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Series / Full Color Football

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There'll never be a decade like The '60s. Never. [...] War... Space... Assassinations. And the AFL was there. Unbelievable.
Larry King.
Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League is a documentary miniseries focusing on the ten-year history of the American Football League, from its conception by Lamar Hunt in 1959 to its final game (Super Bowl IV) before merging with the National Football League in 1970. A co-production of Showtime and NFL Films, it originally aired in 2009, to commemorate the AFL's fifty-year anniversary.

The documentary used game footage, interviews (some archival, some newly-shot), film clips (some of which had never been aired) and pop culture clips from The '60s to trace the history of the league, from its humble, uneven beginnings (fully-professional, well-funded organizations in Buffalo, Houston, Dallas (later Kansas City) and Los Angeles (later San Diego) were side-by-side with threadbare outfits in Denver, Boston, Oakland and New York) to its final days as accepted full members of the pro football world.

The documentary was aired in five parts:

  1. The New Frontier followed the AFL's genesis, born out of oil scion Lamar Hunt's unsuccessful attempt to buy the then-Chicago Cardinals. He joined with fellow Texas oil man (and scorned Cardinal suitor) H.A. "Bud" Adams to organize what would become known as "The Foolish Club:" The AFL's original 8 owners.note  The episode follows the league through what would be it's national coming-out party: The 1962 AFL championship, played to double-overtime, between Hunt's Dallas Texans and Adams' Houston Oilers.

  2. Times They Are a Changin focused on the league's dominant teams through the mid-60s: coach Sid Gillman's high powered San Diego Chargers and the blue-collar Buffalo Bills. Juxtaposed with this were some of the major societal touchstones of the time (particularly the JFK Assassination and its effect on the sports world.) The episode also focuses on the AFL's own racial controversy: The boycott by black players of the 1965 AFL All-Star game, and the decision by the league to move the game from New Orleans (where black players refused to play after being treated with overt and hostile racism) to Houston.

  3. War And Peace sees the league's true coming of age, with the metamorphosis and rise of the New York Titans to the New York Jets, and the Jets' superstar quarterback, Joe Namath. Also covered here were the bidding wars and outright Spy vs. Spy shenanigans the AFL and NFL had, first over college talent, then veteran free agents, before the eventual NFL/AFL merger deal and the first two Super Bowls (both NFL-won blowouts).

  4. Revolution juxtaposes the social upheval of the late 60s with the AFL's fight for respect, culminating in the New York Jets' famous upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Particular focus is on Joe Namath, both for the infamous Guarantee ("We're gonna win the game! I guarantee!") and his status as the AFL's first and biggest superstar (arguably the first sports superstar of the Television Age) and as a counter-cultural icon.

  5. The Final Frontier brings the focus back to Lamar Hunt and the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFL's final season, culminating in the Chiefs' convincing defeat of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. Segments also focused on elements from the league's final days that shaped the future of the new NFL (in particular the "West Coast Offense" innovated by Cincinatti offensive assistant Bill Walsh, now considered a football mainstay).

Reruns can be seen on NFL Network, though no DVD or streaming release has been announced.

Full Color Football contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: How young people saw the AFL, espically after Joe Namath came on the scene. At best (or worst), the players saw themselves as Rule Abiding Rebels.
  • Devil's Advocate: Kerry J. Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts appears either to grudgingly give props to the AFL for actual innovation (the soccer-style place kicker) or poo-pooh the common wisdom that the AFL was more wide-open and vertical a league than the NFL.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: In "The Final Frontier"; Larry King, recalling a conversation he had with Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder about the Washington Redskins being favored over the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII. When King protested that the 13-3 Redskins were favored over the 16-0 Dolphins, Snyder reputedly scoffed and said "They're still the AFL." George Blanda is quoted as saying "They're doing it again. They're underestimating us," regarding the Chiefs being heavy underdogs to the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
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  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the AFL's early days, Buffalo's color scheme mimicked that of the Detroit Lions (of which Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson was part-owner) and Oakland's look mimicked the Pittsburgh Steelers black-and-gold for their first three seasons. Not to mention Denver didn't adopt their classic orange and blue uniforms until 1966. (the less said about their original unis the better)
  • Honor Before Reason: The black player boycott of the '65 All-Star game in New Orleans. Several participants in the boycott feel they were blackballed or otherwise punished by the league for their activism (Ringleader Abner Hayes of Kansas City saw himself traded to league doormat Denver within days of the boycott)
  • Irony: Several interview subjects note that by the time the AFL got the respect it sought from the NFL and sporting world at large, the merger took full effect and there was no more American Football League.
  • Lovable Rogue: Joe Namath's reputation.
  • Pretender Diss: The NFL towards the AFL, even years after the AFL ceased to exist and the American Football League teams were American Football Conference teams.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: What Al Davis and many AFL stalwarts thought of the merger deal. They were full members of the NFL - with all the status and stability that implied, but lost the AFL's unique identity in the process.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: For the first two or three seasons, the AFL teams were full of NFL castoffs, has-beens and small and black college players the NFL largely ignored (with a few exceptions, like 1959 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon, who signed with Houston right out of college).
  • Serious Business: Both leagues treated the post-merger agreement spate of inter-league exhibition/pre-season games as life or death struggles. Two New York Jets held off retirement so they could play the New York Giants during the '69 preseason and the Giants head coach was fired after the Jets won the game 37-14.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The "Foolish Club" leaned towards optimism. It was pointed out that while deep-pocketed teams like Houston and Dallas/Kansas City could absorb the early financial losses with relative ease, less-secure franchises like New York and Denver were surviving hand-to-mouth. Most of the Foolish Club could see the good times ahead and hung in, though Barron Hilton sold the Chargers under pressure from his family and the Hilton stockholders and Harry Wismer was under too much debt to maintain the Titans. (Bob Howsam was the main exception, selling the Broncos after the inagural 1960 season) In the end, half of the Foolish Clubnote  (plus the new ownership groups in Miami and Cincinnati) made it through to become part of the NFL.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: The AFL was the Slobs, being more innovative and flamboyant, to the NFL's Snobs, being more conservative. Made most poignant with the New York Jets, whose fanbase primarily consisted of working class New Yorkers who did not appreciate the elitist aura of the New York Giants.
  • Start My Own: The Cardinals owner bragging that he had so many potential suitors that he didn't have to deal with Lamar Hunt led to Hunt realizing that if there were that many people wanting in to pro football, there was no reason they couldn't just start their own league together.
  • Stock Footage: The documentary made liberal use of pre-existing NFL Films footage and interviews.
  • We Need a Distraction: Then-NFL Commissioner Bert Bell announced the start of the AFL to deflect Congressional anti-trust scrutiny away from the NFL