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1974 Birmingham Americans

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Birmingham AmericansWorld Football League (1974)

Born: January 1974 – WFL founding franchise.
Folded: January 1975

Stadium: Legion Field

Team Colors:

Owner: William Putnam

World Bowl Champions: 1974

 

The Birmingham Americans were the first and only champions of the World Football League (1974-1975), a brash but undercapitalized effort to go head-to-head with the National Football League in the mid-1970’s, much as the American Football League had a decade earlier.

The Americans had a terrific squad under Head Coach Jack Gotta, an import from the Canadian Football League.  The Americans won their first ten games of the 1974 season.  The team then hit a rough patch in the middle of the schedule, dropping five out of the next seven, before regaining their form to finish a 15-5 regular season with a three-game win streak.

George Mira took most of the snaps at quarterback, ably backed up by former Grambling star Matthew Reed.  Dennis Homan, a star at Alabama in the mid-60’s and former first round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, led the Americans in receptions with 61, but the true breakout star of the offense was receiver Alfred Jenkins, a playmaking rookie out of Morris Brown University.  Jenkins caught 60 passes for 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Jenkins would sign with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 1975 and earn two Pro Bowl nods during his nine-year NFL career.

In the 1974 WFL playoffs, the Americans escaped The Hawaiians 22-19 in the semi-final and earned the right to host the World Bowl at Legion Stadium on December 5, 1974.  By the time of the World Bowl, the WFL was in deep trouble.  Several franchises folded during the season.  Another club, the Charlotte Hornets, decided it couldn’t afford to compete in the playoffs despite qualifying.  Neither the Americans nor their opponents, the Florida Blazers, had received paychecks in weeks and there was discussion of the players staging a boycott of the title game.

But in the end, they played and it was a great game.  The Americans raced out to a 22-0 third quarter lead before the Florida Blazers roused themselves and reeled off a furious 21 point rally late in the game.  Americans linebacker Warren Capone stuffed Blazers running back Tommy Reamon on an “Action Point” try late in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game, and Birmingham eeked out a 22-21 victory.  The Action Point was a WFL innovation, which was sort of a hybrid of an extra point and a two-point conversion.  Touchdowns were worth seven points in the WFL and an eighth point could be added by passing or running the ball in from the two-yard line.

As the Americans celebrated their championship in the Legion Field locker room, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies burst in to seize the team’s uniforms and equipment on behalf of a local sports goods supplier holding bad debt from the team.  This proved to be the final game the Birmingham Americans ever played, as their debts sunk the franchise about a month later.

The team had severe financial problems, but they weren’t result of poor attendance.  The Americans were actually very  popular in Birmingham.  World Football League attendance figures were notoriously inflated and the subject of much media derision in 1974, but there’s little debate that the Americans were far and away the most popular team in the league.  The team’s official figures claimed 39,269 fans per game for 10 regular season home games in 1974.

But other factors conspired to drag down the club, including owner Bill Putnam’s failure to secure additional local partners to join his ownership group.  Further, Putnam spent himself into oblivion in the spring and summer of 1974, paying out signing bonuses to NFL stars such as Ken Stabler and L.C. Greenwood who signed futures contracts to jump to the Americans once their current NFL deals expired.

Although the Birmingham Americans were gone, the World Football League survived (barely) to stage a second season in 1975.  The WFL put a new franchise into Legion Field called the Birmingham Vulcans, which returned a number of key players and coaches from the Americans World Bowl team.  (Mira and Jenkins did not return, however).  The Vulcans played well, although the crowds dipped substantially from 1974.  The Vulcans folded in October 1975 along with the rest of the WFL, which ran out of cash and failed to complete its second regular season.

 

Birmingham American Shop

Americans Blue Helmet T-Shirt by American Classics

Americans Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League by Mark Speck

 

Birmingham Americans Memorabilia

 

Links

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by AC

December 8th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

July 17, 1974 – New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans

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New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans
July 17, 1974
Downing Stadium
Attendance: 17,943

World Football League Programs
40 pages

 

The upstart World Football League (1974-1975) made its debut in the Big Apple in Week 2 of the league’s inaugural season of 1974.  WFL founder and Commissioner Gary Davidson, pictured on the program cover with an early blue & yellow prototype of a WFL football, hoped that his league would become a formidable rival to the NFL, much as the AFL was in the 1960’s.  Another model was the World Hockey Association (1972-1979), co-founded by Davidson in 1971, which had already become a thorn in the side of the National Hockey League by challenging the established circuit for top free agents and expansion markets.

To be relevant, Davidson needed the WFL to work in major media markets like New York City.  But the New York Stars, a franchise given away for free by Davidson to one of his World Hockey Association connections, Robert Schmertz, turned out to be one of the WFL’s biggest misfires.

