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Legion Field

Team and League History


January 4, 1975
     Birmingham Americans logo
   
As the World Football League continues to move toward a second season, there are rumors that the Birmingham Americans could move to another city.

Americans owner William R. Putnam addresses these rumors by saying there is a local group wanting to purchase his WFL champion team. "I am working to get a letter of credit funded. If and when I am successful, I will go ahead with a public stock offer. Apparently there is a group over there (in Birmingham) interested in purchasing the ball club. I don't really know who they are, but they have made approaches through the bank and the league. They have not been in touch with me personally, no. Chris Hemmeter has talked with them. He is aware of the terms it would take. I would prefer to keep the team and operate it. The league thinks selling is a good solution to the problem, but I can't say they've pressured me to sell. However, I'm not happy with that solution, though I agree with the league the team should stay in Birmingham."

Potential investors met with WFL commissioner Chris Hemmeter during World Bowl week in December and will meet again this week when Hemmeter comes to Birmingham.

February 11, 1975
Local businessmen Ferd Weil, A. E. "Pee Wee" Burgess, and Fred Sington meet with Hemmeter to discuss their investment group's efforts to secure a team in the league for the 1975 season.

"There is much work to be done yet but I believe we can do it. The city proved it wanted pro football last year, proved it with its support, and we can't afford not to get things going again," Burgess said.

The group will evaluate the franchise's $2 million of debt before deciding what course to take.

February 22, 1975
Weil indicates that Putnam and his Americans franchise are out of the picture for Birmingham. "First of all, I want to stress that we have nothing to do with the old regime. What we like to say its a new ball game. We're going to negotiate with players, coaches, and creditors in an attempt to make arrangements to clean up the debts. However, the new group is not liable for any past debts because it did not incur them. But we're not going to turn our backs on our business friends."

Fan support will be critical to the city's future, and not just in football. "We're looking down the road at hockey, basketball, and possibly baseball on a major league scale, and if we don't support this football team we have no chance of getting the others," Weil said.

February 25, 1975
     Photograph 
  Birmingham Americans
owner William R. Putnam
   
Putnam announces from his office in Atlanta, Georgia that he is still very much in the picture for the Americans to return to Birmingham. "I am actively pursuing relocation of the team. I am talking to a couple of cities, which I can't name at the present time. There is still a remote possibility I could get the Americans financed and stay in Birmingham, but negotiations going on over there the past few weeks make it virtually impossible."

Weil says his financial group isn't concerned with Putnam. "We're not going after the franchise Mr. Putnam had. We don't want it. Ours is a new franchise. We'll have a new name and new policies. We have nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Putnam. Legally, the franchise has never been taken from Alabama Football, Inc. I have attended every meeting of the World Football League and there has never been a motion passed, or introduced, to take the franchise. As far as I'm concerned, Alabama Football still owns the Birmingham Americans."

However, Putnam says he made a deal with Hemmeter in December that all creditors and back salaries of players, coaches, and staff would be taken care of by Putnam. "Apparently, that's not the route they're taking, but that's the agreement I made with Hemmeter December 7th. What's going on in Birmingham is a complete turnaround from my understanding. I was more or less led to believe I would get another franchise in the WFL. But this has not been the case. I haven't heard from Hemmeter in three weeks, though I have been trying to contact him."

Weil isn't concerned with Putnam's claims. "I don't know about the old franchise. It probably belongs to the Internal Revenue Service or somebody. The players belong to the league, the way I understand it. But we have nothing to do with Mr. Putnam. What he does and what he owes is his business."

February 27, 1975
National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle gives his permission for any NFL club to sign WFL players whose contract has been breached.

March 6, 1975
     Birmingham Vulcans proposed logo
   
At a press conference, Weil announces the new Birmingham franchise will be known as the Birmingham Vulcans. Weil stressed that the name is for a new team, not a name change for the old team.

Gotta showed his love for the name by saying, "The Birmingham Vulcans is everything we could have hoped for in a name for our new team. It personifies strength and civic pride."

In discussing Gotta's status, Weil said that even though they don't have a signed contract with Gotta there is an "understanding" with him.

