So who do you like in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI — the New England Patriots or the New York Giants?
Peyton's little brother or Gisele's husband?
Grumpy Tom Coughlin or frumpy Bill Belichick?
The Giants' D or the Patriots' O?
It's a tough call, but when in doubt go with the team from the pre-merger NFL. The Giants, in this case.
For those of you who are too young to remember or who don't know their sports history, there once were two professional football leagues — the National Football League, founded in 1920, and the upstart American Football League, founded in 1960. The AFL was no Arena League or USFL; it mounted a real threat to the NFL. Weary of a turf war for talent, the leagues merged in 1970 — but actually began playing each other in the Super Bowl in 1967.
The merger went down this way: 10 AFL teams merged with 16 NFL teams and split into two conferences — the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference.
For years, there was a lot of speculation about which league was better, but it's pretty clear that the NFL was superior and remains so to this day. Strange as it seems, even after all these years, the AFL hasn't caught up to the NFL, even though these days the game on the field reflects the AFL style of play.
The original 16 NFL teams have won 31 of 45 Super Bowls. The original 10 AFL teams have won just 12.
But there are more NFL teams than AFL teams, you argue. True, but all 10 of the AFL teams were placed in the AFC, along with just three NFL teams (Colts, Browns, Steelers), giving those teams a clearer path to the Super Bowl, since the participants are determined by the champion of the AFC and NFC. They could advance to the Super Bowl by playing largely against their old AFL rivals.
AFL teams have made 33 Super Bowl appearances, compared to 53 for the pre-merger NFL teams (the other four appearances were made by post-merger expansions teams).
Football aficionados like to compare head-to-head matchups in the Super Bowl between the NFC and AFC — the NFC leads, but not by much, 24-21. But a closer look reveals that eight of the AFC wins were accomplished by one of the three pre-merger NFL teams (Steelers, Colts) that were moved to the AFC in 1970, and two other wins were produced by those post-merger expansion teams, the Baltimore Ravens (AFC) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC).
In Super Bowl matchups between pre-merger NFL teams and AFL teams, the NFL has 20 wins, 11 losses.
Overall, NFL teams are 31-22 in the Super Bowl, but that includes losses to other NFL teams — i.e., the Cowboys losing to the Steelers, or, last year, the Steelers losing to the Packers.
The four winningest teams in the Super Bowl are all teams from the pre-merger NFL — Steelers (6 wins), 49ers (5), Cowboys (5) and Packers (4). The next winningest teams are the NFL Redskins (3), NFL Giants (3), AFL Patriots (3) and AFL Raiders (3).
The two teams with the most Super Bowl appearances — Pittsburgh and Dallas, with eight apiece — are both NFL teams.
NFL teams continue to be stronger than AFL teams even today. Of the 24 teams to play in the last dozen Super Bowls, only five were pre-merger AFL teams — and four of those were the Patriots. The last three Super Bowls have matched two pre-merger NFL teams.
A lot has changed since the leagues merged. The Houston Oilers of the AFL became the Tennessee Titans. The Baltimore Colts became the Indianapolis Colts. The Boston Patriots became the New England Patriots. The Oakland Raiders became the L.A. Raiders and then the Oakland Raiders. The St. Louis Cardinals became the Arizona Cardinals, and the Los Angeles Rams became the St. Louis Rams. The Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers joined the league.
Yet through all that, the traditional, old-school NFL teams still rule the game to some degree.
The NFL-AFL merger
Green Bay Packers
New York Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams
New Orleans Saints
New York Jets
Kansas City Chiefs
San Diego Chargers