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Team and League History

April 18, 1989
National Football League franchise owners voted at a league meeting in New York to proceed with plans to establish a new spring football league.

Plans call for the International Football League to consist of ten to twelve franchises, split between Europe and North America, with a twelve game season to begin within a year or two.

      National Football League logo
With the sale of the Dallas Cowboys to Jerry Jones officially approved at the same meeting, Tex Schramm will step down from his post as the only president the Cowboys have ever had and will become the president of the IFL. Schramm insists the IFL will be an independent football league and will "stand on its own feet. It will not be a developmental league and it will not be a minor league. It will have the best players we can have, within financial limitations. The main thing is it must be sound financially. This is a new era, an era of international growth. We want to take American football across the water and make it into an international sport." Schramm stressed the IFL would not be a developmental, or "farm" league, although NFL teams will be free to send players to the IFL and free to take unsigned players from it.

European interest in American football has been growing considerably in the last decade and the NFL wants to establish a presence there as soon as possible. "Televising our games from this new league, we feel sure, will only accelerate that growth," said Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, who is also chairman of the NFL's broadcasting committee, a key player in setting up the IFL.

April 25, 1989
Birmingham mayor Richard Arrington announces the City Council has set up a committee to pursue a franchise in the IFL.

The leader of the committee is councilman Jeff Germany, who is also a member of the Park Board that runs Legion Field.

"I don't think the city is likely to make any loans", referring to the $1 million the city loaned the United States Football League's Birmingham Stallions before the league folded. "I'd be more interested in whether we had a business group that was interested in having a franchise," Arrington said.

May 13, 1989
Donald Trump announces that he has sent letters to Pete Rozelle, commissioner of the NFL, and Schramm threatening legal action against the NFL if they proceed with their plans for the IFL.

Trump, the former owner of the USFL's New Jersey Generals, claims the NFL stole his idea of an international football league. In the letter, Trump states, "As you are aware, Charles O. Finley and I have been actively engaged in the process of forming the International Football League as a competing league to the NFL. Much work has been done - cities, team names, and logos have largely been chosen, and major discussions and negotiations have been ongoing with television networks, syndicators, etc. All of the activity has been monitored closely over an extended period of time by the NFL. On the eve of our announcement that we were ready to go forward and play, an illegal monopoly - as recently proven in a federal court case initiated by the United States Football League - announced that it is indeed starting its own International Football League (incredibly even using the same name as our league) in an obvious effort to destroy our league."

Trump goes on to say that he would be calling on the two parties in the near future to discuss their options.

The NFL had no initial comment on the letters.

May 23, 1989
At an NFL owners meeting, Schramm says that the proposed league would now be known as the Worldwide American Football League.

Schramm claims the name change was made to distinguish the new league from soccer, Gaelic football, and Australian rules football.

Schramm also states that New York is the only definite site for a franchise "because the networks want it" and that the WAFL could be ready to play as early as next year.

June 21, 1989
Schramm and other league officials visit Birmingham to meet with city officials and community leaders. Birmingham is the first American city to be visited.

While Schramm talked with potential franchise investors, some of the other league officials toured Legion Field.

      World League of American Football logo
Also, the league will now be known as the World League of American Football. No reason for the change was given by Schramm.

"All of the cities we are visiting are strong contenders for a franchise. We want to talk to potential owners and check out the stadium and the business community. No decision will be made on the tour but we'll leave with strong impressions one way or the other," Schramm said.

Alabama native Wayne Rogers, famous for his role as Trapper John in the television series "M*A*S*H", is reported to be very interested in the proposed league.

Schramm insists the new league will not be minor league. However, the maximum salary will only be $40,000.

"This league is going to be different. This will not be a  Chicago-Philadelphia-Los Angeles-you-name-the-top-10-cities league. The World League of American Football will be more interested in having a good show, cities who will have fans show up for the games. We plan to start playing in March or April of 1990," Schramm said.

