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What if the AFL Never Existed? (Part 1)

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Good Sunday morning, Uni Watchers! I hope everyone had a pleasant Jackie Robinson Day!

I’m joined again by Chris Diamond, who’s back with another really good think piece today. Readers will recall Chris’ amazing helmet maps, as well as his “What if” series on the NFL and USFL merging, as well as his most recent “What if” that looked at how entire leagues would look if every team had the “Pittsburgh” treatment. If you haven’t read any of those, they’re really fantastic.

Chris has another “What if…” series this time around, and today we’ll get the opening salvo, looking at how the NFL might have evolved had the AFL never begun as a competitive league. I know you’ll enjoy this one!

Here’s Chris…

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What if the AFL Never Existed — Part I
by Chris Diamond

Cast your mind back to January 1959. The “Greatest Game Ever Played” between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts has just been played and the 12 teams of the NFL seem poised for a new era of professional football. Two businessmen, Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams, are looking to acquire an NFL franchise. They first try to buy the failing Chicago Cardinals but can’t come to a deal with the Bidwill family. So instead they approach the NFL to try and get one (or two) expansion teams. The NFL has an expansion committee headed by Bears owner George Halas. Halas is pro expansion, but in this time other NFL owners are split on the issue. A quick look at this map of TV coverage in 1960 shows the reason –  about half the NFL teams have a huge territory that they consider their own, so are against expansion there. In particular George Preston Marshall’s Washington team relies on fans in the south for their revenue. Hunt is from Dallas and wants a team there and Adams is based in Houston. In reality, the efforts of both men to get a team in the NFL were rebuffed and they went on to create the AFL and the rest is history.

But, what if Hunt and Adams had got NFL franchises and the AFL never existed? What might have happened to the history of pro football going forward? Contemporary documents of the AFL-NFL lawsuit from 1962 give us an insight into what was going on at the time and how expansion was viewed by the NFL. This is the premise of what I will look at here. As we move forward from 1959, things will gradually seem less familiar as the divergence from our reality grows and I’ve imagined the same will apply to team visual identities. So without further ado let’s start back in 1959.

This is what the NFL looked like in 1959 – 12 teams split into two conferences east and west. There is no team in the south and no team west of Chicago until you reach LA and San Francisco on the west coast. Following the failed bid by Hunt and Adams, the Bidwills have finally given up on Chicago and are about to move the Cardinals to St. Louis for 1960. Following intense negotiations, the main anti-expansion blocker Marshall eventually agrees to the new teams in Dallas and Houston on the understanding that no teams further East in the south will be added, protecting his territory. NFL Expansion Committee Meetings of the time identified Dallas, Houston, Buffalo, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Miami as the prime cities for expansion in the 1960s. Hunt wants Dallas and Adams Houston and they are granted franchises to begin play in 1962. (In the real world, with the threat of the AFL, the NFL rushed teams in to Dallas and Minneapolis in 1960 and 1961 but this was really too quick to set them up properly). Both teams are put in the Western Conference and Baltimore is moved to the East (as was wanted in reality by the other Eastern Conference teams, but never happened).

The addition of the Texans and Oilers proves to be a great success, so in 1965 the expansion committee recommends the addition of two more teams in 1968. Because of the agreement with Marshall, the south is off limits so Buffalo and Minneapolis-St.Paul are chosen. I’ve assumed the Buffalo team is the Bills as the name has a lot of “momentum” so any expansion NFL team there was likely to take it. Likewise the Minnesota team are the Vikings as the area’s Scandi heritage means it also has “momentum”. On the addition of two more teams, the NFL splits into four divisions (the same as reality). So by 1968 this alt-reality NFL has 16 teams, the same as the pre-merger NFL of our reality. But unlike our reality, there aren’t another 10 pro teams and huge areas of the country don’t have teams. Despite expanding by four teams in the 60s the NFL once again has no plans to expand further in the 1970s.  But like in 1960, pressure is growing to expand beyond its existing frontiers particularly in the south and west. What will happen in the 1970s? Will another league finally rise to compete with the NFL? We will find out in Part 2!

• • • • •
Thanks, Chris! Another great think piece and looking forward to the forthcoming Part II! Readers? What do you think?


FINALLY! FSU Unveils Updated Uniforms

After close to a decade (a lifetime in College Football) wearing basically the same uniform template, yesterday FSU unveiled “refreshed” uniforms for the 2023 season. Gone are the awful BFBS alternates, which were occasionally worn with alternate garnet pants. For now, Florida State will only have garnet and white jerseys, as well as gold, garnet and white pants, all of which feature the Seminole head logo on both hips.

