The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) was a professional American football league that challenged the established National Football League (NFL) from 1946 to 1949. One of the NFL's most formidable challengers, the AAFC attracted many of the nation's best players, and introduced many lasting innovations to the game. However, the AAFC was ultimately unable to sustain itself in competition with the NFL. After its folding, three of its teams were admitted to the NFL: the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the original Baltimore Colts (not to be confused with the later Baltimore Colts team, now the Indianapolis Colts).
The AAFC was the second American professional football league (the first being the third American Football League of 1940–1941) to have its teams play in a double round robin format in the regular season: each team had a home game and an away game with each of the other AAFC teams.
The Cleveland Browns were the AAFC's most successful club, winning every annual championship in the league's four years of operation.
|All-America Football Conference|
|No. of teams||8|
|Cleveland Browns (4)|
Ward brought together a number of wealthy pro football enthusiasts, some of whom had previously attempted to purchase NFL franchises. Ward had previously encouraged the NFL to expand, but now he hoped to bring about a permanent second league and a championship game with the NFL, similar to baseball's World Series.
On November 21, 1944, the AAFC chose Jim Crowley, one of the "Four Horsemen of Notre Dame", as its commissioner. Not coincidentally, the NFL commissioner at this time was Elmer Layden, another of Knute Rockne's legendary 1924 " Fighting Irish" backfield at the University of Notre Dame.
During the next months, the AAFC's plans solidified. The league initially issued franchises for Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Brooklyn and Miami were later added. A group representing Baltimore was considered for admission, but could not secure use of Baltimore's stadium. The league planned to begin to play in 1945, but postponed its opening for a year as World War II continued.
As the eight franchises built their teams, no move was more far-reaching than Cleveland's choice of Paul Brown as its head coach. Brown had won six Ohio state championships in nine years at Massillon High School and the 1942 national championship at Ohio State, and had also coached successfully at the military's Naval Station Great Lakes. As coach of the new Cleveland franchise, Brown would become one of American football's greatest innovators and eventually have the team later named for him.
As might be expected, the NFL did not welcome its new rival. In 1945, Layden remarked that the AAFC, still a year from its first game, should "first get a ball, then make a schedule, and then play a game". This insult, often paraphrased as "Tell them to get a ball first", would be long remembered.
Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was perhaps the NFL's hardest-liner regarding the AAFC. In 1945, he commented "I did not realize there was another league, although I did receive some literature telling about a WPA project". Later he declared, "The worst team in our league could beat the best team in theirs." After the AAFC put a team in Baltimore, Marshall's opposition to it would be a major obstacle to interleague peace. Not coincidentally, his team was badly hurt by the AAFC. A top team from 1936 to 1945, the Redskins began a decades-long title drought after coach Ray Flaherty and many key players defected in 1946.
Layden's successor, Bert Bell, pursued a policy of official non-recognition, generally answering "no comment" to queries about the other league. In 1947, Pro Football Illustrated previewed both leagues in its annual publication and was banned from NFL stadiums.
The AAFC posed a formidable challenge. In most interleague sports wars, the established league has major advantages over the challenger in prestige, finance, size, and public awareness. The NFL-AAFC war differed in several respects.
The NFL was just emerging from its wartime retrenchment. The Cleveland Rams had suspended operations for 1943, and on three occasions teams merged for a season. The Boston Yanks had played only one season as an independent entity.
Meanwhile, the AAFC had advantages not enjoyed by many challengers:
Yet it remained to be seen if there was a market for this much pro football. Since achieving stability in the early 1930s, the NFL had never fielded more than 10 teams. No competitor had endured for more than two years. In 1946, there would be 18 teams, including three in Chicago, three in New York, and two in Los Angeles.
Baseball and college football were substantially more popular. Longtime NFL president Joe Carr had said, "No owner has made money from pro football, but a lot have gone broke thinking they could." At a time when the World Series had long been a national institution, and the Rose Bowl drew crowds of 90,000, the NFL's title game typically drew about 35,000 fans. Most pro teams shared stadiums (and sometimes names) with the local baseball team, and both leagues saw fit to choose college football legends as their commissioners.
There was even a sense that collegians could defeat pros. 1946 saw the famous Army–Notre Dame scoreless tie in Yankee Stadium. At season's end, Arch Ward (the AAFC founder) opined that both teams were superior to either pro champion.
It was in this landscape that the AAFC prepared to compete with the NFL.
Dan Topping, owner of the NFL's Brooklyn Tigers, wished to move his team from Ebbets Field to the much larger Yankee Stadium. New York Giants owner Tim Mara used his territorial rights to block the move. He had good reason: the Yankees had displaced the Giants as New York's premier baseball team after moving into The House That Ruth Built, three rival football leagues had planted teams there hoping to duplicate that feat, and Topping (of Anaconda Copper) was significantly wealthier than Mara.
Topping responded by buying into the baseball Yankees and transferring his club to the AAFC. Most of his players followed. His renamed New York Yankees were rewarded with $100,000 from each of the other seven AAFC teams while the AAFC's initial New York investor withdrew. (Note that the AAFC Brooklyn Dodgers were a separate entity never associated with Topping's team.)
Shortly after Topping defected, the NFL owners fired Commissioner Layden, replacing him with Pittsburgh Steelers co-owner Bert Bell. Bell had already made a major contribution to the league: the NFL draft, begun in 1935, was his idea.
Meanwhile, Dan Reeves' Cleveland Rams had consistently lost money, despite winning the 1945 NFL title. Compounding his problems, the local AAFC competition already looked strong: Arthur McBride was aggressively marketing the Browns, and coach Paul Brown was an Ohio icon. Accordingly, Reeves proposed to move the Rams to Los Angeles.
