Autographed 1965 Topps Joe NamathPrior to the AFL and NFL coming to an agreement on a merger in 1966, the two leagues held independent drafts for players coming out of college.  That meant that a given player would often be drafted by one team from the NFL and another team from the AFL.  This gave certain players something of a bargaining chip, as the more highly desired players could play the two teams off each other during contract negotiations.  This in turn caused the salaries of incoming rookies to escalate, and more than anything else, forced the two leagues to meet and hash out a merger agreement.

One of the earliest, and most well-known double draft conflicts was the case of Heisman Trophy winner and LSU running back, Billy Cannon.  Cannon had been drafted by the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL and Houston Oilers of the AFL.  The Rams illegally signed Cannon to a contract prior to the conclusion of his college career.  When Cannon learned that the Oilers were offering him significantly more than the Rams contract was worth, he signed with Houston as well.  The case ended up in court, where a judge released Cannon from his NFL contract, freeing him to sign with the Oilers.

The double draft also inspired teams from both leagues to conduct espionage-like missions to whisk college players away into hiding in the days leading up to the draft, thus ensuring that the player in question would not be tempted away by promises from the other league.  In his classic piece of AFL literature, Going Long, author Jeff Miller dedicated a chapter called Planes, Trains and Automobiles to the hijinks that occurred by “babysitters” from both leagues.  The story of the wide receiver Otis Taylor, who ultimately had a long and successful career with the Kansas City Chiefs, is particularly entertaining, and involves the bribery of hotel employees, phony business cards, 3:00 AM telephone calls, jumping out of hotel windows and hoping on chartered airplanes.

It was Joe Namath and his then-outrageous $427,000 contract that started the wheels in motion for a merger between the leagues and the end of the dual draft.  Neither league could afford for salaries to continue to rise at such an alarming rate, and so backroom meetings were held between team owners from the two league, and a plan for the merger was created.  Joe Namath was drafted in 1965, and just two years later the AFL and NFL held their first common draft.  It took four season for the merger to be complete, but the draft was dealt with immediately.