All-American Football Conference – Early Challenger To The NFL
In modern times it is hard to imagine a professional football league that could come along and compete with the National Football League. But, life for the NFL has not always been this way. In the 1980’s the USFL was there, in the 1970’s the WFL tried, and in the 1960’s the AFL not only tried to compete but were successful. But, long before that there was the All-American Football Conference.
The AAFC began in 1946 and like most alternative football leagues was made up of owners who had been denied an opportunity to buy an existing NFL franchise or denied the opportunity of starting an NFL expansion franchise. The NFL at the time had just survived the World War II years. Some teams had merged during the war years, some teams had folded, and all teams had struggled with the wartime rations and loss of players to the war effort. The owners in the AAFC were, for the most part, more established and wealthier than their NFL counterparts.
The AAFC’s biggest downfall was the imbalance in team performance. There were very good teams (Cleveland, San Francisco, New York) and there were very bad teams (Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago), but there really wasn’t any in-between teams. During the league’s four year existence, Cleveland won the championship each season.
Attendance for the AAFC was good to begin with but did steadily decline as the years went on. The owners in the AAFC made a good effort of signing the best college football players before the NFL could get them; this also had the effect of driving up players’ salaries.
In the end, though there were successful teams, the owners as a whole could not keep the AAFC afloat and the league folded. Upon folding, three teams from the AAFC were allowed membership in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts all made the jump to play the 1950 season as NFL teams. In fact, the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship in their first year as a member in 1950. The 49ers would also go on to much success in the NFL after being one of the better teams in the AAFC. The Colts, however, wouldn’t experience the same success and three years later would cease operations. When Baltimore was given an NFL franchise years later, the new owners decided to revive the old Baltimore Colts name but the current franchise has no relation to the 1940’s AAFC franchise.
The AAFC wasn’t a true success in that it did go out of business and did not force a merger with the NFL. But, for some of the teams it proved to be the launching pad to their admittance to the NFL and future success.