The All-Stars

In Room 990 of the Roosevelt Hotel, a group of players from the American Football League held an emergency meeting on January 10, 1965. The group, led by Cookie Gilchrist, Clem Daniels, and Louisiana native Ernie Ladd, among others, convened to decide if they would play in the American Football League All-Star Game scheduled for January 16 at Tulane Stadium—or walk out. The stakes were high for New Orleans, which had lobbied to host the big game to prove its readiness for landing a pro football franchise.

The city enlisted local NAACP field secretary and future mayor Ernest Morial to try to convince the players to stay. Outside the door a group of reporters gathered, sensing an important story about to break. Huddled nearby, sports promoter Dave Dixon and local attorney and dealmaker Harry Kelleher nervously awaited word, as their dreams seemed to be slipping away. Finally, a decision was reached: the all-stars were leaving New Orleans!

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just passed, but the Big Easy had resisted change. Some of the black players had problems from the moment they landed in New Orleans. When they arrived at the airport, white taxi drivers refused to pick them up. Bourbon Street nightclubs denied them entry, and one group of players had a gun pulled on them by a bouncer who had refused to admit them because of their race. On their way out of town, some players awaiting their flights were subjected to the glares of white travelers and airport employees who had just seen the news break on airport televisions. The white all-stars supported their teammates’ decision to boycott the game, and the AFL moved the contest to Houston. The controversy embarrassed the city and and seriously threatened its chances to land an AFL franchise.

Education Resources


WDSU editorial, “Football Players Walk Out”
January 11, 1965; typescript
by WDSU television and radio editors
The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of David and Mary Dixon family, 2009.0157.60

AFL all-stars preparing to leave at the New Orleans International Airport 
January 1965
by Terry Friedman, photographer
courtesy of the Times-Picayune

Ticket to AFL All-Star Game
The Historic New Orleans Collection, gift of Shea Dixon, 2019.0036.8