The American Football League started play in 1960. There were eight original AFL teams: the Dallas Texans, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills, New York Titans, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and Boston Patriots. All of these franchises still exist in the NFL today although not all of them are known by the same name.
Original American Football League Divisions
1960 American Football League play started with two divisions – the American Football League East Division and the American Football League West Division. The Oilers, Bills, Titans, and Patriots were in the AFL East Division. The Raiders, Broncos, Texans, and Chargers were in the West. Those four franchises also comprise today’s NFL AFC West Division. All eight teams are members of the American Football Conference.
ABNER HAYNES (ABOVE) WAS THE 1960 AFL MVP
American Football League Founders
The founders of the original AFL teams were often referred to as “The Foolish Club” – as it was thought to be a foolish move to start a new football league to compete with the NFL for fans. The AFL Foolish Club proved smart in the end, however, as evident with the AFL/NFL merger and the addition of two more teams before the merger: the Miami Dolphins in 1966 and the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968.
Below is a list of the AFL’s original teams and a brief founding history.
Dallas Texans – Founder: Lamar Hunt. History also credits Hunt as the founder of the American Football League. The Texans are now known as the Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys were created as a direct competitor to the Texans for the Dallas market. The Texans moved to Kansas City after they won the 1962 AFL Championship. Hank Stram was the first head coach of the Dallas Texans. You can read a first-hand account of the Texans first season from Cotton Davidson, the Texans starting quarterback, in the football history book The Game before the Money, available from Amazon.com here.
Boston Patriots – Founder: Billy Sullivan. Sullivan previously worked as a sportswriter and publicity director. The team asked Boston citizens to suggest a team name and Patriots was the most popular suggestion. A Boston Globe writer created the team’s original logo that was long featured on the team’s helmets. The first head coach of the Patriots was Lou Saban. The team is now known as the New England Patriots – the regional title was introduced by former Patriots GM Upton Bell.
Buffalo Bills — Founder: Ralph Wilson. The team name goes all the way back to the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) of the 1940s. The AAFC Buffalo Bisons held a contest for a new name and the Bills were chosen. The American Football League’s Buffalo franchise decided to resurrect the name for the new team. Founder Ralph Wilson grew up in Detroit and the Bills original uniforms featured the blue and silver colors of the Lions (see slideshow below of 1961 game against Dallas Texans). The first head coach of the Buffalo Bills was Hall of Fame lineman Buster Ramsey (who played for the Cardinals in the 1947 NFL Championship Game and the 1948 NFL Championship Game). You can listen to stories of the AFL’s Bills from their defensive end, Ron McDole, in The Game Before the Money Podcast.
Denver Broncos – Founder: Bob Howsam. Howsam’s father was a U.S. Senator and governor of Colorado. Bob Howsam previously tried to bring Major League Baseball to Denver and later worked in the Cincinnati Reds front office during their “Big Red Machine” dynasty of the 1970s. The Broncos originally played home games in a minor league baseball stadium. The first head coach of the Denver Broncos was Frank Filchock. The first player for the Denver Broncos was Austin “Goose” Gonsoulin. You can hear Gonsoulin share stories about the early Broncos in The Game before the Money Podcast episode below. You can also read many more of his memories in the book.
Houston Oilers – Founder: Bud Adams. Bud Adams served in the Navy and also played college football. He previously founded a basketball team, although it wasn’t an NBA franchise. The Oilers won the AFL’s first two league championships. The Oilers helped legitimize the new league when they won a legal dispute with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams over the rights to 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon. The Houston Oilers first head coach was Lou Rymkus. The Houston Oilers are now known as the Tennessee Titans.
Los Angeles Chargers — Founder: Barron Hilton. Barron Hilton was a member of the family who founded Hilton Hotels. The team’s original general manager, Notre Dame coaching legend Frank Leahy, is often credited with coming up with the name, “Chargers.” Sid Gillman was the first head coach of the Chargers. The team’s original coaching staff also included future Raiders owner Al Davis and future Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll. The Chargers played the Oilers in the first AFL Championship Game in 1960. The Chargers moved to San Diego in 1961 and played there for decades. The franchise is now again known as the Los Angeles Chargers.
New York Titans – Founder: Harry Wismer. Wismer, a former college football player, previously served as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins. He only owned the Titans for a couple of seasons. The Titans are now known as the New York Jets. Their first head coach was Sammy Baugh. The team signed Pro Football Hall of Fame member Don Maynard as their first player. You can read Don Maynard’s memories of playing for the AFL’s New York Jets in the book. You can also learn more about Maynard in a blog post series I’ve written.
Oakland Raiders – Founder: Group of investors (partnership). Oakland Raiders history can be traced back to Minnesota. The AFL originally awarded the franchise to owners in Minnesota. That group was later offered a franchise by the NFL. They accepted that offer and founded the Minnesota Vikings. The AFL then awarded the franchise to a group of Oakland investors. The team announced its name would be Oakland Senors at first but soon changed it to Raiders. The first coach of the Oakland Raiders was Eddie Erdelatz. The franchise has now become the Las Vegas Raiders. The team also spent several years as the Los Angeles Raiders.
1961 Dallas Texans vs. Buffalo Bills (note Buffalo Bills silver and blue uniforms)
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