"Next year," points out Hilton, who owns 50% of the Los Angeles stock, "our operating expenses will go down. Teams which have had to pay for the expansion of stadiums will not be faced with that again. We can carry much smaller preseason squads, since by then we will have a solid basis upon which to build; this year everyone had to look at all the football players he could get in order to find enough good ones. We won't have to furnish and equip offices, as we have had to do this year. And our attendance should rise. In three years we'll be operating in the black."
Whether or not the AFL approaches NFL quality on the playing field—and there are many who feel that only the expert will be able to distinguish any real difference—is not as important as whether the new league achieves a measure of balance within its own organization. Imbalance, as much as anything else, killed the All-America Conference; there was the unbeaten Cleveland Brown juggernaut at one end of the ladder, pursued more or less closely by the San Francisco 49ers, and such ragged have-nots as the Chicago Rockets and Miami Seahawks at the other.
The AFL owners are determined not to repeat this folly. They know there will be strong teams and weak teams. Superior coaching, more astute front-office management, sharper scouting and the luck of the draw invariably permit one group to rise above another. It will take a spirit of cooperation unheard of in professional sports to insure equality, within reasonable bounds, on the playing field, but the AFL has at least made a start. Gate receipts will be split 60-40, a big advantage to the weaker clubs. Oakland, last team to join the league, has been promised first choice of NFL rejects when the rival league cuts its squads. Trades, which were more like gifts, sent quarterbacks to the needy from teams overloaded with quarterbacks. Still, the men in charge of the AFL are human, too, and it would take less than a cynic to wonder how long this miracle of self-sacrifice can last. As Sid Gillman says, "Sure, we want the AFL to be balanced—but we prefer it balanced in our favor." And this theory of selfless devotion to a common cause would be more convincing if Denver should suddenly win a few games.
If the AFL actually succeeds in abolishing the weak links, then Houston, Boston, Buffalo, even Denver, face relatively few problems. The spectators are there—2,500 once turned out for an intrasquad scrimmage at Buffalo, while last weekend at Dallas a mob of 51,000 turned out to see the Texans beat Houston in a charity exhibition game, 24-3. It is in the cities where AFL teams will directly buck the NFL that the real test will come.
In Los Angeles, where the pro football appetite seems insatiable, the Rams have been unimpressive in recent seasons, even less impressive in 1960 exhibition games, and the strong young Chargers could well steal some of their followers. New York loves the Giants, but simple football hunger, abetted by curiosity and the desire to see someone play when the Giants are sold out—or on the road—could keep the Titans going until Harry Wismer and Sammy Baugh build up a team. New York is too good a market, particularly for television, for the AFL to permit a loser there.
The biggest test
But in a way the most crucial city is Dallas. It is there, in a city barely big enough to support one pro team in addition to SMU, that the AFL must prove its ability to produce good professional football entertainment under the most critical gaze. While the Dallas Texans have looked very good, so have the new Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. The Texans should have a winning season; the Cowboys probably will have a losing one, but only at the hands of such box-office wizards as Johnny Unitas, Bobby Layne and Frank Gifford. It is a tough nut to crack, and the AFL is fortunate that in Dallas they have the man to crack it—Lamar Hunt.
In his quiet, modest way Hunt is perhaps the strongest—as well as richest—of the men who have organized the American Football League. He has a tough, probing intellect, unquestioned integrity and a great deal of native stubborness. "I don't know much about this football business," says a Dallas man, "but I know the Hunts. And I can tell you that if the AFL folds, the last man standing will be Lamar Hunt."
When informed that one of the old-line NFL club owners had predicted the AFL would last "just as long as that Texas oil money holds out," Hunt smiled and said, "I hope he doesn't hold his breath until we go broke."