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Today's Tidbit... Mergers And The Continental Football League
Since the APFA formed in 1920 and changed its name to the NFL two years later, many alternative leagues competed with or chose an orbit a level below the NFL. Generally, leagues founded by individuals with deep pockets tried competing with the NFL in bigger cities, while those with humbler beginnings were content operating as minor league teams, often in "lesser" towns.
The history of both types of leagues shows a consistent pattern of failure due to a mix of two reasons. One occurs when a dimwit owner overspends on player acquisition without the revenues to support that strategy, as occurred with the original USFL circa 1985. The other, more common, situation results from the failure to attract paying customers and media so that even the most frugal franchise cannot survive. An example of the latter was the Continental Football League, which took the field between 1965 and 1969.
The CFL started in 1965 with ten franchises on the East Coast, including teams in Montreal and Toronto. Most were remnants of the United Football League and the Atlantic Football League. Since I was a geography major, I will note that it should have been called the Subcontinental Football League at that point, but no one listens to geography majors anyway.
The former baseball commissioner Hap Chandler was the CFL’s first president. Their initial plan was to remain independent of NFL and AFL teams, but they abandoned that posture and Hap Chandler before the 1966 season, taking players on assignment from the big boys. They could not ink a TV deal other than earning $500 for the rights to broadcast the 1966 championship game on ABC's Wide World of Sports.
They added a 7-team Western Division in 1967, including several teams from the Pacific Football League, and stretched from Victoria, BC, to Orange County. Adding a few teams in the East led to a 7-team Atlantic North Division and a 3-team Atlantic South Division. While there was interdivisional play between the Atlantic Divisions, East and West did not meet until the league championship game, when Orlando beat Orange County 38-14.
Another merger occurred in 1968 when the Midwest's Professional Football League of America became the CFL's Midwest Division. Teams dropped like flies, resulting in the Ohio Ironmen and Michigan Arrows playing in the Atlantic Division.
Finally, the CFL became more or less continental in 1969 by bringing in the Texas League, which included the Monterry-based Mexico Golden Aztecs. However, that franchise did not survive to October.
Although the Norfolk franchise averaged 13,000 attendees per game during its time, the Indianapolis-San Antonio championship game was played before only 7,000+ fans. In a league without a television contract, the inability to draw paying customers to games brought on its failure.
Despite the league's financial challenges, it attracted a few coaches on the upward and downward sides of their careers. Bill Walsh, Doak Walker, Lee Rymkus, and Steve Van Buren held the reins for one franchise or another. Notable players include Ken Stabler, Garo Yepremian, Coy Bacon, and Otis Sistrunk, a proud alum of the University of Mars.
Had the league formed during the era of cable television or arena football, perhaps it could have survived in some form, but that was not the case, and the Continental Football League did not see the dawn of the 1970s.
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