Weil went on to say that the league would assume some of the Americans debts, as well as debts of the other league cities. "The Vulcans will have no part of it other than through team assessments paid to the league. This franchise has no connection with the old franchise. These are all new people putting their money in it. If we can't support pro football, we'll never support any other professional sport."

March 12, 1975
At a league meeting in Philadelphia, Hemmeter's plan to restructure the league is approved. Each team will be required to place $1 to $2 million in escrow accounts to insure they pay operational expenses for the entire season. Players will be signed to contracts that give them 1% of their team's revenue. The league's debts from the previous year could also be paid.

March 19, 1975
It is announced that former Birmingham Americans head coach Jack Gotta will move off the sidelines and become vice-president and general manager of the Vulcans.

Gotta explained his reasons for the move by saying, "The major problems right now are not on the field. The problems of having a team in '75 started in the shower after the World Bowl. I threw my baseball cap away that night. If we had some football people in the new organization, I'd stay on as general manger and head coach, but there are no football people on board. I'm not frustrated coaching. I love coaching football. I know I have the background a job of this magnitude needs."

     Photograph
  Head coach Marvin Bass
   
The Vulcans didn't have to look very far for Gotta's replacement. Marvin Bass, former Birmingham Americans defensive coordinator, is named head coach of the Vulcans.

Bass began his coaching career at William & Mary in 1944. In 1949, he moved to the University of North Carolina before returning to William & Mary as head coach in 1951. The next year, Bass moved to professional football when he joined the NFL's Washington Redskins. However, Bass moved back to the University of North Carolina as defensive coordinator in 1953. He remained there until moving to a position at Georgia Tech in 1960. In 1961, he became head coach at South Carolina and in 1962 he assumed the duties of athletic director as well. In 1966 he returned to professional football when he joined the Canadian Football League's Montreal Beavers as their head coach and general manager. In 1968 he joined the NFL's Buffalo Bills until quitting in 1972 to become the defensive coordinator for the Birmingham Americans.

Gotta thinks the new team will be in good hands with Bass at the helm. "Marvin coached me my first year in Canada, at Calgary, and I never forgot the man. I have always made it a point to stay in touch, and he was the first coach I contacted when I came to Birmingham."

Bass is excited to take the reins from Gotta. "It's going to be a tough act to follow after the season we had last year, but I'm really looking forward to it. I love it in Birmingham."

In other news, former Americans quarterback Matthew Reed becomes the first player signed by the Vulcans.

March 21, 1975
A public stock sale begins for the Vulcans. Anyone may buy shares in the team for $10 per share with a minimum of 10 shares for each purchase.

March 22, 1975
Hemmeter sends a letter to Weil addressing a number of issues. Hemmeter says there is currently no WFL franchise in Birmingham due to the Americans franchise being revoked for non-payment of players, creditors, and the league. He goes on to say that the only entity the league is negotiating with is Weil's investment group, Birmingham Vulcans, Inc.

March 29, 1975
At a press conference in Birmingham, Hemmeter announces the Vulcans will be a part of the WFL in 1975.

Hemmeter confirmed that the league put forth a maximum effort to save the Americans. "We spent months trying to save the franchise. We pursued it to the fullest extent. We feel legally, ethically, and morally we made the right decision. We must subordinate our feelings concerning the Americans and press on."

April 16, 1975
     World Football League logo
   
At a press conference in New York, Hemmeter officially announces that the World Football League would return for another season.

In addition to Birmingham, 10 other franchises appear ready to go; Southern California, Memphis, Shreveport, Philadelphia, Chicago, Jacksonville, Charlotte, and Hawaii from last season and an expansion team in San Antonio. Portland could possibly join the league again if they firm up their financial status quickly.

The league will be operating as a new corporation known as The New League, Inc., which will be doing business as the World Football League in 1975. The new corporation is an entirely new entity and has no ties to the old corporation. However, since The New League, Inc. purchased the rights to use the WFL name and logo for $10,000, it feels some moral obligation to the creditors the old organization owed. Over the next 12 years, The New League, Inc. will pay roughly 1.5% of ticket sales and television revenue to those creditors under a court-administered agreement. "I believe the creditors will accept it, otherwise they simply will get no money if the old league goes into bankruptcy," Hemmeter said.

