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1975 San Antonio Wings

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San Antonio WingsWorld Football League (1975)

Born: March 1975 – WFL expansion franchise
Died: October 22, 1975 – WFL folds in midseason

Stadium: Alamo Stadium (30,000)

Team Colors: Blue, Silver & White

Owner/Governor: Norman Bevan

 

The San Antonio Wings were a new franchise in the second and final season of the World Football League (1974-1975).  They are sometimes referred to as a relocation of the bankrupt Florida Blazers franchise from the 1974 season, but the transaction was not quite so straightforward.  As part of their entry into the league, the Wings were provided rights to some of the Blazers contracts, but were also treated as an expansion team and allowed to select two players from each of the returning franchises through an expansion draft.

The Wings made their regular season home debut on July 26th, 1975 against the Charlotte Hornets.  San Antonio prevailed 27-10 before an announced crowd of 12,325 at 22,000-seat Alamo Stadium.  The attendance figures were of great interest to the Wings players, who had signed 1975 standard player contracts under the unique terms of the so-called “Hemmeter Plan”.

Named for the league’s technocratic new President, Christopher Hemmeter, the Hemmeter Plan was intended as a league-wide cost control blue print.  Specifically, the Plan sought to convert traditionally fixed costs – such as player salaries and stadium leases – to variable costs paid out as a percentage of revenue.  Teams would sign approximately 42 players and coaches and would allocate 42% of team revenues to their compensation.  Each player and coach would receive a guarantee of $500 a week against 1% of gross revenue.  Players on a team that brought in $2 million in annual revenue could expect to earn about $20,000.  Teams that wished to pay more – to lure an NFL veteran, for example – could do so by offering the standard percentage point plus an additional fixed amount.  The overage needed to be placed in escrow before the season.  Hemmeter pegged break-even at approximately 17,000 fans per game across the league.

But there was a rub.  And the rub was that revenues weren’t sufficient to meet the minimum guarantees.  The 1974 World Football League had a national television contract with the TVS Network, a syndicator that placed sports programming on independent UHF channels.  In 1975 networks were reluctant to get involved with a league where teams had abandoned the major media markets of New York and Houston to set up shop in places like Charlotte and Shreveport, Louisiana.  There was mild interest when the Chicago Winds franchise offered a $4 million package to Joe Namath in the spring of 1975, but it evaporated when Broadway Joe decided to stay in the NFL.  Meanwhile, attendance around the league severely underperformed expectations.  According to The Associated Press fewer than half of the league’s games produced box office takes sufficient to pay out the $500 per player minimum.

The Wings had a Jekyll & Hyde personality under Head Coach Perry Moss.  The club was unbeatable at home  (7-0) and hapless on the road (0-6).  Notable players included Johnnie Walton, one of the first black quarterbacks to start for a pro team, and Willie Frazier, a former All-Pro in the American Football League with the Houston Oilers.  In October 1975, the Wings signed Jerry Tagge, the former University of  Nebraska quarterback and 1st round draft bust of the Green Bay Packers (#11 overall, 1972).  Tagge arrived just in time to start the Wings final game (and throw five interceptions) in Shreveport, Louisiana on October 19, 1975.

Three days later, on October 22, 1975, the World Football League went out of business midway through its second season, due to chronic financial problems.

Pro football returned to San Antonio and Alamo Stadium nine years later with the arrival of the San Antonio Gunslingers of the United States Football League.

 

San Antonio Wings Shop


Wings Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

Wings Helmet T-Shirt by American Classics

San Antonio Wings Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Linebacker Billy Hobbs died when his moped was struck by an oncoming car on August 21, 2004. He was 57 years old.

Former Wings owner Norman Bevan died in a car accident on February 2, 2012 at the age of 81.

 

Downloads

1975 World Football League Standard Player Contract

 

Links

1975 San Antonio Wings Statistics on JustSportsStats.com

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by AC

January 20th, 2013 at 1:41 pm

1975-1976 San Antonio Thunder

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North American Soccer League (1975-1976)

Born: June 25, 1974 – NASL expansion franchise
Moved: Postseason 1976 (Team Hawaii)

Stadiums:

Team Colors: Red, White & Blue

Owner: Ward Lay Jr.

