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Original Issue

Judgment at Baltimore

The American Football League lost its first head-on scrimmage with the NFL when a U.S. District Judge refused to call a penalty

Judge Roszel Thomsen, an endlessly inquisitive man with a good working knowledge of professional football, last week decided, in the United States District Court of Maryland, that the American Football League had no monopoly case against the National Football League. In 37 pages of careful prose, he summed up 2,857 pages of transcript covering two months in court and threw out the AFL's $10,080,000 suit.

Thomsen ruled 1) that the AFL had shown no proof that the NFL had a monopoly on players; 2) that it had not shown that the NFL had the power to exclude the AFL from adequate television outlets; and 3) that the NFL moves into Dallas and Minneapolis did not constitute an attempt at monopoly since there were other cities available for the AFL to move into.

Aside from the relief this decision gave the NFL, it will, undoubtedly, establish a precedent for the future. Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL, received a wire from Maurice Podoloff offering congratulations. Podoloff was understandably happy; his National Basketball League may be sued by the American Basketball League on very similar grounds because the Philadelphia Warriors have decided to move into San Francisco to compete with the ABL's San Francisco Saints.

Possibly the biggest individual loser in the suit was Lamar Hunt, founding president of the AFL and owner of the Dallas Texans. He was the particular target for Judge Thomsen's somewhat acerb comments throughout the trial. On the final day of arguments Thomsen said to the AFL attorney: "I am not buying Mr. Hunt's testimony 100% any more than I am buying the defendants' testimony 100%." Later, in discussing the value of a franchise, he brushed aside an estimate credited to the extremely wealthy Hunt, questioning, "Do you think that what Mr. Hunt was willing to pay to bring a franchise to Dallas is any measure of what anything is worth?"

The AFL was represented, among its owners, almost entirely by Hunt, the only one to attend all the sessions. Most of the others seemed reluctant to press the suit. There is almost no chance that this case will be appealed; for one thing, it has cost the AFL, which can ill afford the money at this time, nearly $200,000 in attorneys' fees and court costs. For another, it seems unlikely that an appellate court would find grounds for reversal.

This, of course, is a tribute to the meticulous way in which Thomsen conducted the case. He asked many searching questions and only once did he begin to show annoyance. This was in a testy footnote to the reprise of a conversation between owners in both leagues in which the various versions of what was said were startlingly at variance.

"This case," Thomsen noted, "presents many striking examples of the fact that most men remember very little of conversations held two or three years ago, mainly those parts which seemed important to them at the time, and reconstruct the rest based on what they think they should have said and, therefore, must have said."

Naturally, the decision pleased NFL owners who, on a wave of happiness, voted Rozelle a $10,000 raise. It was received with mixed and sometimes odd emotion by AFL people.

"I am glad to get this point settled," said Hunt. "It's a step forward for the American Football League," said Commissioner Joe Foss obscurely from his Sioux Falls, South Dakota home. "You can't win 'em all."

"You can't win 'em all, we still have our heads above water, and other clichés," said Milt Woodard, assistant commissioner, before he heard his boss's quote.

Harry Wismer, who owns the New York Titans but was not called as a witness by the AFL, had, he said, been against the suit from the beginning. "It has been a most costly lesson," Wismer intoned. (He is liable for his share of the legal costs and has already lost $1.2 million with the Titans.) "Now that it is over, the clubs can settle down and play football."