The eyes of the football world were on Chicago the evening of Friday, August 14, 1959.
At Soldier Field, they were playing the annual Chicago Charities College All-Star Game, pitting the defending NFL champion against a team of college all-stars. The Baltimore Colts led by Johnny Unitas won the 26th edition of the game 29-0. Playing for the all-stars that night and wearing No. 22 was a halfback from the University of Pittsburgh named Dick Haley.
But there was another football story in town that night, one that would prove to be much bigger than the Colts victory.
The dateline was from Chicago, Illinois. The date was Friday, August 14th. Here was the report from United Press International:
“A second professional football league to be called the American Football League was formed tonight and franchises were announced for six cities. Lamar Hunt of Dallas said teams would be formed in Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, New York and Los Angeles. Hunt said Barron Hilton, a son of the hotel owner Conrad N. Hilton would head the Los Angeles franchise. Hunt the founder of the league said it planned to begin play in 1960. Hunt said the league might expand to eight teams, with the other two coming from Seattle, Buffalo, San Francisco, Miami or Kansas City. It was also reported that New Orleans was a possibility.”
Thus, the world was introduced to the AFL.
About two weeks before the presence of the new league became public when NFL Commissioner Bert Bell testified before a Senate sub-committee. Some five days after Bell’s testimony it became public that joining Hunt was K.S. Bud Adams in Houston.
At the Chicago Hilton on this Friday afternoon, Hunt announced the name of the league – American Football League – and the addition of Denver, New York, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul as franchises joining with Dallas and Houston. The new ownership groups were:
Los Angeles â Barron Hilton, son of Hilton Hotels magnate Conrad N. Hilton.
Denver â Robert Howsam, of Rocky Mountain Empire Sports, Inc., owners of the Denver Bears minor league baseball team. It was a family business, led by Lee Howsam and his sons Robert and Earl.
New York â Harry Wismer, radio and television broadcaster who had at one time been a 25 percent owner of the Washington Redskins.
Minneapolis-St. Paul â Max Winter and E.W. Boyer of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. Winter was a restaurant owner in Minneapolis, who became part-owner and general manager of the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers. Eventually H.P. Skoglund would join the ownership group.
“We have had a number of meetings with Lamar Hunt on this new football league in recent weeks,” Boyer told the Minneapolis Tribune in a copyrighted story announcing a team for the Twin Cities. “Like the Continental League in baseball, the football group is well financed. As soon as I get home I will call together interested individuals in the Twin Cities to form a corporation to take over this venture.”
Hunt released other bits of news during the announcement. Each city had to put down a deposit of $25,000. A meeting was scheduled for August 22 in Dallas where officers would be elected and there would be the adoption of a constitution. No headquarters had been set up, but the six commitments were definite and the league would soon add two more teams, planning to start the season with eight franchises.
Despite kind words publicly from Bell back at the end of July, Hunt predicted trouble between the new venture and the NFL. “There could be conflicts in the drafting of the players and if so a real hassle could develop between the two leagues,” Hunt said. “We’ll try to beat the National Football League on their draft.”
And remember those cities speculated on as the seventh and eighth entries into the AFL? Kansas City was already under consideration. But ultimately it was Buffalo and Boston that joined to form the original eight. Oakland replaced Minnesota when the Twin Cities interests were told they would get an NFL expansion franchise in 1961.
Today, it would all be a big story, but 50 years ago there wasn’t a lot of fanfare over the announcement. The next day in Chicago, it drew little attention from the local media. The Chicago Sun-Times carried a short story, buried on page 51 of the tabloid next to the golf scores from the Motor City Open.