All-America Football Conference - Competition


The AAFC posed a formidable challenge. In most interleague sports wars, the established league has major advantages over the challenger in prestige, finance, size, and public awareness. The NFL-AAFC war differed in several respects.

The NFL was just emerging from its wartime retrenchment. The Cleveland Rams had suspended operations for 1943, and on three occasions teams merged for a season. The Boston Yanks had played only one season as an independent entity.

Meanwhile, the AAFC had advantages not enjoyed by many challengers:

  • The AAFC was founded by a key figure at a major newspaper, so it enjoyed ample attention in the press.
  • The AAFC owners (dubbed "the millionaires' coffee klatch") were wealthier than their NFL counterparts. Among them were Cleveland’s Arthur B "Mickey" McBride (a real estate and taxi magnate), San Francisco’s Anthony Morabito (lumber), Chicago’s John L. Keeshin (trucking), and Los Angeles’ group of racetrack owner Benjamin Lindheimer, actor Don Ameche and MGM's Louis B. Mayer. The NFL owners were generally men whose primary assets were their teams.
  • Peace produced a surplus of talent and an opening for a new league, as many pro and college players (some of whom had played on military teams) returned to civilian life. Many college-eligible players were signable despite longstanding tradition because their original classes had graduated. The AAFC took its share: its 1946 rosters included 40 of the 66 College All-Stars, two recent Heisman Trophy winners (Frank Sinkwich and Angelo Bertelli), and more than 100 players with NFL experience.
  • Air travel was now viable. Like Major League Baseball, all NFL teams still played in the Northeast and Midwest, but the AAFC seized the opportunity to place teams in open cities in Florida and California.

Yet it remained to be seen if there was a market for this much pro football. Since achieving stability in the early 1930s, the NFL had never fielded more than 10 teams. No competitor had endured for more than two years. In 1946, there would be 18 teams, including three in Chicago, three in New York, and two in Los Angeles.

Baseball and college football were substantially more popular. Longtime NFL president Joe Carr had said, "No owner has made money from pro football, but a lot have gone broke thinking they could." At a time when the World Series had long been a national institution, and the Rose Bowl drew crowds of 90,000, the NFL's title game typically drew about 35,000 fans. Most pro teams shared stadiums (and sometimes names) with the local baseball team, and both leagues saw fit to choose college football legends as their commissioners.

There was even a sense that collegians could defeat pros. 1946 saw the famous Army-Notre Dame scoreless tie in Yankee Stadium. At season's end, Arch Ward (the AAFC founder) opined that both teams were superior to either pro champion.

It was in this landscape that the AAFC prepared to compete with the NFL.

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