News

Print
RSS

Too Often Forgotten

Posted Sep 21, 2013

An inside look at the work of former AFL commissioner, Milt Woodard

Sift through enough of the Lamar Hunt archives and you’ll find countless memos, letters and notes to Milt Woodard. 

Woodard was the president of the American Football League and Commissioner Joe Foss’s right hand man. He had started as the AFL’s assistant commissioner, from the league’s earliest days, but quickly rose up the ranks and held the eventual position as commissioner from 1966 to 1970 (following not Foss but Al Davis, who held the post, right before the merger).

As second in command, under Foss, he was frequently called upon to do the dirty work of compiling information and strategies for the league and was a central figure in handling player disputes. He is credited with coming up with the idea for the 10-year patch, worn by the Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, to commemorate the years of the American Football League, but it has been offered that long-time AFL fan Angie Coniglio had a hand here, too.

Woodard also had the unenviable task of developing the yearly schedule of games; a job that drew the usual complaints from any of the eight original franchises owners, GMs and coaches.

San Diego wanted to play at home when Los Angeles was at home; that way, the Chargers didn’t have to fight the Rams television network, which blacked-out games in Southern California when LA was there.  Oakland wanted the same head-to-head schedule with the San Francisco 49ers. The theory was that it’s much easier to fight for an audience when another area team isn’t offering its services free on television.  On the other hand, the New York Jets, which needed the quick exposure in the early ‘60s that only television could afford, wanted to play on the road, when the Giants were at home. 

Of further concern was the issue of stadium availability, specifically where the Dallas Texans might end up going into the 1963 season as founder Lamar Hunt contemplated moving his team from Dallas to Kansas City.

“The Cotton Bowl has always been one of our biggest headaches," Woodard said at the time, “because of the two teams playing there. We are locked in, but we have no flexibility. In Kansas City we’ll have the problems with the baseball park, but we have that same problem early in the season in Boston, Buffalo, New York and Denver.”

With producers of ABC-TV, the network carrying AFL games at the time, breathing down his neck, Woodard had more than the teams to satisfy. To no surprise, the schedule was rigged for the strong teams to play each other early in the season but, for Woodard’s money, he would have been just as happy if every league team had “a 4-4 record after eight weeks,” he admitted.

Whatever the outcome and whatever the complaint, Woodard did have some definitive rules to schedule-making that he tried hard never to ignore.

1.    Stay out of New York during a Jewish holiday
2.    Avoid the snow-belt cities of Buffalo, Denver and, if possible, Boston, during December
3.    Limit the number of night games because of television complications.

Woodard got his start in baseball as a GM for the Grand Rapids, MI professional baseball team and also in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  He later moved to professional golf, as executive vice president of the Western Golf Association. Interestingly enough, he started his career as a sports writer in Washington.

You won’t hear his name much in the early talk about the AFL, but he was a key figure in its success as a league. 

FAN COMMENTS