Foolish Club

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The Foolish Club was the self-imposed name taken by the owners of the eight original franchises of the American Football League (AFL). When Texas oil magnates Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams, Jr. were refused entry to the established NFL in 1959, they contacted other businessmen to form an eight-team professional football league, and called it the American Football League. Though Max Winter had originally committed to fielding a Minneapolis team, he reneged when lured away by the NFL; Winter's group instead joined the NFL as the Minnesota Vikings in 1961 (the Minneapolis AFL franchise only went as far as participating in the 1960 American Football League Draft and never actually fielded a team). Hunt owned the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs), while the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) were Adams' franchise. The other six members of the "Original Eight" were Harry Wismer (New York Titans, now the New York Jets), Bob Howsam (Denver Broncos), Barron Hilton (Los Angeles Chargers), Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. (Buffalo Bills), Billy Sullivan (Boston Patriots, now the New England Patriots), and a group of eight investors led primarily by F. Wayne Valley (Oakland Raiders, who replaced the Vikings). They called themselves the "Foolish Club" because of their seemingly foolhardy venture in taking on the established NFL.

The league quickly became a viable competitor to the established league, in its first year signing half of the NFL's first-round draft choices, and introducing the first professional football gate and TV revenue-sharing plans, which made it financially stable. It went on to develop its own stars, and after forcing a merger with the NFL in 1966, the now 10-team league entered the NFL intact in 1970. It became the only league ever to merge with another without losing any franchises. It was the raison d'être for the first Professional Football World Championship Games (later called the Super Bowl), and after losing the first two games of that series to the Green Bay Packers of the elder league, closed out its ten-year existence with victories over the NFL's best teams after the 1968 (with the Jets upseting the then-Baltimore Colts) and 1969 (the Chiefs defeating the Vikings) seasons.

In the first exhibition game of the 2009 NFL season, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on August 9, both the Bills and Titans faced off, with both teams wearing their 1960s throwback uniforms as the Titans wearing the colors of the Houston Oilers. This contest kicked off what would have been the AFL's 50th season, featuring "AFL Legacy Weekends", in which teams of the "Original Eight" played one another wearing AFL period uniforms, game officials wore AFL "Chinese Red" striped uniforms and fields were designed in the innovative style used during the 1960s. The first regular season games served as the Monday Night Football season opener on September 14 as the Bills visited the now-New England Patriots and the current San Diego Chargers visited the Oakland Raiders.

Of the original club, only Barron Hilton is still alive; he sold the Chargers in 1966 to appease the board of directors of Hilton Hotels. Hunt, Adams and Wilson died in 2006, 2013 and 2014 respectively with their franchises still in their hands. Adams's and Hunt's children inherited the Oilers/Titans and Chiefs, respectively; Wilson's estate instead auctioned off the Bills to the highest bidder when he died (his two surviving daughters were not directly involved in the team's operations during his lifetime). Howsam, Sullivan, the Valley group, and Wismer all sold their franchises in their lifetimes and are now deceased.


Name Image Team Birth Death Ceased Ownership Notes
Bud Adams Bud Adams 1964.JPG Houston Oilers January 3, 1923 October 21, 2013 2013 Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997 and are now known as the Tennessee Titans
Barron Hilton Barron Hilton.JPEG Los Angeles Chargers October 23, 1927 1966 As of 2017, the last living member of the Club; Chargers moved to San Diego in 1961
Bob Howsam Denver Broncos February 28, 1918 February 19, 2008 1961
Lamar Hunt Lamar Hunt.jpg Dallas Texans August 2, 1932 December 13, 2006 2006 Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972; Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963
Chet Soda Chet Soda 1960.jpg Oakland Raiders 1908 1989 1960
Billy Sullivan Billy Sullivan (American football) 1985.jpg Boston Patriots September 13, 1915 February 23, 1998 1988 Team became the New England Patriots in 1971
F. Wayne Valley F. Wayne Valley 1961.jpg Oakland Raiders 1914 1986 1971
Ralph Wilson Buffalo Bills October 17, 1918 March 25, 2014 2014 Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009
Harry Wismer Harry Wismer.JPG New York Titans June 30, 1913 December 3, 1967 1963 Team became the New York Jets after Wismer sold them

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