Four footballs bearing the stamp " AFL" on their pebbled hides will be teed up and booted hopefully into the air this weekend on the 40-yard lines of four stadiums spread over the width of the land. When they come down—and this is the only sure thing on the program-professional sport's most ambitious new venture, the American Football League, will be under way.
In anticipation of the historic moment, those responsible would like to make a few things clear:
1) The AFL will not fold before the 1960 season is out.
2) The AFL will perform on a level with the National Football League within three years; within five it will challenge the NFL to a postseason game for the world championship.
Less emphatically, the spokesmen also admit:
1) No, the Boston Patriots cannot beat the Baltimore Colts. Nor can the Los Angeles Chargers, the Dallas Texans, the Houston Oilers, the Buffalo Bills, the Oakland Raiders, the New York Titans or the Denver Broncos. Nor, for that matter, can the New York Giants, the Cleveland Browns or the Chicago Bears, who have been trying for years, so why do people keep asking silly questions?
2) The AFL expects to lose money for three years.
Fortunately, the men who own teams in the new American Football League have a lot of money—transportation money, oil money, hotel money, construction money, all kinds of money—and they seem to enjoy spending it. The cost of fielding each AFL team this season will be approximately $1 million, and the owners know they are going to lose some of that. They are prepared to do so. Each team, in addition to financing its operation, has deposited a $100,000 performance bond with the league office, to be forfeited if the club should drop out.
"We don't expect to collect a single forfeit," says League President Lamar Hunt, who wouldn't know what to do with another $100,000 if someone gave it to him. "We could have had 50 teams operating on a wildcat basis; we picked eight instead that were prepared to see this thing through."
To see this thing through, the American Football League has proceeded in a most businesslike way. The front-office staffs are experienced, almost to a man, in the operation of either American or Canadian professional football. The league commissioner is Joe Foss, who would still look like the lean, bearded hero of the Solomons if he would reduce a little and cease to shave. As a former governor of South Dakota, Foss retains political connections in Washington which have already come in handy in challenging the grip of the NFL. He also retains enough of the old Marine spirit to have slapped $2,000 fines on Hunt, the man who hired him, and Barron Hilton of Los Angeles because their teams started practice a few days early.