Soccer Bowl Championships: None

 

The San Antonio Scorpions (@SAScorpions) of the 2nd Division North American Soccer League have announced a cool turn-back-the-clock promotion for their July 21st match against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio.

The Scorps will pay tribute to an all-but-forgotten chapter in the rather thin history of pro soccer in San Antonio – the two-year run of the unloved San Antonio Thunder (1975-1976) of the original North American Soccer League (1968-1984).  The Thunder didn’t exactly set San Antonio aflame with soccer passion in the mid-1970’s.  The club finished out of the postseason chase in both years of their existence at Alamo Stadium and averaged fewer than 5,000 spectators per match.

The first-year Scorpions, by contrast, are quite popular in San Antonio.  Through their first six home matches, the Scorps are averaging a robust 9,460 fans per game according to Kenn.com, more than double any other team in the 2nd division.

One interesting historical footnote.  The 1976 Thunder imported 34-year old English legend Bobby Moore – captain of England’s 1966 World Cup championship team.  Moore suited up for 24 matches for the Thunder that season.

Following the 1976 season, the franchise moved to Honolulu, where the club spent one year as Team Hawaii.  After the 1977 campaign, the club relocated once again to Oklahoma, playing out the rest of the NASL’s existence as the Tulsa Roughnecks until the franchise folded in September 1984, followed shortly thereafter by the NASL itself.

As for the Scorpions promo, no word on throw back jerseys or a reunion of any ex-Thunder players of personnel.  The centerpiece of the promotion will be a price rollback to 1976 dollars – free parking, $4 tickets and $1 hot dogs and soft drinks.

Choosing the match against the Strikers is a nice, subtle addition to the retro theme.  The Strikers themselves are a throw back brand, recalling the glory days of the original Fort Lauderdale Strikers – who featured George Best, Teofilo Cubillas, Gerd Muller and Ray Hudson among other international stars – at Lockhart Stadium as members of the original NASL from 1977 to 1983.

 

San Antonio Thunder Shop


Thunder Retro T-Shirt on Throwback Max

Ian Plenderleith’s Definitive Account of “The Short Life & Fast Times of the North American Soccer League

 

San Antonio Thunder Memorabilia

 

Links

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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Written by AC

July 6th, 2012 at 6:51 pm

1984 – 1985 San Antonio Gunslingers

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United States Football League (1984-1985)

Born: 1983 – USFL expansion franchise.
Folded: July 23, 1985

Stadium: Alamo Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Clinton Manges

USFL Championships: None

 

The San Antonio Gunslingers were a gritty, hard-nosed team in the short-lived United States Football League.  Although they posted losing records in both of their spring campaigns, they competed harder under adverse conditions than perhaps anyone had a right to expect.  Despite having the lowest payroll in the USFL, team owner Clinton Manges stopped paying it during the club’s second season in 1985.  To make ends meet, players began trading game tickets for food and finding local families to take them in.  Despite this, the team of mostly anonymous and unpaid journeymen won two of their final three games.  Then they took their battles from the gridiron to the court room.

Manges had a remarkable backstory. He was an Okie who dropped out of elementary school at the height of the Depression to pick cotton.  Later he worked as a watch repairman, service station attendant and bowling alley owner before amassing his fortune as a land baron and political power broker in the sprawling brush country of South Texas.  It might have been an inspirational rags to riches tale, but for the fact that Manges was also a convicted felon and a combative, inveterate tax dodger and check bouncer.  He arrived at the USFL’s doorstep, expansion application in hand, in the summer of 1983, while dozens of unpaid creditors chased him around the 100,000-acre ranch he referred to as “the Magic Kingdom” in fruitless attempts to serve papers.  The USFL let Manges in anyway, to its eternal chagrin.

