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Team and League History

February 18, 1978
     American Football Association logo
Local businessman A.E. "Pee Wee" Burgess denies any involvement in a proposed minor league football organization known as the American Football Association. Burgess was listed as one of 8 men attending a meeting to discuss the AFA's Southern Division.

Burgess says he has no interest in joining a minor league and will continue to direct his energy toward securing Birmingham a franchise in the National Football League. Burgess was a key investor and leader in creating the Birmingham Vulcans of the World Football League in 1975. "Harry Lander is the man behind the league. He was involved in the San Antonio franchise of the WFL, so I suppose that's how he knew my name. Anyway, when Lander contacted me and John Bassett, I understand, we both told him we weren't interested." Bassett is currently the owner of the World Hockey Association's Birmingham Bulls and the former owner of the WFL's Memphis Southmen.

Possible franchise sites for the league include San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Shreveport, Jackson, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, and Memphis.

Lander admitted the league will be aiming low. "We made the mistake last time (with the WFL) of trying to think too big too quickly. Hopefully, we'll have better financial control over our franchises this time."

January 15, 1979
At a press conference in Jacksonville, Birmingham is listed as an expansion franchise in the AFA's upcoming third season. Other cities mentioned are Orlando, Charlotte, Louisville, Tulsa, Little Rock, San Antonio, Jackson, and Shreveport.

January 18, 1979
  Owner and head coach
Harry Lander
Lander announces he is the owner of the AFA franchise that will be located in Birmingham. Lander is a San Antonio insurance man and financial planner who purchased the rights to the Birmingham franchise for $25,000. Lander also co-founded the AFA 2 years ago and now serves as president of the league. Last year, in addition to owning the Shreveport franchise, he coached it to the AFA championship. He owned stock in the San Antonio franchise, but sold it 2 weeks ago when he acquired the Birmingham franchise.

In the AFA, players get a standard 1% of the gate revenues. Last year, the top player's salary didn't exceed $5,000.

Speaking on the health of the AFA, Lander said, "We've got credibility. Where those leagues (the WFL, the Indoor Soccer Association and the
Freedom Baseball League) diminished from the day they started, like the WFL dwindling down to 6 teams from 12, we've expanded, going from 6 to 10. We started out as a Texas semi-pro league and now we cover the country. I can understand how the people of Birmingham would be reluctant to lay their hearts back on the line when they've been broken many times before. But we're going to give them something for keeps this time."

February 7, 1979
Lander says he may also coach the Birmingham team. "I've won the league championship the last 2 years coaching at San Antonio and Shreveport. Some of the league's leaders are taking the approach that I should go in there with full intent of making Birmingham the flagship franchise, the league's bell-cow. Naturally, with my track record, they feel I'm the guy to take Birmingham to the top. We'll hit the ground running, I guarantee you."

March 15, 1979
Lander announces the team will be known as the Alabama Vulcans. Teams in the AFA have a tradition of naming the themselves after their states instead of their cities in hopes of obtaining a larger fan base.

Lander also announces he will pursue former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan as the starting quarterback.
American Football Association
Western Division Eastern Division
   Arkansas Champs    Alabama Vulcans
   Mississippi Stars    Carolina Chargers
   Oklahoma Mustangs       Florida Firebirds
   San Antonio Charros    Kentucky Trackers   
   Shreveport Steamer  

Alabama Vulcans logo    Arkansas Champs logo    Carolina Chargers logo    Florida Firebirds logo
Kentucky Trackers logo   Mississippi Stars logo   Oklahoma Mustangs
  San Antonio Charros logo
Shreveport Steamer logo            

June 24, 1979
The Oklahoma Mustangs fold due to financial difficulties.

June 27, 1979
Rumors of a player walk-out gain momentum. Former linebackers coach O'Neal Dozier, who quit before the Kentucky game last week, is feuding with Lander over the handling of player paychecks and how the A.G. Gaston Motel was paid while several players were living there.

