In 1959, eight wealthy businessmen, unable to break into the closed ranks of the National Football League, agreed to start their own—calling it the American Football League. None could have foreseen the wild ride that followed. From 1960 through 1969, when the league merged with the NFL, the AFL captured the imagination of the country, who loved the colorful uniforms, the more colorful players, and the wide-open, pass-happy style of play.
Now, those who remember the AFL can experience it again through a new book entitled Remember the AFL: The Ultimate Fan’s Guide to the American Football League
(August, $29.95, Clerisy Press). Author Dave Steidel has put together a season-by-season, team-by-team history of the league sure to evoke fond football memories for fans. Through in-depth research and hundreds of photos, including many classic football cards, the book brings that one-of-a-kind era in pro football to life. Remember the AFL presents the history of the league from the early days, when the league struggled for survival, to Broadway” Joe Namath’s brash guarantee of a victory against the champion Baltimore Colts and culminating in the last historic AFL/NFL match-up of Super Bowl IV.
Fully illustrated and loaded with stats, trivia and stories, Remember the AFL also utilizes the Topps and Fleer football cards which helped kids connect with the brash new league and its players. Uniforms and helmets for all ten teams are pictured as the league evolved through the decade. Steidel received numerous contributions from vintage football card and memorabilia collectors as he pieced together the league’s incredible story.
The book delves into the famous, infamous, and long-forgotten players who made this league so unique. The AFL moved far quicker on the field and off, giving minority players much greater access, to the point of relocating one of its All-Star games from New Orleans when African-American players experienced discrimination throughout the city.
Steidel is a lifelong football fan who connected with other AFL fans through the website RemebertheAFL.com. A high school guidance counselor in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Remember the AFL is is first book.
Sports Collectors Daily’s Five Questions with author Dave Steidel
Why was it important to utilize old football cards and wrappers etc in the book and where did the material come from?
1) I started out wanting to write a book about the AFL was unlike any other. And one of the goals was to focus more on the players, games and visual remembrances that made the league so different and unique. I also wanted to include a high number of cards and pictures so readers could connect faces to the names and events that they were reading about.
What I remember most about the AFL are the great personalities, the colorful uniforms and great looking helmets – and especially the football cards that connected me to the players I watched every Sunday. They were all included so that the readers could experience the full feeling of taking a time capsule journey back to their childhood and not only be able to read and remember, but also so they close their eyes and see the players and events happening once again.
The cards were all donated by AFL collectors around the country. Their names and the years donated appear in the acknowledgements page of the book. The wrappers were supplied with permission from Topps and Fleer and were included because it was another taste of the past that I thought readers would enjoy seeing again. Minus the stale stick of gum of course!
2) How popular is AFL memorabilia today?
One only needs to log on to Ebay and other collector sites to see the wealth of merchandise available including game programs, cards, pennants and yearbooks. RemembertheAFL.com also has a reader board for collectors to post want lists. There is a great network of AFL aficionados that are always scouring the countryside looking for memorabilia.
3) How did the AFL pull off getting Topps to sign a deal to include AFL cards in its set and how did Fleer enter the picture?
Fleer produced four set of cards for the AFL starting with the inaugural set in 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963. Topps’ first AFL only set was in 1964 when the NFL changed their allegiance from Topps to the Philadelphia Gum Co. for their 1964 set. This move of course left Fleer out in the cold. Topps produced AFL-only sets from 1964 through 1967. In 1961 both Topps and Fleer came out with sets that include both AFL and NFL players. It wasn’t until 1968 that Topps combined both leagues in the same set again.
4) Is there a ‘holy grail’ for AFL collectors?
I hope it is this book! But prior to Remember the AFL there are probably four other books that should be in an AFL collector’s library. They are: The $400,000 Quarterback, We Came of Age, Touchdown and The Other League. Some are more difficult to find than others and all of them were written between 1965 and 1969. These four sort of worked as my impetus to write this book because with everything I read about the AFL and even with books written about individual AFL teams or their greatest seasons left wanting more; whether it was more in depth information or more pictures. When I starting writing I wanted this book to be the one I always wanted to read. I wanted to include all of the “more” stuff that I was always left wanting for. If I could do that, I figured I’d be able to write the book everyone else wanted as well. From the feedback I’ve gotten from both fans and player readers, I like to think that mission was accomplished.
5) What’s your favorite AFL football card or set and why?
Every set has a significant and special place for me because each year represents a different stage of my own coming of age, as I was nine when the league began and I started collecting and nineteen when it ended. Looking at those cards now is like listening to those oldies songs you hear on the radio that immediately take you back to particular place, time or event. But if I had to pick one set that I would call my favorite it would be the 1965 Topps set because it was such a unique card.
The size/dimensions (2 ½ x 4 11/16) were unique, breaking from the traditional 2 ½ x 3 ½. The background colors were so bright and the pictures so crisp and some players on the Chiefs were even holding helmets without the logos being air brushed out as was usually the case. Also because each team included an unprecedented number of 22 players from each team – the most any set had ever included. The 1964 set had 21 players and a team card and in 1966 and 1967 the number was reduced to only 14 or 15 players from each team.
6)You don’t see a lot of game worn jerseys or game-used equipment from the AFL. What became of it all?
Good question! I know a few guys who have a few old Chargers jerseys from the early 60’s but they are very, very rare and almost nonexistent from what I’ve seen. I’d love to see more affordable AFL throwback jerseys out there but I guess the market isn’t big enough yet. I hope that with next year’s 50th anniversary of the beginning of the AFL that there will be a renewed interest in these great old style jerseys and someone will come forward and produce them. Mitchell & Ness in Philadelphia does have an AFL throwback line but they are well beyond my budget.
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