Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1962-1969 Wheeling Ironmen / Ohio Valley Ironmen

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Wheeling IronmenUnited Football League (1962-1964)
Continental Football League (1965-1969)

Born: 1962
Folded: December 1969

Stadium: Wheeling Island Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Michael Valan, et al. and community stockholders

United Football League Championships: 1962 & 1963
Continental Football League Championships: None

 

The Wheeling Ironmen were a minor league football team in the coal-mining Ohio Valley region of West Virginia during the 1960’s. For their final two seasons, in 1968 and 1969, the team was known as the Ohio Valley Ironmen.

The team formed in 1962 when a group of 15 local business leaders ponied up $1,000 apiece to enter a club in the United Football League. The UFL featured teams in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio in addition to West Virginia. The Ironmen defeated the Grand Rapids Blazers 30-21 to win the UFL championship in their debut season. They repeated as champs in 1963, knocking off the Toledo Tornadoes 31-21.

The UFL folded in early 1965. The Ironmen joined the start-up Continental Football League in February 1965. The Continental League was more ambitious than the UFL had been. By the end of the Sixties it expanded to a nationwide circuit. Though most competition was still regional – the Ironmen didn’t play against the CoFL’s Texas or California or Pacific Northwest clubs – the team did travel by air to play division opponents from Toronto to Orlando.

Wheeling struggled to recapture their UFL dominance in the Continental League. The Ironmen were 2-12 in 1965 and 0-14 in 1966. The team found its form somewhat by the end of the decade with a 9-3 finish in 1968 and a 6-6 mark in 1969.

The Ironmen’s finances and future were in continuous peril by the mid-60’s. A lengthy profile in a December 1968 issue of Sports Illustrated described the club’s finances. Players could earn a maximum of $200 per game and the team’s total salary cap was $5,000 per week. Wheeling’s total budget for 1967 was $270,000 and the Ironmen finished $90,000 in the red. The team briefly folded in April 1968, only to scrape together enough community support to re-group for two more seasons, which proved to be their best.

Wheeling saw some terrific players during the Ironmen era. Future Cincinnati Bengals head coach Sam Wyche saw time at quarterback for the Ironmen during their 0-14 campaign in 1966. When the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs met in Super Bowl I in January 1967, both teams has former Ironmen defensive linemen on the roster. Andy Rice suited up for the Chiefs. Bob Brown recorded a sack in Super Bowl I for the Packers. Brown would win two Super Bowls with Green Bay. He earned an NFL Pro Bowl nod in 1972.

Running back John Amos saw limited action with the Ironmen in 1965. After his minor league career petered out in the late 60’s, Amos turned to acting. We starred as family patriarch James Evans Sr. in the Norman Lear sitcom Good Times on CBS from 1974 to 1976.

The Ironmen finally went out of business in late 1969. The Continental Football League itself split apart and folded several months later.

 

Wheeling Ironmen Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Ironmen President/General Manager (Ironmen ’62-’69) Michael Valan passed away in August 1986 at age 76.

Defensive lineman Bob Brown (Ironmen ’64-’65) passed away on December 10, 1998. The two-time Super Bowl champion was 58.

Quarterback Benjy Dial (Ironmen ’66) died of a heart attack on April 5, 2001 at the age of 57.

Running back Merlin Walter (Ironmen ’66) passed away in May 2015 at age 72. McNeese State Athletics obituary.

 

Links

Pro Football on a Shoestring“, Harold Peterson, Sports Illustrated, December 16, 1968

Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs

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