June 8th, 1966, is a special day in NFL history. In fact, it could be said that it was the day that changed everything.
Since it was founded in the 1920’s, the NFL was the dominating league in professional football – it went absolutely unrivaled for more then 25 years. Pre-1960, the biggest rivalry contender was the AAFC – the All-American Football Conference, which began to play in 1946. The AAFC only ended up lasting three years. In 1950, the year following the league’s disbandment, three AAFC teams were integrated into the NFL – the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers and the original Baltimore Colts.
The NFL went on, without a rival, for the next decade. That is, until the AFL came along.
Everything came to a head in 1965. Up until that point, the NFL were under the impression that their opposition was no real threat – that they, the AFL, would end up getting the washed-up or second-rate football players. The AFL proved them wrong – they managed to entice University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath to sign with the AFL, with what has been the biggest contract in the history of professional football.
This was followed by the announcement that the AFL had managed to obtain a television contract with NBC – something that only caused the battle between the two leagues to intensify.
In 1966, the rivalry between the two leagues resulted in a $7 million spend to sign their draft choices. The NFL ended up ultimately signing 174 of the 232 players it drafted; the AFL ended up signing 83 of the 181 players it drafted.
It became somewhat of a standstill – the NFL certainly wasn’t going anywhere, and it was becoming increasingly clear the AFL was not going to fold any time soon. For the good of the sport, something needed to change.
On the eve of June 8th, 1966, it was announced that the AFL and the NFL would be merging.
A lot of the conditions set by the merger ended up shaping the NFL into what it is today. The format of the draft; the expansion of the teams; pre-season games; the Super Bowl – all of these were items that were agreed upon that night.
The merger dictated that the two leagues were to combine and form an expanded league of 24 teams initially. This number was due to increase to 26 by 1968 and to 28 by 1970, or soon thereafter. These teams ended up being the New Orleans Saints in 1967; the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968; and finally the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. All eight of the original AFL teams were absorbed by the NFL – a huge change compared to the NFL-AAFC merger, which saw three teams absorbed and four teams dissolved. In addition to this, the teams were assured stability – under the conditions of the merger, no team would be transferred outside of their metropolitan area.
It was further established that, according to the merger, the two leagues would merge. In 1970, three years after the merger was announced, the NFL and AFL officially combined – forming one league with two conferences. They were named the AFC and the NFC, as they are still known to this day.
Other conditions agreed upon with the merger include the agreement to have teams in each league play each other in preseason games; to have a combined draft beginning the following year; and, finally, to play an annual AFL-NFL World Championship game – otherwise known as the Super Bowl.
Nowadays, this game is played between the champion of the AFC and the NFC at the end of every NFL season. It has become the most watched televised sporting event in the world – approximately 140 million viewers tune in each year to watch.
Keeley Ryan, Pundit Arena.