Pro Football Comes to Dekalb County – America Field, Atlanta & the AFL in 1962

(Decatur, Ga) – In the early 1960s, Atlanta was on the verge of incredible exponential growth. With the population expected to increase significantly, professional sports franchises began to take notice. The Atlanta Crackers were the only team in town but in just 12 short years, Atlanta would boast major league sports in the MLB. NBA, NFL and NHL. But in 1962 the NFL and the AFL (American Football League) were in a heated battle for graduating college athletes as well as cites to plant a franchise.

Atlanta was a key battle site between the two leagues and in 1962, they found a local sports mogul who had equally big dreams, Tom McCane. While discussions had been ongoing for years in Atlanta on how to build a suitable stadium to handle professional football, McCane decided to embark on his own. He and his organization, the Greater Atlanta Athletic Association (GAAA) decided to build a stadium on their own, a true “Build it and they will come” scenario.

The original plan was to build a 28,000-seat facility that would be expandable to 60,000 (I told you he had big dreams). A site was selected in Dekalb County, on Miller Road, right off Covington Highway. The short-term goal was to attract four AFL preseason games, but the end game was to use the privately built stadium, to be known as America Stadium, to secure an Atlanta franchise in the league. Ground was broken in in late January 1962 with the Houston Oiler owner and league co-founder Bud Adams manning one of the shovels.

Ground Breaking Ceremony for America Field

Six months and $3 million dollars later, American Stadium was ready for a four preseason game trial run. The first game was set for August 4, 1962 with the Houston Texans facing the Oakland Raiders. The Texans, who would eventually become the Kansas City Chiefs had just signed a quarterback from Purdue, Len Dawson and were considerable favorites. The Raiders played through-out the muggy evening, but the Texas, who would go on to win the AFL Championship that season, got two touchdown passes from veteran quarterback Cotton Davidson to win 13-3. Davidson must have impressed the Raiders as they traded for him after the first week of the regular season.  

The stadium itself held up, but a crowd of only 8,000 was less than expected and financial issues soon began to surface. Each team was given and guaranteed amount to play, and when both teams became concerned about the ability of the GAAA’s ability to pay, it was reported that some of the Raiders front office personnel went from concession stand to concession stand looking for any available funds to loot.

A week later, the Houston Oilers faced the Denver Broncos at the same venue. Hall-of-Famer George Blanda kicked four field goals that night on the way to a 33-17 victory.  The crowd was again the biggest story, GAAA’s attorney said afterwards, “After the Dallas/Oakland turnout, we needed a full stadium to make the next two games viable.” The crowd as 11,500 was less than half capacity and the games indeed were cancelled. McCane had ran out of money and the dream was dying.

Just a few short months later on a cold, rainy February morning, the properly was auctioned off to satisfy debts and the stadiums glory, which consisted of two games, came to an end. Hall-of-Fame Coach Hank Stram, who coached the first game, returned to Atlanta in 1970 to play the Falcons, and quipped about the prior experience, “Back in 1962 at America Field, we couldn’t even take a shower after the game.”

By 1971, the stadium property became a new type of residential living area, Snapfinger Woods. McCane moved to Loganville where he raised dogs for a living and the NFL won the battle for Atlanta and the Falcons played their first game in 1966. Time has covered up most memories, but if you drive around the Miller Road area, you are right where Len Dawson made his Kansas City Chief debut (and he fumbled no less), George Blanda scored 15 points as a kicker and Hank Stram matriculated the sideline. There are not many neighborhoods in our country that can boast such a legacy.

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