The 1946 AAFC season was the first season of the All-America Football Conference, a new professional league established to challenge the market dominance of the established National Football League. The league included eight teams, broken up into Eastern and Western divisions, which played a 14-game official schedule, culminating in a league championship game.
The season is significant for its shattering of the color line in the ranks of professional American football, when black athletes Marion Motley and Bill Willis took to the field for the AAFC's Cleveland Browns on September 9, 1946. Both of these stars would later be voted to membership in the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
In September 1944, Arch Ward, sports columnist for the prestigious Chicago Tribune and father ten years earlier of the college all-star football game, presided over two days of meetings in Chicago to finalize his plan for a new American football league. Over the course of several previous months, Ward had garnered financial commitments for franchise ownership from a circle of interested wealthy investors. Teams were already sponsored for seven cities, with the ownership groups including several individuals of national prominence, such as former heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney in Baltimore, film star Don Ameche in Los Angeles, and Eleanor Gehrig, widow of Yankee baseball great Lou Gehrig, in New York City. Plans were announced for a launch in the fall of 1945.
The new football league to emulate the situation existing in professional baseball, in which two parallel and equal leagues emerged and came to work in close cooperation. The new league, to be called the All-America Football Conference, tapped former Notre Dame legend Jim Crowley as its commissioner, signing the former collegiate teammate of NFL commissioner Elmer Layden to a lucrative five-year contract worth $125,000 and began signing players and fielding additional applications for team charters.
Seven coaches and about 30 players were signed before league owners decided that wartime manpower shortages and the inability of several teams to expeditiously obtain stadium leases would force a postponement until the fall of 1946.
An additional franchise was added, bringing the total to eight, and a schedule was issued — a round-robin format in which every team in the league played every other team in the league twice on a home-and-away basis. The new league prepared for its launch on September 6, 1946.