The peace talks that led to agreement between the National Football League and the American began and ended near a statue of a Texas Ranger at the Love Field airport in Dallas, Texas. They started on April 6 of this year, when Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the founders of the American Football League, interrupted a trip from Kansas City to Houston to meet me at the Dallas airport. I was waiting for him as inconspicuously as possible in the shadow of the Ranger's statue; at this point we did not want to be seen together.
A little over two months later we got off a plane from Washington together and parted at the statue of the Ranger. The deal between the two leagues had been completed after difficult negotiation, and Lamar looked up at the statue and said, "Here we are back at the Ranger again, but it doesn't make any difference if anyone sees us or not this time."
There has been considerable speculation on what finally brought about a peace. Some think that when the Giants signed Pete Gogolak, the Buffalo kicker, and the AFL began to retaliate, the two leagues ran for cover to avoid spending money. Some people think that this happened because of the Roman Gabriel case on the Coast or the John Brodie case in Houston. But the negotiations were well under way before Gogolak was signed or Gabriel was approached by Oakland or John Brodie, the San Francisco quarterback, visited Houston. In fact, the Gogolak, Gabriel and Brodie cases were stumbling blocks to negotiation.
There had been serious discussion between individual owners in the two leagues for two or three years. You would hear that Sonny Werblin of New York had been talking to Carroll Rosenbloom of Baltimore or that Ralph Wilson of Buffalo had discussed peace with Art Modell. A certain amount of ground work had been laid before my meeting with Lamar in Dallas.
I had always thought that if a proper plan could be worked out, peace was feasible. Sometime late in February, in a telephone conversation I had with Dan Reeves, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, we explored the possibilities of a deal and tried to figure out what might be the essentials acceptable to the NFL owners. After talking it over with Dan, I called Pete Rozelle.
Pete and I decided that we should keep the early stages of a peace plan limited to the people most directly involved—Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Lou Spadia of the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL owners in two-team cities—until it was developed further. We felt that if the NFL could come up with an acceptable plan that was good for the sport, it could then be presented to the American Football League. If they liked it, fine. If not, we could settle down to an all-out war. At the moment we were half fighting and half making love. We wanted the decks cleared.
Pete and I outlined a plan to Mara in a telephone conversation in early March; it was, in rough outline, the same plan that was eventually accepted by both leagues. Wellington was something less than enthusiastic, but he said that if the basics of the plan were strong enough so that the rest of the owners accepted it, the special New York problems could probably be solved.
Then I flew out to San Francisco to try to convince Lou Spadia that a deal could work. Lou's problem in San Francisco was a tough one. New York had shown that it was feasible for two pro clubs to exist in that city, since the Giants were sold out on season tickets and the Jets had a healthy season-ticket sale of their own. San Francisco, on the other hand, is not as big as New York and past history had raised some questions about the success of a two-team market. Lou met me at the airport, and we drove to Palo Alto for lunch.
Lou pointed out, reasonably enough, that he did not mind competing with the Oakland Raiders in San Francisco as long as they were in the AFL and he was in the NFL with exclusive use of NFL teams as opponents. He was not so sure that two NFL clubs could succeed in that area. He pointed out that San Francisco proper is an area bounded on three sides by water, with very little room for growth. The 49ers played in San Francisco's 41-year-old Kezar; the Raiders played in Oakland across the Bay and the growth area in northern California was there.
I had arrived at the airport at 11 in the morning, and Lou took me back at 5 in the afternoon. After six hours of discussion Lou was, to put it mildly, still not enthusiastic. But he understood what we were trying to do, and he agreed not to put any stumbling blocks in our way.