In detailing the league's structure, Schramm said the WLAF is a corporation owned primarily by NFL club owners. That corporation will sign and pay the players and each club will be a subsidiary of the main corporation. A six man committee, headed by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, will oversee the WLAF.

Jerry Sklar, former President of the USFL's Birmingham Stallions, was one of the community leaders that met with Schramm. Sklar insists he has nothing to do with the proposed league but concedes it does have potential. "This is very similar to what took place in the USFL, except this league has constraints and controls and the backing of the NFL, which is the most important thing. TV is assured, and the international flavor is exciting."

July 17, 1989
At an NFL league meeting in Schaumburg, IL, Schramm appears nervous that team owners won't get around to discussing and voting on the WLAF.

The hot topic is the selection of a new commissioner for the NFL, which wasn't on the agenda when the meetings were originally scheduled.

Schramm, along with former Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach, are among the candidates being mentioned for the commissioner's position.

July 19, 1989
At the league meeting,
NFL team owners voted unanimously, 27-0 with Chicago abstaining, to proceed with funding the WLAF.

Still undecided are key issues such as what cities will receive teams and what year they will begin play. These, and other minor issues, will be decided shortly by a subcommittee made up of Al Davis, Tom Benson, Victor Kiam, Mike Lynn, Lamar Hunt, Norman Braman, and Dan Rooney.

August 24, 1989
Schramm announces the WLAF won't begin play until the spring of 1991. "Although we are ready and anxious to begin play, we want to have the strongest foundation possible to ensure long-term success for the league."

February 6, 1990
The league announces that ABC has agreed to a two year agreement. ABC will televise ten regular-season Sunday afternoon games as well as some of the playoff games.

March 10, 1990
The league announces that the USA Network has agreed to a four year agreement. The USA Network will televise Saturday and Monday games in prime time for the first two years. During the following two years, the USA Network will televise either Saturday or Monday night games.

April 18, 1990
At a press conference held in mayor Arrington's office, Schramm announces that Birmingham is the second American city to receive a franchise in the WLAF.

Orlando became the first franchise announced on March 15th. "We picked Orlando first because the NFL was meeting there and the national media was on hand. It is also emerging as the number one tourist attraction in the world. The reason we were able to do Birmingham so quickly is we know its excellent reputation, we were able to negotiate a very satisfactory lease at Legion Field and the city made commitments for all the things we were looking for. We're very satisfied with Legion Field, and the improvements that are coming. There's a lot of heritage and tradition there," Schramm said.

The University of Alabama is currently in negotiations with the city of Birmingham to continue playing some of their home games at Legion Field each year. In those discussions, the city has agreed to build a new press box, skyboxes, and increase seating to 84,000.

On the league's chances of survival, Schramm said, "We tried to go to school on leagues that started and failed, and to avoid problems existing leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball have. All leagues have problems, and we're trying to establish ours where we don't have them. Our philosophy is that two or three clubs are not going to pull down the whole league. That's happened in the past. Everything about the league is designed so we won't have teams that aren't competitive. If an owner is not performing up to the others, we do have the ability to replace him without a long legal entanglement. We are organizing so we have total control over the performance of franchises and we will be successful."

Although no ownership group was named, the NFL will own 51% of each team. Local ownership is preferred for the remaining 49%. However, outside ownership groups would be considered also.

No team nickname was announced at this time.

May 24, 1990
The league announces they will install radios in the helmets of the quarterbacks.

Schramm said he had hoped to get radios into the NFL when he was president of the Dallas Cowboys. "Technological innovations will be a trademark of the World League."

October 10, 1990
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announces Mike Lynn as the WLAF's new president, replacing Schramm, who was fired.

Lynn is currently the general manager of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings and will resign that post as soon as possible.

Schramm said he was no longer WLAF president because, "it reached a point where my philosophy was different than that of the Board of Directors. I was fired. It's a new experience for me because it's the first time I've been fired in forty years."

Schramm will remain as a consultant to the WLAF, however.