With two teams planned for California, the AAFC had national aspirations. The NFL's thinking was more modest: it rejected Reeves' move because of travel expenses. After the NFL refused to consider his second choice (Dallas), Reeves threatened to move his team to the AAFC. Having already lost Topping, the NFL reconsidered and approved the Los Angeles move.
It was unprecedented for the NFL champion to move at all, let alone partly to avoid an unproven rival. On the other hand, the NFL would now face the AAFC as a national rather than regional league, and the AAFC would not have a West Coast monopoly.
Rather than hold a collegiate draft, Crowley encouraged his owners to sign as many good players as possible to compete with the NFL. However, this open market favored Paul Brown, who had built the most extensive recruitment network in all of football. He thus had a head start in signing top players coming out of the colleges and military. Years later, Crowley acknowledged this was a fatal mistake, as it planted the seeds for the Browns' near-total dominance of the league.
Again acting ambitiously, the AAFC chose stadiums larger than the NFL's in Chicago, New York, and Cleveland.
The two leagues’ franchises and home fields for 1946 were:
|Eastern Division||Western Division|
|Boston Yanks (Fenway Park)||Detroit Lions (Briggs Stadium*)|
|New York Giants (Polo Grounds)||Chicago Bears (Wrigley Field)|
|Philadelphia Eagles (Shibe Park)||Chicago Cardinals (Comiskey Park)|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (Forbes Field)||Green Bay Packers (City Stadium/Wisconsin State Fair Park)|
|Washington Redskins (Griffith Stadium)||Los Angeles Rams (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum)|
|Eastern Division||Western Division|
|New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium)||Cleveland Browns (Municipal Stadium)|
|Brooklyn Dodgers (Ebbets Field)||Chicago Rockets (Soldier Field)|
|Buffalo Bisons (Civic Stadium**)||Los Angeles Dons (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum)|
|Miami Seahawks (Burdine Stadium***)||San Francisco 49ers (Kezar Stadium)|
(*) Later known as Tiger Stadium.
(**) Better remembered as War Memorial Stadium, the original home of the modern Buffalo Bills.
(***) Later known as the Miami Orange Bowl.
In the AAFC's first game, on September 6, 1946, the Cleveland Browns hosted the Miami Seahawks, winning 44–0 before a professional football record crowd of more than 60,000 fans. This historic game would prove a microcosm of much about the league:
Other than New York, all of the quality teams were in the Western Division. In the West, Cleveland led with a 12–2 record, three games ahead of San Francisco, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. In the East, New York was the only team to win more than three games, finishing 10–3–1. Brooklyn and Buffalo were seven games behind, followed by Miami. Despite Brooklyn's record, its tailback Glenn Dobbs led the league in passing and was named the MVP.
The title game was a tight affair, with the Browns coming from behind late in the fourth quarter to defeat the Yankees 14–9.
Despite the fiasco in Miami, the AAFC had enjoyed a successful debut, establishing a high level of play and doing well at the gate. The NFL likewise set attendance highs for both its season and title game. However, as salaries shot up with two leagues competing for players: the only teams to make a profit were the two champions, the Browns and the NFL Bears.
The Chicago Rockets had experienced some disorganization in 1946. In a remarkable move, Commissioner Crowley (a successful former college coach) gave up a five-year contract to become their part-owner and coach. Admiral Jonas H. Ingram was named to replace him as commissioner.
To replace the Seahawks, the Baltimore group turned down in 1945 was issued a franchise. The new Baltimore Colts would play in Municipal Stadium. Meanwhile, the Bisons were renamed the Bills and the NFL added a 12th game to its schedule.
The AAFC enjoyed its most successful season in 1947. Some notable guests watched the Browns' opening game: the entire coaching staff of the 1946 NFL champion Chicago Bears. The 49ers obtained the rights to Army's legendary Heisman Trophy winners Felix Blanchard ("Mr. Inside") and Glenn Davis ("Mr. Outside"), and amid great publicity unsuccessfully attempted to get the military to permit them to play during their post-graduation furloughs. In other highlights, a Yankees–Dons game in the Los Angeles Coliseum drew a pro record of more than 82,000, and division leaders New York and Cleveland locked horns on November 23 in the most famous game in AAFC history. Before more than 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, the Browns rallied from a 28–0 deficit to tie 28–28.
New York won the East with an 11–2–1 record, 2½ games ahead of Buffalo, with Brooklyn and Baltimore far back. Cleveland, led by MVP quarterback Otto Graham, won the West with a 12–1–1 record, 3½ games ahead of San Francisco. Los Angeles followed, and Chicago was last at 1–13. Former Commissioner Crowley would not return either as coach or owner.
The title game was a defensive struggle, with the Browns again defeating the Yankees, 14–3.
By this time a pattern had emerged among the franchises. The Browns, Yankees, 49ers, Dons, and Bills all had stable ownership and at least one winning season. The Browns led both leagues in attendance by a wide margin, the Yankees and Dons outpaced their crosstown NFL rivals on the field and at the gate, and the 49ers and Bills (despite a small stadium) also enjoyed good attendance.
However, the Dodgers, Rockets, and to a lesser extent the Colts were having serious problems. Playing near the Yankees and the NFL Giants, the Dodgers drew fewer than 12,000 fans per game, least in both leagues. The Rockets faced the NFL's flagship Bears and a Cardinals team enjoying rare success. After a decent start in 1946, the Rockets collapsed on the field and found themselves playing before tens of thousands of empty seats in huge Soldier Field. The first-year Colts did reasonably well at the gate but finished last. All of these teams were at the bottom of the standings and all were sold after the 1947 season, the Rockets for the second time.
Although 1947 had been a successful season for the AAFC in many respects, the league still lost money. In 1948, attendance in both leagues declined, and negotiations to end the war became serious.