The Gunslingers were the sixth and final expansion team admitted for the USFL’s second season in the spring of 1984.  A wave of deep-pocketed new owners vowed to take on the NFL for the best free agent and college draft talent available.  Pittsburgh Maulers owner Edward Debartolo Sr. inked University of Nebraska Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier to a $3.1 million dollar deal.  New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump raided the NFL for veteran free agents, including 1980 MVP Brian Sipe.  Los Angeles Express owner J. William Oldenburg signed a slew of projected NFL 1st round draft picks, including future Hall of Fames Steve Young and Gary Zimmerman.

Manges and his Gunslingers looked and acted nothing like those teams.  The team signed only one of its twenty-five college draft picks.  That man, rookie quarterback Rick Neuheisel of UCLA, was the team’s highest paid player at a modest $70,000 per year.  Neuheisel’s 34-year old backup Karl Douglas last played with British Columbia of the Canadian Football League…in 1976.  Defensive end Mike St. Clair,  a veteran of the Cincinnati Bengals 1982 Super Bowl team, was best known name on an opportunistic defense known as “The Bounty Hunters” that put up a plus-13 takeaway ratio in 1984.

The team did enter negotiations with Houston Oilers star running back Earl Campbell in February 1984.  Unlike the other big name NFL stars who jumped to the spring season USFL in 1984, Campbell was not a free agent.  Campbell planned to challenge the exclusivity clause in NFL contracts and play year-round in both leagues.  Campbell, famed for his punishing running style, would last only two more seasons in the NFL.  Anyone familiar with Campbell’s post-career health problems should be thankful his 12-month plan never came to pass.

The Gunslingers debuted at home against the New Orleans Breakers on February 27th, 1984.  It was a homecoming of sorts for Breakers starting quarterback Johnnie Walton, who starred for the San Antonio Wings of the doomed World Football League in 1975.  The Breakers sent the announced crowd of 18,233 home disappointed, dealing the Gunslingers a 13-10 loss.  After the season, a creditor lawsuit against Manges revealed that the team systematically over-reported attendance to the public. The team’s internal numbers showed that only a little over 10,000 fans showed up for the opener.

At the second home game against Jim Kelly and the Houston Gamblers on March 5, 1984, Alamo Stadium plunged into darkness midway through the 3rd quarter.  The power outage postponed the game nearly an hour.  The Gunslingers lead the league in such misadventures, which has helped fuel their cult following to this day.  Witness:

  • The unnamed Gunslinger scratched from a 1985 game after slamming his penis in a storage trunk
  • After struggling for approval to play in and expand Alamo Stadium due to congestion and noise concerns, the Gunslingers held a promotion to determine which tailgating fan had the loudest car stereo
  • The story – apparently apocryphal – of 72-year old team President/Manges stooge Bud Haun crawling out an office window to hide from irate players looking for paychecks
  • According to the excellent USFL.info history site, a clueless Gunslingers staffer asked the league office for head sizes of all USFL players, under the mistaken belief that the home team was responsible for providing helmets to each visiting club

After an 0-4 start, the Gunslingers rebounded to win half of their remaining games and finish at 7-11, thanks largely to the stout defense.  The team claimed average attendance of 15,444 (inflated) against actual season ticket sales of just over 3,500.

Heading into their second campaign in 1985, the Gunslingers’ returning Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates took over head coaching duties from Gil Steinke who became General Manager.  The condition of the team’s business operations – already a league joke – deteriorated substantially.  Manges was always cash poor.  In a lengthy 1984 profile in Texas Monthly magazine, author Paul Burka characterized Manges’ late 1970’s liquidity problems and track record with creditors:

Manges’ problem was more one of philosophy than one of money. His financial statement at the time showed $67 million in assets ($24 million or the Duval County Ranch, $33 million for oil and gas properties like the Guerra lands, and $5 million for the Groos Bank were the main items) and only $27 million in liabilities ($19 million in loans and the rest in past-due bills). That left his net worth at $40 million. But cash flow was his problem. To pay his debts he would have had to sell land, and that was unthinkable. Land is power; one gets rich by accumulating assets, not by selling them.