Hemmeter is also named president of the WFL and "The Hemmeter Plan" is formally adopted. The Hemmeter Plan is a revolutionary approach to team expenses. Basically, the plan is to try and turn as many of a team's costs into "variable costs", which would be based as a percentage on the team's revenue. The Hemmeter Plan allocates 42% to player and coaches salaries, 3% to an injured reserve pool, 10% to stadiums and 6% to the league. The remaining 39% will be applied to non-variable areas such as office rent, front office salaries, telephone cost, etc. Each team has agreed to $545,000 in a working capital account to insure fixed costs for three years are covered in advance. In regards to player salaries, the better a team does at the gate, the higher salary each player will receive. However, if a team wishes to pay a player or players more than the base salary, they must escrow the money in advance to assure it will be available to the player if something happens to the franchise.

     Photograph
  New York Jets quarterback
Joe Namath
   
Also, the Birmingham Vulcans are officially given permission to participate in the 1975 season by the WFL's Board of Governors.

One of the biggest rumors floating around New York is the Chicago franchise is trying to sign former University of Alabama and current New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath to a long term contract. The offer most reported is staggering; $500,000 upon signing, $500,000 for the next three years and $100,000 yearly for 20 years. After playing a year or more, Namath would also be offered half of any WFL franchise placed in the city of New York. Namath made history in 1965 when he signed with the American Football League for $400,000.

April 30, 1975
At a league meeting in Memphis, Hemmeter announces that Portland has secured proper financing and has officially joined the league for 1975. 

Hemmeter also announces the WFL will be presenting Joe Namath's attorney with a certified check for $500,000 to lure the NFL star to the WFL. "I think this is the most historic day in the WFL's history. We've been building a launching pad that we knew was strong, and this marks the successful firing and liftoff of this league."

May 17, 1975
At a league meeting in Birmingham, the league decides to not use the Dicker Rod in the upcoming season.

Also, the gold football with orange stripes will be abandoned for a traditional color scheme.

May 22, 1975
Joe Namath turns down the lucrative offer from the WFL. "I feel badly about not signing. Everybody was excited about it. I decided not to accept the offer because of the reasons stated... personal and private. Maybe in the future I can elaborate on my personal reason, but right now I don't want to discuss it and don't feel I have to."

Gotta thinks the NFL might have secretly entered the picture after the Jets lost college superstar Anthony Davis to the WFL's Southern California Sun on Wednesday. "Davis is a star of the future and the Jets lost him. If they had lost Namath, too, it could have ruined them at the gate. It's just my opinion, but the NFL may have jumped in there screaming for the Jets to keep Namath in New York at all costs."

June 16, 1975
     Photograph
  Johnny Musso with Alabama head coach
Paul "Bear" Bryant
   
At a press conference in Birmingham, former University of Alabama star Johnny Musso signs with the Vulcans. The popular running back is considered the cornerstone of the new franchise.

The "Italian Stallion" was an All-American when he played for Banks high school and went on to become a two time college All-American at Alabama. After playing for the Crimson Tide in 1969 through 1971, Musso played for two years in the Canadian Football League with the British Columbia Lions.

Gotta said he wanted Musso on the team last year with the Americans, but he was unable to get him. This year, Musso entered an option season in his contract and Gotta was able to pull quite a few strings to bring him back home.

"It is with a lot of deep emotion that I'm here tonight. I want to thank Coach Gotta for getting me here. His contacts in the CFL were responsible for getting me out this year," Musso said.

Musso won't have much time to adjust to the South's heat. Training camp opens in Marion, Alabama tomorrow.

June 20, 1975
The contract to use Legion Field is signed.

August 1975
 
1975
 World Football League 
Western
Division
Eastern
Division
   Chicago Winds    Birmingham Vulcans   
   Hawaii Hawaiians    Charlotte Hornets
   Portland Thunder    Jacksonville Express
   San Antonio Wings     Memphis Southmen 
   Shreveport Steamer     Philadelphia Bell
   Southern California Sun   
  xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx  
                 
Birmingham Vulcans logo    Charlotte Hornets logo    Chicago Winds logo    Hawaii Hawaiians logo   Jacksonville Express logo
Birmingham Vulcans   Charlotte Hornets   Chicago Winds   Hawaii Hawaiians   Jacksonville Express
                  
