Major league sports reached Los Angeles in 1946 when the supported-by-the-stars Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC,) an upstart challenger to the then-25-year-old NFL, played the first regular-season major league professional football game in the city.
Ben Lindheimer was majority owner; Don Ameche was president and minority owner (with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Pat O’Brien and others.)
The Dons were the first professional football team to play a regular season game in Los Angeles, beating the rival Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League by two weeks. (LA Times)
The AAFC helped open the West Coast to pro sports and brought long-lasting innovations, such as widespread air travel, extensive use of zone defenses and 14-game schedules, the latter not adopted by the NFL until the 1960s.
Though the eight-team AAFC was generally considered to be on a par with the 10-team NFL, if not better, the new league lasted only four seasons. (LA Times)
A couple Hawaiʻi notables played for the Dons. One, Herman Wedemeyer, is the subject of another summary; the other, John (Johnny) Punualii Naumu is the subject of this one.
Naumu, born September 30, 1919 (a McKinley High School graduate,) played football for UH and USC.
Naumu’s father, John Punualii Naumu Sr (a Patrol Officer) and mother, Evalani Agnes Carroll, lived on the island of Molokai where they raised twelve children. His father died of heart failure while on Oʻahu in 1940 watching John Jr play football for UH.
Naumu was a stand-out at USC; in 1947, he was given the Richard Barrett Award for the most cooperative member of the varsity squad.)
(That award is now known as the Sam Barry Spartan Award – given to the team member selected by the coaching staff who contributed the most to the development of the varsity squad during the season.)
In 1948, the 5’ 8”, 175-pound back played as a free agent for the Dons – they finished 3rd in the All American Football Conference, Western Division, with a record of 7-7.
Naumu played one-year of professional football.
Though the eight-team AAFC was generally considered to be on a par with the 10-team NFL, if not better, the new league lasted only four seasons before three of its remaining seven teams — the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts — were absorbed into the NFL. The Dons were among those dissolved. (LA Times)
Naumu Jr went on to serve with the Hawaii Army National Guard, where he retired as a Colonel, receiving numerous ribbons and medals of honor. (Kapiolani)
Naumu died September 23, 1982 of heart failure playing racquetball. (As an aside, while at UH, Naumu captured the novice handball title. (Ka Leo, April 16, 1941)) He is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
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