The peace talks that led to agreement between the National Football League and the American began and ended near a statue of a Texas Ranger at the Love Field airport in Dallas, Texas. They started on April 6 of this year, when Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the founders of the American Football League, interrupted a trip from Kansas City to Houston to meet me at the Dallas airport. I was waiting for him as inconspicuously as possible in the shadow of the Ranger's statue; at this point we did not want to be seen together.
A little over two months later we got off a plane from Washington together and parted at the statue of the Ranger. The deal between the two leagues had been completed after difficult negotiation, and Lamar looked up at the statue and said, "Here we are back at the Ranger again, but it doesn't make any difference if anyone sees us or not this time."
There has been considerable speculation on what finally brought about a peace. Some think that when the Giants signed Pete Gogolak, the Buffalo kicker, and the AFL began to retaliate, the two leagues ran for cover to avoid spending money. Some people think that this happened because of the Roman Gabriel case on the Coast or the John Brodie case in Houston. But the negotiations were well under way before Gogolak was signed or Gabriel was approached by Oakland or John Brodie, the San Francisco quarterback, visited Houston. In fact, the Gogolak, Gabriel and Brodie cases were stumbling blocks to negotiation.
There had been serious discussion between individual owners in the two leagues for two or three years. You would hear that Sonny Werblin of New York had been talking to Carroll Rosenbloom of Baltimore or that Ralph Wilson of Buffalo had discussed peace with Art Modell. A certain amount of ground work had been laid before my meeting with Lamar in Dallas.
June 19, 1966
I had always thought that if a proper plan could be worked out, peace was feasible. Sometime late in February, in a telephone conversation I had with Dan Reeves, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, we explored the possibilities of a deal and tried to figure out what might be the essentials acceptable to the NFL owners. After talking it over with Dan, I called Pete Rozelle.
Pete and I decided that we should keep the early stages of a peace plan limited to the people most directly involved—Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Lou Spadia of the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL owners in two-team cities—until it was developed further. We felt that if the NFL could come up with an acceptable plan that was good for the sport, it could then be presented to the American Football League. If they liked it, fine. If not, we could settle down to an all-out war. At the moment we were half fighting and half making love. We wanted the decks cleared.
Pete and I outlined a plan to Mara in a telephone conversation in early March; it was, in rough outline, the same plan that was eventually accepted by both leagues. Wellington was something less than enthusiastic, but he said that if the basics of the plan were strong enough so that the rest of the owners accepted it, the special New York problems could probably be solved.
Then I flew out to San Francisco to try to convince Lou Spadia that a deal could work. Lou's problem in San Francisco was a tough one. New York had shown that it was feasible for two pro clubs to exist in that city, since the Giants were sold out on season tickets and the Jets had a healthy season-ticket sale of their own. San Francisco, on the other hand, is not as big as New York and past history had raised some questions about the success of a two-team market. Lou met me at the airport, and we drove to Palo Alto for lunch.
Lou pointed out, reasonably enough, that he did not mind competing with the Oakland Raiders in San Francisco as long as they were in the AFL and he was in the NFL with exclusive use of NFL teams as opponents. He was not so sure that two NFL clubs could succeed in that area. He pointed out that San Francisco proper is an area bounded on three sides by water, with very little room for growth. The 49ers played in San Francisco's 41-year-old Kezar; the Raiders played in Oakland across the Bay and the growth area in northern California was there.
I had arrived at the airport at 11 in the morning, and Lou took me back at 5 in the afternoon. After six hours of discussion Lou was, to put it mildly, still not enthusiastic. But he understood what we were trying to do, and he agreed not to put any stumbling blocks in our way.
The next step was to discuss the whole thing with the NFL attorneys before approaching anyone in the American Football League. I talked to Hamilton Carothers, a member of the Washington firm of Covington & Burling, on March 30. After he and Pete and I went over the various legal and political aspects of the thing at some length by phone, he said go ahead, informally. Then Pete and I went over the list of American Football League owners, looking for the best one with whom we could negotiate.
