Monthly Archives: June 2011

>The Pre-Foolish Club (or How the Raiders came to be)

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As was discussed in my last blog post, after a bit, the owners of the original American Football League teams came to call themselves the Foolish Club, because they must have been crazy to challenge the stranglehold that the NFL had on professional football.  The photo shown above actually shows the Foolish Club minus two important figures – Billy Sullivan of the Boston Patriots, and Mr. Wayne Valley of the Oakland Raiders – the man who coined the term “Foolish Club.” Shown from left-to-right are the following men: TOP ROW Barron Hilton – Son of Hilton Hotels founder, Conrad Hilton, and grandfather of famed socialite, Paris Hilton, Barron was the original owner of the Chargers. Ralph Wilson – A trucking magnate, Wilson is the original owner of the Buffalo Bills, a position that he still holds. Harry Wismer – One of the true characters of the AFL, Wismer was the founder of the New York Titans, who later became the Jets. BOTTOM ROW Bob Howsam – Bob Howsam was the original owner of the Denver Broncos, but sold the franchise early on and became the general manager and club president of the Cincinnati Reds during their “Big Red Machine” days of the 1970s. Max Winter – Max Winter would have been the head of the ownership group of the Minnesota AFL franchise.  More on him later… Lamar Hunt – The founder of the American Football League, Lamar Hunt was the owner of the Dallas Texans, who moved three years later and became the Kansas City Chiefs. Bud Adams – The other original Texan in the AFL, Bud Adams owned the Houston Oilers.  He moved the Oilers to Tennessee many years later, and he is still owner of the Tennessee Titans Soon after this photo was taken, Billy Sullivan would join the group as owner of the Boston Patriots Now back to Max Winter, Wayne Valley and the AFL, er, NFL franchise in Minnesota.  Originally, Minnesota was going to have an AFL franchise.  A onetime owner of the Minneapolis (later Los Angeles) Lakers, Winter had headed a group that like many before him, hat attempted to purchase the Chicago Cardinals of the NFL and move them to the city of their choice.  When Hunt proposed the idea of the AFL, Winter assembled a group of investors and committed to a Minneapolis franchise. As AFL owners were busy building their league, NFL leadership did its best to undermine the new league and cause it to fold.  One of their many tactics was aimed at Minnesota.  Behind closed doors, the NFL promised Max Winter and his group an NFL expansion team if they would leave the AFL.  Pressured by city leadership to accept the NFL’s offer, Minnesota withdrew from the AFL. This left a hole that needed to be filled in the league.  Presentations were made by groups from Atlanta, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis and Miami.  Noticing that his Chargers had no natural rivals, Barron Hilton lobbied hard for another team to be located in California.  Hilton was so adamant about the Oakland franchise in fact, that he threatened to withdraw from the AFL if Oakland was not granted the franchise. And so it was, that the ownership group of eight men, including Y.C. “Chet” Soda, Wayne Valley (the creator of the Foolish Club moniker), Ed McGah and Robert Osborne were granted a franchise in Oakland, and thus the Raiders were born.

>The Foolish Club

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It isn’t often that a piece of memorabilia comes to auction from the collection of a former AFL team owner.  But just such a piece popped up on ebay recently, and I was fortunate enough to add it to my collection.  This item, which used to belong to former New York Jets owner, Sonny Werblin, also happens to highlight one of my favorite AFL sub-topics, the Foolish Club. There were few in sports that gave the AFL owners much of a chance to succeed when they first formed the new league in 1959.  The National Football League had been around for more than 40 years when the AFL played its first season in 1960, and breaking the grip that the NFL had on professional football would not be easy.  In fact, there were so many naysayers chiding the AFL, that Wayne Valley, one of the original owners of the Oakland Raiders, began referring to the fraternity of team owners as the Foolish Club.  The name stuck, and to this day, references can be found to the Foolish Club in most AFL texts and documentaries. As the AFL celebrated its fifth anniversary, Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and founder of the American Football League, had a small number of framed pieces put together and given as gifts to each of the AFL owners at the time.  The collage features an AFL logo in the center, with “The Foolish Club,” and “Age 5,” surrounding it.  There are also color action photos of each of the original eight AFL teams. I had first learned about these frames from San Diego Chargers minority owner, George Pernicano, who showed me one nearly 15 years ago.  I greatly admired the piece not only for its uniqueness, but as well for its historical significance and ties to Lamar Hunt.  So when I stumbled upon another one on ebay one morning, I was immediately interested.  I watched it for an entire week, and placed my bid as the auction came to a close.  Fortunately for me, no one else recognized the piece for what it was, and I was able to win the auction for the opening bid. After trading information with the seller, I learned that that the piece used to belong to Sonny Werblin, former owner of the New York Jets, and the man who brought Joe Namath to the American Football League.  An email from the seller told me that this particular frame had hung in the New York Jets team offices in the 1960s, at a time when the team resided in the Fuller Building, an iconic 30’s style office building located on 57th and Madison Avenue. I received the Foolish Club piece shortly after the auction ended, and I was more thrilled that I could imagine.  After taking a close look at each of the individual team photos, I have an even greater appreciation for each shot, the subjects of which are here: Buffalo Bills – Quarterback Jack Kemp handing the ball off to legendary running back, Cookie Gilchrist. Denver Broncos – Lionel Taylor turning to look for a pass from quarterback, Jacky Lee. San Diego Chargers – Paul Lowe sweeps around the end behind the blocking of center, Sam Gruneisen. Kansas City Chiefs – Quarterback Len Dawson addresses his offense in the huddle. New York Jets – Quarterback Dick Wood launches a pass over the outstretched arms of Chiefs defender, Buck Buchanan. Houston Oilers – Quarterback Don Trull passes to Charlie Hennigan as Chiefs linebacker, Bobby Bell, rushes in. Boston Patriots – Jess Richardson, the last man to not wear a facemask in professional football, and the rest of his defensive line await the next play. Oakland Raiders – Billy Cannon runs around the end behind linemen Wayne Hawkins and Bob Mischak. This is one of the finest additions that I have made to my AFL collection in terms of historical significance.   Now my biggest challenge is trying to find a place to put it on my walls!