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:  Middle Georgia Heat Wave

Heat Wave was a fitting name for a football team in Macon, Georgia which began its first season in 1990.  The Heat Wave was one of 12 franchises in the Minor League Football System (MLFS) in its second season of play and attempting to become a developmental league for the National Football League (NFL).

The league was unique in that they did not pay players but found jobs for them and provided housing for them during the season.  This was also an attempt at helping players that still had college eligibility.

The Heat Wave made news right from the start when they hired quick-tempered Lou Saban as their head coach.  Saban had coached the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.  The team also hired NFL-veteran Julius Adams to be their defense coordinator.  

The opening game roster included WR Scotty Barron (Georgia Tech), QB Tony Constantine (Tennessee Tech), RB Donnie Harrell (Valdosta State) and Fred Davis, Jr. (Tulane).   Constantine was quickly replaced by Shannon Boyd who kept the starting job for the rest of the season.

The Heat Wave played an exhibition game against a touring team of football players from Moscow.  The Heat Wave won the game 28-0 in a game which was called in the fourth quarter due to a severe storm which chased away 2,300 spectators that were in attendance.

Four games into the season, Saban resigned due to irreconcilable differences with team management.  Adams was named the head coach for the remainder of the season. 

Middle Georgia was on their way to the playoffs when the league abruptly made changes to shorten the regular season by two games and postseason plans when two teams folded.  The Heat Wave suddenly found their final regular season game against Bay State needing a win to qualify for the playoffs.

One yard separated the Heat Wave from the playoffs.  They battled back from a 16-0 deficit to cut the lead to 23-17.  On their final possession, they moved the ball to the Bay State 1-yard-line with one minute left in the game but were denied as the Titans held on to escape with the win and the playoff berth.

The Heat Wave finished at 6-4 and enjoyed the third-highest attendance in the league with 3,500 per game.

Middle Georgia had planned to return in 1991 but when three more teams folded at the end of the season, the team found themselves without a stable to league and folded.  The MLFS attempt to become a developmental league for the NFL was denied when the World League of American Football (WLAF) was launched.  

1990 Results:

  • Charlotte 20, Middle Georgia 7 (Exhibition)
  • Middle Georgia 28, Moscow 0 (Exhibition)
  • Bay State 13, Middle Georgia 11
  • Middle Georgia 21, Scranton 7
  • Oklahoma City 25, Middle Georgia 0
  • Middle Georgia 25, Florida 7
  • Middle Georgia 23, Scranton 10
  • Middle Georgia 27, Harrisburg 3
  • Colorado Springs 30, Middle Georgia 9
  • Middle Georgia 16, Florida 12
  • Middle Georgia 27, Harrisburg 14
  • Bay State 23, Middle Georgia 17
  • Charlotte (cancelled)
  • Charlotte (cancelled)