Alabama Hawks vs. Joliet Chargers
Professional Football League of America Championship Game
November 25, 1967
Milton Frank Stadium
Professional Football League of America Programs
Cool minor league football program, purchased from an antique book dealer in Maryland this week. This 1967 championship game was the final contest of a short-lived minor league circuit known as the Professional Football League of America (1965-1967). This was back in the days when NFL and AFL teams had loosely organized minor league farm clubs around the country where late round picks and taxi squad players could go to earn game reps. The host Alabama Hawks were affiliated with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. The Joliet Chargers from Illinois had a relationship with the AFL’s San Diego Chargers.
The Huntsville-based Hawks played at Alabama A&M’s Milton Frank Stadium and carried seven former A&M players on the roster. The team also boasted a handful of former SEC college stars. Rookie defensive tackle George Patton was a two-time All-America at Georgia, and captain of the 1966 Bulldogs squad that finished #4 in the nation. Linebacker Doc Griffith was All-SEC at Auburn, as was leading rusher Tom Bryan. Center Gaylon McCullough was an Academic All-America at Alabama.
Collegiate honors and citations aside, one thing that caught my eye flipping through the pages of this program was the racial composition of the Hawks’ team. Two months earlier, the Southeastern Conference finally integrated, with the elevation of Nat Northington and Greg Page to the varsity football squad at the University of Kentucky. But Alabama, Auburn and the rest of the SEC remained whites-only programs that fall. The minor league Alabama Hawks seemed somewhat more progressive, featuring 12 black players, the majority of whom hailed from A&M. (The team’s all-white cheerleading squad, however, was a more familiar story).
The Hawks’ opponent was the Joliet Chargers, regular season champions of the PFLA’s Eastern Division with a 10-2 record. The teams had met twice in the regular season, each winning at home. In fact, both squads were undefeated at home in 1967. That seemed to confer an advantage upon the Hawks and the hosts carried a slim 13-10 lead into the 4th quarter.
That’s when Joliet’s Paul Hudson took over. Hudson, a rookie fullback out of Ohio State, was named season MVP of the league earlier in the week. He scored two touchdowns on the ground in the final 11 minutes as Joliet pulled away for a 31-20 victory.
This turned out to be the last game for the Professional Football League of America and for Joliet, the league’s best team who won two of the league’s three championships. After the 1967 season, the PFLA merged with the larger Continental Football League. Joliet dropped out, not wishing to join the more ambitious and expensive league. The Hawks continued on for two more seasons, going out of business along with the rest of the Continental League at the end of the 1969 campaign.