According to the team, “The uniforms feature an updated design on the jerseys and pants, both of which feature elements previously worn by great FSU teams. On the jerseys, the numbers move from the top of the shoulders down to the sleeve, while the tribal pattern moves from the shoulder cap to the sleeve cuffs and remains on the redesigned collar. The pants will feature FSU’s primary Seminole head logo on both hips.”

“The tribal pattern incorporates meaningful symbolism from the Seminole Tribe’s patchwork patterns into the program’s jerseys. The patchwork decorative technique dates back to the early 1900s among Seminole Tribe women and was adopted by the Tribe as a standard means of embellishing their traditionally vibrant clothing. The pattern on the jerseys is designed using the Seminole symbols for arrow, man on horse and fire from top to bottom in a repeating arrangement.”

The reveal did not show any garnet pants, but the announcement did mention the team will have the option to wear those — combined with the white and gold helmets, this gives the team a possible 12 uniform combos.

For those who care about such things, the Seminoles will join a limited number of schools who have “upgraded” to Nike’s newest chassis, the “Vapor F.U.S.E. uniform that combines lightweight fabric technology with a precision fit to help allow ultimate performance on the field.”

You can see many more photos, including those shown above, below:

And here’s some video:

These uniforms replace the set introduced back in 2014. You’ll note that the original white jersey featured hard-to-read gold numbers, which were eventually replaced by much easier-to-read garnet numbers. Likewise, the gold numbers on the garnet jersey were recently changed to the more legible white numbers. The new jerseys keep this same color-scheme for the numerals.

Your thoughts?


Jackie Robinson Day

Yesterday — April 15th — was the annual celebration of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, who broke the modern color barrier in baseball in 1947, the 76th anniversary of that seminal moment in baseball history. As has become tradition in MLB, all players, managers and coaches sported Robinson’s No. 42 for yesterday’s games, with all teams using Dodger blue jersey numbers, regardless of their primary team colors. As you can see above, for the Yankees, the number stands out (both as being out of place AND as a solid reminder of Jackie’s original uni number).

For some teams — like Robinson’s biggest rival, the Giants — the wearing of “42” in Dodger blue lends import to Jackie’s remarkable achievements, both on and off the field.

For some teams, like the New York Mets, who adopted the Dodgers “blue” when they entered the National League as an expansion team in 1962, the “42” looked good. Of course, those same Mets did NOT remove their horrendous ad patch…

…but they did (as did all teams) remove their front uni numbers for the day.

One of the best things about JRR day is it means most games are white vs. gray, but for teams like the Rays, who have eliminated their gray road jersey, it meant they wore the Dodger blue 42 on their alternate jersey.

The 42 even looked “different” on the Dodgers jerseys — they use a thinner font now — but was thicker in Jackie’s day.

In addition to the 42 on everyone’s jersey, all teams sported a “42” side patch on their caps. The umpires did as well.

Helmets were all numbered “42” as well (which looks like it might get a bit confusing…).

Most players (but not all) who went high-cuffed wore special gray JRR socks.

“Breaking Barriers” T-shirts worn during batting practice.

And of course, many players wore special shoes honoring Robinson.

Teams used commemorative line-up cards (notice the opaque “Jackie Robinson Day” graphic at the bottom of the card).

Special commemorative base “jewels” were also placed on all the bags.

I know many of you either don’t like or have grown tired of “everyone wearing 42” (JRR day itself dates to 2004, but it wasn’t until 2008 that all players and coaches began wearing 42), but I love it. Seeing all teams (*or most teams) in white/gray and going NNOB is both a great tribute to Robinson, AND an aesthetically pleasing look. Yes, it can get confusing at times, especially when every announced player is “Number 42,” but for one day we can enjoy it. I always thought Allan Huber Selig was a terrible commissioner (exceeded in awfulness only by Rob Manfred and Kennesaw Landis), but the introduction and expansion of Jackie Robinson Day was by far and away his best achievement.

MiLB got in on the 42 action yesterday as well.

Of course, MiLB teams wore colored tops and had their “42” rendered in team colors and fonts.


Guess the Game from the Uniform

Based on the suggestion of long-time reader/contributor Jimmy Corcoran, we’ve introduced a new “game” on Uni Watch, which is similar to the popular “Guess the Game from the Scoreboard” (GTGFTS), only this one asked readers to identify the game based on the uniforms worn by teams.

