American Football League (1940)

The American Football League, also known retrospectively as the AFL III to distinguish it from earlier organizations of that name,[1] was a professional American football league that operated from 1940–1941. It was created when three teams, the original Cincinnati Bengals, the Columbus Bullies, and the Milwaukee Chiefs, were lured away from the minor-league American Professional Football Association and joined three new franchises in Boston, Buffalo, and New York City in a new league. It competed against the National Football League (NFL), the oldest existing professional football league, established 1920 and reorganized 1922.

American Football League (1940)
SportAmerican football
Inaugural season1940
Claim to fame3rd competitor of National Football League
No. of teams6 (1940), 5 (1941)
CountryUnited States
Columbus Bullies

The organization was the third major league to bear the name American Football League. Its establishment resulted in the dissolution of the American Professional Football Association, which had just announced its intentions to compete with the NFL as a major league organization. In 1941 the American Football League became the first football league to play a double round robin schedule (five home games and five away games). However, it folded after the end of the 1941 season.


Although the third American Football League was not directly connected to any previous American football leagues of the same name, its formation was at the cost of an already-existing minor football league of the same name.

By the spring of 1940, the former American Professional Football Association announced intentions of turning itself into a major league with the addition of a Milwaukee team for the upcoming season over the protests of the Green Bay Packers. As the teams prepared for the upcoming season, the announcement of a rival major league resulted in the fracturing of this edition of the American Football League.

On July 14, 1940, a press conference introduced a new American Football League, not a continuation of the former minor league, but a new one with franchises in New York, Boston, and Buffalo. Bill Edwards (former president of the first AFL of 1926) was slated to be both the president of the new league and co-owner of the New York Yankees franchise, and Joseph Carr Jr. (son of recently deceased NFL president and Columbus Panhandles founder Joe Carr) was touted as a potential backer of the Columbus franchise.[2][3]

The group of businessmen based on the American East Coast behind the formation of the new league had resorted to a trick done by the first two AFLs: they raided the established minor league by enticing APFA members Cincinnati, Columbus, and the new Milwaukee team to join their circuit.[4] The move fractured the APFA as two of its members decided not to field teams for 1940, one (the Los Angeles Bulldogs) had already left the league, and there were only three left with only two months to go before the start of the new season. As the Kenosha Cardinals and St. Louis Gunners applied to join the new league (and were subsequently denied), the APFA went out of business.[4]

After a 30-hour-long meeting of the owners (and other representatives) of the six invited teams in Buffalo's Hotel Lafayette, the bylaws and officials of the new league were determined. Each team was scheduled to play a double round robin schedule (five home games, five away games), with games on either Sunday or Wednesday to reduce the likelihood of conflicts with baseball teams sharing the stadium in five of the six AFL cities (all except Buffalo).[5] The agreement was signed by the team owners, October 5, 1940.

While Bill Edwards did not take over the league as previously announced (that job eventually went to former Ohio State University publicity director William D. Griffith),[3] the 1940 season began with six teams owned by people who were, for the most part, in better financial standing than their NFL counterparts (in the NFL, many of the owners had their franchise as their primary investment and source of income; in the AFL of 1940, most of the owners had most of their money invested in other fields, such as the local newspaper).[2][6]


The third American Football League had teams playing in six U.S. markets

Boston Bears. Disbanded in 1941, before the beginning of the second AFL season.[2]

Buffalo Indians. Became the Buffalo Tigers for the 1941 season after a change in ownership.[7]:6

Cincinnati Bengals. Previously a member of the second AFL, and the American Professional Football Association, the "original Bengals" joined the third AFL with traditional rival Columbus Bullies.[8]

Columbus Bullies. Former APFA member which won the AFL championship both years the league was in existence. Quarterback Jay Arnold, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, led the team in 1940; when Arnold returned to the Eagles in 1941, John LeBay took over the signal calling role.[2]

Milwaukee Chiefs. Former APFA member joined the AFL without being in an official APFA contest.[8]

New York Yankees. The third major league professional football team with the name, it became the New York Americans in 1941 after a change of ownership.[2]

League standings and All-League teams

Final 1940 standings

Columbus Bullies 811.88913469
Milwaukee Chiefs 720.77818059
Boston Bears 541.55612079
New York Yankees 450.444138138
Buffalo Indians 280.20045138
Cincinnati Bengals 170.12553187