One factor affecting AAFC attendance was the gap between the league's best and worst teams. To counter this, Commissioner Ingram attempted to get the strongest teams to distribute some players to the weakest. He was modestly successful: the Browns sent rookie quarterback Y. A. Tittle to the Colts, who enjoyed their first good season, and the Yankees were generous enough to fall into mediocrity. However, 1948 featured extremes despite Ingram's efforts.
For the first time, the division races were close. One featured excellence, the other mediocrity.
In the West, San Francisco and Cleveland both remained undefeated far into the season. On November 14, nearly 83,000 (a record) in Cleveland Municipal Stadium watched the 9–0 Browns win a 14–7 defensive struggle over the 10–0 49ers. They met again two weeks later in San Francisco, with the Browns now 12–0 and the 49ers 11–1. The Browns again won narrowly, this time 31–28, clinching first place.
The rematch concluded an AAFC Thanksgiving week promotion: the Browns played three games in eight days. New Dodgers' part-owner Branch Rickey (of baseball fame) suggested this experiment, and the Browns were chosen as the guinea pigs. They survived unscathed, and went on to complete an unprecedented 14–0 regular season.
The 49ers finished a heartbreaking second (and out of the postseason) at 12–2. Los Angeles followed at 7–7, and Chicago again finished last at 1–13. The quarterbacks of the two outstanding teams, Cleveland's Otto Graham and San Francisco's Frankie Albert, shared the MVP.
In the East, Buffalo and Baltimore tied at a mediocre 7–7, just ahead of 6–8 New York. Brooklyn was last at 2–12. Buffalo won a playoff and the dubious privilege of meeting Cleveland for the title.
Cleveland won the title in a predictable rout, 49–7. With pro football's second perfect season (after the 1937 Los Angeles Bulldogs of the second American Football League) and an 18-game winning streak and a 29-game unbeaten streak in progress, the Browns were making history. Since then, only the 1972 Miami Dolphins team managed to win its league championship with an unblemished record. The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognizes the Browns' latter streak as the longest in the history of professional football.
The NFL also had a problem with imbalance. Nearly every title game from 1933 to 1946 featured either the Giants or Redskins from the East against either the Bears or Packers from the West.
But in the late 1940s new powers rose in the NFL, as the Cardinals, Eagles, and Rams all won titles, and the Steelers reached a playoff. All these teams had long histories of futility and had merged or suspended operations during the war. (In fact, the Cardinals were winless from mid-1942 to mid-1945, including a 0–10 merged season with the Steelers.)
Adding to the drama, the division races were often tight. Decades before Pete Rozelle, Bert Bell promoted parity by purposely matching strong teams early in the season, keeping them from getting far ahead in the standings. All this contrasted sharply with the AAFC.
The war was getting increasingly costly thanks to rising salaries and dropping attendance. Nearly every team in both leagues lost money – enough that in December, the NFL officially acknowledged the AAFC as peace talks almost succeeded in ending the war. However, the AAFC wanted four of its teams to be admitted into the NFL, while the NFL was willing to admit only the Browns and 49ers. Although the survival of its Brooklyn and Chicago teams was now in doubt, the AAFC decided to continue the fight.
Commissioner Ingram stepped down, and another admiral, Oliver O. Kessing, was named Commissioner.
As the war entered its fourth season, financial problems forced reorganization in both leagues. The Dodgers, the AAFC's least-drawing team, merged with the Yankees as the Rockets (renamed the Hornets) and Colts continued their streaks of annual ownership changes.
In the NFL, the champion Philadelphia Eagles lost money and were sold. Plagued by league-low attendance, the Boston Yanks moved to New York in a curious move. Yanks owner Ted Collins had long desired a franchise in Yankee Stadium (thus his team's name), and expected the AAFC and its Yankees to be gone in 1949. Instead, with Yankee Stadium and the Yanks name unavailable, Collins' renamed Bulldogs had to share the Polo Grounds with the Giants on unfavorable terms and compete with two superior rivals.
With the AAFC now down to seven teams, it realigned into one division, reduced its schedule to 12 games (still a double round-robin), and changed its postseason to a Shaughnessy playoff. In 1948, the 12–2 49ers had stayed home while the 7–7 Bills played for the title. This would not reoccur, as now the top four teams would qualify for the playoffs. Also, for the first time in pro football, playoff home-field advantage would be based on win-loss record rather than rotating between divisions.
The lineup of the rival leagues was now:
|Eastern Division||Western Division|
|New York Giants (Polo Grounds)||Detroit Lions (Briggs Stadium)|
|New York Bulldogs (Polo Grounds)||Chicago Bears (Wrigley Field)|
|Philadelphia Eagles (Shibe Park)||Chicago Cardinals (Comiskey Park)|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (Forbes Field)||Green Bay Packers (City Stadium)|
|Washington Redskins (Griffith Stadium)||Los Angeles Rams (Los Angeles Coliseum)|
|Brooklyn–New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium)|
|Buffalo Bills (Civic Stadium)|
|Baltimore Colts (Municipal Stadium)|
|Cleveland Browns (Municipal Stadium)|
|Chicago Hornets (Soldier Field)|
|Los Angeles Dons (Los Angeles Coliseum)|
|San Francisco 49ers (Kezar Stadium)|
Since 1934, the College All-Star Game had matched the defending NFL champions against an all-star team of recent college graduates. The game was a major event, as Rose Bowl-sized crowds (more than 105,000 in 1947) watched college football's best often hold their own with the pros. Held in late August at Soldier Field, the game was sponsored by the Chicago Tribune—whose sports editor, Ward, had founded the AAFC.
After the game's contract with the NFL expired with the 1948 game, Ward refused to renew it. He attempted to help the AAFC by putting its champion into the prestigious game. However, the NFL was able to convince the Tribune's board to override Ward and force him to re-sign with the NFL, handing the AAFC an embarrassing defeat.
