Who’s the Best Player Ever Produced by the American Football League?

Joe Namath photo courtesy of the New York Jets
NFL Historical Imagery
(Joe Namath photo courtesy of the New York Jets)
(Willie Lanier photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)

The American Football League was the most successful of the leagues that sprouted to challenge the NFL.

The World Football League lasted only two seasons, the USFL just three and the All-American Football Conference four. The AFL lasted 10 years, landing some serious blows to the NFL’s pride early on by signing such college stars as Joe Namath, Lance Alworth, Johnny Robinson, John Hadl, Ron Mix and Ed Budde — all of whom had been first-round NFL draft picks.

The AFL landed more serious blows to the rival NFL later in the 1960 decade, winning the final two Super Bowls between the two leagues. The New York Jets shocked the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and the Kansas City Chiefs schooled the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

The AFL teams proved they could play with the NFL’s best teams — and the AFL players proved they were as good or better than the NFL players of the 1960s. So who was the best player produced by the AFL? In this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll, we’ll give you five Hall of Famers to choose from — two defenders from the Chiefs, a quarterback from the New York Jets, a wide receiver from the San Diego Chargers or a cornerback from the Oakland Raiders.

So who do you like?

Namath put the NFL on the map in 1965 when he spurned the St. Louis Cardinals to become the highest-paid player in football in signing with the Jets — then guaranteed and delivered that Super Bowl victory over the Colts.

Alworth passed on the chance to play with the San Francisco 49ers to sign with the Chargers. Nicknamed “Bambi,” Alworth averaged better than 20 yards per catch three times in his career and finished with an 18.9-yard average, 13th best in NFL history.

Willie Lanier and Buck Buchanan anchored one of the greatest defenses of all time. The Chiefs are the only Super Bowl champion defense to lead the league across the board in total, scoring, run and pass defense. Joining Buchanan and Lanier in the Hall of Fame off that defense were defensive tackle Curley Culp, outside linebacker Bobby Bell and cornerback Emmitt Thomas.

Willie Brown intercepted 54 passes in his 15 seasons and was one of the AFL originators of the bump-and-run coverage technique with the Raiders.

So who do you like? Vote now:

Previous CFL's Best? It's a Moon Shot
Next Revis best ever? Sorry, Brandon, but time for a history lesson


  1. Derek Burns
    August 26, 2015

    Where’s Gino Cappelletti!?

  2. Frank Donaghue
    August 26, 2015

    Yea, where is Gino?

  3. Rasputin
    August 26, 2015

    “The AFL teams proved they could play with the NFL’s best teams — and the AFL players proved they were as good or better than the NFL players of the 1960s. So who was the best player produced by the AFL?”

    Um, no. The AFL showed that its best teams could compete with the NFL’s best by the very end of the decade, but that certainly wasn’t true in 1960 when the AFL was a league of expansion teams, it wasn’t true in the middle of the decade or the first two Super Bowls when the AFL’s best got blown out, and even into the early 70s the old AFL teams were inferior on average to the old NFL teams. Their struggles against superior NFL competition may be one reason (among others) the 1970s is the only decade in NFL history that actually saw passing stat deflation rather than inflation from the previous decade. They would improve later, but in 1970 no AFL teams were in the top 5 in passer rating, only 2 were in the top 10, they made up 3 of the bottom 5, and AFL teams lost most of their games against old NFL opponents. So it’s more accurate to say that in the 1960s the AFL and its players were significantly inferior to the NFL and its players on average.

    And there really were no “final Super Bowls between the leagues”. The merger actually started in 1966, when a common draft (which facilitated a move toward talent balance) and the SB were established. It was a gradual merger, with 1970 only being relevant in practice because it was the year of conference realignment and the start of regular season play between old AFL teams and the rest of the NFL. If the two leagues had played each other in 1965 or earlier, when they really were two completely separate leagues, the scores likely would have been even more lopsided than they were in the first two Super Bowls.

    Also, no one really “forc(ed)” a merger. Better to say the AFL was successful enough, but ultimately still riddled with enough problems, that it made sense for both sides. AFL commissioner Al Davis hated the idea of a merger though, seeing it as tantamount to surrender, especially since the one Tex Schramm and Lamar Hunt negotiated eliminated the position of AFL commissioner and forced the AFL teams to pay millions in indemnities to the NFL.

    To answer your question I’ll say Lance Alworth, though another Charger, Ron Mix, deserves a mention too.

  4. Steve
    August 28, 2015

    Bill Walsh called Jim Otto the best center he ever saw, that’s pretty good, no?

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.