CONTINENTAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE BOOSTER CLUB-3
Volume 1, Number 3
INNOVATION AND LOST OPPORTUNITIES ABOUNDED
As the completion of the second season of the Continental Football League had taken place, overtures from all over the United States made their way to the league office in New York City from Chicago, Detroit, Phoenix, Portland, Tulsa, and Washington, D.C. There were two additional unusual groups that had gone as far as, to be considered for league membership, one was from the Chester County just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and also from Pottsville, Pennsylavnia, which had been the home of the famous Pottsville Maroons in a move to revive the glory years of the great teams of that region of the 1920's.
The league from its conception, knew that eventually expansion would become a part of its future growth, yet what took place before the start of the third season in 1967, would revolutionize the art and philosphy of major professional league expansion.
While informal flirtations filtered from goups representating individual cities, an entire league requested consideration for league membership.
The Pacific Football League had at least two major metropolitan markets with a close third in Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. What made the prospect of absorbing this league was also expanding, as well into Western Canada, which would be the third Canadian city in the league, by including Victoria, British Columbia.
As negotiations became serious, only Seattle, Euegene, Portland, and Victoria had viable facilities and ready made organizations capable of upgrading to major league status. Seattle would try to get a lease from the University of Washington for Husky Stadium, Eugene would play in Bethel Park until the new University of Oregon, Autzen Stadium would be ready in 1968, and Portland would play in the soon to be renovated Multnomah Stadium later to be renamed Portland Civic Stadium. managment of Victoria claimed to have city assurances of an expansion of Royal Athletic Park to between 20,000 and 30,000 seats.
While the acceptance of the former members of the Pacific Football League Northwest Division was being finalized, the defending champions of the California Division, San Jose also wanted to join the new Western Division ( Conference ) of the Continental Football League. Sacramento, another team of this division had also applied for league membership. In the Western Football League, the defending champions of Orange County had followed suit, as did a complete expansion proposed franchise to represent Long Beach.
The new teams were about to form the new Western Division ( Conference ) of the Continental Football League, as the remaining charter members of the league would reform the new Eastern Division ( Conference ) in 1967.
Vast changes in the meantime had taken place in the East. Philadelophia, the defending World Champions of the league had supended operations as it was felt it could not any longer draw fans to what was becoming a crime ridden neighborhood where the location was for Temple University Stadium. The Philadelphia Eagles had a lock on the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field with their political connections kept the Bulldogs out! Richmond's owners became frustrated with not having a national television contract by now, and also left the league to become the center piece franchise of the newly formed United-American Football League, as the Mustangs.
This left in the East, Brooklyn, Charleston, Hartford, Montreal, Norfolk, Orlando, Toronto, and Wheeling.The loss of two major televison markets in Philadelphia and Richmond did not help the league's quest for a national television contract. The exception to this was the creation of a new Western Division ( Conference ).
Brooklyn which had been abandoned by its New York owners shortly into the 1966 season, was still a team without owners until the emergence of Frank Burns and Company from Akron, Ohio. This group entered the fray flashing "Big Bucks," and swept literally, the commisoner off his feet , which did not take much for Sol! The only problem in reality for Rosen and Company, no one in the league office actually researched the authenticity of how financially sound was Frank Burns and Co. Never-the-less, the "shangri-la" allowed the team to be transfered to play its games in the University of Akron's Rubber Bowl, a major league facility. The fans of Akron were excited about this team, and having Kyle Rote as its general manager, and Tobin Rote as its head coach brought a great deal of encouragement to the league in general. The New Eastern Division ( Conference ) had a Northern Division with the Akron Vulcans, Hartford Charter Oaks, Montreal Beavers, and the Tpronto Rifles. In the Southern Division were the Charleston Rockets, Norfolk Neptunes. Orlando Panthers, and the Wheeling Ironmen. In the new expansion Western Division ( Conference ) were the Eugene Bombers, Long Beach Admirals ( a true expansion team ), Orange County Ramblers ( formerly the Rhinos ), Sacramento Buccaneers ( formerly the Lancers ), San Jose Apaches, Seattle Rangers ( formerly the Ramblers, then short lived the Jets ), and the Victoria Steelers. Portland had withdrawn its application shortly before the pre-season.