Red ink on both sides continued to flow. The Colts and Hornets were only kept afloat when Dons owner Ben Lindheimer subsidized them. The Green Bay Packers, then as now owned by a local civic group, had to issue new stock to remain solvent. Now facing two cross-town rivals, the Bulldogs predictably had even lower attendance in New York than in Boston. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions were also having serious financial problems.
On the field, Cleveland finally showed some vulnerability. An opening day tie with the Bills ended their winning streak, and on October 9 the 49ers ended their unbeaten streak in a 56–28 upset to move into first place.
Things soon reverted to form, however. The Browns won the rematch with the 49ers 30–28; and Cleveland (9–1–2) and San Francisco (9–3) finished one-two for the fourth consecutive year. Brooklyn-New York and Buffalo were the other playoff qualifiers, followed by Chicago and Los Angeles. Baltimore finished far behind at 1–11.
In playoff action, Cleveland defeated Buffalo 31–21 and San Francisco defeated Brooklyn–New York 17–7. The two best teams in AAFC history met at last with the title at stake, with the Browns winning the final title 21–7. No MVP was named for this season.
The Browns now owned a 52–4–3 record and all four AAFC titles.
On December 9, 1949, two days before the AAFC title game, the two leagues made peace. Three AAFC teams were admitted to the NFL: the Browns, 49ers, and Colts. The Dons merged with the Rams, while the Bills, Yankees and Hornets folded. The enlarged league was renamed the National–American Football League.
The Browns and 49ers, as the AAFC's two strongest teams, were obvious choices: San Francisco was also a natural fit as a geographic rival to the Rams, who were alone on the West Coast at the time.
The third choice was the subject of some debate.
There was some sentiment to admit the Bills rather than the Colts. The Bills had better attendance despite only making the playoffs twice, and had much wealthier ownership. However, Buffalo's size (only Green Bay was smaller) and climate were seen as problems. While Redskins owner George Preston Marshall had long objected to the Colts' proximity to Washington, he ultimately decided that the Colts would be a natural rival to the Redskins. He agreed to accept a $150,000 fee to waive his territorial rights.
Buffalo fans petitioned the NFL to admit the Bills as well. The league, realizing the pitfalls of having an uneven 13-team league, held a vote on admitting the Bills. While a majority of owners (including the Browns, 49ers and Colts) were willing to take the Bills, the final vote was only 9–4 in favor. League rules of the time required a unanimous vote to admit a new team. Buffalo owner Jim Breuil was content to accept a minority share of the Browns. Breuil even rebuffed an offer from the next-best pro league in the nation at the time, the minor-league American Football League of the late 1940s, to join their league.
The Yankees' players were divided between the Giants (who chose six players) and Bulldogs (who received the rest). Three Bills players were awarded to the Browns. The remaining Bills, Dons, and Hornets entered a dispersal draft.
With the AAFC Yankees gone, Bulldogs owner Ted Collins was free to rename his team "Yanks" and move into Yankee Stadium. He continued to lose money, however, and sold the team after two seasons to Dallas-based interests, who relocated the team to Dallas and called the team the Dallas Texans.
The word "American" did not remain in the enlarged league's name for long; it was dropped in March 1950. Although "National" and "American" became the names of the league's new conferences, within three years the conferences were renamed Eastern and Western. It was not until the AFL–NFL merger twenty years later that the "American" and "National" conference names were restored.
The enlarged NFL was aligned as follows:
|American (Eastern) Conference||National (Western) Conference|
|Chicago Cardinals (Comiskey Park)||Baltimore Colts (Municipal Stadium)|
|Cleveland Browns (Municipal Stadium)||Chicago Bears (Wrigley Field)|
|New York Giants (Polo Grounds)||Detroit Lions (Briggs Stadium)|
|Philadelphia Eagles (Shibe Park)||Green Bay Packers (City Stadium)|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (Forbes Field)||New York Yanks (Yankee Stadium)|
|Washington Redskins (Griffith Stadium)||Los Angeles Rams (Los Angeles Coliseum)|
|San Francisco 49ers (Kezar Stadium)|
With two exceptions, this was the NFL's alignment for the rest of the 1950s.
Admitting Baltimore over Buffalo proved to be a mistake, as the AAFC's Colts folded after one season in the NFL, bringing the league back to an even 12 teams. A replacement team, also named the Colts, joined the league as an expansion team in 1953. Meanwhile, the popularity of the original Bills franchise prompted former Detroit Lions minority owner Ralph Wilson to adopt the name "Buffalo Bills" for his American Football League franchise ten years after the AAFC dissolved. Both the replacement Colts (now based in Indianapolis) and the replacement Bills are still playing in the NFL, though neither maintains official ties to their namesakes (coincidentally, the Colts and Bills were division rivals in the AFC East from 1970 through 2001, after which the Colts moved to the AFC South).
Remarkably, although the NFL absorbed the AAFC, the AAFC actually had better average attendance.
After winning each of their titles, the Browns challenged the NFL champion to an interleague championship. Each year the NFL refused. (Of course, by playing such a game the NFL would legitimize the AAFC and risk more prestige.)
In December 1949, with both leagues financially exhausted but now at peace, a profitable interleague playoff was now both possible and desirable. Although Pittsburgh's Art Rooney, whose Steelers were among the shakiest NFL franchises, publicly advocated such a game, most of the NFL was unwilling to risk defeat at the hands of their vanquished, supposedly inferior rival. Officially, however, commissioner Bert Bell maintained that the NFL constitution barred such a game. The football world would have to wait to see how the Browns matched up against the NFL's best.
All would not be lost for fans, however. Bell appreciated that the Browns were now an important asset to the NFL, and scheduled a special Saturday night game between them and the NFL's two-time champion Philadelphia Eagles to open the 1950 season. While not quite an unofficial interleague playoff, what took place on September 16, 1950, was no ordinary regular season game.
