Joe Foss Institute explores historical ties with NFL

"Joe-Foss-AFL photo" by Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington National Cemetery. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia

Joe Foss American Football League photo (by Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington National Cemetery. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia)

World War II hero. Flying Ace. Medal of Honor Recipient. Governor. These are many descriptors for the late, great Joe Foss.

But as many sit down this weekend to watch the NFL division championship games between the NFC and AFC’s top teams, what many do not know is that Joe Foss had one more very important title in his sterling resume, Commissioner of the American Football League.

Foss-Rozelle Letter

Original letter from Mr. Foss to Mr. Rozelle (submitted photo)

Mr. Foss acted as the first commissioner of the AFL from the beginning in 1959 until 1966 when the AFL began its merger with its more popular and established counterpart, the NFL, according to a press release.

Mr. Foss had no background in football, but his sterling reputation as a war hero, political figure and overall record made him the right candidate for the position. The first years of the AFL, with the original teams of New York Titans, Boston Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and Dallas Texans, was marred by lack of attendance and viewership until Mr. Foss was able to strike landmark television deals with ABC and later NBC in 1964 which brought credibility and exposure to the league.

On Dec. 6, 1963, Mr. Foss sent a letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle re-issuing a challenge to have the two leagues meet for a true championship game. The letter specifically challenged Rozelle in saying, “The overriding fact is the establishment of a World Series of professional football is necessary to the continued progress of our game and if we’re to be true sportsman and not merely businessmen in sport.”

Although it took until 1966 for the agreement to happen, culminating with the first championship game in 1967, later named the Super Bowl, the letter from Mr. Foss to Mr. Rozelle was the impetus behind the eventual merger, the release stated.

Although the leagues did not officially merge until 1970, the championship games set the stage for future Super Bowl’s and a unified league that has become one of the great American sports establishments.

As the current NFL season comes to a close and the AFC and NFC divisions meet to determine a champion, we harken back to the beginnings and legacy that Mr. Foss left on football and this country through his military career, public service as Governor of South Dakota and even after his death on Jan. 1, 2003, his love of country and service live on through the great work of the Joe Foss Institute.

The Scottsdale-based non-profit is committed to promoting civics education in our Nation’s schools as a means to prepare young Americans for civic engagement as voters and informed members of their community. JFI was founded in 2001 and is celebrating its 15th Anniversary in 2016, the release stated.

Following Mr. Foss’ career in football and public office, he retired to Scottsdale where he passed in 2003 and his wife Didi still resides.

The Scottsdale Independent is published monthly and mailed to 75,000 homes and businesses in Scottsdale.

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