Burka’s analysis shrewdly foreshadowed the situation that the USFL – and Gunslingers players and staff – found themselves in with Manges a year later in the spring of 1985.  Four of the team’s first five payrolls in 1985 were either late or a portion of the checks bounced.  Gunslingers President Bud Haun promised to cobble together one payroll through a combination of cash and his own personal checks.  Years later, players recalled Cannonball Run-style derbies on pay day, as players raced to the bank, knowing only the first few checks would clear.  A Gunslingers plane sat idle on the tarmac following a game in Jacksonville. The team discovered that Manges hadn’t paid for a flight home.

12 games into the 1985 season, with the Gunslingers record at 3-9, Manges failed yet again to make good on late paychecks. Head Coach Jim Bates resigned in protest. Former coach Gil Steinke returned from the administrative office to finish out the last six games.

“I admire <Bates> for that,” starting cornerback Peter Raeford told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2004. “I remember my eyes welled up that day because not only was he a man of character, but he brought a lot of energy to the team.”

In early June 1985, Manges paid out two overdue payrolls, beating an arbitrator’s deadline by a few hours.  He paid every player except offensive lineman Lee Spivey, whom he stiffed because Spivey had the nerve to file suit for his back wages.  (Another disgruntled Gunslinger, Ken Gillen, was traded for complaining in the press about late paychecks).   Manges promptly missed the next two payrolls and stopped paying the team’s bills entirely in June 1985.  Gunslingers’ players were left with over $600,000 in unpaid salaries.  Exasperated USFL Commissioner Harry Usher formally revoked the franchise on July 23rd, 1985.

The players’ subsequent efforts to recover their pay dragged out in the courts into 1988.  The litigation outlasted the USFL itself, which folded in August 1986. Manges declared bankruptcy in the late 1980’s.

Coach Jim Bates went on to a long career in the NFL as a defensive assistant and coordinator, including a seven-game stint as interim Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2004.  His most recent post was as Defensive Coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009.

Rick Neuheisel played for the San Diego Chargers as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike.  He subsequently has held high profile college head coaching positions at Colorado, Washington and his alma mater, UCLA.

Clinton Manges lost his Magic Kingdom ranch in February 1991 when the U.S. Marshals arrived in Black Hawk helicopters to evict Manges from the foreclosed property.  By this point, Manges owed at least $89 million to his creditors.  He later went to prison on federal bribery and mail fraud charges in 1997.  Manges died at age 87 in September 2010.

“My father was a perfect example of how far being an ornery old bastard can take you,” his daughter MaLou Manges told the San Antonio Express-News upon his death.

 

San Antonio Gunslingers Shop


Gunslingers Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max



Just published! One of FWIL’s Top Sports Books of 2017

 

San Antonio Gunslingers Memorabilia

 

Gunslingers Video

The night the lights went out in San Antonio …. Gunslingers vs. Houston Gamblers, March 5, 1984.  Fast forward to about the 97-minute mark for the power outage at Alamo Stadium.

 

Links

United States Football League Media Guides

United States Football League Programs

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Written by AC

January 22nd, 2012 at 5:20 am

1977-1983 San Antonio Charros / San Antonio Bulls

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The San Antonio Charros (later the San Antonio Bulls) were a low-level minor league football outfit in the American Football Association from 1977 to 1983.  The AFA launched in 1977 as a Texas-Oklahoma loop and then gradually spread north and east.  At its most expansive in 1982, AFA franchises stretched from San Antonio to Florida and north to Buffalo and Racine, Wisconsin.

The league often had the feel of a low-budget re-boot of the defunct World Football League, which placed teams in major cities in 1974 and 1975 and briefly attempted to outbid the NFL for top player talent.  The WFL was a spectacular failure, losing over $20 million in its first season and shutting down midway through its second.  Nevertheless, some AFA owners seemed to feel nostalgia for what might have been – over the years several clubs revived the brand names of their defunct WFL predecessors, including the Shreveport Steamer, Chicago Fire and Alabama Vulcans.

The AFA also lifted its unusual player compensation model from the final season of the WFL, which promised each player on the roster 1% of the gate revenues, rather than a fixed salary.  Former NFL All-Pro quarterback Billy Kilmer served as Commissioner of the AFA for one chaotic season in 1981 and recalled how this worked in practice:

Sometimes the attendance was so small players were paid nothing,” Kilmer told The Associated Press in 1982.  “Others got a check for $20.”