The defending champions of two leagues that had never met on the field were about to play, foreshadowing tensions present in the early Super Bowls of the 1960s. At last the Browns would have the chance to prove themselves, and by extension the AAFC, against the NFL. There was tremendous anticipation from fans and the press, which called the game "The World Series of Pro Football". Although the game was played in Philadelphia, it was not played on their field: because of the huge crowd expected, the game was moved from Shibe Park to Philadelphia Municipal Stadium, site of the Army–Navy Game. Attendance was more than 71,000: more than any previous NFL or AAFC championship game and one of the largest pro football crowds to that date. (This figure also surpasses Super Bowl I and nearly matches Super Bowls II and III.) There was even a most valuable player award, unheard of for a regular-season game.
As it turned out, "The World Series of Pro Football" resembled Super Bowl III nearly two decades later. As with the 1968 Baltimore Colts and New York Jets, the Eagles were widely considered one of the NFL's strongest-ever champions, while many discounted the Browns’ success in their "inferior" league. The result was just as shocking: the Eagles underestimated the highly motivated Browns (coach Greasy Neale did not even scout the Browns’ preseason games), while Paul Brown found some previously unknown weaknesses in the widely imitated "Eagle Defense". The Browns led 14–3 at halftime and dominated the rest of the game to win decisively, 35–10. Quarterback Otto Graham was named the game's MVP. Eerily enough, that final score was the same as the one in Super Bowl I between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs, more than sixteen years later in another battle of "first encounters" between established NFL teams and "upstart" newcomer leagues.
The Browns went 10–2 to finish in a first-place tie with the New York Giants, then won a playoff 8–3 to qualify for the 1950 NFL championship game. Their opponent was a formidable Los Angeles Rams team that averaged nearly 39 points per game, a record that still stands. (Ironically, this was the Rams’ first game in Cleveland since winning the 1945 title as the Cleveland Rams.) In a classic seesaw game, the Browns prevailed on a last-minute field goal, 30–28, to win their fifth consecutive league title.
The Browns’ 1950 season confirmed the quality of their AAFC achievements as nothing else could. After the title game, Commissioner Bell called the Browns "the greatest team to ever play football."
Cleveland remained near the top of the NFL for years, although in 1951 they were finally denied a league title (by the Rams). The Browns played in every NFL title game from 1950 to 1955, winning three of them, for a grand total of seven league titles in ten years.
The other ex-AAFC teams did not fare nearly as well.
The 49ers, the AAFC's second-best team, struggled in 1950 and finished 3–9. However, starting the next year they emerged as one of the better teams in the NFL's Western Conference, reaching the postseason in 1957 after some near-misses.
The Colts' prospects were not promising: they had finished 1–11 and last in the AAFC in 1949 and also faced the handicap of playing near the Washington Redskins. In 1950, the Colts went 1–11 again and disbanded. Their legacy lived on, however: three years later, a new Baltimore Colts franchise team was established after the Dallas Texans folded and the Colts became one of the NFL's storied teams. Although the Colts would controversially move to Indianapolis, on March 29, 1984, the NFL would return to Baltimore for the 1996 NFL season in the form of the Baltimore Ravens, descended from the original Browns franchise that played in the AAFC after their own controversial move. Officially, the NFL considers the "expansion" Browns (1999 on) to be one continuous entity from the original 1946 AAFC team, with it having suspended operations from 1996 to 1998, while the Ravens unofficially consider the pre-1984 history of the Colts as their own.
One notable difference between the All-America Football Conference and the American Football League (AFL), which merged with the NFL two decades later, is that the records and statistics of AAFC players and teams are not included in the NFL record book, while those of their AFL counterparts are. For example, Joe Namath's pre-1970 statistics with the AFL New York Jets are considered official NFL statistics, while Y. A. Tittle's pre-1950 statistics with the AAFC Baltimore Colts are not.
According to the NFL, this is because official scoresheets of AAFC games were not made available to the NFL after the merger. Without these, the NFL could not verify the authenticity of any AAFC statistics or records and so chose to ignore them. However, in the case of the NFL-AFL merger completed in 1970, the AFL gave all of its official scoresheets to the NFL making it possible for the NFL to accept the AFL's statistics and records.
Another explanation is that unlike the NFL-AFL agreement, the NFL-AAFC agreement was not a merger between equals. Only three of the seven AAFC teams were admitted to the NFL. There was no interleague playoff in December 1949. "American" swiftly disappeared from the enlarged league's name. The AFL, on the other hand, was able to force the NFL to admit all of its teams and to play an interleague championship game on a neutral field.
Although the AAFC played only four years, it had a major, lasting impact on pro football. Of all the leagues that challenged the NFL, only the American Football League of the 1960s influenced the NFL more than the AAFC.
The Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and original Baltimore Colts began in the AAFC.
Fifteen AAFC alumni are enshrined in pro football's Hall of Fame.
The AAFC played a 14-game schedule more than a decade before the NFL, and played a major role in popularizing zone defenses in pro football.
The AAFC put the first pro football teams in Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. Indeed, the AAFC was a coast-to-coast league more than a decade before Major League Baseball. This brought about another innovation: AAFC teams traveled by air while NFL teams still traveled by train.
Black players were excluded from the NFL from 1934 to 1945. The AAFC helped reintegrate professional American football in 1946 when Cleveland signed Marion Motley and Bill Willis. The NFL Rams, having been driven out of Cleveland by the AAFC Browns, signed Kenny Washington and Woody Strode only after the venue they sought to play in, the Los Angeles Coliseum, enforced its policy of integration.
