A young colleague of mine told me today he is going to Houston this weekend. He’s going to attend a football game: the Super Bowl.
My friend is a diehard, true-blue, dedicated fan of the New England Patriots, who will face off Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Our brief conversation prompts me to offer this off-kilter perspective on the game that’s about to overwhelm us. It is this:
I have no particular allegiance to a team. My preference is for the conference. The National Football League comprises two conferences: American and National.
Going back many decades, I have long been an American Football Conference fan. My reasons are weird. Perhaps there are others out there who share my loyalty to the AFC.
It goes back to the American Football League. The AFL came into being in 1960. I was intrigued that a brand new pro football league would challenge the NFL. AFL teams played an exciting brand of football. They scored a lot of points; they played initially before sparse crowds; yet they had some talented players engaging in some tackle football.
Then in 1966, the NFL and the AFL agreed to merge. It would occur at the start of the 1970 season. Before the merger took effect, the AFL played the NFL in a championship game. The Green Bay Packers won the first two of those games in 1967 and 1968. Then in 1969, the AFL’s New York Jets — led by quarterback Joe Willie Namath — surprised the sporting world by defeating the Baltimore Colts; the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL battered the Minnesota Vikings in the following year’s championship game.
Then the leagues merged. My loyalty to the AFL was watered down somewhat when three NFL teams joined the AFC. They were: the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts, the Cleveland Browns (now known as the Baltimore Ravens) and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thus, my AFL loyalty was watered down somewhat by the presence of these old NFL teams playing in the same conference as the new teams.
But my AFC loyalty has remained strong. It has presented a struggle for me when the Steelers, Ravens and Colts have represented the AFC in Super Bowls. I continue to this day to root for teams that are held over from the old AFL … such as, oh, the New England Patriots.
I’ll root for the Patriots on Sunday, not so much because of the guys who play for them, or the fellow who coaches them. I shall root for them chiefly because of their origin as one of the founding franchises in the American Football League.
My young friend who’ll be somewhere in that Houston stadium cheering his lungs out Sunday for the Pats wasn’t even born when the leagues merged. He’s entitled to root for his team.
I’ll cheer for the league from which they came.