We wanted an owner who had prestige, the desire for peace, time to work on the problem, no personal prejudices—and who could keep his mouth shut. Lamar filled the requirements perfectly, and also he was one of the founders of the league. As a small unpremeditated plus, he lives only a few blocks from me in Dallas—which was to simplify our meetings later on.
So on Monday, April 4, I called Lamar in Kansas City and asked him if he could meet me in Dallas. He said he would arrange his travel from K.C. to an AFL meeting in Houston so that he would have an hour and a half layover in Dallas. His plane arrived in Dallas a little after 7 in the evening, and we met under the Ranger statue, then went out and sat in my car in the parking lot. I laid out the general plan for him and he listened intently, asking a question now and then for clarification. I told him that this was not just conversation, that Rozelle knew about it and approved, but I explained that only a few of our owners were aware of it and suggested that he keep it as confidential as possible for a while, at least until we resolved the problem of the two-team market. Pro football owners are individualists and competitors who like to compete in public. At this stage 24 owners would have made the discussions too unwieldy, so I suggested to Lamar that I be his only direct contact in the NFL and he would be mine in the AFL.
I did not hear from Lamar before going on a brief vacation. In the meantime, at the AFL meeting in Houston, Joe Foss resigned and was replaced by Al Davis. None of this seemed to be too important at the time. I went to Clint Murchison's island on April 12, with my wife and the Rozelles and four other couples, and stayed there until April 17, when my wife and I flew on to Jamaica.
During this time another problem had developed. Wellington Mara had come across information that Sonny Werblin was negotiating for the sale of the New York Jets. Also there were newspaper stories that Barron Hilton would sell the San Diego Chargers. One of the early problems in the peace talks was whether the Jets and Raiders would stay in New York and Oakland. Since these things had a bearing on the situation Lamar Hunt was informed of them. Lamar investigated the stories and reported to us that they would not affect the talks.
Meanwhile, Spadia in San Francisco was growing more and more unhappy, and Pete and Wellington flew out to San Francisco to talk to him on April 21 or 22. I was supposed to go from Jamaica to Panama on May I for some fishing, but I canceled the trip so that I could return to Dallas and resume the talks with Lamar. As it turned out, I came back on April 29 because of a flood that nearly washed my house away.
My next meeting with Lamar was in his home at 9 a.m. on the morning of May 3. His home is not far from the Dallas Cowboy office, so the meeting was convenient and inconspicuous. At this meeting we discussed the questions as they existed at the time—primarily to resolve the New York and San Francisco-Oakland area problems, and for the first time I told Lamar how much I personally thought it might cost the AFL. He didn't show much emotion. Luckily, he is a very quiet, unruffled personality. I could not have had a better man to negotiate with. I'm emotional, and I have a tendency to lose my temper. The few times I lost it with Lamar, he simply sat quietly and never flared back.
After this meeting he said he would need another week to think over the proposal. He called me the following Monday, and we met at his home again on Tuesday, May 10. Until this meeting Lamar had been noncommittal. Now he felt any problems could be solved, and for the first time I thought we had a good chance for success. I called Pete and told him of Lamar's reaction.
The NFL meeting was scheduled for Washington beginning May 16. Pete suggested that I come to New York early so that we could have a meeting with Wellington and Lou Spadia. The meeting took place at the Plaza on the evening of May 13 at 9 p.m., and it did not go too well. Lou was still unenthusiastic, and Wellington seemed less receptive than he had been previously. I did not know at the time that he was contemplating signing Pete Gogolak.
The next day I had lunch with Rozelle, and we came to the conclusion that the time was not ripe to present the idea to the league meeting. We decided that we would approach the owners one or two at a time and sound them out in general terms. This way we could get a go-ahead without any premature publicity or a big stir.
Then on Tuesday at the meeting Well dropped his Gogolak bomb. His signing of the Buffalo place kicker was perfectly legal and aboveboard, but it obviously came at a bad time for peace negotiations. Far from triggering an agreement between the leagues, it almost ended the possibility of peace. At a time when we wanted the owners in as harmonious a mood as possible, it created division and anger. And, of course, it created even more problems for Lamar.
