Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1968-1970 Pottstown Firebirds

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Pottstown FirebirdsAtlantic Coast Football League (1968-1970)

Born: 1968
Folded: May 2, 1971 – The Firebirds merge with the Norfolk Neptunes

Stadium: Franklin Field

Team Colors: Green & White

Owner: Ed Gruber

ACFL Champions: 1969 & 1970

 

Minor league football is – and always has been – so far off the radar in this country that it’s impossible to speak of there being any iconic teams.  The sport offers nothing like the Hershey Bears hockey team or Rochester Red Wings baseball club that have entertained locals for upwards of a century. To the extent that minor and semi-pro football at least has a cult favorite team – the sport’s answer to the Durham Bulls – it’s likely the short-lived Pottstown Firebirds of the defunct Atlantic Coast Football League.

The Firebirds were a colorful and talented bunch. They played at the local high school football stadium in Pottstown, 40 miles north of Philadelphia. The team was backed by a local underwear manufacturer named Ed Gruber and took their name and team color from a loose affiliation with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Though the club lasted only three seasons, they won two minor league titles.

The team’s 15 minutes of fame came thanks to Steve Sabol’s NFL Films. The young company documented the Firebirds’ final championship season in 1970. More than a year after the team’s demise, the documentary Pro Football Pottstown PA aired prior to the national broadcast of Super Bowl VI in January 1972. The following year, the author Jay Acton published The Forgettables, a book that chronicled the Firebirds behind the scenes during that same 1970 season. (Acton later became a serial minor league baseball investor himself).

The Firebirds dominated the Atlantic Coast Football League thanks to a fine cast of characters. Carousing quarterback James “King” Corcoran was characterized by Acton (and many others) as a sort of Joe Namath of the minor leagues. Tight end Bob Tucker went on to an 11-year NFL career. Receiver Jack Dolbin took half a decade to catch on in the NFL after leaving Pottstown, but ended up spending five seasons with the Denver Broncos in the late 1970’s.

In March 1971, Ed Gruber tried to sell the Firebirds to a group of businessmen that planned to move the team to Hershey, Pennsylvania. But the deal fell through. Gruber then decided to buy the rival Norfolk (VA) Neptunes instead in May of 1971.  He merged the two clubs, shuttering the Pottstown operation and moving the team’s best players to Virginia.

The Atlantic Coast Football League folded in 1973. The following year, the World Football League launched. The WFL hoped to take on the NFL head-to-head for top talent much as the American Football League did in the 1970’s. The league’s Philadelphia Bell franchise hired former Firebirds assistant Ron Waller as Head Coach. Waller loaded the Bell with former Firebirds, including Corcoran at quarterback and starting running back John Land.

 

Pottstown Firebirds Memorabilia

 

Pottstown Firebirds Video

NFL Films ‘ Pro Football Pottstown PA chronicled the Firebirds’ third and final season in the fall of 1970. The one-hour film aired nationwide prior to the broadcast of Super Bowl VI in January 1972.

Links

Legendary football Firebirds back in Pottstown for reunion“, Rosemarie Ross, The Delaware County Daily Times, November 30, 2010

Atlantic Coast Football League Media Guides

Atlantic Coast Football League Programs

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