Friday Flashback: Minor League Football System


MLFS League Map for the 1990 Season

In the summer of 1989 a new Minor League Football organization emerged with hopes to be the official feeder league for the National Football League (NFL).  With the demise of the United States Football League (USFL) the Minor League Football System (MFLS) made an attempt to fill that niche.

One of the unique aspects of the league was that the league did not pay its players so that college-age players could maintain their eligibility.   Instead of paying the players, the league became a temp agency in trying to find employment for the players and provide housing during the season.

The league’s first commissioner was Roger Wehrli who had played 14 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL.

The league kicked off in the summer of 1989 with 11 teams in Charlotte (NC), Harrisburg (PA), Pocono (PA), Fairfax (VA), Palm Beach (FL), San Jose (CA), Colorado Springs (CO), Pueblo (CO), St. Louis (MO), Hayward (CA) and Seattle (WA).   The Pueblo Crusaders won the championship.

You can watch video from the 1989 championship game here:  Pueblo vs. Colorado Springs

1989 Final Standings:

  • Eastern Division
    • Charlotte Barons (12-0)
    • Harrisburg Patriots (6-4)
    • Pocono Stallions (3-7)
    • Virginia Storm (3-7)
    • Florida Renegades (2-8)
  • Western Division
    • San Jose Bandits  (7-3)
    • Colorado Springs Spirit (8-4)
    • Pueblo Crusaders (6-4)
    • St. Louis Riverboat Gamblers (6-6)
    • Hayward Outlaws (6-6)
    • Seattle Express (1-11)
  • Playoffs:
    • Pueblo 20, Harrisburg 7
    • Colorado Springs 35, St. Louis 24
    • Colorado Springs 19, San Jose 7
    • Pueblo 20, Charlotte 12
    • Pueblo 21, Colorado Springs 14

There were some changes going into the 1990 season as Bay State (MA) and Macon (GA) were added.  Pocono moved to Scranton (PA), St. Louis moved to Oklahoma City (OK), Hayward moved to Sacramento (CA), San Jose moved to Fresno (CA) and Seattle moved to Tacoma (WA).  The league limped along to finish the season as Charlotte claimed the championship after a revised playoff.

1990 Final Standings:

  • Eastern Division
    • Charlotte Barons (8-1)
    • Bay State Titans (8-2)
    • Middle Georgia Heat Wave (6-4)
    • Florida Renegades (4-7)
    • Harrisburg Patriots (2-8)
    • Scranton Stallions (2-9)
  • Western Division
    • Pueblo Crusaders (8-1)
    • Colorado Springs Spirit (7-1)
    • Oklahoma City Twisters (7-2)
    • Fresno Bandits (4-6)
    • Tacoma Express (1-7)
    • California Outlaws (0-9)
  • Playoffs:
    • Charlotte 21, Bay State 20
    • Pueblo 21, Oklahoma City 10
    • Charlotte 24, Pueblo 18

The NFL’s creation of World League of American Football (WLAF) doomed the league’s chances of becoming a minor league for the NFL and the MLFS folded.

The MFLS had some quality coaches with Ray Hamilton (Bay State) former player for the New England Patriots, Lou Saban (Middle Georgia) former coach for the Buffalo Bills, Darryl Rogers (Oklahoma City) former coach of the Detroit Lions and Walt Michaels (Scranton) who previously coached for the New York Jets.

The league had planned to expand to Boise (ID), Lincoln (NE), Salem (OR), Albany (NY) and Denver (CO) with hopes to eventually match the number of franchises in the NFL.

The WLAF began play in 1991 as the NFL’s developmental league which eventually became NFL Europe.  The league folded after the 2007 season.

Friday Flashback:  Continental Football League

Several leagues have been formed in hopes to become a developmental league for the National Football League (NFL).  One of the first leagues to do this was the Continental Football League (CFL) which was formed in 1965 with the merger of several regional minor leagues. In the beginning, teams were averaging nearly 15,000 per game.  The Norfolk Neptunes led the league and had a single-game record of 22,050 fans.  

The league lasted from 1965-1969.  In 1967, the league was troubled with instability as several teams moved or folded.  

During their existence, the league did stay true to their “continental” name with franchises in Canada (Montreal, Toronto) and Mexico (Monterrey) as well as teams spread throughout the United States.    The league had 22 teams during their five years of existence.  The most successful teams were the Norfolk Neptunes, Orlando Panthers, Charleston Rockets and Indianapolis Capitols.

The league was never able to become the “farm system” for the NFL-AFL.  With the eventual merger between them NFL and AFL, the league was not able to remain stable.  The Indianapolis Captiols tried to bid for the services of O.J. Simpson but there was little financial strength left for the league to survive.

Some of the league’s most notable players and coaches were:

  • Bill Walsh coached the San Jose Apaches in 1967.
  • Ken Stabler was the quarterback for the Spokane Shockers in 1968.
  • Coy Bacon played for the Charleston Rockets in 1965-67.
  • Otis Sistrunk played for the Norfolk Neptunes in 1969.
  • Sam Wyche played quarterback for the Wheeling Ironmen in 1966.
  • Kicker Garo Yepremian played for the Michigan Arrows in 1968.

Championship Game Results:

  • 1965 – Charleston Rockets 24, Toronto Rifles 7
  • 1966 – Philadelphia Bulldogs 10, Orlando Panthers 3 (ot)
  • 1967 – Orlando Panthers 38, Orange County Ramblers 14
  • 1968 – Orlando Panthers 51, Orange County Ramblers 10
  • 1969 – Indianapolis Capitols 44, San Antonio Toros 38 (ot)

In 1969 the Alabama Hawks played a pre-season game against the Atlanta Falcons’ rookies and lost 55-0.