Pro Football: Aced Out

He was an ace Marine fighter pilot in World War II, a Medal of Honor winner, a two-term Governor of South Dakota. Apart from the fact that his strongest cuss word is "criminy," there is nothing about Joe Foss, 50, to suggest that he is a pushover. Yet that is apparently what the owners of the American Football League figured after they elected him commissioner in 1959. They wheeled and dealed behind his back—maneuvering franchises, swapping players, conducting secret, premature drafts of college prospects.

Finally Foss cracked down: he invalidated a secret draft, ruled a trade illegal that would have...