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The AFL, on the other hand, offered opportunity. In preparation for its first draft in November 1959, the league scoured small schools and found future stars such as Elbert Dubenion (Bluffton College) and Abner Haynes (North Texas State). Chiefs scout Lloyd Wells worked the black schools, and by 1966 eight of Kansas City's 22 starters were African-American—four of them from historically black schools. In the '67 draft the Chiefs took Notre Dame middle linebacker Jim Lynch (who was white) with the 47th pick and Lanier three spots later. In camp that summer coach Hank Stram told the two that the best player would win the starting job. "I wondered if there was going to be an open competition," says Lanier, "but from the start, it was refreshing to see there was a purity about the competition. One day Hank called us in and said he wanted the best guys on the field, and I was going to be the middle linebacker and Jim was going to play outside."
That season Lanier become pro football's first black starting middle linebacker. A year later the Denver Broncos' Marlin Briscoe was the first black starting quarterback in the modern era.
"Imagine if there had been no AFL and no Kansas City Chiefs," says Lanier, 63. "Maybe I have to wait five years for my chance [to play in the NFL], for the chance to play middle linebacker. And five years in football is an eternity." Lanier was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
Official program photos for Super Bowl IV, in January 1970—the last before the NFL-AFL merger—show Kansas City with 19 black players; the Minnesota Vikings, 10. Of the six future Hall of Fame players on the Chiefs, four were black (Lanier, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan and Emmitt Thomas). Before he died in 2006, Hunt said that the Chiefs "never pretended we made a conscious effort to open things up [racially]. We made a conscious effort to go out and find the best players anywhere that we could."
Buffalo Bills 1963--66, Oakland Raiders 1967--74
THE LONGBALL philosophy of the Raiders was the perfect fit for this rifle-armed passer, who had a .794 winning percentage as a starting quarterback in the pros (still second all time to Otto Graham's .814) and became known as the Mad Bomber. "We were always in attack mode," says Lamonica. After he retired, Lamonica, who turns 68 this month, ran a trucking firm in Alaska and hosted a fishing show on Fox. These days the onetime Notre Damer makes his home in California's San Joaquin Valley and enjoys fishing (bass, primarily) and hunting (from pheasant to Russian boar) rather than preying on secondaries. "I have a passion for the mountains," he says, "and I think I've shot everything in North America except the polar bear."
Two-time AFL MVP > Three AFL championships
The AFL let it all hang out
While autocrats such as George Halas and Vince Lombardi ruled NFL teams, the new league championed individuality. In its first year, seven of the eight AFL teams put players' names on the back of the jerseys. (The NFL didn't do so until 1970.) And AFL players were allowed to grow their hair long, even if a few fans complained. "I got letters from back home [in Mississippi] telling me I'd burn in hell because my hair was coming out of my helmet maybe two or three inches," Alworth says.