I talked to Carroll Rosenbloom and Art Modell, who had talked to AFL owners a year ago, and to Edward Bennett Williams, Vince Lombardi and Dan Reeves, explaining to them the real prospects for a deal and asking their help in talking to the other owners so that there would be no open division at the meeting. They agreed that the prime objective was peace and they did a fine job. I called Lamar and told him not to panic about the Gogolak thing.
On the last day of the league meeting Pete told the owners of the possibility of a deal and named a group to meet in New York the next day. Its members were Mara, Spadia, Lombardi, Rosenbloom, Modell, Stormy Bidwill of the St. Louis Cardinals and me. I was expected back in Dallas that day, so I called my wife and told her to tell anyone who called that I had stayed over for the Preakness. I had to remember to watch the Preakness on TV in case anyone asked me about it.
At this New York discussion Well said he would go along with us, and Spadia said he thought it would be agreeable to the 49ers under certain conditions. But he wanted to review the entire matter with the controlling stockholders of the 49ers, the widows of club founders Vic and Tony Morabito. He set up a meeting with them for Tuesday, May 24.
I flew back to Dallas Saturday night, May 21, and started a string of almost sleepless nights. Pete decided during the next week to discuss with club presidents the details of the proposed plan, leading to final approval. Tuesday, May 24, I flew back to New York, ostensibly to discuss a club TV problem but actually to meet with Pete and some of the other owners. He set up meetings with the Rooneys, Jerry Wolman, Bill Ford, Modell and Mugs Halas, all of whom came to New York, and outlined the deal for the other owners on the telephone. Everything went smoothly until we got to San Francisco. After his meeting with the widows, Lou Spadia had renewed reservations.
So Pete caught a plane to San Francisco Thursday evening, May 26, and met with Spadia on the 27th. He called me in Dallas later that day to say everything looked O.K., and I suggested that he come to Dallas for a couple of days so that we could finalize the general terms of the plan. Pete came in that night for a quiet weekend, and I told my daughter not to mention that he was there. She nicknamed him "Sneaky Pete." but she kept quiet. She could not help overhearing our talk, though, as Pete called various club presidents, and at one point she asked incredulously, "Mom, are they talking about peace?" My wife had to threaten her with mayhem if she did not keep quiet.
So Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with Pete working on a borrowed typewriter, we made notes on the plan, and Pete called all the owners, developing a common ground everyone agreed on. By Monday—Memorial Day—we had it all squared away. The American Football League had not heard this version yet, so Sunday night I called Lamar Hunt, who was in Indianapolis for the 500, and asked him if he could come directly to my house in Dallas after the end of the race the next day. He said he could.
Lamar was having trouble with some of his people at this time. They seemed to feel that the NFL was setting some kind of booby trap for them. For the first time Pete talked to Lamar on the phone that Sunday night to reassure him of the good faith of the NFL and to let him know that this was not just conversation with me. Lamar was delayed the next day when the 500 was held up by the big accident. He was supposed to get to Dallas about 7:30, and I was waiting nervously for him to call. Pete had gone back to New York. About 7:50 the phone rang and I jumped a foot, but it was Clint Murchison, the Cowboy owner. I told him I was waiting for Lamar's call and that he had startled me. Some 20 minutes later the phone rang again. It was Clint again, and all he said this time was "Boo!"
Lamar finally called about a quarter after 9, but we were both too tired to meet that night, so he came around the next morning, May 31. I gave him a yellow pad and a pencil and then explained the plan using the five pages of notes that Pete and I had produced. Lamar made no comment as I talked, other than to question points for clarification. When I had finished, I said, "There it is. If you accept, this deal has been approved by every NFL club. If you have to alter it too much, it will blow up."
I ought to make it clear here that Lamar and I, in all the hours we talked about this, never argued bitterly. We were on the same side of the fence, doing our best to reach a reasonable settlement for both leagues.
After this meeting Lamar went to New York, to the Regency Hotel, with his notes. He was to meet with Ralph Wilson and Billy Sullivan there. This, incidentally, was the first time I knew Lamar had a committee. My discussions were always with him alone. I heard from him again later in the week, by telephone. He gave me a list of 26 points of differences or additions. Some were minor, some were not.
