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What if the AFL Never Existed? (Part 2)

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A very good Saturday morning, Uni Watch readers. I hope everyone has had a pleasant week.

I’m rejoined today by the inimitable Chris Diamond, who graced us with another of his fantastic “What if…” pieces a couple weeks ago, What if the AFL Never Existed (Part 1). Chris is back today with Part 2 and it’s a doozy. I’ll just turn it over to him right now as he asks…

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What if the AFL Never Existed — Part 2
by Chris Diamond

In Part 1 of this piece, I posed the question “What if the AFL Never Existed?”. I looked at the period from 1959 to 1968 where the NFL would then still be the only pro league and what might have happened based on contemporary documents that show the NFL’s pre-AFL expansion plans. By 1970, this alt-reality NFL consists of 16 teams just like the real one, albeit with some different cities and different owners.

But unlike reality, the other 10 teams of the AFL don’t exist and the south and mid-west have no teams. In 1960 the NFL expansion committee decided for expansion. But now, with an agreement with Marshall’s Washington not to place teams in the south still in place they vote against any further expansion in the 1970s. Because of population growth there are large cities without teams that could support one. But with no NFL expansion, potential owners are left with no option but to create a rival league. But what would this new league look like?

In reality there was a pro league in the 1970s to rival the NFL – the World Football League (WFL). The actual WFL was a sorry affair filled with insolvent owners and poor planning that lasted barely two seasons. But it gives us an idea of what a 70s era league teams might look like, particularly that a lot of its teams were in the south, an area in this alt-reality that is empty. So for this What-If? I will imagine a more solvent and better run WFL begins play in 1970 – mirroring the rise of the AFL in reality but 10 years later. I’ve kept the look of any real WFL teams in a given city to give us something familiar to hang on to. I’ve assumed the alt-reality WFL puts teams in these real WFL cities – Anaheim, Charlotte, Birmingham, Orlando, Jacksonville, Memphis, New York, San Antonio. All non-NFL markets apart from the two marquee areas of LA and NY.

But what about cities that in real life by 1970 had teams in the AFL or NFL but don’t have them here? Which of these might have been in this alt-WFL? As I said in Part 1, in 1960 Miami had already been identified as a prime candidate for NFL expansion so it is natural that a WFL team would be there, but what would they be called? The Dolphins name was simply pulled out of a hat, so there isn’t much momentum there. Prior to the real-life Dolphins, there was an AAFC team called the Miami Seahawks so here I go with that instead.

In real life the NFL gave a franchise to Atlanta in 1965 (to start in 1966) directly to counter the AFL, so it makes sense Atlanta would also be a choice for the WFL here. The Falcons name came from a name-the-team contest, but unlike the Dolphins, it was chosen by the owner so I stick with it here. I’ve given the helmet more gold than the original as I felt it now more evenly reflects the Georgia/Georgia Tech colours than the actual helmet.

In 1966 in real life, the final pre-merger NFL expansion franchise was awarded to New Orleans to being play in 1967. The circumstances around the choice are mired in the overall merger deal and pacifying certain congressmen.  But it would be odd for the WFL to not put a team in such a large city too so they make it in. The real life Saints are named for the fact that they were created on All-Saints Day, which is quite random. So here I chose name reflecting the musical roots more – the Jazzmen. I also gave them the official Mardi Gras colours of Green, Purple and Gold, but stick with the fleur-de-lys logo.

Finally, what of the other missing cities – Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego? When the real WFL was being planned, there was going to be a team in Boston called the Bulldogs. They merged with the NY Stars before play began, but here I assume they were a WFL team – a local rival to the Stars. The other cities don’t get teams… for now.

So the alt-reality WFL begins play in 1970 with 12 teams in two divisions east and west. It steers clear of NFL markets for the most part to avoid competition for fans and so is south heavy. For the next few years the WFL and NFL compete like the AFL and NFL did in the ‘60s in real life. By 1974 the success of the WFL leads them to look to expand.

