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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

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