League co-founder and San Antonio Charros owner Roger Gill had WFL roots as well.  Gill played tight end at Texas Tech and later for two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1974 and 1975.  He extended his playing career into the early 1970’s with the San Antonio Toros of the minor Texas Football League and later joined the front office of the WFL’s San Antonio Wings in a player personnel role in 1975.  Gill would later serve as the AFA’s Commissioner during its final seasons after Kilmer resigned in 1981.

During the AFA’s first season in 1977, the Charros ran the table, posting an undefeated 10-0 record under Head Coach Harry Lander.  The team featured a couple of former WFL Wings players including wide receiver Tom Whittier and cornerback J.V. Stokes.

In March 1979, the Charros signed 34-year old quarterback and San Antonio native Randy Johnson.  Johnson was one of two 1966 1st round draft picks of the NFL’s expansion Atlanta Falcons and was the first starting quarterback in Falcons franchise history.  Johnson kicked around the NFL and the World Football League for parts of ten seasons, mostly as a back-up.  Johnson earned all-league honors at quarterback for the Charros in 1979.

After the 1981 season, San Antonio dropped the Charros name – which meant “horseman” in Spanish – in favor of the San Antonio Bulls.  The Bulls and the AFA lasted two more seasons, playing their final campaign in 1983.

The AFA was always a rickety enterprise, with fly-by-night teams comign and going from year-to-year and players revolting over missed paychecks.  One of the final blows to the league was the formation of the big-budget United States Football League in May of 1982.  The birth of the USFL, with its ABC and ESPN TV contracts, effectively killed whatever pipe dreams Gill and his league partners had of gaining a cable television deal.  The USFL also placed franchises in several AFA league cities, effectively sucking out all of the oxygen for minor league football.

One of these cities was San Antonio, Texas, which received a USFL expansion franchise in June 1983 to begin play in the spring of 1984.  Roger Gill was named General Manager of the USFL’s San Antonio Gunslingers in 1983.  Several former Bulls/Charros players including Tony Armstrong, Tally Neal and Keith Nelms followed Gill and saw brief playing time with the Gunslingers in 1984 and 1985.

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Former Charros quarterback Randy Johnson battled alcoholism and homelessness for years.  Destitute, he passed away in North Carolina in 2009 at the age of 65.

San Antonio has continued to be a graveyard for professional football in the years since the World Football League and the American Football Association.   The USFL Gunslingers lasted two springs (1984-1985).  Lawsuits over that club’s unpaid bills and player salaries continued into the late 1980’s.  The city also hosted the World League of American Football’s San Antonio Riders (1991-1992), the Arena League’s San Antonio Force (1992) and the Canadian Football League’s San Antonio Texans (1995).  None lasted more than two seasons.  A new Arena Football effort – the San Antonio Talons – will try to break the streak in the spring of 2012.

 

==Downloads==

San Antonio Charros / Bulls Sources

 

Written by AC

December 18th, 2011 at 4:35 pm

1991-1992 San Antonio Riders

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World League of American Football (1991-1992)

Born: April 28, 1990 – WLAF founding franchise
Folded: September 17, 1992

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owners: Larry J. Benson & Tom Landry et al.

 

The National Football League announced plans to back a developmental spring football league in 1989.  The defunct United States Football League popularized (to a degree) the concept of springtime football from 1983 to 1985, before flaming out in a burst of hubris, red ink and failed anti-trust litigation against the NFL.  The NFL’s spring concept, run by long-time Dallas Cowboys exec Tex Schramm, would place spring football in second-tier U.S. markets as well as large European cities, Montreal and possibly Mexico City.  26 of the 28 NFL clubs contributed $800,000 each to launch the league with a start date of March 1991.  The Chicago Bears and Phoenix Cardinals declined to participate.  The remaining NFL owners held the majority of the league’s stock but would not directly operate the clubs.  Franchise operating rights would be sold for each market.

