|League||World Football League|
|Home field||Legion Field|
|Record||17-5 (World Bowl champions)|
The Birmingham Americans were a professional football team which played for Birmingham in the World Football League in 1974. The team was organized in December 1973 by owner Bill Putnam and hosted home games at Legion Field. The Americans led the WFL in attendance and went undefeated at home. Led by head coach and general manager Jack Gotta, the Americans had a 15-5 regular season record and were crowned WFL champions after winning the 1974 World Bowl.
Financial difficulties plagues the team all season, with players going unpaid after October and the owners sued for unpaid taxes. The team folded after its inaugural season and a newly-formed Birmingham Vulcans team took the field for the short-lived WFL in 1975.
After Frank Falkenburg turned down an offer for a Birmingham franchise, Putnam and four other Atlanta, Georgia investors put together a bid. They were awarded the franchise and organized the team with $1.5 million in capital and a lease for Legion Field. The team's name made reference to Birmingham's pride in having been honored as an All-American City by the National Civic League in 1970.
After failing to find additional investors in Birmingham, the owners threatened to find another host, but ended up keeping the team at Legion Field in part due to strong ticket sales. Over 10,000 season ticket packages were sold before the start of the season. Larry Matson was hired to provide radio play-by-play. Color commentary was contributed by a series of guests.
After being turned down by Cincinnati Bengals assistant Vince Costello, the owners hired Ottowa Rough Riders coach Jack Gotta to serve as head coach and general manager. Carol Stallworth was the team's president. The Americans quickly signed quarterbacks George Mira and Matthew Reed, receiver Dennis Homan and safety Larry Willingham. In the WFL's "pro draft", the team selected Charlie Harraway and Richie Guerin. Like other WFL teams, the Americans also approached numerous NFL players, offering generous signing bonuses to come to the WFL after their current contracts expired.
The Americans began their training camp on June 3, 1974 at Marion Military Institute and held a "controlled scrimmage" against the Jacksonville Sharks on June 29. The Americans were assigned to the WFL's Central Division along with the Chicago Fire, Memphis Southmen and Detroit Wheels. Regular season games were played on Wednesday nights, except for nationally-televised Thursday night games.
The Americans won their first 10 games, but then went 5-5 at the end of the season to finish at 15-5, behind Memphis in the Central Division. They earned a wild-card slot and a first-round bye in the WFL's six-team playoff. With a semifinal win, the Americans hosted the 1974 World Bowl, played under a cloud of financial turmoil, and defeated the Florida Blazers to become the league's champion. Alfred Jenkins was named the Americans' Most Valuable Player. Miss Florida Delta Burke presented the trophy and cash prize to the MVP.
Regular season (15-5)
- July 10: Americans 11 - Southern California Sun 7 at Legion Field (attendance: 53,231)
- July 17: Americans 32 - New York Stars 29 at Downing Stadium (attendance: 17,943)
- July 24: Americans 58 - Memphis Southmen 33 at Legion Field (attendance: 61,319)
- July 31: Americans 21 - Detroit Wheels 18 at Rynerarson Stadium (attendance: 14,614)
- August 7: Americans 28 - Detroit Wheels 22 at Legion Field (attendance: 40,367)
- August 14: Americans 39 - Honolulu Hawaiians 0 at Legion Field (attendance: 43,297)
- August 21: Americans 15 - Jacksonville Sharks 14 at Jacksonville (attendance: 27,140)
- August 29: Americans 22 - Chicago Fire 8 at Soldier Field (attendance: 44,732, national TV)
- September 2: Americans 8 - Florida Blazers 7 at Legion Field (attendance: 36,529)
- September 7: Americans 41 - Chicago Fire 40 at Legion Field (attendance: 54,872)
- Earl Sark's last-minute field goal gave Birmingham the win in a game played under drenching rains brought by Hurricane Carmen.