The AAFC's Paul Brown produced numerous innovations to the game on and off the field. Among them were year-round coaching staffs, precision pass patterns, the face mask, and the practice of coaches’ calling plays via "messenger guards". He also was the first coach to have his staff film the opposition and have his team break down those game films in a classroom setting. In fact, the classroom setting and chalkboard analysis can also be attributed to him. His success with the Browns forced the rest of both leagues to adopt his methods. Many of his players and assistants eventually coached champions. Brown declined efforts to draft him to succeed Bert Bell as NFL commissioner, later founded the American Football League's Cincinnati Bengals, and later served on the NFL's key Competition Committee until his death in 1991.
These and other AAFC innovations and personalities helped lay the groundwork for Professional Football's great success.
Finally, the Browns' NFL Championship in their first year in the NFL and their domination of that league for the next decade, in retrospect, seem to have been harbingers of another upstart league that like the AAFC was ridiculed and reviled by the NFL and its supporters, but would eventually be recognized as the genesis of modern Professional Football: the American Football League of 1960–1969.
(*): Team now in NFL. (**): Team in NFL with that name, but unrelated to the AAFC team.
W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties
|New York Yankees||10||3||1||.769||270||192|
|San Francisco 49ers||9||5||0||.643||307||189|
|Los Angeles Dons||7||5||2||.583||305||290|
AAFC Championship: Cleveland 14, New York 9 (December 22 @ Cleveland)
|New York Yankees||11||2||1||.846||378||239|
|San Francisco 49ers||8||4||2||.667||327||264|
|Los Angeles Dons||7||7||0||.500||328||256|
AAFC Championship: Cleveland 14, New York 3 (December 14 @ New York)
|New York Yankees||6||8||0||.429||265||301|
|San Francisco 49ers||12||2||0||.857||495||248|
|Los Angeles Dons||7||7||0||.500||258||305|
Eastern Division playoff: Buffalo 28, Baltimore 17 (December 12 @ Baltimore)
AAFC Championship: Cleveland 49, Buffalo 7 (December 19 @ Cleveland)
|San Francisco 49ers||9||3||0||.750||416||227|
|Brooklyn/New York Yankees||8||4||0||.667||196||206|
|Los Angeles Dons||4||8||0||.333||179||268|
Semifinal #1: Cleveland 31, Buffalo 21 (December 4 @ Cleveland)
Semifinal #2: San Francisco 17, Brooklyn/New York 7 (December 4 @ San Francisco)
AAFC Championship: Cleveland 21, San Francisco 7 (December 11 @ Cleveland)
Franchises are ranked by win percentage. As was the custom for professional football leagues in the 1940s, ties were not considered for the purpose of standings.
|Team||W||L||T||Pct.||PF||PA||Notes||Colors '46||Colors '47||Colors '48||Colors '49|
|Cleveland Browns||47||4||3||.922||1561||683||Accepted into NFL|
|San Francisco 49ers||38||14||2||.717||1597||928||Accepted into NFL|
|New York Yankees||27||13||2||.675||913||732||-|
|Brooklyn/New York Yankees||8||4||0||.667||196||206||-||-||-|
|Los Angeles Dons||25||27||2||.481||1066||1119|
|Buffalo Bisons/Bills||23||26||5||.469||1165||1272||Bills name used currently by another Buffalo based NFL team.|
|Baltimore Colts||10||29||1||.256||672||1049||Accepted into NFL, folded. Name used currently by another NFL team||-|
|Miami Seahawks||3||11||0||.214||167||378||Name used currently by another NFL team||-||-||-|
From 1946 to 1948 the champions of each division met in the AAFC championship game. In 1949, there was only one seven-team division, so the championship game was the final round of a four team tournament.
|Year||Date||Winning Team||Score||Losing Team||Location||Attendance|
|1946||December 22||Cleveland Browns||14–9||New York Yankees||Cleveland Municipal Stadium||41,181|
|1947||December 14||Cleveland Browns||14–3||New York Yankees||Yankee Stadium||60,103|
|1948||December 19||Cleveland Browns||49–7||Buffalo Bills||Cleveland Municipal Stadium||22,981|
|1949||December 11||Cleveland Browns||21–7||San Francisco 49ers||Cleveland Municipal Stadium||22,550|
In 1948, there was a tie for first place in the Eastern Division. In 1949, there was only one seven-team division, so the playoffs were a four team tournament.
|Year||Date||Winning Team||Score||Losing Team||Location||Attendance|
|1948||December 12||Buffalo Bills||28–17||Baltimore Colts||Municipal Stadium||27,327|
|1949||December 4||Cleveland Browns||31–21||Buffalo Bills||Cleveland Municipal Stadium||17,240|
|1949||December 4||San Francisco 49ers||17–7||New York Yankees||Kezar Stadium||41,393|
See All-America Football Conference playoffs for box scores.
The AAFC played an all-star game only once, following the 1949 season. This game, played in Houston and known as the "Shamrock Bowl", was the league's last game before the merger with the NFL. The champion Browns faced a team of All-Stars from the other six teams.
|Year||Date||Winning Team||Score||Losing Team||Location||Attendance|
|1949||December 17||AAFC All-Stars||12–7||Cleveland Browns||Rice Field, Houston||10,000|
There was no official award issued by the league. However, starting in 1947, the Sporting News named a Coach of the Year for all of pro football. In 1947 and 1948, the choice was from the NFL. In 1949, this award went to Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns.
The following AAFC players and coaches are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio:
(Note: Graham and Motley were also named to the NFL's 75th anniversary all-time team in 1994.)
|1946||Spec Sanders||New York||709||6|
|1947||Spec Sanders||New York||1432||19|
|1949||Joe Perry||San Francisco||783||8|
|1947||Spec Sanders||New York||114||19||0||0|
|1949||Alyn Beals||San Francisco||73||12||0||1|
The 1946 San Francisco 49ers season was the inaugural season in the AAFC and the first season of the league's existence. Despite losing their first game as a team and having a stretch of five consecutive road games, the 49ers went 9–5, earning the second-best record in the West division (third-best overall). The 49ers also outscored every other team except for the eventual season champions, the Cleveland Browns.1947 San Francisco 49ers season
The 1947 AAFC season was the 49ers' second season. They began the season hoping to improve upon the previous season's output of 9–5, and they had a similar output this season, 8–4–2. The team did have its first tie in franchise history, a 28–28 standoff in Week 6 against the Baltimore Colts. For the second time in as many seasons, the 49ers placed 2nd in the West division, coming one spot short of playing in the league championship game.1948 San Francisco 49ers season
The 1948 AAFC season 49ers began their third season in the AAFC, hoping to improve upon their 8–4–2 output from the previous season. They began the season 10–0, and finished 12–2, both losses coming to eventual season champions, the Cleveland Browns.