Having an effective monopoly on pro football in the south, the WFL now looks to press its advantage and expand in to the gap between the eastern teams and the west coast. They announce teams for Kansas City and Denver to begin play in 1975. Finally stung into action, the NFL retaliates by offering franchises to both potential WFL groups (much like the real NFL did with Dallas and Minnesota in the ‘60s). Both cities announce they accept the NFL offers and the WFL is forced to look elsewhere. They choose San Diego and Phoenix instead, giving more local competition with the Southern Cal Suns who are isolated on the west coast. But what would these four new teams look like? We are now 15 years distant from the split of our branch of alt-history so it’s less likely they would be the same as the teams we know from then.

In real life, the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City was built to house the Chiefs and Royals. Here the Chiefs don’t exist because the Texans never relocated there. In this reality, the group bidding for the KC franchise owns the Royals and are trying to get a franchise for the new football stadium. In a mirror to St. Louis having the football and baseball Cardinals,  the new NFL team is also named the Royals. I have given them a logo based on the Royals new City Connect logo as it has real ‘70s vibes and feels like something that could have been designed back then.

The Denver Broncos were charter members of the AFL and their name was chosen in a name-the-team contest so doesn’t feel inevitable. So here the franchise instead takes the name Rockies and has a look and colours based on the Flag of Denver.

So by 1975, the NFL has grown to 18 teams and no longer has a huge gap between the eastern and western teams. But of course it still has no teams in the south due to the agreement to not expand there. But the WFL has made that moot and because of its success it isn’t going anywhere and the competition is hurting owners more than any possible loss of territorial revenue. Note – to reflect the more modern era, I’ve changed to 70s style helmets from now on.

From 1961 to 2016, the Chargers were San Diego’s team. The name was inspired by owner Barron Hilton’s  charge card (mixed with lightning and horse mixed metaphors) and was very specific to him so it’s unlikely another team would use it. In this alt-reality WFL, the San Diego franchise takes the name Tomcats. There is a strong naval presence (Navy and Marines) and tradition in the area, and in 1974 the F-14 Grumman Tomcat fighter became operational with units based at NAS Miramar north of San Diego. The logo features a grey/black striped cat so the team take those as team colours.

In real life it took until 1988 for an NFL team to arrive in Arizona when the Cardinals relocated there. But by 1975 Phoenix was the 20th most populous city and Sun Devil Stadium had just been expanded to 57k – enough for a pro team. The Flag of Phoenix is unsurprisingly a Phoenix! But calling the team Phoenixes would be too much (although it works for the LA Angels!). A nice synonym is Firebird (and of course the real-life minor league baseball Phoenix Giants changed their name to that in 1986). I’ve gone with copper and shades of red as the team colours as it always seems to go with Arizona based teams.

So by 1975 we have an 14 team WFL (now split into three divisions) that is competing with the NFL in the same was as the AFL did in the 1960s in reality. The alt-reality NFL didn’t learn from its positive experience with expansion in the 1960s and is now paying the price for that. The same circumstances that caused the real AFL and NFL to come to a merger agreement in 1965 in reality would likely be repeated here with the alt-reality WFL and NFL. So that is what I assume happens – the league agrees to merge in 1980. The two new teams adopt a new coloured facemask prototype instead of the standard grey (as the KC Chiefs did in 1974 in reality). With the addition of two new teams using them, the future looking WFL transitions en-masse to using coloured facemasks league wide.

Now we reach 1980 in this alt-reality with a merged NFL-WFL. The league retains the NFL name but incorporates the WFL logo into a new version of the shield. The league has 32 teams – four more than the real NFL had at the time – the same number as we have now. Due to the uneven franchise distribution of the WFL, no attempt to keep them in a separate conference is made and the league sticks with Eastern and Western Conferences, but with four divisions each now. Graphically I’ve followed the observed changes in the real NFL fairly closely but with a few exceptions. In 1975 the whole WFL changed to coloured facemasks and this is adopted by the whole merged league in 1980 (in the same way that names on the backs of uniforms were started by the AFL and copied league wide after the merger in 1980 in real life). Unlike real-life the Giants stick with the “disco” NY because the Stars have NY on their helmet and it would seem like giving up the city to them. The Grizzles, Wings, and Blazers update their helmets, the Blazers because dark blue helmets in Florida is a bad idea!