Under Schramm’s direction, the World League of American Football (WLAF) began to announce member cities in the spring of 1990, despite the fact that local ownership had yet to be firmed up in each market.  The WLAF announced San Antonio, Texas on April 28th, 1990.  The league struggled to locate ownership in some cities, but in San Antonio there were two competing bidders.  Gavin Maloof, former President of the NBA’s Houston Rockets and son of the late New Mexico beer and banking baron George Maloof, Sr., headed one bid.  San Antonio attorney Larry Benson, younger brother of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, headed the other bid, a 15-member syndicate called Texas Football, Inc. which also included Dallas Cowboys coaching legend Tom Landry and his son, Tom Jr.

Schramm was fired by NFL officials in October 1990 and replaced by Minnesota Vikings executive Mike Lynn, a strong proponent of local ownership for WLAF clubs.  The San Antonio franchise went to Benson’s group in mid-November 1990, while Maloof ended up with the WLAF’s Birmingham franchise.  Benson became majority owner and managing partner with a 45% stake in the club.  In addition to Benson’s group of 15 individual investors, two local corporate investors – Valero Energy Corp. and the United States Automobile Association – stepped up and bought 10% ownership stakes in Texas Football, Inc.

Stadium considerations fueled the competing interests for the San Antonio market rights.  Construction crews broke ground on the 65,000-seat Alamodome in November 1990 and the building projected to open in time for the WLAF’s third spring season in 1993.  In the meantime, the Riders intended to play at at Alamo Stadium, a 50-year old Works Progress Administration facility managed by the San Antonio School District (SASD).  Alamo seated only 23,000 and had played host to San Antonio’s previous failed pro football franchises, the San Antonio Wings of the World Football League (1975) and the San Antonio Gunslingers of the United States Football League (1984-1985).

The Riders had a challenging relationship with the SASD from the start.  The district refused to allow the sale of beer at WLAF games and also blocked the Riders’ ability to display beer advertising in the stadium.  In return, Riders ownership scrapped plans to fund $235,000 in renovations to the building.  In June 1991, SASD officials announced plans for a 65% rent increase on the Riders for the 1992 season, raising the per-game rate from the $12,000/game paid in 1991 to an estimated $19,600/game for the 1992 season.  The relationship would last for only one season.

WLAF player salaries were strictly controlled.  On the low end, kickers earned $15,000 for the 1991 season, while quarterbacks earned a base salary of $25,000.  All other positional players earned $20,000 base plus incentives.  The Riders featured a handful of NFL vets, the most experienced being seven-year veteran cornerback Bobby Humphery formerly of the New York Jets.  But the WLAF was not a league for aging players on the back side of 28, as previous NFL competitors such as the WFL and USFL had often been.  Most Riders were former late round draft picks, developmental squad players and training camp cuts, still with youth in their favor and looking to stay on the radar of NFL personnel departments.

The Riders debuted at home on April 1st, 1991 with a 10-3 loss to the Frankfurt Galaxy before 18,432 fans.  The WLAF’s international flavor was on display early as Willie Nelson’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was followed by Der San Antonio Liederkranz’s performance of the German national anthem in honor of the visiting team (which was composed almost entirely of Americans).

The Riders played their second home game just six days later on April 7th, a 10-3 victory over the Sacramento Surge.  Only 6,772 turned out, surprising WLAF President Mike Lynn, attending his first WLAF game in a U.S. city.  “I am somewhat mystified at why there aren’t more people here,” Lynn told The San Antonio Express News.

The first season drew to a close in June 1991 when two of the WLAF’s European teams – the Barcelona Dragons and the London Monarchs – met in World Bowl I at London’s Wembley Stadium before a crowd of 61,108.  The success of the European clubs in the standings was mirrored off the field.  The four European clubs plus Montreal occupied the top five spots in WLAF attendance figures, each averaging at least 29,000 fans per game.  Of the five American clubs, only Maloof’s Birmingham Fire averaged over 20,000 fans.  San Antonio finished 9th in the ten team league with average attendance of 14,853 for five games at Alamo Stadium.  USA Network, in the first year of a four-year $18M cable rights deal, hoped to average a 3.0 Nielsen rating for American broadcasts, but achieved only a 1.2.  ABC was similarly disappointed in their network ratings.