The entire concept for a major league to create an entirely new Division ( Conference ) was revolutionary. In less than three months, the National Hockey League would do the same thing, which is how the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Saint Louis Blues came into being.
The new United Television Netwrok, A.S.A. Overmeyer Network had signed to nationally televise the Continental Football League for the 1967 Continental Football League season, as the 1966 title game took place in Philadelphia.
As this contract had taken place, on his own,Commissioner Sol Rosen, again independently signed a contract to have the 1966 World Championship of the Continental Football League televised up and down the east coast by A.B.C.. There were two serious flaws in the televising of the game. The first was that there was not a black out of the game to Philadelphia and vicinity Temple Stadium was becoming an increasingly hard sell in the deteriorating surrounding neighborhoods of the day and if the weather took a turn for the worst, the gate would suffer immeasureably. What also should have been a very fat contract for the privilegde of televising this game for the entire league, became a joke people are still laughing about. 'Ole Sol signed the contract for the rights of this game to A.B.C. for only $500.00, not $500,000, not $50,000, not $5,000.00, but $500.00. He later said he did this thinking the exposure was worth it. The weather turned ugly, being one of the coldest days ever for a football game in Philadelphia, which kept the crowd size very low. Yet, one needs to recall Sol Rosen had never been higher than that of a general manager, used to signing contracts with stadium officials, players, and concessionaires. this fiasco of his tenure would not have taken place if Happy Chandler had still been commissioner! This was a game so magnificent in excitement it rivaled the Colts-Giants overtime game of 1958, and the league had very little to show for it!
1966 behind and in the record books, the television contract of 1967 became another lost entity. N.B.C. bought the United/Overmeyer Network and cancelled the Continental Football League contract. Once again, had Happy Chandler been the commissioner none of the short comings would have taken place.
The 1967 pre-season began to show a glimpse of problems on the horizon. The Montreal Beavers were forced out of the new stadium the Beavers' owners had built for the Expo, The Autostade, by the Expo 1967 management, citing its exclusive needs for the Canadian World's Fair; yet, after the Montreal Beavers were forced to vacate, the Canadian Football League Montreal Alouettes were allowed to play their home games there for the 1967 season. In the meantime, the Montreal Beavers were forced to play in the new stadium in suburban Verdun.
The Toronto Rifles were now under the direct control of the infamous R. Alan Eagleson, who would later gain fame for not only embezzeling funds from the National Hockey League Players' Association, but also created the rift between hockey great Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins who had told Eagleson, Orr's agent, that the Bruins wanted Orr as a working owner-partner of the Boston Bruins, never telling Orr of the offer! Orr later found out on his own.
In Akron, the fan support was growing rapidly until Kyle Rote and Tobin Rote suddenly resigned from the Vulcans after clashing with Burns over personal issues! Assistant Coach Lou Rhymkus of Notre Dame and Houston Oiler fame was suddenly promoted to the duel capacity of General Manager and Head Coach. Problems of the front office did not filter down to the league office until the fourth week of the season.
Toronto was experiencing many strange developments. After the second successful season, Head Coach Leo Cahil would not renew his contract. All-Pro Joe Williams followed him to the Canadian Football League Toronto Argonauts. By the third week of the regular season, Toronto's operating funds were gone, as was Mr. Eagleson and Co. The team was forced to forfeit its game against Wheeling. Players had not been paid. Under the direction of new coach Jackie Parker, he turned over the quarterbacking duties to over-the-hill, and much traveled, Eagle Day instead of using the league highly touted 1966 rookie-of-the year, Tom Wilkinson, and over 1965 team and league star, John Henry Jackson. After the league took over the team for the fourth league game relocated to Hartford's Dillon stadium, Bubba Marriott,former NFL veteran and player-coach for the Rifles became the Head Coach and General Manager. Tom Wilkinson was re-installed as the quarterback. He did have a great deal of talent still including rookie sensation Clem Turner among others.