Memphis Southmen logo   Philadelphia Bell logo   Portland Thunder logo   San Antonio Wings logo   Shreveport Steamer logo
Memphis Southmen   Philadelphia Bell   Portland Thunder   San Antonio Wings   Shreveport Steamer
                  
Southern Califoria Sun logo                
Southern California Sun                
                 
September 2, 1975
The WFL revokes the Chicago Winds franchise for failing to fulfill requirements under the Hemmeter Plan. Discussions were held about making the Winds a road team but the idea was rejected as being too costly. All remaining Winds players will be distributed among the remaining franchises. The league now has 10 teams which will make any playoff plans easier to implement. However, the folding of the Winds will certainly put a considerable financial strain on the remaining franchises as they are collectively required to repay any debts the Winds have.

October 13, 1975
At a league meeting in New York city, WFL officials and team owners are having meetings that could affect the very existence of the league. There are two main reasons the league is in financial trouble; no network television contract and lower attendance across the league. No team is averaging over 20,000, although Birmingham and Memphis are close.

The three options the league has is to fold the worst two franchises, financially prop up the two worst franchises for the rest of the year, or fold the league.

San Antonio recently asked their players to take a pay cut. Philadelphia, Jacksonville, and Portland are expected to do the same shortly.

Hemmeter said the key decision is not 1975 but for 1976 and beyond. "If there isn't hope for '76, our interest in '75 will terminate. We are exploring all directions to save the league. We just don't want it to go down the drain."

October 14, 1975
At a press conference in New York city, Hemmeter announces the league will continue with all 10 teams. "We are not going to indulge in any more speculation about the viability of the WFL because its viability to us has never been questionable."

In order to continue, WFL members were assessed $300,000 last weekend to keep the Portland franchise afloat.

October 22, 1975
Early this afternoon via a conference telephone call, league officials and franchise owners voted to immediately fold the World Football League.

Some owners wanted to fold just the Philadelphia and Portland franchises, the league's poorest attended teams, and continue to play. The proposal was voted down. Birmingham led the league in attendance, averaging 23,000 during their seven home games.

Another proposal was to allow Birmingham, Memphis, and Southern California to immediately take part in a championship playoff series. This was rejected as well.

Hemmeter admitted that his "Hemmeter Plan" failed to provide the most basic necessity of all... how to attract fans to the games to generate revenue.

October 23, 1975
     National Football League logo
   
With the decision made to fold the World Football League, Birmingham officials are already at work trying to secure a future in the National Football League.

Gotta left this morning for Memphis where he will meet with Southmen owner John Bassett to formulate a plan for a two franchise request for the NFL. "I think our chances of getting in the NFL are the best of any city in America which doesn't have a franchise already. We have all the necessary ingredients... ownership, the greatest fans in football, and a stadium that seats 70,000. The last two years have proved people here will support professional football. The fact we did close down in October means we will make application for the 1976 season, but we're not in control of anything and we'll have to abide by whatever timetable the NFL decides on."

Birmingham mayor George Siebels announces he will telegraph Rozelle immediately to petition entry to the league.

Bass believes this could pan out. "I don't look at it as an ending. I look at it as the beginning of something big. I'm psychic in some ways and that's the way I feel."

Epilogue
The rollercoaster ride known as the World Football League is over and its collapse is a tragic day for Birmingham.

While no official announcement was ever made by the league, most fans agree that the Birmingham Vulcans were the 1975 World Football League Champions. This is due to the fact that the Vulcans were leading the league in victories and had beaten the second best team, the Memphis Southmen, twice.

Burgess and the other Vulcans board members joined forces with Memphis owner John Bassett for a push to secure a spot in the NFL. Unfortunately, this effort proved to be unfruitful.

Two minor league football teams would call Birmingham home over the next few years, each a member of the American Football Association, and each only  lasted for a single season. In 1979, the Alabama Vulcans formed and had good success on the field. A few former WFL players, coaches, and owners had joined the AFA with varying success. The Alabama Magic appeared, and just as quickly, disappeared in 1982.

Major league football would not return to the city until 1983, when the United States Football League's Birmingham Stallions kicked off their first of three seasons.
 
 
 
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Last update: October 17, 2018