Friday Flashback: Southern Football League


The Southern Football League played from 1963-1965.  Jacksonville Robins and Daytona Beach Thunderbirds were most successful teams.

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.

1963 Standings

  • 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

1964 Standings

  • Blue Division
    • Daytona Beach Thunderbirds 12-1-1
    • Orlando Broncos 9-4-0
    • Gadsden Raiders 6-7-0
    • Huntsville Rockets 5-9-0
  • Grey Division
    • 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

1965 Standings

  • Blue Division
    • Orlando Thunderbirds 10-1-1
    • Knoxville Bears 7-3-2
    • Charlotte Vikings 4-8-0
  • Grey Division
    • Jacksonville Robins 5-6-1
    • Atlanta/Columbus Mustangs 4-7-0
    • Chattanooga Cherokees 3-8-0
  • League Championship:  Orlando 48, Jacksonville 21





Friday Flashback: The Hawaiians

The Hawaiians played in the short-lived World Football League (WFL) and was the first professional football team on the islands.   Some called them the “Honolulu Hawaiians” or the “Hawaii Hawaiians” but the WFL simply referred to them as “The Hawaiians”.  They played in 1974-1975 in Honolulu.  The Hawaiians were perhaps the closest thing to an International team as the startup WFL could do.  Although they had their hopes for teams in Europe and Canada, those teams never materialized.

The WFL played a summer/fall schedule and competed with the National Football League (NFL) for players to fill their rosters.  Back in the day, it was a huge deal that the Hawaiians were able to sign Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill.  Although he signed a contract in 1974, he had to finish his contract in Dallas before joining the Hawaiians for the 1975 season.  hill only played in three games.  In those three games, he carried the ball 49 times for 218 yards and no touchdowns before injury then the WFL folded before the season ended.

In 1974, the Hawaiians fell behind with a 1-7 record after eight games, but they rebounded to go 8-4 and clinch a playoff spot with a 9-11 record.  They were led by quarterbacks Randy Johnson and Norris Weese who combined for over 3100 yards passing and 25 touchdowns.  Johnson was a former NFL veteran.  Weese would later play in the Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos.  Sonny Davis was the teams’ leading rusher with 680 yards and four touchdowns. 

With other teams folding during the season, the league revised the playoff format which ended up allowing the Hawaiians to qualify for the post season.  They stunned the Southern California Sun 32-14 in the quarterfinals but fell short to the Birmingham Americans 22-19.

The Hawaiians were one of only three of the league’s teams who made their payroll in the 1974 season.

In 1975, the Hawaiians finished 4-7 before the league folded.  They played their last game on October 19, 1975 losing to the Southern California Sun 26-7 before 15,905 fans.  The Hawaiians were led by Sonny Sixkiller (yes, that was his name) with 799 yards and seven touchdowns.  Clayton Heath was the leader on the ground with 548 yards and five touchdowns.

I looked up Sixkiller and found he was a Cherokee Indian who played college football at Washington.  In college, he was given the number “6” to go along with his name.  He was not drafted but tried out with the Los Angeles Rams in 1973 and a couple of teams in the Canadian Football League (CFL) before signing with the Philadelphia Bell in 1974.  After playing for the Hawaiians and the folding of the WFL, he tried out for the San Diego Chargers.  He was a cast member in the movie “The Longest Yard”.

The Hawaiians surprisingly held their own in a failing league even with the expensive travel costs in those days.  The franchise might have lasted if the league had survived.  Aside from hosting the NFL Pro Bowl, Hawaii has only had a short-lived indoor football team.  There had been some rumors in the final year of the United States Football League (USFL) that the Denver Gold franchise might move to Hawaii.  

The Hawaiians had flashy uniforms and entertained the islands during the 1974 and 1975 seasons in the WFL.  It’s too bad they didn’t last.