Books

Review: The Other League by Jack Horrigan and Mike Rathet

The Other League (Follett Publishing, 1970)
Jack Horrigan and Mike Rathet
Out of print – available secondhand

The NFL has faced numerous challengers during its lifetime, so many in fact that the American Football League (AFL) that played between 1960 and 1969 was the fourth professional football league to bear that name. It was also, by far, the NFL’s most successful challenger.

Started by Lamar Hunt, who had been rejected by the NFL when he tried to buy a franchise, the AFL fielded eight teams in 1960, its inaugural season. The owners dubbed themselves “The Foolish Club” for taking on the NFL but, though some of the teams struggled early on, the upstart league eventually began to succeed.

AFL teams were unafraid to outbid NFL clubs for players, which meant that some top talent went to the new league earning big money for the time. The NFL was forced to pay more to compete. On the field the AFL played an exciting brand of football that emphasised passing, colour and excitement – a contrast to the NFL, which favoured a traditional, run-heavy game that could often appear dour.

By the time the AFL expanded in the late 1960s, adding two more teams, the NFL had already agreed to a merger, having tired of escalating player wages. The old NFL became the NFC, and the core of the AFC was formed of the AFL franchises – the Boston (now New England) Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs), Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, New York Titans (now the Jets) and Oakland Raiders. To make the conferences even, the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers also moved to the AFC.

As well as adopting its teams, the NFL also took several ideas from its new partner. Player names on jerseys, having the stadium clock show the official game time, and evenly sharing TV revenue were all AFL innovations. More than that, the AFL arguably ate the NFL from the inside. The modern NFL plays like an evolution of the AFL, rather than the playing style favoured by the old NFL. Finally, without the merger, we might never have had the Super Bowl.

It was an eventful decade, then. The Other League, published in 1970, serves as a handsome memorial to that period. Written by Jack Horrigan, formerly of the Bills, and Associated Press journalist Mike Rathet, it’s unashamedly a coffee table book, offering snapshots of the 10 best AFL games, the all-time best squad, and so on. It bears a striking resemblance to the NFL’s First 50 Years, published the year before, so it’s no surprise to find that this book was also handled by NFL Properties.

It’s a good demonstration of the NFL’s growing confidence in self-publicity. It’s beautifully laid out, with some great early-70s graphic design and wonderful photography. And, like The First 50 Years, it offers some truly informative text. The opening chapters on the formation of the league and its approach to the game are concise and full of good anecdotes, such as the fact that early New York Titans owner Harry Wismer used to sell tickets from his apartment.

At the end of the book is an exhaustive timeline of the AFL, together with the complete record book for the league. If you want a good overview of the AFL, and one that’s a real pleasure to read, then this is a great choice.

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