Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘United Football League 1961’ Category

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.



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

Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs





1964-1967 Joliet Explorers / Joliet Chargers

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Joliet Explorers ProgramUnited Football League (1964)
Professional Football League of America (1965-1966)

Born: 1964 – UFL expansion team.
Died: Postseason 1967 – The Joliet Chargers cease operations.

Stadium: Joliet Memorial Stadium

Team Colors:


  • 1964: John Cantieri
  • 1964-1967: Joliet Explorers Inc. (numerous local investors)


The Joliet Explorers were a low-level minor league football team formed in 1964 as an expansion club in the United Football League.  The UFL had teams in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and the province of Quebec.  The Explorers were the league tomato can that fall, posting a record of 0-14.  Their opponents outscored them 591-144.

John Amos played briefly for the Explorers during that futile 1964 campaign.  At the time, Amos was a vagabond minor league running back.  In the 1970’s he got into acting, and would play James Evans, Sr., the father on Good Times from 1974 to 1976.  He’s been in dozens of other major film and TV roles, including playing meteorologist Gordy Howard on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Major Grant, the traitorous henchman who battles Bruce Willis on the wing of a passenger jet in Die Hard 2.

At the end of the 1964 season, the United Football League split apart.  The more ambitious teams partnered with defectors from the Atlantic Coast Football League to form the Continental Football League in February 1965.  Joliet fell in with a second faction that was content to remain a low-budget, regional league.  This group formed the Professional Football League of America in early 1965, which consisted of six teams from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska.

Punching bags in the UFL, the Explorers turned around their fortunes in the PFLA.  After posting an 8-1-1 regular season record in 1965, the Explorers swept the Grand Rapids Blazers in a two-game championship series.  The Explorers were competitive again in 1966 at 6-4-1, but finished just outside the playoffs.

In May 1967, Joliet struck an affiliation with the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League.  As part of the deal, the team changed its name to the Joliet Chargers for the 1967 season.  The Joliet Chargers went 10-2 in 1967 and then defeated the Alabama Hawks 31-20 in the PFLA Championship Game to claim their second title in three years.

The Chargers folded following the 1967 season.


==Joliet Explorers/Chargers Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other


1964 9/5/1964 vs. Indianapolis Warriors ?? Program
1964 10/11/1964 @ Wheeling Ironmen L 42-25 Program


1966 8/21/1966 vs. Grand Rapids Blazers ?? Program
1966 9/18/1966 vs. Des Moines Warriors ?? Program


1967 11/25/1967 @ Alabama Hawks W 31-20 Program



United Football League Programs



1964-1967 Quebec / Toronto Rifles


Toronto Rifles

United Football League (1964)
Continental Football League (1965-1967)

Born: January 1964 – UFL expansion franchise.
Folded: September 21, 1967


Team Colors:



The Quebec Rifles entered the United Football League as an expansion franchise in January 1964.  Based out of Montreal, the new franchise adopted the nickname of its local hero Head Coach, former Montreal Alouettes star quarterback Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverry.  The Rifles were a geographic anomaly in the eight-team UFL, a minor league loop based in the Midwest with clubs in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.  In Canada, the Rifles were the first team to play pro football under American, rather than Canadian, rules.  J.I. Albrecht served as the club’s General Manager.

The Rifles played out of 13,000-seat Delorimier Stadium, a former home of both the Alouettes (1946-1953) and the Montreal Royals, the long-time farm club of baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers.

The Rifles finished the 1964 UFL season at 5-9.  Running back Joe Williams led the league in scoring with 17 touchdowns.  Former University of Indiana Hoosier John Henry Jackson handled the quarterbacking duties as one of the early African-Americans to see significant time at the position in the pros.

In February 1965, the UFL clubs split into two factions.  The owners interested in pursuing the traditional low-budget minor league model went off to launch the Professional Football League of America.  The UFL’s more ambitious franchises, including the Rifles, merged with like-minded clubs from the Atlantic Coast Football League to announce the formation of the Continental Football League.  The Continental League announced its intention to pursue a television contract and to compete with the NFL and the AFL for top collegiate talent.  The owners hired A.B. “Happy” Chandler, the former Commissioner of Major League Baseball (1945-1951) for the same post in their new organization.

