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Robert H. Boyle
November 12, 1962
Pro football's new league confounds its doubters. Better teams, bigger crowds and fancy play now add up to a successful future for the AFL
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November 12, 1962

The Underdogs Have Made It

Pro football's new league confounds its doubters. Better teams, bigger crowds and fancy play now add up to a successful future for the AFL

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The Denver Broncos are also doing well. Last season they were about as welcome in Denver as a blizzard. Their average attendance was only 11,000. This season they have averaged about 27,000 per game. The difference can be attributed to the activities of the club's new president, Cal Kunz, and Jack Faulkner, the new general manager and coach. Faulkner (SI, Oct. 22) has revamped the whole operation, from office decor to pass patterns. " Denver," says Correspondent Bob Bowie, "has clasped the Broncos to its bosom this year. Denverites, who never before mentioned the team, are talking Broncos. Better still, they are buying tickets. If you are looking for a success story, the Broncos are it."

But so are Houston's Oilers. Financial losers in their two championship years, they will probably lose their title, yet make some money. "The progress of the league has been amazing," says Bud Adams. "Take our operation. Last year we sold 6,700 season tickets. This year our goal was 9,000. But we sold 11,073, a 40% increase in a year. In 1960 we lost $420,000. We cut this to a $200,000 loss in 1961. This year we expect to make $50,000. That's tremendous progress."

Adams now sees no chance of peace or amalgamation with the NFL.

"They realize we've gotten into their candy jar and taken some of the gum-drops out," he says. "They had a dandy little monopoly going. We broke it up, and they didn't like it."

Even the Boston Patriots are into the profit gumdrops, one of the greatest tributes to perseverance since Plymouth Rock. The Pats are not only leading the Eastern Division, they are tops for front-office guile, a necessity for a team that began on a shoestring, and has run on one since. But nothing deters Team President Sullivan, onetime press agent for Boston College, Notre Dame, Navy and the late Boston Braves. Despite the Red Sox in baseball, the Bruins in hockey and the Celtics in basketball, the Pats monopolize a goodly portion of the sports pages from mid-June, when they hold tryouts, to early December. The Boston Chamber of Commerce hustles Patriot tickets all over town, but does next to nothing for the other pro teams. Recently Walter Brown, president of the Celtics and Bruins, got so miffed when a bundle of Pat propaganda arrived in his office that he wrote an angry letter to the Chamber complaining it hadn't done much to "promote Boston's other professional teams, who have been here anywhere from 60 to 16 years."

Solidly "in" with Mayor John Collins, Sullivan used the mayor to line up Harvard's sacred stadium for this year's opener with Houston—on the grounds that the game would "promote the new Boston." A crowd of more than 32,000 showed up, and although Sullivan would have dearly loved to play the whole season there, Harvard President Nathan Pusey was against it. Barred from the Red Sox' Fenway Park, Sullivan retreated again to Boston University field with its 24,000 capacity and unspeakable parking problems. (Just in case Harvard might want to reconsider, however, Sullivan can hope for help from Forrester Clark, a onetime Harvard polo player and a man close to university authorities who, providently, has been appointed to the Patriot board of directors.)

As machinations now stand, Sullivan may not need to infiltrate Harvard. His latest coup has been to get the Massachusetts legislature to pass a bill for a $50 million stadium to be financed by a private bond issue. Sullivan's lobbying for this was worthy of The Last Hurrah. One of those helping him was Mon-signor George Kerr, former All-America guard at Boston College, confidant of Cardinal Cushing and, just coincidentally, State House chaplain. There are some Bostonians who claim they can't decide which is the more surprising: the stadium bill or the fact that the Pats have drawn about 110,000 in five home games. But both questions emphasize the unexpected success of this AFL team.

San Diego and Dallas find themselves in the trying situation of having basically sound franchises, yet trouble with outside problems is changing the hue of their future from rosy to very pale pink. The economy of the San Diego area—resting heavily on the aircraft industry—is weak. Such a town is tough on losers. Unfortunately for Barron Hilton and his Chargers, who took the Western Division championship the last two years, the team has suffered injury after injury and just can't win again. The club has good press support, a lot of crippled veterans and a few so-so rookies. Hard-pressed fans are not going to spend $3 to sit on a concrete seat and watch the local boys lose. But the Chargers seem to have a future in San Diego. Hilton this week is considering selling controlling interest in the team to a local group that would almost surely keep it there.

In Dallas, Lamar Hunt's Texans have little trouble winning, but they have a definite problem competing with the Cowboys, Clint Murchison Jr.'s NFL team. "It is," says Correspondent Wes Wise, "a foregone conclusion that, until one of them leaves, only one—the team that is winning—can possibly make money. Today both are playing winning and interesting football, though neither is drawing well." But the Texans may make the AFL championship game. If they do, that could give them an edge on the Cowboys. Dallas is wait-and-see, with the emphasis on wait.

The Oakland Raiders face a far more desperate situation. Playing in the shadow of the San Francisco 49ers, the Raiders have drawn next to no one. The latest club formed, they got last choice at the players, and they have been hobbled from the beginning. Last year the Raiders played in San Francisco's Candlestick Park, where their best draw was 8,000 fans. This year they moved "home" to Frank Youell Field in Oakland, where they opened to an announced crowd of 17,500 that turned out to be 11,000 paid. Since then the crowds, announced and otherwise, have steadily declined. An announced 9,000 watched their last home game. The paid was really about 6,000. AFL owners, embarrassed by the meager Raider gates, are openly talking of shifting the franchise, but Wayne Valley, a Raider co-owner who was in New York last week for a game with the Titans, said, "I know of no background for those stories." Still, there is a strong movement to transfer the team to New Orleans or Atlanta. It is significant that, if Valley and his partners want to sell out, they apparently can recoup their losses.

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