World Football League (1975)
Born: March 1975 – WFL expansion franchise.
Folded: October 22, 1975
Stadium: Legion Field (68,821)
Team Colors: Scarlet, Royal Blue & White
Owner: Ferd Weil
World Bowl Championships: None
The Birmingham Vulcans were a pro football franchise in the World Football League (1974-1975) that existed for just a dozen games in the summer and early fall of 1975.
The Vulcans were a replacement for the WFL’s Birmingham Americans franchise, which won the inaugural World Bowl championship game in the fall of 1974 and proved to be a pretty popular box office attraction at Legion Field. But Americans owner Bill Putnam spent himself into oblivion paying out signing bonuses to NFL stars such as L.C. Greenwood and Ken Stabler to join the Americans in future seasons after playing out their NFL deals. By the end of the Americans’ first season in December 1974, Putnam was out of money and the franchise was loaded with tax liens. In a famous incident, Jefferson County, Alabama sheriff’s deputies entered the Americans locker room at Legion Field and seized their uniforms and gear while the team was celebrating their World Bowl victory.
The Americans franchise was terminated in January 1975. The league awarded a new Birmingham franchise to a group led by Ferd Weil in March 1975. The new group adopted the “Vulcans” nickname and began re-signing many members of the previous year’s Americans squad. Former Americans Head Coach Jack Gotta came back as General Manager with former Americans Defensive Coordinator Marvin Bass taking on the head coaching reigns.
Even before the WFL exhibition season began, the Vulcans made their local debut with a controlled scrimmage against the Memphis Southmen on July 3, 1975. Since the scrimmage marked the WFL debut of Memphis’ trio of star “jumpers” from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins – Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield – the glorified practice drew an enormous crowd estimated at 35,000 to Legion Field.
Notable Vulcans players included Johnny Musso, the “Italian Stallion, a tremendously popular hometown product of Birmingham Banks High School, who became a two-time All-American running back under Bear Bryant at Alabama. Another standout was quarterback Matthew Reed out of Grambling. Reed was the back-up for the Americans in 1974, but the starter’s job was all his with the Vulcans in 1975. Reed piloted the team to a league best 9-3 record. Even more remarkable – he was a black man starting unchallenged at quarterback for a popular team in the Deep South, something that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.
The Vulcans remained a popular attraction for Birmingham football fans in 1975, putting up the best attendance numbers in the WFL. But on October 22, 1975 WFL officials met in New York City to review the crumbling state of many of the league’s franchises. Team owners voted 6-4 to disband the league immediately in mid-season, with Birmingham voting with the majority, despite being in first place and having one of the most stable clubs. Birmingham hoped to land an NFL expansion franchise – as did the owners of the WFL’s Memphis Southmen, another stable club who nevertheless voted to disband – and it is thought that this is why Vulcans officials were content to vote the World Football League out of business.
Birmingham Vulcans Programs
Nothing came of the efforts by Birmingham and Memphis to land NFL expansion franchise in the 1970’s. Both cities later ended with popular United States Football League teams instead in the mid-1980’s. The Birmingham Vulcans nickname was also revived for a minor league team – the Alabama Vulcans – that played for a single season at Legion Field in 1979.