Like GTGFTS, readers will be asked to guess the date, location and final score of the game from the clues provided in the photo. Sometimes the game should be somewhat easy to ascertain, while in other instances, it might be quite difficult. There will usually be a visual clue (something odd or unique to one or both of the uniforms) that will make a positive identification of one and only one game possible. Other times, there may be something significant about the game in question, like the last time a particular uniform was ever worn (one of Jimmy’s original suggestions). It’s up to YOU to figure out the game and date.

Today’s GTGFTU comes from Charlie Schick.

Good luck and please post your guess/answer in the comments below.


Too Good for the Ticker

Got an e-mail (forwarded by Paul) yesterday from Eric Fisk, which is simply TGFTT!

Found this amazing vintage baseball jersey while hanging out with my daughter in Sister’s, Oregon. Jersey is for Woodard Lumber Co. From Cottage Grove, Ore. Wilson size 44 tag still attached.

The link to the story of the Woodard Family lumber is here.

Great find, Eric, and thanks for sharing the photos of the jersey, which is drop dead gorgeous!


Uni Tweet of the Day

LOVE this photo which features the American League’s 50th Anniversary patch!

And finally...

…that’s all for today, and for me for this weekend! Big thanks (again) to Chris for Part I of his latest “think piece” — looking forward to Part II, which will run very soon.

Everyone have a good Sunday and a better week, and I’ll catch you next Saturday. Some big uni news on tap this week, with the Rangers unveiling their City Connect unis tomorrow, and then the Arizona Cardinals unveiling their new uniforms on Thursday!



Comments (30)

    Logistically it would never happen but what if they expanded the Jackie Robinson day to where every team wears Brooklyn inspired jerseys, I mean it as the jerseys and pants are white and grey with the font type and color type to match what Jackie wore but it is spelled out in each individual team name while all still wearing 42

    Some good food for thought today!
    I wonder if we’d all be watching Dallas Texans games on Thanksgiving…or would some other owner come up with the idea for a second game? Maybe Bidwill would have asked the league sooner, instead of when his Cardinals got two games in the mid 70s. I know those didn’t go well for his team, but had he gotten them in the 60s, who knows? Maybe St. Louis would be America’s Team, and still playing in St. Louis.

    Thanks Jim! Yes that’s a good question about Thanksgiving Day games. I haven’t really considered wider aspects like that in this piece but I expect there would be other unforeseen consequences! The Wildcard one mentioned by Marty below for one.

    One game scenario: always Lions vs. or at Texans
    Two game scenario: add Bills vs. or at Colts
    Three game scenario: add 49ers vs. or at Rams every year or rotate matchups

    Jim, since Kansas City hosted the AFL Thanksgiving Day game the final few years of the league (and when the NFL made Thanksgiving a tripleheader, KC got to host the primetime game in tribute to that legacy), I have to think the Texans would have hosted a game on Thanksgiving. Probably would have remained Lions hosting the early game, Texans the later game. (And maybe it could have gone back to Lions vs. Packers after Lombardi left the team.)

    I didn’t realize that about the third game. Thanks for the info!
    Never really got into the third game because when it first started I didn’t have NFL Network. Even now that it’s on NBC I don’t get to see it much because I’m the only fan other than Dad, so it’s a chore just to get the rest of the family to indulge me with the traditional Lions game.

    God, I can’t even look at those Mets uniforms. That ad patch is so gross. Uncle Stevie made a big point of saying they were going to get rid of the “Phillie colors.” Thought it was also supposed to shrink in size. Still looks the same to me. Huge and red. Blah.
    Curious…do any of the jerseys on sale at the stadium feature those nasty patches?

    IIRC, the AFL introduced the idea of a wild-card playoff slot. Before then, only conference winners played in the postseason. Great move!

    Has anything ever been written here about what, if any, challenges that broadcasters, official scorers, etc face with having all the players wearing the same number, and not having NOB? Obviously they’ve learned to work with it, but I would think that extra special attention would have to be paid to players entering the game, etc, when you can’t just identify a player at a glance by their name and/or number.

    I haven’t, and I’m honestly not sure if Paul has…but it’s a fair question. When I watch games, or listen on the radio, on JRR day, the announcers *do* mention that everyone is, of course, wearing #42. They have no problems — at least that I’ve been able to discern — with the regular lineups, and usually not with substitutions. The only time I’ve heard any confusion is with an opposing pitcher warming up in the bullpen. If they’re not familiar with the other team’s relief corps, and their handedness/body types, they will own up to this fact and admit that, without a # or NOB identifier, they’re not 100% certain who is warming up. But that’s the only confusion, if you can call it that, that I’ve ever noticed. Since all ball parks have PA systems, once a player is introduced into the game, obviously the announcers have no problems then.

