Nov. 8, 1964, the New York Jets and the upstart American Football League proved they were not going away. As much as the National Football League was the established pro football circuit, the AFL, launched in 1960, was gaining traction. But if the league hoped to mount a direct challenge to the NFL, it would have to make it in New York, as the old song goes.
Fifty-four years ago, the New York Jets were slated to host the Buffalo Bills at new Shea Stadium. Kick-off was slated for 1:05 p.m. The Bills were in first place in the AFL East with an 8-0 record, while the Jets stood in third at 4-2-1.
Across town, the New York Giants were hosting the Dallas Cowboys at Yankee Stadium. The Giants, coming off of a victory, were trying to resurrect a disappointing season. The defending Eastern Division champs were in last place with a 2-5-1 record. Dallas, coached by former Giant Tom Landry, was 3-4-1. Kick-off was slated at 2:00 p.m. In other words, the Giants and Jets were going head-to-head; something that could never happed today, since the NFL absorbed the AFL in a merger 50 years ago and both clubs now share one stadium.
Yankee Stadium was sold out for the Giants game, with 63,000 expected to attend. Because the NFL had a 75-mile TV black out rule, the game would not be televised to homes and establishments within 75 miles of the stadium. However, five movie theaters in New York City were charging admission to a closed circuit telecast of the game, making another 20,000 seats available.
But what would the Jets draw, going head-to-head with the Giants? That Sunday’s New York Times reported the Jets had sold 48,000 tickets for the game and a big walk up was anticipated, bringing the projected crowd to 60,000. Turns out that 61,929 people attended the game, setting a new AFL single-game attendance record. At Yankee Stadium, meanwhile, 63,031 watched the Giants and the Cowboys.
Both New York teams lost, the Cowboys beating the Giants 31-21 – the first time the Giants had lost six games in a season since 1953 – and Bills rallied to beat the Jets 20-7. But the lead in the next day’s New York Times was the fact 124,960 people attended two pro football games on the same day in the nation’s largest city. In fact, the Times ran two six-column wide pictures on top of each other, of a packed Yankee Stadium and a packed Shea Stadium.
The next season, Joe Namath would join the Jets, changing the New York football landscape forever. But 54-years ago today, the AFL and the Jets proved they could make it in New York and that they were not going away.