Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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November 29, 1969 – Indianapolis Capitols vs. Orlando Panthers


Indianapolis Capitols vs. Orlando Panthers
Continental Football League Division Playoffs
November 29, 1969
Bush Stadium

Continental Football League Programs
52 pages


I’m posting this rare but rather dull-looking Indianapolis Capitols (1968-1970) football program today because we’re shipping it out to a collector in Indiana tomorrow and I think we’re unlikely to see one of these again.  This program was from the dying days of the Continental Football League (1965-1969), a nationwide organization that could never quite make-up its mind whether it wanted to be a rival to the AFL & NFL or a subsidized farm system for the established leagues.

For minor league football cultists this semi-final playoff game featured a dream match-up at quarterback between the young African-American signal caller for the Caps, Johnnie Walton, and Don Jonas of the Orlando Panthers.  Walton was on loan to the Caps from the Los Angeles Rams’ taxi squad.  He was the Most Valuable Player in the Continental League in 1969 and went on to a fascinating journeyman career in the NFL, WFL and USFL right up through the mid-1980’s.  You can read more about Walton in this earlier Caps article.

If anything, Jonas was even better than Walton in the Continental League.  He won three consecutive MVP awards from 1966 to 1968 and led the Panthers to the league championship game in all three seasons, winning in 1967 and 1968.  Walton finally pried the MVP award loose in 1969 and he also beat Jonas and the Panthers on this night in Indianapolis, 27-7.  The Caps went on to win the final championship of the Continental League two weeks later on December 13th, 1969, also at Bush Stadium.

The Continental Football League folded in early 1970 and both the Caps and the Panthers were instrumental in its demise, as both jumped to the lower-budgeted Atlantic Coast Football League.  Both franchises played one final season in the ACFL in 1970 before folding for good.

Jonas moved on to the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts in 1970.  In 1971 he joined the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and had a spectacular season, passing for 4,036 yards and winning the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award.  Throughout his career, Jonas typically threw a pile of interceptions along with his gaudy yardage and touchdown stats.  1971 was no different and it’s kind of remarkable that he won Most Outstanding Player honors while throwing 31 interceptions.


November 15, 1969 – Indianapolis Capitols vs. Ohio Valley Ironmen


Indianapolis Capitols vs. Ohio Valley (WV) Ironmen
Bush Stadium
November 15, 1969

Continental Football League Programs


The Indianapolis Capitols (1968-1970) were a short-lived effort in professional minor league football, a form of entertainment which largely ceased to exist by the mid-1970’s.  The Caps were notable as one of the first pro football franchises to put their team in the hands of a black quarterback and they were also one of the first dabblings in pro sports by future NFL and NHL power broker Edward DeBartolo.

For Caps owner Al Savill, this was his second go at pro football in Indianapolis and his mulligan in the Continental Football League.  The mortgage banker previously owned the Indianapolis Warriors of the old United Football League from 1961 to 1964, later moving the team to Fort Wayne for a final season in the Continental Football League in 1965 before disposing of the team.

The first year Caps finished 8-4 in 1968, good for first in the Continental League’s Central Division, before falling to the Orlando Panthers in the first round of league playoffs.  At the box office, the team claimed an average of 6,907 fans per game at Bush Stadium.

In the Spring of 1969, the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League drafted the University of Southern California’s Heisman-winning running back O.J. Simpson with the first pick in the AFL-NFL Draft.  Simpson and his Indianapolis-based agent Chuck Barnes got into a protracted contract stalemate with Bills owner Ralph Wilson.  Savill jumped into the fray in April, offering Simpson and Barnes a one-year $150,000 and a $250,000 loan to sign with the Caps.  Simpson went on to sign with the AFL, of course, but the offer gained nationwide press for the Caps in the pages of Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and beyond and generated new local interest in Savill’s club.

The Caps fared just fine during the 1969 Continental League season without Simpson.  The Los Angeles Rams sent John Walton, an undrafted rookie free agent quarterback from Elizabeth City (NC) State College, to Indianapolis.  Walton started the season as a back-up to incumbent Frank Stavroff, a holdover from the 1968 Caps squad and a local product from the University of Indiana.  Walton took over in midseason and led the Caps back to the playoffs, where they defeated the defending champion Orlando Panthers 27-7 in the semi-final.

Walton’s role was practically revolutionary in pro football in 1969, a time when black players on the Caps still confronted the vestiges of overt racism in Indianapolis.  In a 2009 interview with Indianapolis Star reporter Phillip Wilson, Caps wide receiver Joe Wynns recalled being denied entrance to an Indianapolis carnival because of the color of his skin.

The Caps met the San Antonio Toros at Bush Stadium on December 13th, 1969 to play for the Continental League championship.  The game was a barn burner, with the Caps building up a seemingly insurmountable 38-28 lead with just over one minute to play.  Preposterously, the Toros converted a 29-yard touchdown pass, executed an onside kick and got a 38-yard field goal from Jerry Moritz with six seconds remaining to send the title game into sudden death overtime.  Moritz missed a 25-yard chip shot to win it for San Antonio, which allowed Caps fullback John Nice to dash 13 yards for the game winner.

After the game Caps owner Al Savill took credit in the press for the winning play call, claiming he over-ruled Head Coach Ken Carpenter’s desire to go for the game winning field goal on first down.  Walton, earlier named the Continental League’s MVP for the 1969 season, became the first African-American quarterback to lead a football team to a professional title.

After the 1969 season, the Continental League fell apart.  The Caps helped seal the league’s demise by defecting to the lower-budget Atlantic Coast Football League in February 1970, along the Jersey Jays, Norfolk (VA) Neptunes and the Orlando Panthers.  The Caps played one final season – without Walton – in the autumn of 1970 before folding.


Johnnie Walton continued his quixotic journey through pro football for another 15 years.  He spent three seasons on the Los Angeles Rams taxi squad from 1970-1972 without ever appearing in a regular season game.  He played minor league football in Columbus, Ohio and briefly earned a starting job with the San Antonio Wings of the World Football League in 1975 before that league collapsed in midseason.  Walton finally saw limited NFL action as a backup for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976 to 1979.  After a three-year retirement from playing, Walton re-emerged as the starting quarterback for the Boston Breakers of the United States Football League in 1983.  He followed the Breakers to New Orleans for the 1984 season, his last before retiring.  Walton enjoyed his most enduring success in the USFL as a 35 and 36-year old, passing for more than 7,000 yards during his two seasons in the league.

Al Savill continued his sports investments throughout the 1970’s.  In 1973, Savill purchased the Columbus Golden Seals of the International Hockey League from Oakland A’s owner Charles O. Finley.  Two years later, he moved up to the big leagues, buying the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins out of receivership for a reported $3.8 million.  Savill owned the Penguins from 1975 to 1978.  He passed away in 1989 at the age of 72.

Mall developer Edward DeBartolo Sr. also served on the Capitols nine-man board of directors with Savill in the late 1960’s.  DeBartolo would go on to take over the Pittsburgh Penguins from Savill in 1978.  The prolific sports investor also bought the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL in 1977 and briefly owned the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers and Major Indoor Soccer League’s Pittsburgh Spirit.



Indianapolis Caps sources



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