The 49ers' offense was historically prolific: they scored 495 points in 1948 (averaging over 35 points per game), which was more than 100 points more than the next best output (389 points by the Browns). Despite their 12–2 record, the 49ers did not qualify for the playoffs, due to the Browns 14–0 record.
The 1948 49ers had a record-setting rushing attack: the team rushed for a staggering 3,653 yards in only fourteen games, a professional football record that still stands.1949 San Francisco 49ers season
The 1949 AAFC season was the final season before the league folded and comprised only twelve games instead of the previously standard fourteen. The 49ers, in their fourth season, were unable to improve on the previous season's output of 12–2, only posting a record of 9–3, however, they were able to make their first playoff appearance. This was due to the league taking a different format, in which the top four teams played a tournament to determine the champion.
The 49ers, with the second seed, played the third-seeded New York Yankees (8–4). With their 17–7 victory over the Yankees, the 49ers moved on to play the Cleveland Browns in the league championship. The 49ers ended up losing 21–7. Until Super Bowl XLVII, it was the only time the 49ers lost a league title game.1950 AAFC dispersal draft
On December 9, 1949, the National Football League absorbed three teams from the All-America Football Conference (Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Colts).
The NFL held a dispersal draft on June 2, 1950 for players from the All-America Football Conference teams of the New York Yankees, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Hornets, and Los Angeles Dons. Most of the players from the Yankees had already been divided between the New York Giants and New York Yanks (formerly Bulldogs).
The draft order was determined by the order of finish (worst to best) of the 1949 season. Therefore, the draft order was:
Baltimore Colts (AAFC)
New York Yanks (New York Bulldogs in 1949)
Green Bay Packers
New York Giants
Chicago Cardinals (tied with the Steelers)
San Francisco 49ers (AAFC) (tied with the Bears)
Los Angeles Rams
Cleveland Browns (AAFC)
Philadelphia EaglesSince the Colts and the Packers were the weakest teams, they were given a total of five extra draft picks each, divided at the end of rounds: 3 (2 picks), 5 (1 pick), 7 (1 pick) and 9 (1 pick).
Teams chose 140 players during the ten-round selection meeting.All-America Football Conference playoffs
The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) was an American football league which challenged the established National Football League (NFL) from 1946 to 1949.
From 1946 to 1948, the AAFC determined its champion in a title game between the winners of its two divisions. In 1948, a special playoff game was needed to break a first-place tie in one of the divisions.
In 1949, the league contracted to a single division, so it determined its champion by a four-team single-elimination tournament.
The Cleveland Browns won all four AAFC titles, however their domination and the lack of balance that it demonstrated ultimately hurt the league by diminishing attendance.AAFC playoff records, as with AAFC records in general, are recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but are not included in the NFL's record book.Arnie Weinmeister
Arnold George Weinmeister (March 23, 1923 – June 29, 2000) was a Canadian-born American and Canadian football defensive tackle. He went to four Pro Bowls, but with only a six-year tenure in the All-America Football Conference and National Football League combined, his career is one of the shortest of any Pro Football Hall of Fame member. He was born in Rhein, Saskatchewan.Baltimore Colts (1947–50)
The Baltimore Colts were a professional American football team based in Baltimore, Maryland. The first team to bear the name Baltimore Colts, they were members of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1947 to 1949 and then joined the National Football League (NFL) for one season before folding. They were one of the least successful teams in the AAFC and NFL both on and off the field, winning only 11 games in their history. In 1953, Baltimore was granted an expansion team that revived the Colts name; this team is now the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts' origin is with the Miami Seahawks, one of the charter franchises of the AAFC. After playing a single disastrous season the Seahawks were confiscated by the league, and were purchased and reorganized by a group of businessmen as the Baltimore Colts. The new team struggled through the next three seasons, but managed to grow a sizable fan base in Baltimore. In 1949, the Colts were one of three AAFC teams, along with the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns, to be brought into the NFL following the AAFC-NFL merger. They played only during the 1950 season before financial pressures forced them to fold.Ben Agajanian
Benjamin James "The nameless Wonder" Agajanian (August 28, 1919 – February 8, 2018) was an American football player, primarily a placekicker in the National Football League, the All-America Football Conference and American Football League.
Born in Santa Ana, California, he graduated from San Pedro High School in the San Pedro community in Los Angeles. A placekicker, he played college football at Compton Junior College and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II as a physical training instructor.Agajanian played professionally in the National Football League from 1945 through 1959, then in the newly formed American Football League for the Los Angeles/San Diego Chargers in 1960, 1961, and 1964. He also played for the Dallas Texans in 1961 and the Oakland Raiders in 1962. He is one of two players (the other was Hardy Brown) who played in the All-America Football Conference, the American Football League, and the National Football League.While playing in college, Agajanian had four toes of his kicking foot crushed in a work accident and then amputated in 1939, but overcame the injury to become pro football's second kicking specialist (after Mose Kelsch), booting field goals for 10 different professional teams in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, including two NFL champions: the New York Giants in 1956 and the Green Bay Packers in 1961. After retiring from the field at age 45, he was the Dallas Cowboys kicking coach for 20 years.
