For people of my generation, and even the one before it, the war between the AFL and NFL is a story, told in history books and programs. Some of us saw the NFL tackle the USFL, and all of us watched the XFL wither and die after one season. However, the AFL (technically the third football league called the American Football League) held its own when ABC paid them to air their games. From that moment on, the war was on more equal footing than when the NFL had beat the AAFC in the late 1940s, and if you believe those in the know at that point, it was the moment when the legendary AFL-NFL merger became inevitable.
However, one reason why the AFL succeeded was its choice of venues. Buffalo, Dallas (later moved to Kansas City), New York, Oakland (cashing in the Bay Area market), and Los Angeles were among the great cities the AFL decided to set up shop in. Think about it: in the late 1950s, Los Angeles and other sunbelt cities were growing, thus making Los Angeles an ideal place for an AFL team, especially considering that the NFL wasn’t there at the time.
However, in something of a non-story today, the Los Angeles Chargers moved to San Diego after one year, taking the Chargers and Sid Gilman’s deep coaching staff, which included Al Davis and Chuck Noll with it. The Chargers have remained in San Diego ever since, whilst both the Rams and Raiders have since moved to, and from, Los Angeles, thus leaving LA with the same amount of professional football teams it had in 1961: zero.
Los Angeles long has been told that, unlike most areas, they have not one, but two nationally known college football teams, USC and UCLA, and they should be happy with that. Many LA-based sports analysts, including Jim Rome, have commented how moving an NFL team to Los Angeles would be more heart-breaking for the area losing the team than elating for LA NFL fans. However, in a city that is more a sprawling metropolis than a city, others have argued that there is always room for more; after all, there are two NBA teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers (the Angels are in Anaheim, regardless of their name), the Los Angeles Kings, the LA Galaxy, as well as USC and UCLA, all of which draw in big crowds and have substantial fan bases; as such, a lot of people would open their hearts to an NFL team.
Candidates for an LA NFL team have previously ranged from the Raiders (a second time), the Chargers, Vikings, and Jaguars. The good money is on the Raiders or Chargers, but you never know with modern sports politics. The problem, thus, is what fans in Sacramento are suffering; ownership may like a move, but the fans and cities about to lose their team will fight to the bitter, bitter end. The NFL has discussed expansion; yeah, right. Let’s wait until after the great recession has ended, then we’ll talk.
However, in 1960, few seemed to care that the Chargers left for San Diego; the early AFL years were full of instability, with both the Chargers and Houston Texans moving to San Diego and Kansas City (where the Texans became the Chiefs), both with little fanfare. It seems humorous now that while Los Angeles could not sustain an AFL team, Oakland could, probably because Al Davis salvaged the Raiders.
A great “what if” for me revolves around the AFL-NFL merger; if it hadn’t happened, one or both leagues may have planted a team in Los Angeles; had they merged later, it would left two teams there, both with relatively deep roots, which isn’t necessarily enough to hold them there, but it’s better than the situations with the Rams and Raiders, both of whom didn’t have a problem taking off in 1994.
Perhaps the biggest slap in the face to LA in that span is that the AFL saw potential there, and it didn’t work out; just as the Rams and Raiders did years later, and it didn’t work there either. The AFL, though, was about out-flanking the NFL, and moving into Los Angeles was a good-hearted attempt to do just that; the failure of the fans of LA to provide a reason to stick around speaks volumes. I’m not saying it’s all the fault of LA for the teams leaving, but LA is not Cleveland; Cleveland was an ownership-driven decision, in spite of the rabid fan base. The Chargers was an economic one; there wasn’t enough financial incentive to remain there, and that is on the fans.
I am in favor of Los Angeles, with or without an NFL team, hosting Super Bowl L, which would give the Super Bowl a proper fiftieth commemoration. That said, whether or not LA deserves a team right now, and will get one, is too high in the air to see what will happen. I wonder if NFL fans in Los Angeles who want a team there look back and wonder if things could have worked out differently. They could have, it’s just that for a lot of them, they weren’t born yet, or old enough, to give those teams a reason to stick around.