CHFF on AFL (cont.)
The tired argument
So those who choose to ignore the facts and insist on adhering to conventional wisdom will draw this conclusion from the numbers:
"AFL passers did throw the ball more often and they took more high-risk chances by throwing the ball downfield more often -- that's why they had lower completion percentages and threw more interceptions. The AFL, in other words, did offer a more exciting, more wide-open brand of football."
But those who adhere to this conventional wisdom are, once again, wrong.
We can measure the downfield efforts of each league by looking at Yards Per Completion -- in this area, the findings are relatively inconclusive.
NFL passers averaged more yards per completion in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1965.
So, clearly, the trend went from more YPC for NFL teams early in the decade to more YPC for AFL teams later in the decade. But the numbers differed drastically only in 1966 -- when NFL teams averaged 13.4 YPC and AFL teams averaged 14.7 YPC. So the AFL definitely threw downfield more often in 1966, feeding the myth in one way. But, in most other years, the downfield passing efforts resulted in a statistical dead heat.
But here's the really interesting part: Even as the AFL began completing longer passers, all other factors continued to favor the old league, as NFL passers continued to beat their AFL counterparts in every other category almost every year of the decade. Let's put it this way:
NFL passers were more accurate and more productive in the years in which AFLers threw more long, high-risk passes, and
Passing short or passing long, NFL quarterbacks passed the ball better year after year.
A watershed season
One year leaps right off the chart on the previous page -- a year in which NFL passers just wiped the floor with their AFL counterparts: 1965.
NFL passers dominated every single passing category that year, including completion percentage (51.2 to 45.3), yards per attempt (7.5 to 6.4), yards per completion (14.6 to 14.0), TD-to-INTs (22-20 to 20-25) and passer rating (73.5 to 58.0)
In other words, in 1965, NFL passers were producing at a rate so prolific that we would not see it again until the 1980s and the dawn of the Live Ball Era, when league-wide passer ratings hovered around the mid-70s. AFL passers in 1965, meanwhile, were producing at a level the NFL had witnessed back in the rough-and-tumble 1950s.
The 1965 season is important for another reason: it's the last year before the Super Bowl Era, which begin with the 1966 season.
No wonder the NFL looked down upon the AFL as an inferior league at the time it accepted the championship-game challenge. The AFL was an inferior league. The fact the NFL even agreed to a championship game can be seen as little more than a charitable effort considering the low quality of offensive football in the "wide open" AFL.
(It should be noted the AFL certainly proved it could compete by the end of the 1969 season, after the Jets and Chiefs humiliated two of the most dominant teams in NFL history, the 1968 Colts and 1969 Vikings, in Super Bowls III and IV, respectively.)
The poster child of the AFL myth
If the AFL has a poster child, it's Joe Namath. He was the brash, new-age, highly hyped gunslinger of a quarterback who, conveniently enough, joined the AFL in that very same watershed 1965 season. He's certainly the most famous player to come out of the AFL.
There is really no better personification of the myth of the AFL, too. As loyal Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know, Namath generated plenty of buzz, but little actual production. He is, in fact, the most overrated quarterback in pro football history.
Namath, like most of his AFL QB counterparts, rarely completed 50 percent of his passes (50.1 for his career). He rarely threw more TDs than INTs (173 career TDs vs. 220 career INTs). And he rarely passed the ball efficiently: As we noted last summer, his career passer rating of 65.5 stood just 133rd among the 150 qualifying quarterbacks in all of NFL history (as of last year's report). No matter how you measure it, Namath was not a particularly good quarterback.
Instead, Namath was just a guy who threw the ball a lot ... and often threw it into the dirt or into the arms of the opposition. In other words, he's the perfect poster child for the AFL.
Like the league, Namath's reputation was never supported by actual production.
Triumph over the myth
AFL teams and quarterbacks like Namath might have thrown the ball more often than the passers in the NFL. And, in certain years, they might have taken more chances downfield.
But the truth is, mostly, they just passed the ball poorly: AFL quarterbacks threw more balls into the dirt, they threw more balls into the hands of the opposition, and they threw with far less accuracy and far less efficiency than NFL passers. To put it more simply: NFL quarterbacks were much better than their AFL counterparts, and better in every imaginable objective indicator.
So, sure, the conventional wisdom crowd will continue to insist the AFL offered a more "wide open" and "exciting" brand of football.
But we know, and now you know, the AFL for what it really offered: just plain bad quarterbacking.
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