agreement between the AFL and NFL that they wouldn't sign each other's players. That all changed when the New York Giants signed kicker Pete Gogolak - the first soccer-style kicker - away from the Buffalo Bills. The AFL, led by then-commissioner Al Davis, retaliated with huge contract offers for several NFL stars. Some may think this is when the merger talks began. Actually, they had already been underway for awhile.

The NFL had been discussing a peace offering for a couple of months among themselves, and when it got to be time to involve their rival league, Schramm went to Hunt. As Schramm put it in his 1966 story for Sports Illustrated:

"We wanted an owner who had prestige, the desire for peace, time to work on the problem, no personal prejudices -- and who could keep his mouth shut. Lamar filled the requirements perfectly, and also he was one of the founders of the league. As a small unpremeditated plus, he lives only a few blocks from me in Dallas -- which was to simplify our meetings later on."

The two met underneath the Texas Ranger statue in the main entry of Dallas's Love Field on April 6, 1966. They began their discussions in Schramm's car in the parking lot and decided the two should be each other's sole contacts from the opposite league.

After a short break, the negotiations began in May, right around the time the Giants signed Gogolak. It almost busted up the entire process, but fortunately both sides realized that a bidding war for each other's best players would be mutually destructive. (It also helped that Al Davis was not involved in the merger at all. Naturally he took the merger very personally and held a grudge over it until his dying breath 40+ years later.)

Both sides rounded up support from individual owners to make the deal. At one point, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had to talk to Hunt to convince him that this was not a setup. Finally, Hunt stopped by Schramm's house on May 31 to be presented with the framework of a deal. Schramm said, "There it is. If you accept, this deal has been approved by every NFL club. If you have to alter it too much, it will blow up."

There were some differences to work out, but the two sides smoothed them out quickly and formally announced a merger agreement just over a week later, on June 8, 1966. You already know most of the provisions - a championship game that became the Super Bowl (a name Hunt came up with), a common draft, a full merging of the league in 1970, Rozelle as commissioner, and eventually three teams moving to the new AFC to balance out the league.

There was more, though. AFL teams already in NFL markets (the Jets and Raiders) had to pay indemnities to the NFL for infringing on their markets. The teams that moved from the NFL to the AFC received $3 million incentives, money the Pittsburgh Steelers put to good use to become a four-time Super Bowl champion in the 1970s. And expansion was part of the merger agreement. The league agreed to expand to 26 teams by 1969, and 28 by 1970 or soon thereafter. The New Orleans Saints (in 1967) and the Cincinnati Bengals (in 1968) bumped the total up to 26, but the league wouldn't reach 28 until 1976, when the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined the NFL.

One side note -- Lamar Hunt had a small tie to Tampa sports. He co-owned the NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies in the early 1980s after they merged operations with his own Dallas Tornado. The group then sold the team to a group led by Richard Corbett, whose name is now on USF's soccer stadium.