Atlantic Coast Football League (1966-1967)
Born: January 1966 – ACFL expansion franchise.
Died: 1968 – The Orbits relocate to Bridgeport, CT.
Stadium: Municipal Stadium (10,000)
The Waterbury (CT) Orbits were a minor league football outfit that played for two seasons in the Atlantic Coast Football League during the mid-1960’s. The franchise, awarded in January 1966, was originally intended for New Haven, Connecticut but community opposition to use of the city’s playing fields caused the team to relocate to the fading industrial city of Waterbury.
Bill Ryczek’s excellent Connecticut Gridiron: Football Minor Leaguers of the 1960’s and 1970’s offers the definitive history of the Orbits (and perhaps the Atlantic Coast Football League more broadly). Ryczek notes the support the Orbits received from Waterbury Mayor Frederick Palomba, a sports booster who worked to bring both pro football and minor league baseball to the Brass City in 1966. One of the enticements was a $100,000 upgrade to Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium, which included the installation of lights for night games and the expansion of seating to accommodate 10,000 fans for football.
Club and civic officials confidently forecasted a sellout of 10,000 for the Orbit’s home opener in September 1966, but the crowd that day was about half that number and never would approach those lofty expectations.
The 1966 Orbits squad was strong under the direction of Fred Wallner, a former Pro Bowl lineman with the Chicago Cardinals NFL teams of the mid-1950’s. Waterbury finished 8-3-1 and just outside of the playoffs in their first season. Wide receiver Roger Milici led the ACFL in receiving yardage (1,083) and touchdowns (13), while Jerry Stevenson was the circuit leading ground gainer with 942 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
Wholesale changes were in store for 1967. Wallner departed as coach, replaced by Nick Cutro. Stevenson departed as well, but was ably replaced by Allen Smith in the offensive backfield. Smith would finish 2nd in the league in rushing yards and lead the ACFL with 15 touchdowns. Milici returned, but was no longer the focus of the passing game – he would finish third on the team in receiving, although his totals (23-447-5 TDs) would still rank among the league’s best.
The Orbits’ prolific 1967 passing attack was directed by a flamboyant rookie quarterback named Jim “King” Corcoran. There was no one quite like The King – a cult playboy who toiled most of his career in places like Pottstown and Chambersburg, yet earned tributes from The Rockford Files (where Rob Reiner played a character clearly based on Corcoran) to The Washington Post who printed an encyclopedic obituary upon his death in 2009. In what would become a typical Corcoran number line, he led the league in passing yards (2,065), touchdown passes (19) and interceptions (21).
Another colorful figure from the Orbits roster was gargantuan defensive lineman Wayne Coleman from the 1966 squad. Coleman’s football career would summit with a brief trial with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes in 1968. But he found his real calling in the world of pro wrestling, where he became “Superstar Billy Graham”, heavyweight champion of the W.W.W.F. (precursor of today’s WWE) in the late 1970’s.
Following the 1967 season, the money-losing Orbits moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Kennedy Stadium and became the Bridgeport Jets. The Jets would play in Bridgeport from 1968 until the demise of the ACFL in 1973.
==Waterbury Orbits Games on Fun While It Lasted==
|1966||9/17/1966||@ Scranton Miners||W 20-13||Program|
|1966||9/24/1966||vs. Wilmington Clippers||??||Program|