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This Might Surprise You — After Merger, Only 4 AFL Teams Have Won Super Bowls

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Kansas City Chiefs became the fifth AFL franchise to win the Super Bowl after the AFL/NFL merger with their victory in Super Bowl 54. This post was written well before that game, but it still is relevant as several AFL franchises have yet to win a Super Bowl in the post-merger era.

Let me start by saying I love the American Football League and its history. I also believe the league was on par with the National Football League. The Super Bowl, however, has clearly been dominated by original NFL teams.

Only four AFL franchises have won Super Bowls after the AFL-NFL merger. Crazy huh? When we entered the 2000s, only three AFL franchises had won Super Bowls. Those three teams were the Miami Dolphins, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, and Denver Broncos.  The New England Patriots joined the club in the early 2000s.

The Super Bowl started when both the American Football League and the National Football League agreed to merge. The NFL was generally thought of as superior, and most experts expected NFL teams to crush the AFL in Super Bowls.

The Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi, made good on those predictions in Super Bowl 1 and Super Bowl 2. The Packers outscored their AFL opponents by a combined 44 points.

Joe Namath famously guaranteed his AFL New York Jets would upset the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 3. Sportswriters found his prediction ludicrous. The Jets surprised the football world with a 16-7 victory. The AFL gained respect, but many thought the Jets were a fluke.

The AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs put an end to that talk by dominating the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl 4. The unquestionable 23-7 victory evened the Super Bowl series at two wins for each league. AFL founder Lamar Hunt rightfully took great pride in that fact.

The leagues completed the merger after Super Bowl 4, and began the 1970 season as the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. Three NFL teams – the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Colts, and the Pittsburgh Steelers – joined the original AFL teams in the AFC.

The AFC owned the Super Bowl in the 1970s. The fact that most of those AFC wins were by original NFL teams has been forgotten. The Dallas Cowboys were the only NFC team to win a Super Bowl in the 1970s, although they lost more Super Bowls (3) than they won (2). All three Cowboy losses were to original NFL franchises. The Colts beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl 5, and the Steelers beat Dallas in Super Bowl 10 and Super Bowl 13.

The Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders were the only original AFL franchise to win a Super Bowl in the 1980s. The Denver Broncos were the only original franchise to win the Super Bowl in the 1990s. The Patriots and Broncos are the only two AFL teams to win the Super Bowl in this century. (Until Kansas City – see note at top of this article.)

What are the reasons for this? I don’t know. Likely, it has more to do with very few quarterbacks winning the Super Bowl than it having to do the NFL/AFL rivalry. After all, the merger was over 50 years ago, and the AFL brought fewer teams into the league. Also, don’t forget about the NFL’s coaching elite. Moreover, I didn’t dig into the overall inter-conference records.

Again, this post isn’t to prove the NFL superior to the AFL. The AFL was a great league, and it changed football forever. The merger lifted pro football to the heights it enjoys today.

I was very surprised when I realized the fact that only four AFL franchises have won Super Bowls after the merger, and decided to post about it. Wikipedia even states that the winning tally is almost equal between “NFC/NFL” and “AFC/AFL.” That, however, doesn’t take into account that many of the AFC’s wins were by the Steelers, Colts, and Ravens (formerly the original Cleveland Browns).

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  1. Thank you for this outstanding presentation, and true Gem of nostalgia.. my first experience with the new AFL was growing up in San Diego and seeing chargers open the 1961 season hosting the Dallas Texans at Balboa stadium (where my father had played high school football at San Diego high school, and after World War II playing semi pro football with a Coronado Colts) …
    As a 10-year-old kid, it was an awesome to have opportunity to meet several charger players, and never realized the magnitude of meeting coaching staff under Sid Gilman: Chuck Noll, Al Davis, and John Madden… who would’ve known!?!
    Bill Nelsen (distant cousin, to “The Bill Nelsen” QB USC, Cleveland Browns, Steelers, etc.)

  2. All American professional football championships since 1967 are referred to historically as the Super Bowl, even if the first four match ups between the AFL/AFC and NFL/NFC were not originally so designated. The Jets won SBIII and the Chiefs SBIV.

  3. Teams that have never been to the Super Bowl as of the finish of the 2018 season include the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Houston Texans.

    The first wildcard to win the Super Bowl was the 1980 Oakland Raiders. Chris Bahr talks about being on that team in the book, The Game Before the Money. You can order the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Game-before-Money-Voices-Built/dp/080325573X Thanks for your question!

  4. What teams have never been to the super bowl which wild card team was the first to win the super bowl