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Score Another One For The AFL

More by Ed Fulda
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The pre-Super Bowl game hype was hauntingly familiar. The NFC (read NFL) Champion St. Louis Rams were a 14-point favorite over the upstart AFC (read AFL) Champion New England Patriots. The bookies, TV analysts, and reporters were unanimous in their assessment that the Rams were going to crush the Pats. The mighty Rams were a 14-point favorite and the only real question was how big the final margin of victory would be. Rod Serling must have found a way to come back from the grave to ship us back to the days of Super Bowls III and IV. The Twilight Zone is a funny place, however, as the Rams discovered.

The Baltimore Colts had the same rude awakening in Super Bowl III. The odds makers favored the Colts over the Jets by close to three touchdowns. Three days before the game, Jets QB Joe Namath boldly guaranteed a Jets win and the media had a good laugh. Everyone knew that the Colts were going to crush this shabby little team from a second-rate league. They should have listened to Namath. The final score (16-7 Jets) didn't reflect just how badly the Colts had been beaten.

The bookies and the press obviously didn't learn their lesson, as the Minnesota Vikings were established as a 16-point favorite over the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. The Vikings, after all, represented the NFL while the Chiefs came from the AFL. KC went about its game preparation with little fanfare. There were no bold guarantees or predictions. The Chiefs just went out on the field and beat the Vikings like a rented mule. The AFL went out in grand style.

With the merger of the AFL and the NFL, however, things were never quite the same again. Most of the Super Bowl games were yawners. Several of the games didn't even have an AFL representative. Even 32 years after the merged league started playing, I still get irritated when the AFC is represented by an interloper like Baltimore or Pittsburgh. The Patriots, to their credit, found a way to get to the big dance and chalk up another victory for the AFL. Their upset of the Rams ranks right up there with the wins posted by the Jets and Chiefs. One can only hope that someday the bookies and the press will give the AFL teams their due.

The Patriots' victory should also teach Dick Vermeil an important lesson. Defenses win championships; offenses only sell tickets. The Colts, Vikings, and Rams were all beaten by top-notch defenses. I can't help but think that Jerry Mays, Aaron Brown, and Buck Buchanan were looking down with big grins at the result and pointing to their "AFL-10" patches with pride. The same goes for everyone who ever played, coached, or owned an AFL team and those of us that were - and still are - AFL fans.

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