In October 1991, NFL voted on whether to continue operations of the World League for the 1992 season.  Media estimates pegged the inaugural season losses at approximately $15 million, inclusive of operating losses of the ten franchises, as well as the capital contributed by each NFL franchise.  Low television ratings were also a concern, with both ABC and USA requesting adjustments to their deals due to low ratings.  The WLAF franchise owners themselves had little say in the matter, but had to put marketing and other decisions on hold as the NFL tabled the vote for more than a month.  For their part, the Riders claimed a relatively modest operating loss of $250,000 for the 1991 season, despite low attendance.

After the NFL approved a 1992 season in late October, the Riders immediately announced plans to move to 16,000-seat Bobcat Stadium on the campus of Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.  The team still intended to return to San Antonio proper in 1993 to play at the Alamodome.  In the meantime, they would pay $16,000 rent per game in 1992 with dramatically improved lease terms over the Alamo Stadium deal – the Riders could sell & advertise beer in San Marcos, and for the first time they would participate in parking and concessions revenue.

The Riders debuted at Bobcat Stadium on March 22, 1992.  10,698 fans turned out to see the Riders dispatch the Montreal Machine 17-16, courtesy of 123 yards rushing from new arrival Ivory Lee Brown.  The move to Bobcat Stadium hurt the Riders season ticket base, which dropped approximately 30% from 7,000 in 1991 to 5,000 in 1992.  Among the U.S.-based World League clubs, only the Orlando Thunder had fewer season tickets holders in 1992.  The Riders were much improved on the field under returning Head Coach Mike Riley in 1992.  The team finished 7-3, although that would prove not quite good enough to land a playoff berth.

In August 1992, Benson pegged Texas Football, Inc.’s two-year operating loss from the Riders at approximately $750,000, although it’s important to note that the true cost of running the franchise was heavily subsidized by the NFL.  And therein lay the rub.  After a second year of big losses and small ratings, the World League’s NFL governors pulled the plug on the World League on September 17, 1992.  The NFL hoped to return to international spring football in the future, perhaps as soon as 1994, but perhaps not with American teams at all.

“The World League was very successful in Europe and we feel that an international focus instead of one in middle-sized America is the way to go,” NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told The New York Times.

After the World League folded, Larry Benson and Sacramento Surge owner Fred Anderson pursued memberships in the Canadian Football League.  In mid-January 1993, both owners received conditional expansion franchises – the first two CFL clubs set to play outside Canadian borders.  The old names and marks belonged to the NFL, so the clubs took on new names – the San Antonio Texans and the Sacramento Gold Miners.  However, just two weeks later the Texans backed out of the CFL, angering Anderson and embarrassing CFL Commissioner Larry Smith, a champion of U.S. expansion.  Benson’s football operation was dead.

##

1991 Riders quarterback Jason Garrett of Princeton went on to play more than a decade in the NFL as a back-up quarterback, including eight seasons and two Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys. After retiring in 2004 he became a highly respected assistant and coordinator and is today the Head Coach of the Cowboys.

1991 Riders starting right tackle John Layfield went on to a long career in professional wrestling, best known as WWE Smackdown champion JBL.  He is one of two high profile wrestlers to come out of the WLAF, along with former Sacramento Surge defensive lineman Bill Goldberg AKA Goldberg.

Pro football finally came to the Alamodome in the fall of 1995 when Benson’s old WLAF comrade Fred Anderson relocated his money-losing Sacramento Gold Miners franchise to San Antonio.  The Texans played one playoff season in the dome in 1995 before the CFL pulled the plug on its U.S. experiment and retreated to Canada.  The New Orleans Saints also played games at the Alamodome during 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Otherwise, it has never been used for pro football.

The NFL did return to international springtime football in 1995 with the creation of NFL Europe.  NFL Europe revived the three European WLAF clubs – the Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy and London Monarchs – with the addition of more Western European cities.  No North American clubs were considered for membership.  NFL Europe operated for 13 seasons, shutting down after the 2007 campaign.

 

Links

World League of American Football Media Guides

World League of American Football Programs

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