Houston We've Got a Problem


5:30 p.m.

Boy do I feel old!  When I started at the Hall of Fame 32 years ago, I was using a manual typewriter.  Now I’m “blogging” on our new-look website.  For the record, my manual typewriter wasn’t the one featured in my photo.  That one I picked up at a garage sale.  While it may not look like much, that old Underwood was state-of-the-art in its day. Of course it was eventually replaced with the electric typewriter, then the word processor, then the PC, the laptop, and the…well, you get the picture.

I guess that kind of summarizes how I hope to use this blog.  While I enjoy and have a profound appreciation for today’s game, that appreciation is in large part due to my understanding and appreciation for the “earlier models” of this great sport.  In my blog, I plan to use the tools of this generation to share insight, stories and of course opinions about earlier generations of pro football; the game’s manual typewriters, so to speak.        

{GALLERY}So here’s my first shot at sharing a piece of pro football past.  As you are probably aware, 2009 marks the 50th Anniversary of the eight original American Football League teams.  Having grown up in that league – my father covered the AFL for the Buffalo Evening News, before being named the league’s Director of Public Relations in 1963 – I have many fond memories of “The Other League.”  In 1965, when I was 14 years old my father enlisted my brother (he was 15) and me to work as “runners” at the AFL Draft. 

Our job was to hand deliver a sealed envelope containing the draft picks of each team round-by-round, carried from AFL Commissioner Joe Foss’s office to a small meeting room at the Waldorf Astoria several blocks away.  There we would dutifully turn the envelope over to my father and he’d share the contents with the small group of attending writers.  Since there were 20 rounds that year, the Horrigan-brothers shuttle service ran well into the night.  As I recall my pay for the day-long experience was a “thank you” and some really good chocolate éclairs.

The marquee name in that year’s draft in both the AFL and in the rival NFL was Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis.  The AFL’s Houston Oilers selected Nobis in the first round while the NFL’s expansion Atlanta Falcons team, drafting for  the first time, selected Nobis first overall.  With the two leagues competing with each other for players’ rights, the Nobis signing was going to be an important one.  Unfortunately for us AFLers, Nobis eventually signed with the Falcons.  However, the Oilers and the AFL got a p.r. boost when astronaut Frank Borman took time out while hurling around the world in his space capsule to encourage the Texas linebacker to sign with the AFL’s Oilers.  “Tell Nobis to sign with Houston,” was Borman’s message from space. 

By the way, only two original AFL teams, the Buffalo Bills and the Oilers, now playing as the Tennessee Titans, still have the same ownership.  Buffalo is owned by 2009 Hall of Fame enshrinee Ralph Wilson, Jr. and the Titans are owned by Bud Adams.   The two teams kick off the '09 season in our Hall of Fame Game.

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Written by: Joe Horrigan