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Amherst fan wants everyone to remember the AFL

Angelo F. Coniglio can't help himself. He admits he's a zealot and a sucker for lost causes. Coniglio has been crusading for the American Football League since the day it went under. Even back then, he knew it would be a long and often frustrating battle.

Back in the 1970s, soon after the AFL-NFL merger, Coniglio wrote an impassioned defense of the AFL in Pro Football Weekly. In that piece, Coniglio predicted that by 2009, which would have been the 50th season of the newly defunct league, "no one will remember the AFL except fans with long memories and scrapbooks."

The memories are fading. The scrapbooks are collecting dust in the fans' attics. But today, at age 70, Coniglio remains the most devoted fan of the AFL. He believes the AFL and its players helped revolutionize pro football and should have a celebrated place in the history of the sport.

"I feel the AFL never got the credit it should have, said Coniglio, a Buffalo native and long-time Amherst resident. "I have a 1964 AFL card set that has 10 [NFL] Hall of Famers. You still hear people say the AFL wasn't any good until there was a common draft. I don't believe that."

Five years ago, after retiring as a civil engineer, Coniglio created an AFL Web site (RemembertheAFL.com). It's a terrific site, the expression of one fan's love for a league and a sport. If you're one of those people who gets goose bumps when you think about Mike Stratton's hit on Keith Lincoln, you'll go nuts over it.

Coniglio has been a fan of the Bills since their AAFC days. But the AFL is his passion. When the Jets won the Super Bowl, he felt as if his team had won.

On his site, Coniglio calls the AFL the "genesis of modern professional football." He says the league was ahead of its time on the two-point conversion, player names on uniforms, shared gate and TV receipts, wide-open offense and the liberal use of African-American players.

Now, with 2009 approaching, Coniglio hopes to give the AFL a 50-year testimonial. If you click on his site, you'll see a logo with a big letter "A" and the numbers 50 and 2009 in gold underneath. There's a link to "Celebrate the AFL", which reprints his letter to Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt in November 2005. Coniglio asked Hunt to help plan an AFL celebration in 2009, which would have been the league's 50th season.

Naturally, Coniglio had a few suggestions for Hunt, the man credited with forming the AFL. Coniglio said the NFL should design a commemorative AFL logo, based on the patch the Chiefs wore in Super Bowl IV. He proposed an "AFL Sunday" during the 2009 NFL season, with former AFL teams playing each other in throwback uniforms.

Coniglio made plans for his own AFL Reunion -- in Buffalo. He sent out word on his Web site and heard back from about 30 former players and at least that many fans. Former Chiefs star Abner Haynes loves the idea. Bob McCullough, a former Broncos tight end, sent Coniglio an $80 check as a show of good faith.

"I think it's an excellent idea," said Ernie Warlick, who played for the Bills in the AFL days. "Ang is a one-man crusade. I know him well and how much this means to him. From the standpoint of the players, it would be great to see the guys you played against. I just don't know if we'd get the overall support that's necessary."

Coniglio has pushed hard, but one-man crusades don't get very far. The idea never quite took off. Hunt never got back to him. The legendary Chiefs owner died a year later. "I didn't realize how sick he was at the time," Coniglio said.

Coniglio also wrote to Bills owner Ralph Wilson. Marv Levy replied and said it was a good idea, but that was the end of it. Coniglio got together with executives from the Pro Football Hall of Fame at a Bills Quarterback Club meeting. They asked if he'd mind the NFL being involved. Coniglio agreed that an AFL tribute would succeed only with the NFL's cooperation.

But he never heard back from the Hall of Fame. Coniglio let the idea go for awhile. He returned McCullough's $80 and devoted his time to a data base of everyone who played in the AFL.

"The reunion would take a lot of planning and work," he said. "I don't want to do it unless it's a success. I didn't want to get people's hopes up."

Then he got a letter from Pete Moris, associate PR director for the Chiefs, who said Kansas City was putting an AFL tribute in its media guide in Hunt's honor. He asked if Coniglio could contribute. Coniglio agreed.

"He said many AFL teams are talking about having their own recognition in 2009," Coniglio said. "He said maybe we could get something going. That's my goal. I don't claim ownership. I'd love to see the AFL get its due."

It won't be easy. The NFL will probably do something in 2009. But a reunion is a different matter. The pensions of old-timers is a bitter issue right now, and it's hard to see the league getting behind an event that would gather many of those ex-players together.

Of course, no one can stop Coniglio if he decides to hold a little reunion of his own. Like the old AFL, it might turn out to be bigger than the NFL ever bargained for.

e-mail:jsullivan@buffnews.com

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