October 11, 1990
Tom Benson, owner of the NFL's New Orleans Saints, said Schramm was fired because, "Tex just couldn't operate with the Board. We just felt like this thing wasn't going the way it ought to be going. Tex was losing support of the owners. He wanted to be like the NFL before he even got started. You've got to grow in this business. You don't become General Motors in your first year. This Birmingham matter (of no ownership) should have been settled a long time ago. We don't want to be like a USFL. Ya'll have had enough of that."

Leading ownership candidates are local orthopedic surgeon Larry Lemak, actor Wayne Rogers, and local businessman Bill Harbert.

November 2, 1990
Rumors surface that Mike Lynn has been told by the WLAF's Board of Directors that he may not keep his position with the Vikings as well as be president of the WLAF.

Also, worries mount that the league will not be able to begin play in 1991.

November 15, 1990
  Owner Gavin P. Maloof
Mike Lynn announces that Albuquerque, New Mexico businessman Gavin P. Maloof is the majority owner of the Birmingham franchise.

Ten years ago, Maloof was the youngest owner in professional sports when he took over the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets at the age of 24. Maloof's brother Phil and local civic leaders Thom Gossom, Jr., Anita Golden, and Dr. Larry Lemak are minority owners. The Maloof family is New Mexico's statewide distributor for Coors beer. They also run eight hotels and the First National Bank of Albuquerque.

The Maloofs reportedly paid around $11 million for the Birmingham franchise. 

Maloof says he has already spoken with former NFL Buffalo Bills head coach Kay Stephenson and Jim Fassel, the one-time coach at the University of Utah, about coaching the team.

"We're ready to go. The ownership is in place. We're extremely excited about this league. The possibilities are endless, and the sky's the limit," Maloof said.

Birmingham could be "the premier franchise in the league" and Maloof said he wouldn't be surprised by crowds of 50,000 at Legion Field.

The team still has no name, but the colors will be red, yellow, and purple. Maloof will allow the fans to pick the name.

In other league news, Tom Landry, the former head coach of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, has become a part-owner of the WLAF's San Antonio franchise.

December 6, 1990
Maloof announces the team will be called the Birmingham Fire.

Colors will now be navy blue, red, and yellow.

December 8, 1990
Maloof says he has received permission from the league to change the Fire's color scheme once again, this time from burnt orange to crimson.

  Head coach Chan Gailey
Fans of the University of Alabama had been very vocal in the last couple of days about the Fire's colors being the same as Auburn University's. "I don't know what the odds are of something like this happening in a state with a rivalry like Alabama and Auburn, but it happened. And I knew we had to address it right away. People in the sate of Alabama take their football seriously. Having played some football at Ole Miss, I knew we had to make an effort to get the team colors changed. I don't think any state has a rivalry quite like Auburn and Alabama. We did not want to alienate anyone. We will have crimson red - not scarlet red, not maroon, not pink - but crimson red with the navy blue and gold. We're here to represent everyone. We want to be the state of Alabama's team," Maloof said.

December 21, 1990
Chan Gailey is named as head coach.

Gailey is currently with the NFL's Denver Broncos as offensive coordinator and receivers coach. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Troy State University in 1976. In 1979, he went to the Air Force Academy as a defensive coordinator. In 1983, Gailey became a head coach for the first time when he returned to Troy State University. In 1984, Troy State won the NCAA's Division II National Championship. He made his move to professional football in 1985 when he joined the Broncos as their special teams coach and defensive assistant.

Gailey was selected from a league-supplied list of twenty candidates, which also reportedly contained University of Pittsburgh's Mike Gottfried, former Birmingham Stallions assistant Hank Kuhlman, and former Buffalo Bills head coach Kay Stephenson.