By the forth league game, it became apparent that Burns and Co. had abandoned the Vulcans, as from the seat of the commissioner, the league was is desparate straits. He took game receipts at Wheeling Island Stadium to pay the Akron Vulcan players which did not sit well for Ironmen owner Mike Valan, which planted the seeds to replace Sol Rosen. The league office tried to get the Richmond Mustangs ( formerly the Rebels of the Continental Football League ) to take over the remaining schedule of the Rifles and the combined roster would have been on the level of Orlando and Norfolk. It just did not happen. The owners of Richmond decided to play an independent schedule, even with the demise of its new league the U-AFL, rather than play in the Continental which was having in their minds, too many problems. The league, rather than support two vacant ownerless teams, decided to fold both teams and sign the players to the remaining six teams of the division. Some of the players made their way to the new western division teams.
Things in the Western Division has also a few snags. The new Long Beach Admirals never quite reached the level of recruitment it needed or fan support. It was dominated by a roster of junior college graduates, which made it even less experienced on the field. After its only regular season home game, the team had requested to play as a road team representing either Portland or Phoenix, and the league coupled by a teenage fan writing to the Western headquarters his perception of the teams problems denied the transformation and the team was disbanded. Some of the players were taken by the remaining teams of the west. Vicrtoria's head coach and assistants took over the franchise after seven games when it became apparent the front office was not fulfilling its obligations. The team was renamed the Victoria Tyees for its remaining five games.
Despite the short comings off the field, the caliber of play after consolidation continued to improve. The players remained excited to be playing in the league. as they even began to act like players from other leagues when the Norfolk Neptunes went on strike for more money before the eastern title game. That put a damper on for the fans, which coupled with bad weather, lowered what was expected to be a record crowd against rival Orlando .
Orlando and Nortfolk from week one were on a collision course for the title in the east. Hartford got off to its best start ever, but never recovered after a terrible performance against Orlando. the franchise threw in the chips after losing to Norfolk. and dropped out of play two weeks before season''s end forfeiting its last two games with Montreal. The team was replaced in 1968 by a team based in Detroit. Owner Johnny Newman of Montreal became completely disenchanted by how his team was treated in Quebec, and resold the team to the same man he purchased it from two years before in Fort Wayne, Al Savil, bought and brought the team back to its roots in 1968 to Indianapolis. Charleston after losing its first four league games, never quite caught up. Wheeling despite bringing a dramatic halt to is 1966-1967 losing streak by upsetting Charleston, had its ups and downs all season long.
In the west, Orange County and San Jose were in the hunt all season long, with the Ramblers finally beating out the Apaches. The Seattle Rangers. after chaning their name from the Ramblers to the Jets, were sued by the New York Jets for using the nickname, "Jets." To avoid litigation which they would have won, they rechanged their name to the Rangers, where upon the New York Rangers then sued them for the same reason. The team this time went to court and easily won the right to be called the Rangers. The team only was a semi-contender. Eugene and Victoria both got off to slow starts, and never quite caught up. Eugene upset both Orange County and Seattle. Victoria did the same thing.
After the Orlando Panthers defeated the Norfolk Neptunes for the eastern laurels, the team journeyed to Anaheim to meet the western champions, the Orange County Ramblers. Led by two ALL--Pros, in Bob Jackson, and former NFL "rookie-of-the-year," Bobby Gaiters, and Jerry Otterson having a career season as qb, the team still never got untracked against the powerful team from Orange County, Florida. The Panthers took the league World Championship, 38-14.
In retrospect, the finest compliment to 1967 for the league, despite all its short comings is it survived another season without a major television contract. It successfully expanded to the west coast, and the on field accomplishmens were enviable to any and all.