World Football League (1974)
Born: January 1974 – WFL founding franchise.
Died: January 1975 – The WFL terminates the Americans franchise.
Stadium: Legion Field
Owner: William Putnam
The Birmingham Americans were the first and only champions of the World Football League (1974-1975), a brash but undercapitalized effort to go head-to-head with the National Football League in the mid-1970’s, much as the American Football League had a decade earlier.
The Americans had a terrific squad under Head Coach Jack Gotta, an import from the Canadian Football League. The Americans won their first ten games of the 1974 season. The team then hit a rough patch in the middle of the schedule, dropping five out of the next seven, before regaining their form to finish a 15-5 regular season with a three-game win streak.
George Mira took most of the snaps at quarterback, ably backed up by former Grambling star Matthew Reed. Dennis Homan, a star at Alabama in the mid-60’s and former first round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, led the Americans in receptions with 61, but the true breakout star of the offense was receiver Alfred Jenkins, a playmaking rookie out of Morris Brown University. Jenkins caught 60 passes for 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jenkins would sign with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 1975 and earn two Pro Bowl nods during his nine-year NFL career.
In the 1974 WFL playoffs, the Americans escaped The Hawaiians 22-19 in the semi-final and earned the right to host the World Bowl at Legion Stadium on December 5, 1974. By the time of the World Bowl, the WFL was in deep trouble. Several franchises folded during the season. Another club, the Charlotte Hornets, decided it couldn’t afford to compete in the playoffs despite qualifying. Neither the Americans nor their opponents, the Florida Blazers, had received paychecks in weeks and there was discussion of the players staging a boycott of the title game.
But in the end, they played and it was a great game. The Americans raced out to a 22-0 third quarter lead before the Florida Blazers roused themselves and reeled off a furious 21 point rally late in the game. Americans linebacker Warren Capone stuffed Blazers running back Tommy Reamon on an “Action Point” try late in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game, and Birmingham eeked out a 22-21 victory. The Action Point was a WFL innovation, which was sort of a hybrid of an extra point and a two-point conversion. Touchdowns were worth seven points in the WFL and an eighth point could be added by passing or running the ball in from the two-yard line.
As the Americans celebrated their championship in the Legion Field locker room, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies burst in to seize the team’s uniforms and equipment on behalf of a local sports goods supplier holding bad debt from the team. This proved to be the final game the Americans ever played, as their debts sunk the franchise about a month later.
The team had severe financial problems, but they weren’t result of poor attendance. The Americans were actually very popular in Birmingham. World Football League attendance figures were notoriously inflated and the subject of much media derision in 1974, but there’s little debate that the Americans were far and away the most popular team in the league. The team’s official figures claimed 39,269 fans per game for 10 regular season home games in 1974.
But other factors conspired to drag down the club, including owner Bill Putnam’s failure to secure additional local partners to join his ownership group. Further, Putnam spent himself into oblivion in the spring and summer of 1974, paying out signing bonuses to NFL stars such as Ken Stabler and L.C. Greenwood who signed futures contracts to jump to the Americans once their current NFL deals expired.
Although the Americans were gone, the World Football League survived (barely) to stage a second season in 1975. The WFL put a new franchise into Legion Field called the Birmingham Vulcans, which returned a number of key players and coaches from the Americans World Bowl team. (Mira and Jenkins did not return, however). The Vulcans played well, although the crowds dipped substantially from 1974. The Vulcans folded in October 1975 along with the rest of the WFL, which ran out of cash and failed to complete its second regular season.
==1974 Birmingham Americans Results==
|7/10/1974||vs. Southern California Sun||W 11-7|
|7/17/1974||@ New York Stars||W 32-29||Program|
|7/24/1974||vs. Memphis Southmen||W 58-33|
|7/31/1974||@ Detroit Wheels||W 21-18||Program|
|8/7/1974||vs. Detroit Wheels||W 28-22|
|8/14/1974||vs. The Hawaiians||W 39-0|
|8/21/1974||@ Jacksonville Sharks||W 15-14|
|8/29/1974||@ Chicago Fire||W 22-8||Program|
|9/2/1974||vs. Florida Blazers||W 8-7||Program|
|9/7/1974||vs. Chicago Fire||W 41-40||Program|
|9/11/1974||@ Memphis Southmen||L 46-7|
|9/19/1974||vs. Houston Texans||W 42-14|
|9/25/1974||@ Portland Storm||L 26-21|
|10/2/1974||@ The Hawaiians||L 14-8|
|10/9/1974||vs. Portland Storm||W 30-8|
|10/16/1974||@ Southern California Sun||L 29-25|
|10/23/1974||@ Shreveport Steamer||L 31-0|
|10/30/1974||vs. Florida Blazers||W 26-18||Program|
|11/6/1974||@ Philadelphia Bell||W 26-23|
|11/13/1974||vs. Shreveport Steamer||W 40-7|
|11/27/1974||vs. The Hawaiians||W 22-19|
|12/5/1974||vs. Florida Blazers||W 22-21||Program|
- Dennis Homan
- Alfred Jenkins
- George Mira