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'The Merger' looks at time of vital change in football

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NFL Network's Timeline series will continue on Thursday night with The Merger, a retrospective on how the AFL and NFL went from bitter rivals to necessary business partners in the 1960s.  

Here are five takeaways from the NFL Films-produced special, narrated by Rich Eisen:

» The merger had many fathers: From Pete Rozelle, to Joe Namath, to Lamar Hunt. The list goes on. But did you know that one of the most important figures in the formation of the modern NFL was a kicker from the Bills named Pete Gogalak? The New York Giants broke an unwritten pact between the two leagues when they signed Gogalak -- the AFL's best kicker -- away from Buffalo in 1966. The AFL responded by taking out their checkbooks to raid NFL rosters. The gentlemen's agreement was cooked. Change was coming.

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» Browns owner Art Modell cited the AFL's five-year, $36 million television contract signed with NBC in 1964 as a major turning point in the battle between the two competing leagues. "When that came out I said, 'This is the beginning of the end.' I knew they were for real when NBC signed them. It gave them credibility. The money is one thing, but credibility is more important." When the next major television deal was signed, the two leagues were one.

» How can you talk about the rise of the AFL and the merger with the NFL without mentioning Joe Namath? The iconic Jets quarterback's flashy style, star power and big arm gave the AFL unimpeachable cred. Namath explained to Jeremy Schapp that his iconic finger point to the sky after Super Bowl III victory in 1969 described not just the Jets' rise, but of the AFL's new place in the professional football pecking order. The league's merged one year later.

» Love some of the old stories that have become folktales for the league. The original owners of the AFL nicknaming themselves "The Foolish Club" because they were crazy to take on the big, bad NFL. Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt getting the idea to name the NFL-AFL Championship Game the "Super Bowl" based on a toy his children played with (the Super Ball).

» The merger seemed inevitable with the benefit of hindsight, but at the time this was a legal corn maze with bad blood galore. Said Rozelle: "How do you bring about peace when people are committed to war?" They figured it out, then built the unified NFL into America's pro sports mecca.

"Timeline: The Merger" will premiere on Christmas Eve following the conclusion of "Thursday Night Football" coverage on NFL Network.

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