As the new merged league moves forward into the 1980s, what will happen? There are 32 teams (the same as now) but there are also still quite a few large cities without teams – Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Seattle, Nashville, Oakland, Columbus to name a few. It seems likely that relocation may happen, especially for teams with old/small/empty stadiums and/or owners with itchy feet – Baltimore Colts, San Antonio Wings, Houston Oilers, St. Louis Cardinals, LA Rams, Boston Bulldogs. I look at what might happen going forward in Part 3!

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments, Chris 😊

• • • • •

Thanks, Chris! Another great think piece and looking forward to the forthcoming Part 3! Readers? What do you think?


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 Chris Hickey.

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


Guess the Game from the Scoreboard

Guess The Game…

…From The Scoreboard

Today’s scoreboard comes from ojai67.

The premise of the game (GTGFTS) is simple: I’ll post a scoreboard and you guys simply identify the game depicted. In the past, I don’t know if I’ve ever completely stumped you (some are easier than others).

Here’s the Scoreboard. In the comments below, try to identify the game (date & location, as well as final score). If anything noteworthy occurred during the game, please add that in (and if you were AT the game, well bonus points for you!):

Please continue sending these in! You’re welcome to send me any scoreboard photos (with answers please), and I’ll keep running them.


Uni Tweet of the Day

He’d look much better if the pants were silver/gray


And finally...

…that’s it for today. Like, really it. Anthony is traveling this weekend, so there will be no ticker today. Sorry.

Big thanks, once again, to Chris for another great think piece! Looking forward to Part 3!!!

Everyone have a good Saturday and I’ll catch you back here tomorrow.



Comments (41)

    Fun read! Interesting what if. Even in an alternate universe, there is no breaking up the Pack, Bears, Lions, and Vikings. They are stuck together for as long as there is pro football. I’m a huge fan of the Pack and I despise those other teams, of course. This is my lot in life (which no doubt holds true for all four fan bases). GPG!!! (Go Pack Go)

    Thanks Kevin! Yes the same was true in the other What-If piece did! It would take diverging from reality a lot earlier than 1960 to split them up.

    In this universe, would the Packers be able to stay in Green Bay? Here, the NFL is seeing its strongest competition in the 1970s. By that time, the Packers organization was devolving into a generation of dysfunction and Green Bay was increasingly seen as not appropriate for a modern major league operation. link Milwaukee would have been a prime target for a league trying to upend the NFL, and by this time there would have been no Vince Lombardi to stop it, as he did with the AFL. link Under this scenario, would the WFL have put a team in Milwaukee, or would the NFL owners have forced the Packers to move there? And could a successful WFL team in Milwaukee have put the Packers out of business in Green Bay? Yes, the Lombardi glory years were in recent memory at that time, but if the Milwaukee team were wildly successful on the field, would the Milwaukee fan base have gravitated toward that team instead of a Packers team that was losing and looking increasingly obsolete in the modern era?

    That’s a very good point Scott. I wasn’t aware the Packers franchise had sunk so low. Of course at this time they still played some games at County Stadium in Milwaukee so I could well have had them move there in this Alt-Reality.

    In the 1970s the Green Bay Packers were a laughingstock and seemed poised to adopt Milwaukee as their home.

    Glad there is going to be a Part III to this. I would also love to see an alternate-alternate-reality, where the NFL never faced competition from the various upstart leagues (AAFC, AFC, WFL, USFL).
    Can’t imagine Birmingham is going to hold on to a team while Seattle and Indianapolis get left out…

    GTGFTU: Black Sunday. The blimp is about to crash into the stadium.

    Great article, Chris Diamond. I’ve enjoyed your series so far. I remember when the Cardinals moved to Arizona, I thought they should have rebranded themselves as you’ve imagined the Phoenix team in your alternate “no AFL” reality. The Cardinals name should have been left in St. Louis; it just didn’t match with the city where they relocated to.