- September 11: Memphis Southmen 46 - Americans 7 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (attendance: 30,675)
- September 19 (Thursday): Americans 42 - Houston Texans 14 at Legion Field (attendance 33,619, national TV)
- September 25: Portland Storm 26 - Americans 21 at Civic Stadium (attendance 14,273)
- October 2: Honolulu Hawaiians 14 - Americans 8 at Honolulu Stadium (attendance 12,039)
- October 9: Americans 30 - Portland Storm 8 at Legion Field (attendance 25,621)
- October 16: Southern California Sun 29 - Americans 25 at Anaheim (attendance 25,247)
- October 23: Shreveport Steamer 31 - Americans 0 at State Fair Stadium (attendance 24,617)
- October 30: Americans 26 - Florida Blazers 18 at Legion Field (attendance 21,872)
- November 6: Americans 26 - Philadelphia Bell 23 at Legion Field (attendance 22,963)
- November 13: Americans 40 - Shreveport Steamer 7 at Legion Field (attendance 14,794)
- November 27: Americans 22 - Honolulu Hawaiians 19 at Legion Field (attendance 15,379)
- December 5: Americans 22 - Florida Blazers 21 in the 1974 World Bowl at Legion Field (attendance 32,376)
Putnam and the Atlanta-based ownership group struggled to raise enough capital to maintain operations over the course of the season. He speculated that local investors were passing on his pitch because they were planning to apply for an NFL franchise. A World Football League Players Association, headed by Americans fullback Charley Harraway, formed in September as some teams began failing to pay salaries.
In early November Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley filed for a tax lien against the team's assets. The suit alleged $30,000 in unpaid income withholdings and $57,000 in unpaid sales taxes for August and September. An additional $28,000 in unpaid sales tax was owed to Jefferson County and Birmingham for that period. The IRS filed a separate suit to recover $237,000 in unpaid withholdings, and an additional $166,000 lien for Putnam himself.
Later that same month the team's coaches were evicted from a hotel where they had rented office space. In a press conference, Putnam said that generous signing bonuses for future players still under NFL contracts had put the team in dire straights, but that strong gate receipts left him "only $300,000 short" of maintaining operations. He spent the month trying to raise or borrow capital to cover back taxes and unpaid salaries and mentioned the possibility of moving the team if another city could produce investors.
As the season came to a close, the team negotiated to give creditors control of a portion of gate receipts in the postseason. Creditors included Hibbett Sporting Goods, which was owned $38,800 for uniforms. Those uniforms and other team assets were seized by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department immediately after the World Bowl ended. Hibbett sold the used equipment as memorabilia in its stores during the Christmas season to recoup costs.
In January 1975 the WFL revoked the Americans' franchise. Among the NFL players who had signed contracts to join the Americans when they became free agents was Oakland Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler. He received $70,000 of an agreed-upon $100,000 payment in 1974 before the contract was nullified. Detroit Lions receiver Ron Jessie collected a $45,000 bonus while Dallas Cowboys tackles Jethro Pugh and Rayfield Wright each received $75,000 and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end got $50,000. The IRS took possession of other player contracts and was set to auction them off in March 1975 before a judge ruled them voided. In a moot ruling, the judge also found that Birmingham Trust National Bank had first claim on the now valueless contracts. Putnam filed suits against the players who received money for "breach of contract", but the federal courts ruled that the players were entitled to keep the bonuses.
Also in March, Ferd Weil and other local investors who had been planning an NFL bid, announced the formation of the Birmingham Vulcans which had secured a Birmingham franchise for the WFL's 1975 season. Most of the former Americans players signed with the Vulcans for the next season. Exceptions included Harraway, Mire, Alfred Jenkins, and Paul Robinson. Three former Americans, Dennis Homan, Terry Henley, and Larry Willingham have been inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
On July 9-10, 2004 Americans fans and Dayton Daily News sports writer Chick Ludwig organized a 30th anniversary reunion for former Americans' players at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Funds raised at the event, which was sponsored by Nestlé and the Birmingham Steeldogs, went toward purchasing championship rings for the players.
|Pro Football in Birmingham
- Birmingham Americans (May 6, 2010) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia - accessed May 6, 2010