March 23, 1991
League play begins. Major rule differences are a 35-second play clock (ten seconds less than the NFL uses), the option of going for two points after a touchdown, and there is no "in-the-grasp" rule for quarterbacks.
World League of American Football
North American
West Division
North American
East Division
  Birmingham Fire     Montreal Machine   Barcelona Dragons    
  Sacramento Surge   New York/New Jersey Knights       Frankfurt Galaxy
  San Antonio Riders       Orlando Thunder   London Monarchs
    Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks  
  xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx  
Barcelona Dragons logo    Birmingham Fire logo    Frankfurt Galaxy logo    London Monarchs logo   Montreal Machine logo
Barcelona Dragons   Birmingham Fire   Frankfurt Galaxy   London Monarchs
  Montreal Machine
New York/New Jersey Knights logo   Orlando Thunder logo   Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks logo   Sacramento Surge logo   San Antonio Riders logo
New York/New Jersey Knights   Orlando Thunder   Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks   Sacramento Surge   San Antonio Riders
April 24, 1991
The WLAF indicates it may cancel "Team Dallas" at the end of the season.

Team Dallas is essentially a complete team, functioning as a league taxi squad. If a player from one of the teams is hurt, team officials look at a player from Team Dallas to fill the vacancy. Residing in Dallas, the taxi squad practices during the week to keep the players ready to step in at any time.

July 30, 1991
Lynn resigns as president of the WLAF, citing his continuing association with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings as the major reason. "The position of World League president should be held by someone without National Football League club affiliation."

August 16, 1991
Rumors swirl that the Maloof's are preparing to sell the Birmingham franchise and move back to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

"That's not true. We didn't get back into the sports business to buy it and flip it. In all of our investments, we don't buy something to sell it, and we didn't buy the team to sell it. I really love it here. I mean that. Of course, you have to treat it like a business. It's not a toy or a hobby. We're running it like a business," Maloof said.

However, according to one World League official, the Maloofs are anything but business-like. "They have no business or political acumen. They have no idea what they're doing," the source said.

Critics point to the poor handling of the Fire general manager position as a prime example. The Maloofs originally hired Bob Gates but the World League wanted Michael Huyghue as the general manager. Huyghue commanded a much larger salary than the Maloofs wanted to pay Gates but they finally agreed to hire Huyghue. Shortly after the season ended, Huyghue resigned to take a position in the league office.

Now, however, the Maloofs are petitioning the league to allow Fire head coach Chan Gailey to also perform the duties of general manager. League officials were initially against the idea but have decided to discuss it at the next board meeting.

Sources with the Fire state that the team has lost between $500,000 and $800,000 this season. Average attendance was 24,000 per game.

The Maloofs originally attempted to buy the San Antonio franchise but the league awarded it to local owners.

"The first year, of course, we didn't make money, but we didn't anticipate making money. When you get into any venture, it takes two or three years before you start making money. We knew that going in. We're not in this for a one or two year operation. We're in for the long haul," Maloof said.

August 29, 1991
Dan Rooney, owner of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the World League Board, states at a World League owner's meeting that they expect the league to return for a second season.

"I think most everybody wants to see it go. It's how we go and where. The big thing is we're very much looking forward to the league's continuation," Rooney said.

Consideration will be given to possible expansion to twelve teams, adding two more games to the season, and starting earlier in March.

Regarding the Fire, Rooney said, "I think the Birmingham franchise did very well. The prospects for Birmingham are very good."

September 12, 1991
The WLAF Board meets in Dallas and decides to continue operation of the league for another season.

September 23, 1991
The NFL approves a plan to make the WLAF a wholly-owned subsidiary.

The World League will become a part of the National Football League International operation, which currently includes overseas NFL exhibition games and foreign marketing of NFL Properties.

"The owners have made a commitment to fund the league for three years and a budget has been set up for the purpose that this league will continue," Rooney said.

"I'm elated. Now we're a part of the NFL, where before we were a sidearm. Before, the World League was basically an investment by 26 NFL owners. Now, we're as much a part of the NFL as the NFL clubs. The franchise's value will go up," Maloof said.

October 23, 1991
The NFL approves a three year financial plan for the WLAF, which will now play a key part in the newly-formed NFL International division.

