On March 24, 1991, the Barcelona Dragons defeated the New York/New Jersey Knights 19-7 in the first game of the World League of American Football (WLAF). The WLAF was the first National Football League (NFL) supported spring football football league which not only consisted of cities in North American but also in Europe. The league lasted for the next 16 spring seasons, with a short restructuring period from 1993-94, and served as a developmental league for the NFL.
The teams were largely stocked by NFL teams to give younger players additional game experience and coaching. The league was the financial support for teams in addition to the players and coaching staffs.
The first season featured 12 teams. They were the Birimingham Fire, Sacramento Surge, San Antonio Riders, Montreal Machine, New York/New Jersey Knights, Orlando Thunder, Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks, Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy and London Monarchs.
The league incorporated some new ideas such as using the two-point conversion rule before the NFL officially adopted it in 1994. Other changes were using a shorter kickoff tee, the four-point field goal from over 50 yards and numerous technical innovations such as helmet mounted cameras, one-way radios between coaches and quarterbacks.
Average game attendance throughout the league’s existence was 25,361 but the league was not the hit in the United States that was expected. London, Barcelona, Frankfurt and Montreal surpassed early expectations and the Monarchs won the 1991 World Bowl title at Wembly Stadium in front of 61,108.
Honestly, there aren’t any names that really stand out from the players during that season. Stan Gelbaugh (London) led the league with 2,656 passing yards. Gelbaugh later played 13 games with the Seattle Seahawks from 1992-1996. He was 1-11 as a starter. Eric Wilkerson (NY/NJ) was the leading rusher with 717 yards.
The WLAF evolved into NFL Europe for the 1998 season with all six teams located in Europe. The Hamburg Sea Devils won the final league title on June 23, 2007 defeating the Frankfurt Galaxy 37-28.