|World League of American Football
World League of American Football
The original WLAF was founded in 1990 with support from the National Football League as a spring developmental American football league. It had ten teams playing a ten-game regular season. Teams were aligned in three divisions:
- North American West: Birmingham Fire, Sacramento Surge, San Antonio Riders
- North American East: Montreal Machine, New York/New Jersey Knights, Orlando Thunder, Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks (replaced by Ohio Glory in 1992)
- European: Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy, London Monarchs
The playoff format consisted of four teams: the three divisional champions, plus a wild card with the best overall non-division winning record. The two teams emerging from the World League of American Football semifinal playoffs met at the end of the season in the World Bowl. The first two World Bowl games were held at predetermined locations much like the modern Super Bowl.
Rules unique to WLAF included assigning increasing point value to field goals based on distance, and a requirement that at least one player of non-US American nationality participate in at least every other series of downs. New ideas were successfully tested, like using the 2-point conversion rule also on the professional field before adopting it in the NFL in 1994. Other minor tweaks in game play, such as a shorter kickoff tee, were also first used in the WLAF.
Also, on live TV broadcasts by USA Network, helmet cameras provided spectacular pictures. These were discontinued, though, due to the extra weight of the equipment, and sometimes very aggressive content the cameras picked up. Also the audio coverage of single players that was picked up with parabolic mirror microphones was quite disturbing at times.
Birmingham was announced as the location for the second of league's inaugural teams on Wednesday, April 18, 1990 at a press conference at the mayor's office. Tex Schramm, commissioner of World League of American Football, awarded the city a franchise based upon its past support of the defunct Americans, Vulcans and Stallions. On Friday, December 21, 1990, Chan Gailey was announced as the head coach.
The original WLAF was less than popular in the United States. This might also have been caused by the surprising domination of the three Europe-based teams in 1991, which had a combined 24-6 record, while no North American team managed to be better than 5-5.
In their first season, the Fire was one of the teams that went 5-5, which made them first in their division. They had 140 total points, and 140 scored against them. They lost the playoffs 10-3 to the Barcelona Dragons who went on to lose World Bowl I to the London Monarchs 21-0.
In the 1992 draft, the league made sure that the American teams would not be inferior again. So in 1992, all three European teams had losing records, while five of the seven North American teams had winning records.
The 1992 Fire went 7-2-1. They had 192 total points with 165 points scored against them. They played to the league's first-ever tie, 17-17 against the reigning champion London Monarchs in week 4. They finished second in the North America West division and lost in the playoffs 45-7 to the Orlando Thunder. Sacramento defeated Orlando 21-17 in World Bowl II.
Despite the losing teams, the European fans remained loyal, but operations of the WLAF were suspended after the 1992 season as the league lost money, and the involved NFL owners were not willing to invest more. However, the National Football League still liked the idea of a spring developmental league - and they needed another pro Football league to help their cause in the antitrust and free agency lawsuit with the National Football League Players' Association.
In 1995 the World League was resurrected as a solely-European league. The Fire name and logo was given to the Düsseldorf, Germany team, called the "Rhein Fire". In 1998 the World League was renamed the NFL Europe.
|Pro Football in Birmingham
- Harwell, Hoyt. (April 18, 1990). "Sports news." Associated Press.
- Crowley, Gene. (February 19, 2008). "Birmingham Fire" at BirminghamProSports.com.