All 28 NFL clubs will now share equally in financially supporting the WLAF.

Also, ABC has agreed to a new three year contract to carry league games each Sunday.

December 16, 1991
Rick Nichols, a 16-year veteran of the NFL's Houston Oilers organization, has been named general manager of the Fire.

Nichols was with the Oilers from 1973 to 1989, most notably as director of administration. Currently, he is vice president and general manager of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

March 1992
World League of American Football
North American
West Division
North American
East Division
  Birmingham Fire   Montreal Machine   Barcelona Dragons    
  Sacramento Surge   New York/New Jersey Knights       Frankfurt Galaxy
  San Antonio Riders       Ohio Glory   London Monarchs
    Orlando Thunder  
  xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx  
Barcelona Dragons logo    Birmingham Fire logo    Frankfurt Galaxy logo    London Monarchs logo   Montreal Machine logo
Barcelona Dragons   Birmingham Fire   Frankfurt Galaxy   London Monarchs   Montreal Machine
New York/New Jersey Knights logo   Ohio Glory logo   Orlando Thunder logo   Sacramento Surge logo   San Antonio Riders logo
New York/New Jersey Knights   Ohio Glory   Orlando Thunder   Sacramento Surge
  San Antonio Riders
March 23, 1992
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue visits Birmingham for six hours to tour the city and meet with civic leaders.

Tagliabue wasn't very optimistic on Birmingham's future in the NFL. "To be realistic, a city like Birmingham fits well into a league like the World League." There's more of a family atmosphere in the World League, and "that's the niche in which I see Birmingham."

When asked about the status of a replacement commissioner for the WLAF, Tagliabue said, "We may hire a chief executive who will be a commissioner in the future. But for now, I'm spending a lot of time on World League matters."

June 6, 1992
At a league meeting in Montreal, WLAF officials are confident the league will return for another year.

"The notion that we are not going forward is something that just isn't correct. This league will be around for quite some time - probably longer than any of us. We're very, very satisfied with where we are right now," said Joe Bailey, the league's chief executive officer.

Maloof agreed that the league will return, as will the Fire. "We are not planning or doing anything other than stay in Birmingham. I'm not looking at any other cities, that's the truth. If there's talk otherwise, it's not coming from us. As far as we're concerned, we're here in Birmingham. We like the city; we like the people. We're moving forward. We're going to be here. We're not going anywhere. That's the way it is. We've made no plans to do anything else."

However, Maloof is unhappy with the attendance this year. "Like any other business, you think it's going to do a lot better quicker than you did. It's just talking a year or two longer to get where we want to go. But we're patient. We have money. It's not like we're going to go broke. We're very well off financially. We have staying power."

June 19, 1992
Maloof announces he has suspended the team's general manager, Rick Nichols, with pay indefinitely.

Maloof cites a lack seeing eye-to-eye on critical issues. "Rick has done an OK job. I'm not knocking him. Just certain things have come up that I don't agree with, and it's a business decision."

The league, who owns 35% of the team, isn't happy with Maloof releasing his fourth general manager in two years. Jerry Vainisi, league vice president for football operations, was outspoken in his criticism of Maloof. "If Maloof's going to review the general manager, he sure as hell ought to review the marketing department, because in my opinion, they've been a miserable failure."

Maloof originally hired Bob Gates and replaced him with Michael Huyghue before the Fire's first game of 1991. Huyghue left the team at the end of the first season for a job in the league office. Maloof then gave head coach Chan Gailey the added duties of general manager but the league rejected the proposal. Nichols had been on the job for only five months.

June 24, 1992
Maloof meets with some of the highest ranking officials in the WLAF at an undisclosed location.

The purpose of the meeting was for Maloof to explain his suspension of Nichols.

After the meeting, Maloof announced that he is officially firing Rick Nichols, and he is doing so with the league's approval.