    Should the Cardinals have left the name in Chicago, since they were there from the NFL’s *founding* in 1920 (they were there before then) until 1959?

    You make a good point, Phil. I’m biased in my opinion; in this era of sports team relocations, I’ve never liked the mismatches of team names and cities/regions of the country when the team moves to a different place and the nickname just doesn’t seem to fit. LA Lakers, for example.

    Yes, the Cardinals name is associated with the origins of the NFL, but so much of that sentimentality/nostalgia goes out the window when the team picks up and relocates.

    The whole idea of teams (or franchises) relocating is almost unheard of in British Soccer. First of all wherever they went would almost certainly already have a team, even in a lower division. Secondly team identities are so bound up with where they are from that they almost don’t make sense anywhere else. So I’m very much in the “leave identities in place” camp too.

    Today’s GTGFTU: At first I thought Patriots-Titans, Nickerson Field, in the infancy of the AFL. Upon closer scrutiny, it appears that the team in red jerseys are wearing dark helmets, so I’m guessing that team is the permanent resident of Nickerson – Boston University. Not sure who the team sporting the dark blue or black and gold is, though.

    A carefully considered plan again, Chris!
    There’s a lot to process – but I’ll say that I’m not sure I want to live in a world without the Jets, Broncos, Chargers, or Patriots….and there’s probably another UWer who laments the absence of the Philadelphia Bell ; )

    Thanks Chris! Yes it’s very odd with almost all the original AFL teams missing. And it has consequences for places like Oakland who still don’t have a team by 1980. But given the current sad state of major league teams from the area it might be said that Oakland was always hitting above their weight to keep so many teams for so long.

    Oakland had a dress rehearsal for losing the Raiders, but now, in a brief span they stand to lose the NFL, NBA, and MLB. That’s what I call a series of gut punches.

    I agree, how could there not be a Philadelphia Bell? Maybe in this alternate football universe, like that episode of Star Trek where there were two Captain Kirk’s, in this Universe there was a King Corcoran that was coachable and would take any number he was issued and played for the Southern California Sun like he was supposed to in 1975 before the league went under.

    Sep 30, 1956, Busch Stadium #1, formerly Sportsman’s Park before Busch bought the Cards. Last day of the 1956 NL season. MIL 4, STL 2, but Brooklyn clinches the NL with a win over PIT. MIL could’ve forced a NL tie with a win and Brooklyn loss, as Brooklyn entered the day with a 1 game lead.

    GTGFTU: (And this is a true wild guess, plus I’ll just add to this week’s Chris-fest commentary): 9/25/49, Steelers 28, Giants 7. Forbes Field with Kiner’s Korner in the background, Pittsburgh in the pre-1953 single wing, and if I squint really hard at the scoreboard, the Steelers have a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on their way to a 21-0 halftime lead. (Evidence taken from Gridiron Uniform Database and Pro-Football Reference.)

    Chris, don’t move the Oilers out of Houston. Don’t do it to me again buddy! Have mercy on us!

    Well we’ll have to wait and see…. but don’t be too worried. Jimmer Vilk would never forgive me either if this reality lost the Oilers and their unis!

    If you’re putting the Oilers in white helmets, you can lose them.
    Blue helmets or nothing!

    Well, I suppose they could stay even in white helmets.
    Silver would be my second choice, though, after blue.

    GTGFTU – Color vs color! at Forbes Field as the Steelers defeat the Football Giants on opening day 9/25/49.

    Meanwhile a 13 year old Bill Mazeroski was honing his skills in Ohio, having no idea that left-field scoreboard would become such a significant landmark down the road apiece.

    Yes! Sorry Jimmy, this version of the WFL was playing in the Fall so almost all the cities are non-NFL towns. It is a shame as the Bell have such a great helmet design!

    I’m glad the King wasn’t around to see this LOL! I would have told him in this universe, there is no Philadelphia Bell, but there is still a Pottstown Firebirds, and you are leading the ACFL in TD passes.

    Well, it was Lamar Hunt’s team, not Tex Schram’s, so the Texans name makes sense.

