The Southern Football League (SFL) was a professional football league which played from 1963-1965. The league was an attempt to be a minor league for the National Football League (NFL) with teams located throughout the Southeastern United States. Cities included: Jacksonville (FL), Daytona Beach (FL), Chattanooga (TN), Huntsville (AL), Tuscaloosa (AL), Orlando (FL), Gadsden (AL), Rome (GA), Mobile (AL), Columbus (MS), Knoxville (TN), Charlotte (NC) and Atlanta/Columbus (GA).
The Jacksonville Robins played in the Gator Bowl with their roster consisting mostly former college players from the Florida State Seminoles including quarterback Ed Trancygier and running backs Happy Fick and Fred Pickard along with tight end/kicker Possum Lee. (Isn’t the name “Possum” fitting for a player in this league?) The Robins won the 1963 title as Pickard dominated the league in rushing, receiving, touchdowns and scoring. The Robins defeated the Daytona Beach Thunderbirds 13-7 in the championship game in front of 2,000 fans.
The Rome Bisons were coached by Max Bass. Although the Bisons were winless in their only season in the SFL (1963), Bass went on to compile a 203-103-7 record in Georgia high school football from 1966-1994.
The Chattanooga Cherokees played all three seasons in the SFL but failed to succeed at the gate. Games were played at Chamberlain Field on the University of Chattanooga campus. Engel Stadium had been considered but was rejected due to the seating configuration for baseball. One of the Cherokees’ most notable players was Cotton Letner who starred at Meigs County High School and then as a two-year starter at end and kicker for the Tennessee Volunteers from 1958-1960. The Cherokees lost the 1964 championship game to Daytona Beach.
The Huntsville Rockets were formed as members of the Dixie Professional Football League in 1962 and joined the SFL in 1963 under Al “Monk” Romine as coach. Romine had been a defensive back and halfback in the NFL, Canadian Football League (CFL) and the American Football League (AFL) prior to becoming a coach. The Huntsville Rockets folded in 19966 but have recently been resurrected in the Gridiron Developmental Football League (GDFL).
The Gadsden Raiders entered the 1964 season loaded with local talent such as Buster Gross, Melton Burgess, Terry Harris and Fred Sington. The Raiders played a huge game against Mobile on August 8, 1964. The game was a defensive struggle and the outcome was decided late in an 8-0 win. Although the Raiders started out strong, they dropped their last four games of the season to finish 6-7-0.
Bud Asher coached the Daytona Beach Thunderbirds from 1963-1964 and when the team moved to Orlando in 1965. Asher had a record of 31-2-2 in the SFL. He also coached for high schools in Volusia County and was also the coach for the Jacksonville Sharks of the World Football League (WFL). Asher also served as the Mayor of Daytona Beach from 1995-2003.
The Jacksonville Robins and Daytona Beach/Orlando Thunderbirds were the most successful teams in the SFL as Jacksonville appeared in two championship games while the Thunderbirds played in every title game.
The 1965 championship game was played at Cleveland Field in Valdosta, Georgia where the Orlando Thunderbirds defeated the Jacksonville Robins 48-21.
The SFL merged with the North American Football League (NAFL) in 1966.
Jacksonville Robins 12-2-0
Daytona Beach Thunderbirds 12-2-0
Chattanooga Cherokees 8-5-1
Huntsville Rockets 7-6-1
Tuscaloosa Warriors 6-8-0
Orlando Broncos 5-9-0
Gadsden Raiders 5-9-0
Rome Bisons 0-14-0
League Championship: Jacksonville 13, Daytona Beach 7
Daytona Beach Thunderbirds 12-1-1
Orlando Broncos 9-4-0
Gadsden Raiders 6-7-0
Huntsville Rockets 5-9-0
Chattanooga Cherokees 9-5-0
Jacksonville Robins 8-5-1
Mobile Buccaneers 4-10-0
Columbus Warriors 1-13-0
League Championship: Daytona Beach 21, Chattanooga 9