As you watch the Cowboys play the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend, think of what might have been – the Dallas Texans might be playing the Kansas City Cowboys.
As time passes, fewer football fans recall that Dallas had two football teams from 1960 to 1962, the Cowboys of the NFL and the Dallas Texans of the upstart AFL. The two teams shared the Cotton Bowl and to put it mildly, neither team was an immediate success at the gate. The story is nicely recounted in a recent book, Ten-Gallon War by John Eisenberg.
The Cowboys’ game against the 49ers in 1960 was played in a cold rain and what fans who showed up (generously estimated at 10,000) huddled under the upper deck on both sides of the Cotton Bowl, making it appear from the press box that the stadium was completely empty. The Mount Vernon wit Don Meredith suggested that, rather than the PA announcer introducing the players to the fans, they should just go into the stands and introduce themselves.
I personally remember the Cowboys running ads in the Greenville Herald Banner in the early 1960s: One adult could buy an end-zone ticket for $1.50 and bring four kids in free. The Texans were famous for giving away tickets, and quirky gimmicks – “Barber’s Day” in which barbers who showed up in their aprons got in free.
The two teams had young owners who came from wealthy Texas oil families, Clint Murchison, the owner of the Cowboys, and Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Texans and founder of the AFL. Each vowed they were in Dallas to stay, but when the Texans won the AFL championship in 1962 and the crowds still stayed home, he’d had enough. The Texans became the Kansas City Chiefs for the 1963 season.
That 1962 AFL title game should be remembered as one of the great pro games of all time. In their final game as the Texans, Dallas beat the Houston Oilers (another late, lamented team) 20-17 in double overtime. It was then the longest game in pro-football history. The Texans’ great back Abner Haynes nearly blew it when, for the coin toss prior to the first time, rather than taking the blustery wind as instructed by Head Coach Hank Stram, Abner said instead, “We’ll kick to the clock.” Oops … by saying “we’ll kick,” the Texans gave the Oilers the ball and the wind. The moment as televised live on ABC is captured for posterity in this YouTube clip:
Because the NFL and the AFL were at war until a merger was agreed upon in 1966, the Cowboys and Texans never played. They very nearly met in the first Super Bowl. The Chiefs represented the AFL and the Cowboys came within a yard of taking the Packers into sudden death in the NFL championship game. When the Chiefs won the Super Bowl after the 1969 season, while the Cowboys were becoming known as “Next Year’s Champions,” a lot of Dallas fans groused that the wrong team moved. The Cowboys’ success in the 1970s erased that notion forever, but history could easily have told a different tale.