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Will Birmingham play in the Southern Football League?

January 24, 1953
J. Curtis Sanford announces his plan for a six-team professional football league that will be based in the South, the Southern Football League. Birmingham is one of the cities he named that would receive an inaugural franchise.

Other cities joining Birmingham will be Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Mexico City, and New Orleans.

  J. Curtis Sanford
Sanford is no stranger to organized football. At the college level, he was the main force behind the Cotton Bowl Classic that began in 1937. As he sat in the stadium watching the 1936 Rose Bowl game, Sanford wondered, "Why can't Dallas have a game like this?" When he returned home, he got to work and created a New Year's Day classic of his own. At the professional level, he was recently an investor in the Dallas Texans, which recently folded after playing just one season in the National Football League. With Dallas dropping out of the NFL, pro football has no teams in the South or Southwest, which gave Sanford his idea.

Sanford didnít name any prospective team owners, but promised to line up heavy hitters for each franchise. He hopes to lure some former Texans to the SFL. "The Texans never released the players. Of course, we canít make the players play for us, but Iíve talked to some of the players from last yearís team and their reaction to the Southern League, with its international flavor, is terrific."

"I donít think the new league would have any trouble getting players. And I think the league will go over, with the proper promotion. We will have a strong promotion program here, you can bet. The Texans wouldíve gone over last year with better promotion. Mexico City is a fine spot for professional football and will strengthen the league. Mexico City has the finest stadium in the world and just last month a (soccer) game there drew 122,000 paid admissions," Sanford said.

Sanford hopes that the warmer climate and lifestyle would be his hook to draw in top-quality players. "Money isnít everything to a football player. The players now take into consideration such things as weather conditions, living conditions, and a lot of little things that go toward a happy, satisfied life. Here in the south we can offer the best of all these things and my talks with some professional football players bear this out. The response from those Iíve talked to has been terrifically enthusiastic, especially the idea of having Mexico City as a member of the circuit."

Sanford said he had learned valuable lessons from the Texans failure, and that knowledge would help make the SFL a success. "Football is a big business and to succeed it has to be operated as such. The Dallas Texansí brief fling in the pro league provided us with a lot of examples of things not to do. But there have been many other examples of unsound business practices involving even the long-established clubs. We hope to profit by these mistakes and minimize our chances of making any fatal errors."

Another advantage for the SFL will be that it wouldnít have to battle with the NFL for stadiums or fan support since it was going into mostly new markets. "We would not be competing for attendance at the gate, for choice dates or use of the same stadiums, factors which struck heavy financial blows at everyone concerned. Weíre going to do it right or not do it all."

In February an exhibition game was played between the Politecnico All-Stars and American All-Stars in Mexico City, which could have been seen as a test run for a SFL team there. It did not go well. The home Politecnico team defeated the American team 31-6 in front of only 30,000 fans. To make matters worse, fans spent the afternoon booing the players, threw trash on the field, and set fires in the grandstands.

It is not known if that horrible display changed Sanfordís plans but nothing else was heard from him regarding the Southern Football League.

By the time the 1953 NFL season began, the Texans assets had been turned over to the new Baltimore Colts franchise.

The National Football League didnít face any real competition until 1960, when the American Football League began play. Ironically, it was the AFL's new Dallas Texans, along with the Houston Oilers, that finally gave professional football a Southern presence.

College football's annual Cotton Bowl Classic is still played to this date.
Contact Gene Crowley
Last update: May 16, 2022