1940 All-League Team

Sherman Barnes, Milwaukee (end)
Ed Karp, Buffalo (tackle)
Jim Karcher, Columbus (guard)
Joe Alexus, Columbus (center)
Alex Drobnitch, Buffalo (guard)
Bob Eckl, Milwaukee (tackle)
Harlan Gustafson, New York (end)
Andy Karpuls, Boston (quarterback)
Bill Hutchinson, New York (halfback)
Nelson Peterson, Columbus (halfback)
Al Novakofski, Milwaukee (fullback)

Final 1941 standings

Columbus Bullies 512.83314255
New York Americans 521.71411673
Milwaukee Chiefs 431.57110584
Buffalo Tigers 260.25072172
Cincinnati Bengals 152.16769120

Encouraged by the success of the New York and Columbus franchises, Detroit, Baltimore, and Philadelphia applied to join the league for the 1941 season. While the Detroit application was accepted for play in 1942, the latter two were turned down by a league that was not interested in further expansion.[6]

Promoter Douglas Grant Hertz purchased the New York Yankees, changed their name to the New York Americans, and then announced (in August) the team's withdrawal from the league.[3] The league refused to acknowledge the "withdrawal." Boston folded before the start of the 1941 season. Buffalo changed the team name upon new ownership assuming control of the team. New York Americans president William B. Cox became the new AFL league president in 1941.[3]

1941 All-League Team

Earl Ohlgren, Milwaukee (end)
Alec Shellogg, Buffalo (tackle)
Ted Livinston, Columbus (guard)
Paul Humphrey, Milwaukee (center)
Tex Akin, Milwaukee (guard)
Bob Eckl, Milwaukee (tackle)
Joe Kruse, Cincinnati (end)
Bob Davis, Columbus (quarterback)
Charlie Armstrong, New York (halfback)
Bill McGannon, Cincinnati (halfback)
John Kimbrough, New York (fullback)

Columbus was league champion again in 1941, with a final record of 5-1-2.

Demise of the third major league AFL

Although the AFL lost the Boston Bears franchise prior to the beginning of the 1941 season, its owners were optimistic about the league's long-term future. Although the league's average attendance was less than that of the more-established NFL, the AFL seemed to be on as firm a financial footing as the older league. By the end of the 1941 season, a new franchise was awarded to Detroit for the 1942 season. The league was the first major football league to complete a double round robin schedule, in which each team played each other twice.

All the plans for 1942 came to a sudden stop upon the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II on December 7, 1941. During the winter of 1941–42, numerous players from both leagues were drafted into the U.S. military. So many players went overseas that several AFL and NFL teams were left with barely enough players to field viable teams. It soon became apparent to the AFL owners that the success of the league was very much in question.[2]

On September 2, 1942, AFL president William D. Cox announced the league would suspend operations for the war's duration.[2][9]

We do not have the time to go into the football business this fall. I want to stress that there is no financial problem involved. Each team definitely has enough finances to continue.

William B. Cox, September 2, 1942

The league did not return. The NFL was without a competitor until the formation of the All-America Football Conference in 1946, one year after the end of World War II.[2]


  1. Frank P. Josza and John J. Guthrie, Relocating Teams and Expanding Leagues in Professional Sports (Greenwood Publishing Group 1999) ISBN 1-56720-193-8
  2. Gipe, G., The Great American Sports Book (Doubleday 1978) ISBN 0-385-13091-0
  3. NFL Competitors: 1926-1975
  4. Kenosha Cardinals:Life on the Fringe (1983) Archived March 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. Indians Occupy Faded Spot in Buffalo’s Football Scrapbook Archived November 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine – Joe Marren, Professional Football Research Association (1997)
  6. Bob Carroll, Michael Gershman, David Neft, and John Thorn, Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (HarperCollins 1999) ISBN 0-06-039232-0
  7. Crippen, K. R., The Original Buffalo Bills: A History of the All-America Football Conference Team, 1946-1949 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010), p. 6.
  8. Kenosha Cardinals: Life on the Fringe (1983) Archived March 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  9. David L. Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football (Greenwood Press 1987) ISBN 0-313-25771-X, p. 142
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