Today in Sports History: June 8th

6/08/1934 - Reds first to travel by plane

The Cincinnati Reds become the first professional sports team to use an airplane, as the team flies to Illinois to take on the Chicago Cubs. It wasn't for another decade that teams regularly began flying to to their destinations. For the first half of the 20th century, every Major League Baseball team was bunched near the north-east corner of the United States, so it was still feasible to travel only by buses. However, as the league expanded to the west coast and southern markets, it became clear that traveling by plane was the only viable option.

6/08/1966 - The NFL and AFL merge

The landscape of American sports changes forever as the National Football League and the American Football League merge into one league. For five years, the NFL and AFL had competed directly against each other, with both leagues bidding extravagantly to convince college rookies to spurn one and play for the other. But with the cost of players' salaries increasing, and the upstart AFL proving that it was in it for the long run, the NFL at last agreed that a merger was the best decision.

The agreement called for the two leagues to become centralized in 1970. The AFL teams would play in the American Football Conference (AFC), while the NFL teams would play in the National Football Conference (NFC), with the league overall retaining the NFL name. To balance out the conferences, owners from the old NFL payed the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers $3 million each to align with the AFC. At the end of the season, the winners of the AFC and NFC championship games would meet in a final, championship bout -- later known as the Super Bowl.

Although the merger wasn't completed until 1970, the two leagues began playing the championship game the following year. The importance of those games took on a life of their own, as the NFL and AFL representatives fought for the legitimacy of their respected league, as well as to win the world championship. While most of the country regarded the younger AFL as the weaker league, the AFL and NFL split their first four meetings with each other; the Packers of the NFL won the first two and the Jets and Vikings of the AFL split the last two.

6/08/1979 - The Jazz move to Utah

The NBA board of governors approves the New Orleans Jazz to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, ending the team's five-year stay in the state of Louisiana. The team had not been drawing well, an issue that Jazz owners Sam Battistone and Larry Hatfield blamed on the logistics of playing at the Superdome. They wanted the team to have a smaller, more proportional basketball stadium where they would never have to defer to other events like they did at the Superdome: Utah gave them that.

When the team officially moved to Utah, everyone assumed they would be changing their name. Jazz music was synonymous with New Orleans and had no presence in Utah whatsoever. However, a week later, the team owners surprised everyone by announcing that they were keeping the name.

"We have several reasons," Hatfield said. "It's an established NBA name with recognition and a heritage. And team owners are required to give the league one-year notice before a name change."

At first, things weren't so rosy for the Utah Jazz. Fan support was at a minimum and the attendance numbers were so low that for several years in the mid-80's, the team played a few of their home games in Las Vegas, Nevada. But when Karl Malone and John Stockton transformed the team into a Western Conference powerhouse, the numbers went up dramatically. Before long, Utah was known for having some of the best fans in the NBA.

6/08/1979 - Elway and Marino drafted by MLB

At the 1979 MLB draft, two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time were picked by two powerhouses in the American League.

In the fourth round, the Kansas City Royals selected 17 year-old Dan Marino, who had been a star baseball player in high school. Baseball was Marino's first love and the Royals tempted him with a $35,000 minor league salary, but Marino decided that it was more advantageous for him to go to college, where he could also develop his football skills. He enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh and quickly established himself as one of the best QB's in the country. He was later drafted by the Miami Dolphins, were he experienced one of the most prolific careers in NFL history.

In the second round, the New York Yankees selected John Elway, who would join Marino by entering the 1983 NFL draft. Although Elway did not sign the Yanks' offer sheet, he did eventually agree to a minor league contract with them in 1981. He later played in the USFL before going No. 1 in the '83 draft, where he was picked by the Baltimore Colts. Elway vehemently complained that he would never play in Baltimore and even threatened to sign a full-time deal with the Yankees instead. The Colts responded by trading Elway to the Denver Broncos, where he became -- in many people's opinion -- the greatest quarterback of the 20th century.

Further reading:

The New Orleans Jazz departed from its home at the Superdome [Nola.com]

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