For starters, the team played in dumpy Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island, with its horrid lighting, disgusting locker rooms, chewed up field (also used for soccer that summer by the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League), and inaccessible location.  Then there was the roster, which was largely anonymous, save for the presence of defensive end Gerry Philbin and wide receiver George Sauer, who were beloved New York Jets stars of the AFL era and veterans of that team’s historic Super Bowl III victory over the Baltimore Colts.  That wasn’t enough to sizzle to sell out the Stars’ home opener though, as fewer than 20,000 curiosity seekers turned out.

The game turned out to be a dark foreshadowing of the Stars’ cursed existence in New York.  The Stars racked up a 29-3 halftime lead on the strength of three rushing touchdowns.  Then they managed to blow said 26-point lead in the second half, allowing Birmingham Americans quarterback George Mira to throw for three touchdowns and run for a fourth.  Still, the Stars had a chance to tie in the waning seconds, but German-born placekicker Pete Rajecki – the “Bootin’ Teuton” – blew a 35-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining.

The Stars lost the game and dropped to 0-2.  They would play only five more games in New York City before Robert Schmertz ran out of money and dumped the team two months later.  The Stars played their final game at Downing Stadium on September 24, 1974 and then were abruptly shifted to North Carolina to finish out the 1974 schedule as the Charlotte Hornets.  The World Football league itself folded one year later in October 1975.

 

==Downloads==

July 17, 1974 New York Stars Roster

July 17, 1974 New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans Official Stats Sheets

July 17, 1974 New York Stars Pre-Game Ceremonies Timing Sheet

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Written by AC

October 22nd, 2013 at 2:09 pm

December 5, 1974 – World Bowl I

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World Bowl I
Birmingham American vs. Florida Blazers
December 5, 1974
Legion Field
Attendance: 32,376

World Football League Programs
24 pages

 

Here we have World Bowl I, the first and only championship game of the doomed World Football League (1974-1975).  The two finalists, the Birmingham Americans and the Florida Blazers, limped to the finish line on the brink of insolvency.  The Americans were unpaid for five weeks and staged a walkout during practice three days before title game.  The Blazers were in even worse shape – Florida’s players hadn’t received a paycheck since September.  Both clubs hoped for a modest payout from a share of the gate receipts at Birmingham’s Legion Field, where the Americans had been a popular draw through the first half of the 1974 season.

The game itself was a tale of two halves.  The Americans took a 15-0 lead into the half and added a third touchdown in the third quarter for a commanding 22-0 margin.   Blazers quarterback Bob Davis threw two picks in the first half without completing a single pass to his own teammates.   But Davis woke up in the fourth quarter.   First he found rookie running back Tommy Reamon – one of the WFL’s “Tri-MVP’s” for the 1974 season – for a 39-year touchdown pass.  Then it was a 40-yard bomb to tight end Greg Latta to narrow the score to 22-14.  With 4:14 remaining, Blazers rookie cornerback Rod Foster out of Harvard University returned a Birmingham punt 76 yards for a touchdown to make the score 22-21.

The Blazers had a chance to tie the game on an “Action Point” after Foster’s special teams heroics.  In the WFL, touchdowns were worth seven points.  An eight point – the Action Point – could be added by running or throwing the ball into the end zone from the two-yard line.  Florida lined up to tie the game and went where you would expect – handing off to league-leading rusher Tommy Reamon.  But Birmingham linebacker Warren Capone came around the end to stuff Reamon short of the goal line.  The Blazers never got the ball back and Birmingham escaped with a 22-21 victory.

Birmingham quarterback George Mira, a 10-year veteran of the NFL and the Canadian Football League, won World Bowl MVP honors with what has to be the least impressive stat line on any championship game MVP anywhere ever.   Mira completed 5-of-14 passing for 90 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 27 yards.  Sports Illustrated reported that the Legion Field fans lost patience with Mira in the second half and began yelling for back-up Matthew Reed to enter the game.  If true, that’s a remarkable fact, considering Matthew Reed was one of the earliest black quarterbacks in pro football and Legion Field was the home of the University of Alabama football program, which finally desegregated only three years earlier.

Shortly after the game, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies entered Legion Field and seized the Americans’ jerseys and equipment to settle a bad debt with a creditor.

The WFL announced attendance of 32,376 for the game.  A month later The Orlando-Sentinel Star reported that figures from the National Commercial Bank of Birmingham, which handled the distribution of gate receipts, showed the actual attendance was 22,918 with 20,985 paid.  The Blazers, unpaid for around fourteen weeks, received $400 each.

Both teams folded in the weeks following World Bowl I.   Birmingham was granted a new franchise – the Birmingham Vulcans – for the second season of the WFL in 1975, with many of the Americans players returning to play for the new club.  The re-organized WFL was plagued by the same problems in year two and the league closed up shop on October 22, 1975 without managing to complete its sophomore season.

==Links==

“World Bowl In Crisis” – Sports Illustrated feature article. December 16, 1974.

Birmingham Americans Home Page

Florida Blazers Home Page

 

==Downloads==

 

 

 

Written by AC

May 15th, 2013 at 12:50 pm

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