August 3, 1992
After intense discussions over the last three weeks, WLAF officials announce the Maloofs are no longer owners of the Birmingham Fire.

The league has purchased the team from the Maloofs and will handle the day-to-day operation until new ownership can be found.

"I enjoyed owning and operating the Birmingham Fire over the past two seasons. I have decided to sell the team in order to pursue other business interests. Our family business is currently involved in a number of expansion projects which will require more time and commitment on my behalf. We felt it was in the best interest of all parties involved. I feel fortunate to have owned such a fine organization. I want to thank everyone who supported the Fire," Maloof said.

Maloof downplayed his continual run-ins with the league office over his hiring and firing of general managers. "I admit we had some differences about operational philosophy, but the decision to sell was strictly my family's decision. No one forced us to sell, to get out of the league."

The family business will be opening new casinos in Colorado and Las Vegas within two years.

Head coach Chan Gailey said the team would most likely remain in Birmingham. "There are still some things that have to be cleared up, and I don't know all the details. But there isn't any doubt in my mind the league wants to keep the team in Birmingham. I feel good that Birmingham will still be in the league next year."

Michael Huyghue, WLAF vice president and former Fire general manager, will arrive shortly to assist in the daily operation and sale of the team. "Our preference is to have someone own 100% of the club. The league feels the future of the Birmingham team is very strong and felt it was important to keep a franchise in Birmingham. The fact that we completed this transaction to purchase the team is a testament to the fact that we're very interested in keeping the team in Birmingham."

The league has asked NFL Hall of Fame member Bart Starr, now a Birmingham businessman, to act as a liaison in selling the team to local interests. Current minority owners Dr. Larry Lemak, Richard Scrushy, Edgar Welden, and Thom Gossom, Jr. are the most likely candidates to become the new majority owners. "If it makes financial sense, I'll be part of it. If it doesn't make business sense, I'm not sure anybody will step up. We're waiting to hear from the league and see what kind of financial commitments are needed and what kind of commitments they're going to make on their side. Hopefully, they'll come up with something reasonable," Lemak said.

"I think the team is a good buy. There's potential there," Maloof said.

Lemak has already discussed the purchase with two people involved in Birmingham's sports history, former Birmingham Barons owner and current Birmingham Bulls co-owner Art Clarkson and former Birmingham Stallions President Jerry Sklar. "I'm looking for their expertise, not the financial support. If we're going to be able to run it, it would take their knowledge and support to do it. I don't think I'd do it without them."

Maloof, who lost an estimated $3 million on the Fire, agrees the team needs local ownership to succeed. A local owner could use his business to promote the Fire and the Fire to promote his business. "The Fire couldn't help anything we're doing in New Mexico."

August 28, 1992
Dr. Larry Lemak announces that his investment group has decided not to purchase the Fire from the WLAF.

The major obstacle cited by Lemak was the league's uncertain future. "We just didn't see how it would be a good, sound business investment. We wanted it to stay here and make it work but we couldn't invest our money in it. That was the advice I got from the financial advisors and lawyers. They didn't see where you could get some return for our investment. It was hard for me to back away, even when I was told to do it. I hope this doesn't turn out to be a negative for the city, but from a business standpoint, it has to make sense."

If the league can't locate a suitable local owner and has to retain ownership of the team, Huyghue indicated he would be willing to run the team on a day-to-day basis.

However, rumors swirl that Ted Turner is interested in buying the team and moving it to Atlanta.

September 17, 1992
At an NFL team owners meeting, the WLAF's board of directors vote to suspend play for one year and fold all the franchises located in America.

NFL president Neil Austrian read the release, which said, "The NFL clubs approved a proposal by the World League Board of Directors to restructure the league and place further emphasis on its international success. This new emphasis will require suspension of play for the 1993 season. The resumption of play is planned for 1994 in a restructured format. That will include more teams in Europe. The World League offices in Europe will begin working immediately on this transition. NFL clubs continue to recognize the strong potential of American football in the international sports market. The restructured World League will become a stronger part of the NFL international plan."