Dozier said, "As soon as about 11 or 12 of the black starters get paid either today or tomorrow I believe they're splitting - they're quitting the team. They just don't feel like they've gotten a fair shake out of Harry. I was one of the first people he brought into this area. He told me right off that we needed the support of the black community in Birmingham. To do this, we went to WENN Radio and they more than went out of their way to help us. In the end, Harry made the station mad at the players, the team, and the coaches. And it wasn't just the radio station he alienated."

Dozier claims that WENN station manager Kirkwood Balton agreed to help the Vulcans by setting them up in the Gaston Motel. However, Dozier claims that only black players were moved into the Gaston Motel while white players were rented apartments in the more-affluent suburb of Hoover and their rent was being paid by Lander.

Lander said that before Dozier quit and moved to Atlanta, they shared an apartment together in Hoover and, "he still owed rent to me on the apartment." Lander feels Dozier is "a very frustrated player-coach, who could never make the team physically. I'm sorry he feels he must carry out some sort of vendetta against this team. I helped O'Neal get started in the AFA. I don't understand why he would make all those false statements against me."

As for the rumored walk-out, defensive back Willie Smith said, "I really haven't heard anything about a walk-out. All I know is that we considered having a team meeting for tonight. But all I knew about it was that it was going to be more of a clear-the-air session. I didn't know some of the players were thinking about a walk-out."

July 5, 1979
Lander is growing more upset each week with dwindling attendance. "I must be doing something wrong. We just aren't drawing people to our games. I'll be darn sure embarrassed if we only have this many (5,500) at Saturday’s game against Shreveport. What makes that game so important is they're televising it back to Shreveport. I don't want Birmingham to look bad in front of all those people in Louisiana, but if we don't draw better Saturday than we did tonight, I think it will be embarrassing."

August 7, 1979
  Former Pittsburgh Steeler
Joe Gilliam.
Lander announced that Joe Gilliam, former quarterback of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, has signed with the Vulcans. Gilliam was with the Steelers from 1972 through 1975 and as of last week, was playing for the Baltimore Eagles of the Mid-Atlantic Conference.

August 8, 1979
Gilliam does not show up in Birmingham, claiming he has a few loose ends to tie up in Baltimore.

August 9, 1979
Gilliam arrives in Birmingham, but has not signed a contract as was previously reported. Gilliam had only given Lander his word he would show up. "I've just been following my nose and this is where it is leading me. It is hard to leave an undefeated team. That was the delay," Gilliam said.

Lander promised Gilliam that he will be a buffer for him at all media interviews to sift through questions so Gilliam doesn't have to talk about his drug-involved past. "My past has been written about too many times," Gilliam said. Gilliam's prior problems include a 1976 arrest and probation for possession of heroin and marijuana.

Lander plans to play Gilliam in Saturday's game.

August 10, 1979
Attorneys representing the Baltimore Eagles met with Eagle owner Jim Sears to discuss a possible lawsuit against the Alabama Vulcans and Joe Gilliam for breech of contract. Sears claims Gilliam left Baltimore without telling anyone he was going Birmingham to play for the Vulcans. "His contract with us certainly is binding." Sears is considering filing an injunction against the Vulcans and Gilliam so he will not be able to play while under contract with the Eagles.

August 11, 1979
Lander says that he doesn't know the whereabouts of Gilliam after loaning him his own Cadillac to go to Atlanta for an overnight trip to see a friend's new baby. "I've not heard from him since he left Friday afternoon. He still has my car. If he had come into town, I am positive he would have gone to the stadium and I would have seen him. I don't know where he is."

Gilliam has yet to sign a contract with the Vulcans.

August 12, 1979
Arkansas Champs general manager Herschel Strickland had to resort to borrowing 6 Vulcans players for their game against the Vulcans. "We just didn't have enough players," Strickland said. It was the fourth straight week the Champs have had to borrow players from the opposing team. To make matters worse, half of the Champs uniforms were stolen before they arrived in Birmingham. The Champs borrowed the Vulcans white road uniforms and spray-painted the Vulcans helmets white to blend in with their own.

Gilliam is still missing.

