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

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

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.

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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.

 

==Downloads==

Indianapolis Caps sources

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