Lack of fans in the seats at games in the U.S. and the anti-trust suit the NFL recently lost against a group of current players were the main reasons, although they were not named specifically in the release. The NFL is preparing to appeal their loss in the anti-trust case.

Joe Bailey, chief operating officer of the WLAF, thinks the league will work as a European league. "While today's announcement is sudden and unexpected, there isn't any question that American football will continue to grow throughout the world. The people of London, Barcelona, and Frankfurt and other international cities will demand it."

Shock and sadness swept through the Fire organization when the news was delivered. "We're obviously very disappointed. I don't know what the future holds for me and my staff. I have no idea what I'll do. There are no jobs right now. I thought this league would be successful because the NFL was behind it. That's why I accepted the job. I certainly didn't expect it to last only two years," said Gailey.

Minority owner Dr. Lemak seemed surprised by the league's timing of the decision but not with the decision itself. "After we negotiated with them, this was inevitable to us. We didn't decide not to go forward because of Birmingham, but because of the league. I didn't have any problem with Birmingham. I thought we could make a franchise very successful. I had a lot of problems with the league. So this doesn't surprise me whatsoever. I knew it was coming."

      NFL Europe League logo
The World League returned to the scene in 1995 as an all-European spring developmental league.

Three existing European teams from the original WLAF were included as well as three new teams in Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, and Edinburgh. All six teams played in a single division and their regular season was ten games, just as before.

Through the years, the league would have various ups and downs. By the end of the 1997 season, the league had concerns that the markets outside of Germany were not living up to their potential. Big changes would have to be made.

The London team would play their home games in London, Birmingham, and Bristol. The Scottish Claymores would divide their home games between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

At a press conference in San Diego, California during Super Bowl XXXII weekend, the league announced it would be known as the NFL Europe League beginning in 1998.

The name change did nothing to stabilize the league.

Teams would come and go during the next few years, even to the point of the league being mostly based in Germany. Some jokingly referred to the league as "NFL Deutschland" or "NFL Germany".

Some said the league kept the Netherlands franchise simply to justify its "European" identity by keeping one team outside the German border.

While attendance was increasing slowly but surely, some television contracts were being cancelled due to the teams moving out of the countries they were contracted on.

      NFL Europa logo
On September 11, 2006
, the league rebranded itself as NFL Europa. That season also began and ended a month earlier than usual to accommodate the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which was scheduled to play at four of the five German stadiums that housed NFL Europa teams.

The LTU Arena in Düsseldorf was not selected as a site for Cup matches, and so it hosted the World Bowl that year.

The latest name change would make little difference in the league's eventual outcome. On June 29, 2007 the National Football League announced it would shut down its developmental league. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said it was the "best business decision" the owners could make after their "significant investment" did not succeed.

Instead, the NFL will expand their international footprint by holding regular-season games outside the United States. At the time of the league's closing, five of the six teams were in Germany and the other was in Amsterdam, Netherlands. "A foundation of American football fans in key European markets has been created and the time is right to shift our strategy. The next phase of our international growth is to focus on initiatives with global impact, including taking advantage of developing technologies that make the NFL more accessible on a global scale and ensuring the success of our new international series of regular-season games," Goodell said.

Some estimate the league's losses of $30 million a season were the main reasons for folding. Others point to the potential loss of quality players to a pair of new football leagues scheduled to begin play in 2008. The owners might have folded NFL Europa before the All American Football League and the United Football League would have diluted their talent base.

"NFL Europa has created thousands of passionate fans who have supported that league and our sport for many years," said Mark Waller, senior vice president of NFL International. "And we look forward to building on this foundation as we begin this new phase of our international development."

After the Birmingham Fire folded, the city would soon see another football team come to town. This time it would be as a part of the most established league Birmingham has ever been a part of, the Canadian Football League.

Sadly, the CFL's American experiment wouldn't last very long, and the Birmingham Barracudas would fold after just one season. 
Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: August 03, 2019