    I pity the official scorer who has to sort out an extended rundown with multiple fielders involved.

    As an FSU fan I am pleasantly surprised by the redesigned jerseys. Much cleaner and easier on the eye. I would like to believe there won’t be another BFBS uniform but I doubt it.

    And the shade of “garnet” looks redder, as opposed to the almost maroon color they’ve been wearing recently.

    How many MILB teams participated with wearing 42? It certainly isn’t a universal celebration in the way it is in the majors.

    Again, I think it’s obscene that MLB doesn’t pay similar homage in July to Larry Doby, the first black player in the AL. Doby, unlike Robinson, didn’t benefit from playing in the minors. He came straight from the Negro Leagues and while there were cities with both AL & NL teams in 1947 (NYC, Boston, Philly, St. Louis, Chicago), Doby’s experience was just as unique and challenging as Jackie’s. Remember, it’s only recently (in terms of MLB history) that the AL/NL haven’t operated independently. If MLB can’t give Doby his own day, the least they can do is have the AL clubs or his first team, Cleveland, wear Doby’s number. Plus, let’s be honest, MLB needs to do more to connect with African American fans and get more kids interested in playing the game. Celebrating the contributions of African Americans, including more games wearing Negro League uniforms, aren’t cure alls, but it would be a start.

    And I know too many Pirates fans who want the same treatment for Roberto Clemente. It has to end somewhere…better yet it never should have started at all.
    There are better ways to honor these players than by un-retiring their retired numbers.

    Excuse me while I act surprised when Florida State goes back to basics and looks 100 times better. When will any of the manufacturers, colleges and pro sports teams realize that silly uniform gimmicks rarely, if ever look better than nice traditional uniforms.

    After a decade of fans complaining, FSU finally gets it right. Much needed and much overdue.

    Also glad they didn’t roll out a sleazy name like they did in 2014, still cringe at “Ignition Tradition”

    I wonder if Bob Sheppard would have done the whole Jackie Robinson Day bit? “Now batting…for the ______…the _______…number 42…,______,…number 42.”

    Interesting as always, Chris!
    What if Hunt got to pick team colors first (he originally wanted the Texans in powder blue and orange,right?)…what would Adams select for the Oilers?

    Thanks Chris! Another good question…. I so nearly went with powder blue and orange for the Texans for exactly that reason – they were Hunt’s first choice before Adams bagged them. My guess would be Adams would go for Texas state flag colours instead if he couldn’t get columbia blue.

    If I am not mistaken, the Hunt Family, huge supporters of US American Soccer, choose powder blue and orange for their MSL team in Kansas City.

    I still believe that their is a very worthy and interesting book or story to tell as to how each professional franchise decided on their names, uniform templates and colors, and HOW the process went. Was it an owner’s kid? Was it left to the coach or GM? What exactly influenced each decision maker and how?

    All worthy stories, other than PL’s deep dive on the Vikings and their early designs, not a whole lot of that anywhere. Love to se it. I’ll buy the early hardback version – full price!!!

    Glad to see FSU improve their unis. This look is now in my top 10, possibly top 5.

    My mind was blown yesterday when FSU introduced the uniforms during the spring “game”. Just 100x better than the past decade.

    Take your foot off the gas in praising Bud Selig for introducing Jackie Robinson Day. If it weren’t for Ken Griffey, Jr petitioning to wear 42 for one game the season before, it never would have occurred to the default commissioner to honor Robinson’s legacy. And no, I’m not still bitter about Selig moving the Pilots to Milwaukee.

    Maybe it wouldn’t have become the incredible event it has become (and that’s definitely thanks to Junior and others), but I’m pretty sure MLB was planning on doing something big for JRR for the 50th Anniversary (I was at that game and it was incredible).

    The NFL would have exploded and reached at least 20 teams by 1970. Even the NHL went from six to 12 in one swoop in the late 1960s.

    Also Buffalo would not had been awarded an expansion team, the stadium situation was so bad by 1971 that they threatened to move to Seattle.

    Atlanta, New Orleans, Miami, Cincinnati, San Diego, would had gotten teams by 1970, Oakland would had been a big loser.

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