    I’d be willing consider that if the NFL franchise had been created first, the Dallas Texans would be the team we love to hate. And Patrick Mahomes would have just won his second Super Bowl with the Kansas City Cowboys.

    I really like these “What-if” stories and have been tinkering with Alt-Reality leagues myself.

    Right now, my lead “What-If” is What if the WFL had gotten its act together and been able to continue competing with the NFL? Bonus: partial merger with the USFL for the 1987 season.

    I had the alt reality brought up to 2022 a couple of times and then gone back and adjusted. I guess that sort of means I’ve gone back and alt-realitied my own alt-reality. But it’s fun as you try to figure out what could be viable and what might go up in flames in real life.

    I’ve also done the WHA and am thinking about doing the ABA.

    One thing to overcome is how to bring a league on the brink of collapse into some sort of solvency without doing something that comes across as a duex ex machina.

    Thanks Scott! Yes these What-Ifs are fun to do, but a lot of work to research to make sure they are credible (like finding the court proceedings of the AFL-NFL lawsuit that gave insight into what the NFL was thinking about expansion pre-1960). I like your WFL partial merger with the USFL idea, not something I had thought of!

    If the USFL had also merged would John Bassett owned the Memphis Southmen and Tampa Bay Bandits?

    That’s avoided in my scenario as someone else owned the Bandits. Also, the Bandits were not part of my merger because I didn’t see the WFL owners wanting to compete head-to-head in Tampa.

    I kept the Bell, though, as they could play at Franklin Field. So the Eagles and Bell go head-to-head in my world.

    The fun part of the WFL creation was the claim that it intended to create overseas franchises, starting with Toronto. Assuming that would have been blocked as it really was in 1974, a better-financed WFL would have looked for Mexico City.

    Now let’s get really ambitious and imagine that a billionaire in London wanted in, and chartered the Concorde to fly teams in and out of Europe. Rosters and staffs were smaller then. Tokyo would then be within reach of the West Coast, aided by a stopover franchise in Honolulu.

    That’s possible, if Tokyo could support a Rollerball franchise in 1975 why not a WFL team too? They could have had both teams train at the same facility to save some money and the WFL team could have had black and gold uniforms just like the Rollerball team did. Like you said,
    the WFL wanted to have teams overseas, but I guess that would have been hard since some owners couldn’t afford their dry-cleaning bills for the uniforms.

    I’m really enjoying this series! I’m getting the feeling that Florida is getting over saturated, I’m sensing a move for the Sharks coming up.

    Would the alt-WFL be able to secure a network TV contract to enable its survival?

    I’m of 2 minds. On the one hand, even though the southern and southwestern cities were quickly growing, the new league had no major, mature markets outside of New York, Boston, and LA.

    However, and this depends on the timing of when Monday Night Football starts, ABC was a distant third in ratings and likely would have been willing to take a flyer.

    Good question in any scenario. And that was one of the things that I had to deal with in my version of the Alt-WFL.

    I started with a syndicated “WFL Network” that included Superstations at the time such as Ted Turner’s WTCG, WPIX, WGN, KWGN, KTLA and the like. Those were all independent stations at the time and that helps fill in markets where over-the-air coverage would have been lacking. KSHB in Kansas City was a sort of regional superstation around this time. It just had a smaller footprint.

    Then ESPN comes along. Then a fledgling network called Fox. Without cable TV, I don’t think I could have made it work.

    Hmm. Still think they need a network contract. Cable’s household penetration wasn’t as high in 1970 as in the 80s onward. ESPN started in 1979 and took a few years to grow into the paradigm-shifting behemoth it became. For the Alt-WFL, that’s a long time to operate on a shoestring.

    More uni-related, love expanding the use of Georgia Tech gold beyond the Falcons’ helmet stripes. Wonder if the Niners would’ve been so quick to emphasize black in the mid-90s if Atlanta already claimed red/black/gold? Maybe covered in Parts III or IV?

    Please keep up the great, engaging work!

    Great what if scenario with very imaginative team concepts, like the Phoenix Firebirds or the San Diego Tomcats. Love it. Looking forward to the sequence(s).

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