After a year of bickering, bragging and ballyhoo, the American Football League opened for business last week as a full-fledged professional enterprise. Or was it? In four games—at Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco—attendance was disappointing, and the play, while sometimes exciting, was often ragged. This was so even by AFL standards, which are supposed to draw level with National Football League play within the next three years.
For the most part, NFL and Canadian League veterans dominated the games. "In the NFL there are no weak spots," said Titan Tackle Sid Youngelman, who played six sea-sons in the NFL. "Here, while you don't relax, you are better able to pace yourself." As someone else at the Titans' game in New York observed, it was like watching two All-Star teams. The play, he conceded, is bound to improve with time.
The first game in AFL history was played in Boston, where the Patriots went against the Denver Broncos. Boston was a 16-point favorite, and everything was in readiness for another Boston massacre: Boston University Field was decked in red, white and blue, ushers wore tri-cornered hats and scarlet jackets, and a horseman played Paul Revere. As 21,597 fans sat in eager anticipation, Joe Foss, the new league's commissioner, enthused. "Wonderful crowd," he said.
Unfortunately, the crowd didn't find the Patriots so wonderful. Denver led 7-3 at the half, thanks to a 59-yard pass from Frank Tripucka to Al Carmichael, and in the third period Denver's Gene Mingo made it 13-3 on a 76-yard punt return. Boston drew to within three points on Tommy Greene's 10-yarder to Jim Col-clough, then threatened to go ahead, only to suffer a choking interception deep in Denver territory.
After the game, Joe Foss jetted to Los Angeles to see the Chargers play the Dallas Texans. The game was a thriller and an artistic success, but the Coliseum crowd was a flop—a mere 17,724 in a city where 30,000 are needed to break even.
The Texans, led by Quarterback Cotton Davidson, had a 20-7 lead going into the final period, but then Charger Quarterback Jack Kemp, formerly understudy to Bobby Layne at Pittsburgh, took charge. He made it 13-20 on a seven-yard run, later 20-20 on a four-yard pass to Howie Ferguson. Ben Agajanian, still accurate at 41, came in to kick his third extra point for the win.
The New York opening ran into bad weather, and the Titans and the Buffalo Bills played to only 9,700 paid customers at the Polo Grounds.
The Titans won 27-3 on the fine quarterbacking of Al Dorow and the receiving of Don Maynard and Art Powell, recently cut by Philadelphia. In the dressing room, Coach Sammy Baugh credited the Titans' growing improvement to Powell and 13 other players added in the last three weeks. "We had a poor football team when we left training camp," said Baugh, a frank man. "Right now we've got a very ordinary team." Was that by NFL or AFL standards, he was asked. "By this league's standards, a pretty good team," he replied.
Joe Foss spent Sunday in San Francisco seeing the Oakland Raiders play the Houston Oilers. Here again veterans took charge. Oiler Quarterback George Blanda, who put in 10 years with the Chicago Bears, overcame an Oakland third-quarter lead of 7-14. He threw a total of four touchdown passes, kicked four conversions and one field goal as Houston won 37-22. The crowd of 12,703 was all but lost in Kezar Stadium. "Of course it wasn't an exceptional attendance," Foss said, "but it really wasn't too bad. We recognize it's going to be a long pull, but we're here to stay."