I called Pete in New York, and we went over the 26 points. Either they presented no NFL problems, or Pete took them up with the clubs involved by phone. About a third of Lamar's points were acceptable, another third were not and that left a third to be worked out. A lot of the differences involved simple problems of wording. Even now, there is no formal written agreement between the two leagues other than a few notations made by the participants.
After I talked to Pete I called Lamar. It seems a roundabout way to do things, but that's the way it went for a few hours. Pete and Lamar were about 10 blocks apart in New York, and they negotiated by phone through me in Dallas.
My next meeting with Lamar in person was on Sunday night, June 5, at my home. We went over the master plan, point by point, and we went over the replies to the AFL's 26 points and by the time we finished that session, at 11:45 p.m., there were only a few items of disagreement left. The big bone of contention was on a question of expansion. The NFL and the AFL would each add a team during the four years before the actual combining of the leagues. The NFL owners wanted the AFL to provide the players for the new AFL team, but the payment for the new franchise would go directly to the NFL. That was the way it was settled.
Finally Lamar left to fly to New York early the next morning, and that day, Monday, June 6, we were in almost constant telephone contact, clarifying points. We reached tentative accord around midnight, Dallas time. I called Pete, and he got the approval of the NFL owners by phone by late morning on Tuesday, June 7. It had been planned to appoint committees from both leagues to clear up details and handle the release of the story in a deliberate fashion, but by now rumors were flying and stories were appearing hourly that contained incorrect information. Pete talked to our Washington attorneys, and they advised that we release the news in proper form as soon as possible. They set up dates with Senator Philip Hart and Representative Emanuel Celler for Pete, and the original plan was accelerated. Then we arranged to meet in Washington with attorneys, and I called Lamar in New York.
We tried a little cloak-and-dagger here, reasoning that if all of us showed up in Washington some alert reporter might discover what was up. "We'll take a suite at the Sheraton-Carlton under a fictitious name," I told Lamar. "When you get there, go right up. Don't register under your own name." He agreed and hung up.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten to give him the fictitious name.
A friend of mine made the reservation for us under the name of "Ralph Pittman." Pete arrived in early afternoon, signed in as Ralph Pitman, and then he went to the league attorney's office, where I joined him that evening. I suddenly realized that Lamar did not know the name under which we registered, so I called the desk at the Sheraton and probably created instant confusion. "If a Lamar Hunt comes in and asks for Pete Rozelle or Tex Schramm," I said, "tell him that they are in the Ralph Pittman suite. I am registered there, but my name is Schramm."
Fortunately for all of us, Lamar's plane was delayed, and by pure coincidence he arrived in the lobby of the hotel just as Pete and the attorneys and I returned to the hotel, around 9 p.m. Then we all went to the Ralph Pittman suite and worked until 3 a.m. on the wording of the publicity release. Pete, late Tuesday afternoon, had conferred with Senator Hart on the legal and political aspects of the plan, and Wednesday afternoon he talked with Representative Celler.
We set up the press conference at the Warwick in New York for 6 p.m. Wednesday, and we were 15 minutes late because of traffic on Sixth Avenue. Maybe we were a long time coming to this peace, too. But I'm sure it is not too late.
After long and difficult negotiations involving concessions by people in both the American and the National Football leagues and recommendations by our attorneys, we feel the plan devised and announced is one that the public wants. It should bring about a better and more orderly era in professional football.
Wooed by NFL, Linebacker Tommy Nobis enjoyed party at New York's Latin Quarter.
After spiriting Aaron Brown away from NFL sitter, Lamar Hunt signed him for AFL team.
When Halfback Ron Medved was married to Adrian Montbroussous, NFL babysitter John Merrill (left) went along, arranged honeymoon, later signed him.
THE MAJOR POINTS OF THE MERGER
1 Pete Rozelle (above) will be commissioner.
2 The leagues will play a world championship game this season.
3 All existing franchises remain at present sites.
4 A common draft will be held in January 1967.
5 Two franchises will be added by 1968, one stocked by the NFL, one by the AFL, but both franchise payments will be made to NFL.
6 AFL clubs to pay indemnity of $18 million to NFL over 20 years.
7 Interleague preseason games will be played in 1967, single schedule in 1970.