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July 26, 1981 – Jacksonville Firebirds vs. Orlando Americans

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Jacksonville Firebirds vs. Orlando Americans
July 26, 1981
The Gator Bowl

American Football Association Programs
32 pages


This rare program hails from the American Football Association (1977-1983), a rickety minor league outfit that began play in Texas and Oklahoma in 1977.  The league expanded across the Southeast in the late 1970’s and actually carved out a nice niche in the city of Jacksonville, when the Jacksonville Firebirds began play in 1979.  According to historian Bob Gill’s Minor League Football, 1960-1985 encyclopedia, the Firebirds drew an astonishing 153,000 fans for 13 games at the Gator Bowl during 1979.

Most of the other teams in the AFA were considerably less popular and it was not unusual for clubs to fold up shop in midseason.  The Firebirds opponent for this July 26, 1981 game, for example, was the Orlando Americans, who played just this one season before going out of business.

A couple quarterbacks of note in this game.  The starting signal caller for the Firebirds was former University of Florida Gators star Don Gaffney.  On October 3, 1973 Gaffney became the first black man to start a Southeastern Conference football game at quarterback, when the Gators traveled on the road to Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.  Gaffney led the 2-6 Gators to a surprising upset of 19th ranked Auburn that day.

Orlando Americans quarterback Jerry Golsteyn improbably used his AFA stint to land the back-up quarterback job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1982.  He later returned to Orlando in 1985 as the back-up quarterback for the Orlando Renegades of the United States Football League (USFL).

The back cover of the program is a welcome announcement for former Washington Redskins All-Pro quarterback Billy Kilmer, who signed on as Commissioner of the AFA for the 1981 season.   He would last only one season in the role.  The AFA itself folded in 1983, under pressure for players and relevance from the bigger-budget, far more ambitious USFL.

Written by AC

October 16th, 2012 at 6:49 pm

1981 Orlando Americans


American Football Association (1981)

Born: 1981 – AFA expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1981 – The Americans cease operations.

Stadium: Orlando Stadium

Team Colors:



Robert Lee Johnson just wanted a shot at playing professional football.   At a doughy 280 pounds, the aspiring o-lineman wasn’t NFL material and he wasn’t sure he would pass muster with the new Orlando Americans of the fly-by-night American Football Association either.  After all, the Americans boasted a handful of players with NFL pedigree, including former New York Giants back-up quarterback Jerry Golsteyn and a pair of former Green Bay Packers wide receivers in Ken Payne and Barry Smith.

Robert Lee Johnson wasn’t sure he could make the Americans, but he knew of somebody who could: former University of Georgia All-American guard Randy Johnson.  Randy Johnson’s injury-shortened three-year NFL career ended in 1979 pre-season camp.  Robert Lee stole his identity, signing with Orlando under Randy’s name and filling in Randy’s biographical information on team questionnaires.  Members of the Americans’ coaching staff were suspicious about the corpulent “Randy Johnson” huffing and puffing his way around the team’s training field.

“Nobody can do go downhill that far that fast,” one staff member later told The Associated Press, recalling Robert Lee’s physique.

Americans Head Coach/General Manager Bob Williams wrote away to the sports information department at the University of Georgia to provide a photo of (the real) Randy Johnson, but the comparison was inconclusive.  Eventually, Robert Lee came clean, claiming to be a former Temple University center who borrowed Randy’s name and reputation to further his football dreams.  The real Randy was not amused and threatened to sue.  Robert Lee was given his release.

The case of the False Johnson got the Orlando Americans some national press coverage in June of 1981 in the national press.  Otherwise, the Americans garnered little attention during their lone summer of play in 1981.  The team played at cavernous Orlando Stadium – known today as The Citrus Bowl – which was much too big for crowds that peaked around 6,000 per game, according to a 1991 retrospective by the Orlando Sentinel.

The club finished 5-7 and was never heard from again after the season ended in August 1981.


Remarkably, American quarterback Jerry Golsteyn used his stay in the  AFA to earn another shot in the NFL.  Golsteyn made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of training camp in 1982 as a back-up to quarterback Doug Williams and played two years for the team.  In 1985, Golsteyn returned to Orlando and the Citrus Bowl to finish his career as the second-string signal caller for the Orlando Renegades of the big-budget United States Football League.



Orlando Americans sources


Written by AC

December 18th, 2011 at 7:19 pm


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