Gridiron Glory at Union Station: The "J5-V football"

The exhibition, which traces the history of the game from its roots, is open daily at Union Station and closes September 7

*Included in the summer-long exhibition at Union Station of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's history of the game is a substantial collection of Kansas City Chiefs artifacts dating back to the earliest days of the franchise and the creation of the American Football League by team owner Lamar Hunt  *

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll identify some of what fans and long-time football enthusiasts might call "treasures" – some never seen by the general public before the exhibition's opening this past Memorial Day weekend.  The exhibition, which traces the history of the game from its roots, is open daily at Union Station and closes September 7.


The "J5-V football"

It should come as no surprise to older fans who remember the American Football League that the ball its teams' used was one more conducive to quarterbacks who preferred throwing to handing off.

Hence, the "J5-V football" produced by Spalding.

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A "J5-V" ball is currently on display at the Gridiron Glory exhibit at Union Station. The ball was a quarter-inch thinner and longer than the NFL ball produced by Wilson, known in the older league as "The Duke."  When the two leagues agreed to play a Super Bowl in 1967, it was determined that both teams would use their own ball when they went on offense. 

Years later, future NFL quarterbacks would tell stories on how they loved throwing the AFL ball as kids, looking to replicate the heroics of quarterbacks Len Dawson and George Blanda. 

Notice the name of the commissioner emblazoned on the side of the encased ball.  It's commonplace that the commissioner of the league's name is on every NFL ball and that was true of the AFL as well. The name here is Al Davis, the managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders, who most people forget acted as the AFL's commissioner for a short time right around the time merger talks were taking place between the two leagues. 

Davis was what would call a "change-agent," an aggressive take-no-prisoners executive, much as he was as a coach and general manager.  He immediately went after the NFL's players when they became free agents, given the NFL had started this new phase in the war for players only recently signing one of his league's kickers.  This did not find favor from Lamar Hunt, who was in the midst of negotiating a merger with the NFL.  To Davis, however, he believed it gave Hunt more negotiating power and there were many in the AFL who agreed, but to the day he died Hunt believed that Davis' actions could have compromised what he and the NFL's representatives were trying to put in place.

Davis eventually stepped down from the post in 1966 after four months and was replaced by Milt Woodard, who had been a long-time AFL league office executive, and who filled that role until the league closed shop and became part of the NFL.


If you go

The "J5V ball" can be found in its own case just past the tailgating exhibit in the Chiefs section of the Gridiron Glory exhibit at Union Station.

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