August 13, 1979
Lander receives a call from Gilliam, who is back in Baltimore, and is told his car is at the Birmingham airport's remote parking lot. Gilliam claims a friend "doped my drink and the next time I knew the world it was Sunday morning." Lander had considered filing an all-points police bulletin and auto theft charges against Gilliam. "He called me, he said, from the Nashville airport. It was a brief conversation - the operator broke in and said she needed more money for the pay phone if he intended to talk any longer. I did everything humanly possible to help the guy, but as far as I'm concerned, he is ancient history. I am not embarrassed by the whole incident. I feel like I walked the extra mile to give the guy another opportunity."

August 14, 1979
Responding to the events of the last 6 days, Gilliam says he resented Lander for taking him to the local television, radio, and newspapers for interviews upon his arrival in Birmingham. "Lander was dealing with me as a piece of publicity and not a person. I made a lot of dumb mistakes, but nobody's perfect. Lander offered me a lot of money. He assumed a lot of things. I left his car with more gas in it than it had when he gave it to me. When I was a senior in college playing in the Blue-Gray Game (in Montgomery), George Wallace made me an honorary lieutenant colonel. I figure I would pull out that badge on him (if he were arrested). With the recession and everything, everybody has their own pressures. But I guess the last couple of days, I wasn't really myself," Gilliam said.

August 20, 1979
Reports from Baltimore claim that Gilliam was beaten with a club by 3 men near a west-side park. Gilliam was listed in 'critical but stable' condition at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit. One of the men apprehended was found carrying heroin and marijuana.

Earlier in the day, Gilliam's wife of 9 years filed for divorce in Nashville.

August 21, 1979
The AFA votes to take over the Arkansas Champs due to team mismanagement.

September 1, 1979
Four offensive linemen were fired before the Kentucky game due to complaints in their pay. "I will not let them back on the team. I give second chances, but no third chances," Lander said. The four players contend they walked out and were not fired.

September 8, 1979
Local radio station WAPI announces it will not broadcast any more Vulcans games due to the station being owed $3,000 by Lander for August broadcasts.

September 11, 1979
Vulcans cheerleaders are upset that the Vulcans organization have spent $625 of their money and won't return it.

September 13, 1979
Birmingham Park and Recreation Board supervisor Frank Wagner says the latest check from Lander is no good. "It is the only check of the season that has bounced. I'll give him until Monday morning to pay it, or the gates will be locked."

September 17, 1979
John Waits, the AFA's commissioner, says the Vulcans will be back in 1980. Waits also says that Lander is negotiating with at least 5 local investors to sell around half of his share of the Vulcans.

September 18, 1979
Wagner announces that he has locked the Vulcans out of Legion Field for failing to make good on a bad check. "I've already locked the gates. I've put all their equipment in the storage room." Lander, reached in San Antonio where he is vacationing, said he plans to pay the rental fee for Legion Field. "Yes, we will take care of Frank. It is none of your business when I will do it, though. I don't know how to tell you this any plainer - all of the money matters of the AFA are confidential information. It's none of your business or the public's business who or where we get our money from."

February 14, 1980
Lander announces that the Vulcans will be back in business within 2 weeks under new management and all debts would be paid. "I have made arrangements to sell the franchise to a Birmingham group. I'd love to tell you the names, I really would, but I have been asked not to until everything is signed and confirmed. I won't be back but the Vulcans will. And all the debts will be paid. They will be assumed in the deal. I will not realize any of the money from the sale. The monies involved will be used to pay any and all bills that the club had from last season. Players also will be paid."

Lander is currently the head coach of the West Virginia Rockets, a new franchise in the AFA. This time, Lander doesn't own stock in the new team. "I am being paid for the first time in 2 years. I took no money, whatsoever, from the Vulcans. That money belonged to my team."

The Alabama Vulcans died quietly in the night. While the level of play was good and the off-the-field entertainment high (see the Joe Gilliam debacle above), the franchise could not overcome mounting bills and the financial mismanagement rumors to continue.

The American Football Association, however, did make a comeback in Birmingham in 1982, when the Alabama Magic joined the league for one season before folding.

Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: May 11, 2018