On This Day: NFL and AFL Announce Merger in 1966

by John Jamison
(Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images)

The 1960s ushered in an era of change in American society. The decade saw protests, revolutionary music, a moon landing, and the first Super Bowl ever played. It’s hard to imagine professional football before the Super Bowl era. But on June 8, 1966, the NFL and AFL reached an agreement that saw the two leagues come together. The decision gave rise to one of the most iconic sporting events of all time.

What comes to mind when you think of NFL football these days? Many imagine the first Sundays in February where everyone gathers to eat wings, appreciate top-tier television advertisements, and, lest we forget, watch a little football. But before 1967, the event didn’t exist yet.

In fact, the NFL was still in the process of fending off other competing professional football leagues at the time. And the now-ubiquitous league has a long history of absorbing all of its real competition. During a merger in 1950, the NFL welcomed three teams from the All American Football Conference. The Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and then-Baltimore Colts have been staples of the NFL ever since.

A decade later, the National Football League had another competitor. This time, it came in the form of the high-flying American Football League. The relatively young organization boasted 10 teams by the time the NFL absorbed them in 1966. Of course, it took a couple of years for the two leagues to get on the same page and be truly united.

But on January 15, 1967, 60 million people turned on their TVs to watch the NFL’s Green Bay Packers trounce the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The game marked the first entry in the Super Bowl’s storied history.

The AFL Showed That They Could Hold Their Own A Few Years Later

Being a much smaller operation than the long-standing NFL, the AFL didn’t get very much respect in the overall talent department. Many critics didn’t think their teams could compete with the established order. And the first two Super Bowls seemed to confirm that.

But in 1969, a young quarterback by the name of “Broadway Joe” Namath and his New York Jets shook up the professional football world forever. He made a legendary prediction that has gone down in NFL history.

“I think we got a heck of a shot at winning. We’ll beat anyone in the world and I think we’re going to win next Sunday,” Namath said in a press conference the week leading up to Super Bowl III.

“I know we’re going to win. I have that attitude, I feel that way. And it’s not an overconfidence thing. It’s football sense,” he said in another.

Namath’s assurances are now referred to as “The Guarantee,” only because he went on to lead his team to the first Championship victory claimed by the AFL (now-AFC). The AFL had arrived.