Magazine article The American Conservative

League of Our Own

Magazine article The American Conservative

League of Our Own

Article excerpt

If it's January, the Buffalo Bills must be scattered to the greens of 50 golf courses, far from the howling winds and abundant snows of their autumnal "home." Only

one Bill, backup linebacker Jon Corto, is native to the region. The remainder are about as Buffalonian as Caroline Kennedy.

The localist solution is a territorial draft. The Bills would be of Buffalo and not just mesomorphic mercenaries. Of course this would lead to an NFL based in California, Texas, and Florida, with western New York kicked into a minor league. That's okay. Majors have cash but minors have soul.

Far removed from the glory days of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s, the Bills' only recent distinction came from the Sunday morning boostering of my old boss Tim Russert of South Buffalo. I remember Tim before he was a saint, when he was a hail-fellow political operative picking off Pat Moynihan's hapless Republican would-be challengers with all the zest of a giddy teenager zapping aliens in a video game. I'll bet ex-Bills QB Jack Kemp was more afraid of Russert than he ever was of Buck Buchanan.

While the Bills skidded to another sub-.500 record this season, I contented myself with Larry Felser's The Birth of the New NFL: How the 1966 NFL/AFL Merger Transformed Pro Football. Felser was present at the creation, covering the formation of the American Football League in 1960 for the Buffalo Courier-Express, though I suppose his greatest distinction came in marrying Beverly, who defeated my mother in the Elba Onion Queen pageant of 1957. I don't know if mom has forgiven her yet.

Those beautiful old AFL names Houston Antwine, Gloster Richardson, Cookie Glichrist - evoke the dawn of my footbaU consciousness in that antediluvian age of the tie game, the straightahead kicker, and the white cornerback. Felser was there and he took notes. The AFL was a spirited underdog but it was no pastoral dream: the San Diego, née Los Angeles, Chargers were named after owner Barron Hilton's hotel chain's credit-card operation. What a loathsome derivation!

But consider Felser's take on the cartoonish villain Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders. Davis, as commissioner of the AFL, lured ex-Buffalo Evening News sportswriter Jack Horrigan as his PR man. When Horrigan was diagnosed with leukemia, writes Felser, "Davis, a Jew, bought a votive candle in a Catholic religious supply store. …

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