Note: The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, "THE LITTLE LEAGUE THAT COULD: How the AFL changed the NFL forever." The book will be published by Rowman-Littlefield and is due out in 2010.
No Super Bowl.
No national TV contract for the NFL.
No two-point conversions, player names on uniforms or official time on scoreboards.
Without Lamar Hunt, longtime owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, what would pro football be like today?
And none of the innovations that are so familiar to fans of the modern game, as if they had existed forever.
"Lamar was a visionary," said Jack Steadman, Hunt's longtime top executive with the Chiefs. "Without question, Lamar held the league together until the merger and then was the principle one to negotiate the merger with the NFL."
With Hunt one of the driving forces, the AFL challenged the NFL's dominance in professional football. In head-to-head competition for players and the sport's public affection, the AFL more than held its own for 10 seasons, from 1960 through 1969. Along the way, the competing leagues formed a merger.
No AFL teams folded and only two teams changed cities during the league's 10-year existence.
There had been three leagues in sports history calling themselves the American Football League. But not like this AFL, which put the emphasis on passing and high scoring.
Same game, more adventurous style.
Sid Gillman, who coached the high-powered Hadl-to-Lance Alworth combination in San Diego, was largely responsible for moving the passing game to new heights.
A telling statistic: In every season of the AFL's 10-year history, the league posted a higher average of pass attempts per team than the NFL, and it wasn't even close.
In 1968, the NFL seemed to be living up to its image as a conservative running league ("three yards and a cloud of dust," it was called) when its teams averaged but 192 passes for the season.
By comparison, AFL teams averaged a staggering 404.
The AFL's image as a high-powered offensive league wasn't a myth. Comparing the two leagues, AFL teams had the three highest point totals in any of the 10 seasons -- Houston in 1961 with 513 points and the Oakland Raiders with 468 in 1967 and 453 in 1968.
More telling stats, according to the ESPN Pro Football Encyclopedia: In seven of the 10 seasons that the two leagues existed simultaneously, the AFL averaged more touchdown passes per season. And in nine seasons, the AFL outdistanced the NFL in total passing yardage per team.
Not that the NFL was totally inefficient in the passing game. In fact, NFL quarterbacks posted a higher completion percentage than their AFL counterparts every season of the 10-year period. Another startling stat: NFL passers completed better than 50 percent of their pass attempts every year, while AFL quarterbacks never had a season with more than 50 percent pass completions.
Nevertheless, the AFL continued to draw attention to itself with its pass-oriented attacks.
The league made sure that millions of fans across the country saw them fill the air with footballs. They put all of their regular-season games on network TV, another football first. With 14 season games, two more than the NFL, the AFL had plenty of action to show.
What were Sunday afternoons without the mellow tones of Curt Gowdy calling plays of an AFL game on national television? Gowdy's professional presence brought legitimacy to the AFL, and brought new fans to the league.
Growing out of this was yet another innovation: shared television and gate receipts among the teams.
And because the AFL was looking for talent wherever it could find it, the door was open wider for athletes from historically small black colleges.
Certainly the NFL had some African-Americans on rosters, but was generally a conservative, white-dominated league.
While the NFL mostly stuck to recruiting players from the major college programs, the AFL explored the great pool of talent in the smaller historically black schools. The result: the NFL lost such gems as Otis Taylor, Abner Haynes and Buck Buchanan, among others.
The mid-60s was a time of great change in America, and African-Americans could boast a total of 22 representatives in the 1964 AFL All-Star Game.
And they made their presence felt in other ways, boycotting the all-star game in New Orleans that year because of what they considered unfair treatment. The game was shifted to Houston, where the West team beat the East, 38-14.
By the time the AFL had finished its 10th season in 1969, it had a firm grip on America's consciousness and a place in the NFL. It wasn't until 1970 that the leagues would officially merge and be divided into the National Conference and American Conference and play an inter-league schedule.
By then, the so-called "Super Bowl" had become a fixture in American sports. And the light of television was showing the way.
Hunt had an inkling television would be a big-league partner with football, particularly after watching the exciting 1958 New York Giants-Baltimore Colts NFL title game. Hunt was one of some 45 million fans across the nation to do so.
"Lamar was convinced from watching that game that football was the best sport for television, and he just envisioned that football would become very big because of television," Steadman said.
When Hunt's Kansas City Chiefs played the Green Bay Packers in the first championship game between the AFL and NFL, it wasn't called the "Super Bowl" then -- just the "AFL-NFL World Championship Game."
"Then it was that spring that Lamar had the vision that it's the 'Super Bowl,'" Steadman said.
"(NFL commissioner Pete) Rozelle really fought it. He just didn't think it was right at all, and he continued to call it the World Championship Game. But the press had picked up the 'Super Bowl,' and from then on, the media just referred to it as the 'Super Bowl.'"
To repeat, without Lamar Hunt, where would pro football be today?