Toronto Rifles ProgramAlong with a new league, the Rifles had a new home in 1965.  The club relocated from Montreal to Toronto, a shift that got off to a rocky start when the University of Toronto refused to offer a lease at Varsity Stadium.  The club reluctantly set up shop at Maple Leafs Stadium, a baseball stadium used by the city’s triple-A baseball team.  Etcheverry did not make the move to Toronto and was replaced as Head Coach by former Alouettes assistant Leo Cahill.

Under Cahill, the Toronto Rifles went 11-3 in 1965 and earned a trip to the Continental Football League championship game. They lost to the Charleston Rockets 24-7.  The backfield duo of Joe Williams and Bob Blakely finished top two in the league in rushing. Wide receiver Dick Limerick paced the circuit with 17 touchdowns.  John Henry Jackson took the snaps at quarterback again, with the exception of one October night in Charleston, West Virginia.  FBI agents entered the Rifles locker room moments before kickoff and arrested the 26-year old on draft evasion charges.  Charleston’s owner courteously paid Jackson’s $1,000 bond and Jackson made it back to the stadium in time to watch the final three minutes of the game.

In 1966, the Rifles got the Varsity Stadium lease they coveted and moved across town.  Jackson lost his starting job to Tom Wilkinson, a rookie out of the University of Wyoming.   Wilkinson passed for 18 touchdowns and earned league Rookie-of-the-Year honors.  Williams and Blakely finished 1-2 in the league in rushing for the second straight year, both going over 1,000 yards.  Cahill’s Rifles were a top club once again and their 9-5 record was good enough to get back to the Continental League playoffs.  In the semi-final, they met the Philadelphia Bulldogs in a rematch of the 1965 title game.  Once again, the Bulldogs got the best of it, eliminating the Rifles 31-14.

Jackie Parker Toronto ArgonautsIn April 1967, Cahill moved across town to take the head job with the dreadful Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.  The Rifles signed CFL legend Jackie Parker to take over coaching duties.  It was the first coaching gig for the recently retired 35-year old.  But during the pre-season, Parker became alarmed at the desperate state of the team’s finances and resigned two days before the season opener.

The Rifles ownership folded on September 5th, 1967 after only two regular seasons games.  Continental Football League officials met in emergency session and agreed to collectively fund and operate the team through the end of the season, possibly as a travel-only team.  Now a ward of the league, the Rifles played their third and final game of 1967 on September 16th, losing 16-3 to the Hartford Charter Oaks in a game shifted from Toronto to Connecticut.

Shortly thereafter, the Continental League’s new Akron Vulcans franchise – owned by a con artist named Frank Hurn who bought the club with Chicago mob money – collapsed as well.  Unable to operate two clubs at league expense, the league folded by both the Rifles and the Vulcans on September 21st, 1967.

The Rifles ran significant deficits throughout their brief history.  The club lost a reported $300,000 in 1965 and $400,000 in 1966.


The Continental Football League folded after the 1969 season.

After the Rifles folded, Tom Wilkinson joined Leo Cahill across town with the Argonauts.  He went on to play 15 seasons in the CFL, winning the league Most Outstanding Player award in 1974 and winning five Grey Cup titles with as a member of the Edmonton Eskimos between 1975 and his final season in 1981.

Sam Etcheverry, the man who gave the Rifles their name, entered the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1969.  His post-Rifles coaching career was brief, but did include a Grey Cup championship as head man of the Montreal Alouettes in 1970.  Etcheverry passed away in 2009.

Rifles President Alan Eagleson introduced the player agent era to the National Hockey League by representing the teenage Bobby Orr in the mid-1960’s.  As Executive Director of the NHL Players Association he became one of the sport’s primary power brokers in the 1970’s and 1980’s and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989.  In the 1990’s Eagleson’s ethical and financial misdeeds as an agent and leader of the NHLPA came to light as the result of investigations by Lawrence Eagle-Tribune reporter Russ Conway and complaints by retired NHL players, including Orr.   Eagleson was ultimately indicted in the U.S. and Canada on charges of fraud, embezzlement and racketerring.  He served a prison sentence in Canada in the late 1990’s.


Toronto Rifles Memorabilia



Toronto Rifles Article Sources



Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs



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