Agajanian died in Cathedral City, California on February 8, 2018 at age 98. His older brother was the late Motorsports promoter J.C. Agajanian.Chet Mutryn
Chester A. Mutryn (March 12, 1921 – March 24, 1995) was a professional American football halfback and defensive back in the All-America Football Conference and the National Football League. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 20th round of the 1943 NFL Draft. He was also drafted by the Eagles in the first round of the 1951 NFL Draft after the Baltimore Colts folded.Chicago Rockets
The Chicago Rockets were an American football team that played in the All-America Football Conference from 1946 to 1949. During the 1949 season, the team was known as the Chicago Hornets. Unlike the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts, the franchise did not join the National Football League prior to the 1950 season.
The Chicago Rockets franchise was owned by Chicago trucking executive John L. "Jack" Keeshin, president of the National Jockey Club that owned and operated Sportsman's Park race track in Cicero, Illinois. He originally attempted to purchase the Chicago White Sox from the Comiskey family but was turned down. Chicago Tribune sports editor Arch Ward suggested starting a pro football team in the AAFC. In a market where the NFL Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals were already well established, Keeshin stood little chance of success. He did cause a stir by attempting to sign Chicago Bears stars Sid Luckman, George McAfee and Hugh Gallarneau without success.
The Rockets played their home games at Soldier Field.Ernie Case
Ernest Francis "Ernie" Case (1920-1995) was an American athlete who played quarterback for the University of California, Los Angeles and professionally in the All-America Football Conference for the Baltimore Colts. A bomber pilot who was shot down and captured as a prisoner-of-war during World War II, Case is best remembered for leading UCLA to its first 10-0 season and a berth in the 1947 Rose Bowl game.
Although the first quarterback selected in the 1947 NFL draft, Case signed instead with the upstart All-America Football Conference, playing just one uneventful season in a reserve role before retiring.Glenn Dobbs
Glenn Dobbs, Jr. (July 12, 1920 – November 12, 2002) was a professional American football player in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC). A skilled running back, quarterback, and punter, Dobbs was named the AAFC's MVP in 1946. After sitting out the 1950 season with a knee injury, Dobbs was persuaded to come out of retirement to play with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU), forerunner of the Canadian Football League (CFL). In 1951 Dobbs was named the Most Valuable Player of the WIFU. Dobbs played college football at the University of Tulsa, where he was later head football coach from 1961 to 1968 and athletic director from 1955 to 1970. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1980.James Phelan (American football)
James Michael Phelan (December 5, 1892 – November 14, 1974) was an American football player and coach of football and basketball. He served as the head football coach at the University of Missouri (1920–1921), Purdue University (1922–1929), the University of Washington (1930–1941), and Saint Mary's College of California (1942–1947), compiling a career college football record of 137–87–14. Phelan also coached the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) from 1948 to 1949 , the N.Y Yanks and Dallas Texans of the National Football League (NFL) in 1951 and 1952, tallying a professional football coaching record of 13-35-2. In addition, he was the head basketball coach at Saint Mary's for two seasons during World War II (1943–1945), where he amassed a record 10–11. Phelan played football as a quarterback at the University of Notre Dame from 1915 to 1917. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1973.Joel Hunt
Oliver Joel "Lil' Joel" Hunt (October 11, 1905 – July 24, 1978) was American football and baseball player and coach of football. He played college football at Texas A&M University from 1925 to 1927 and served as the head football coach at the University of Georgia in 1938 and the University of Wyoming in 1939. Hunt also played professional baseball in the minor leagues and briefly with the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1967.List of National Football League annual receiving yards leaders
In American football, passing, along with running (also referred to as rushing), is one of the two main methods of advancing the ball down the field. Passes are typically attempted by the quarterback, but any offensive player can attempt a pass provided they are behind the line of scrimmage. To qualify as a passing play, the ball must have initially moved forward after leaving the hands of the passer; if the ball initially moved laterally or backwards, the play would instead be considered a running play. A player who catches a forward pass is a receiver, and the number of receiving yards each player has recorded in each season is a recorded stat in football games. In addition to the overall National Football League (NFL) receiving champion, league record books recognize statistics from the American Football League (AFL), which operated from 1960 to 1969 before being absorbed into the NFL in 1970, Although league record books do not recognize stats from the All-America Football Conference, another league that merged with the NFL, these statistics are recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The NFL did not begin keeping official records until the 1932 season. The average the yards the leader has gained has increased over time – since the adoption of the 14-game season in 1961, all but one season saw the receiving leader record over 1,000 yards. No player has ever finished with over 2,000 receiving yards in a season; the current record is 1,964 yards, set by Calvin Johnson during the 2012 season. Wes Chandler, who led the league with 1,032 yards in the strike-shortened 1982 season, averaged 129 yards receiving per game, an NFL record.Don Hutson led the league in receiving yards seven times, the most of any player; Jerry Rice is second with six. Hutson also recorded the most consecutive seasons leading the league in receiving, doing so for five seasons from 1941 to 1945, while Jerry Rice ranks second with three consecutive league-leading seasons from 1993 to 1995. A Green Bay Packers player has led the league in receiving yards eleven times, the most in the NFL; the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams rank second with nine league-leading seasons. The most recent receiving yards leader was Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, who recorded 1,677 receiving yards over the 2018 season.Los Angeles Dons
The Los Angeles Dons were an American football team in the now defunct All-America Football Conference from 1946 to 1949 that played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Dons were the first professional football team to play a regular season game in Los Angeles, California, two weeks before the first game of the rival Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League who had moved from Cleveland.Martin Ruby
Martin Owen Ruby (June 9, 1922 – January 3, 2002) was an offensive tackle and defensive tackle for the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the All-America Football Conference, New York Yanks of the National Football League, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union. He resided in Waco, Texas, while he was a professional player.
Professional gridiron football leagues in North America