Continental Football League

Last updated

Continental Football League
Sport American football
No. of teams22
CountriesUnited States
Indianapolis Capitols
Most titles Orlando Panthers (2)
United Football League, North Pacific Football League, Professional Football League of America, Texas Football League, Trans-American Football League

The Continental Football League (COFL) was a professional American football league that operated in North America from 1965 through 1969. It was established following the collapse of the original United Football League, and hoped to become the major force in professional football outside the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL). It owed its name, at least in part, to the Continental League, a proposed third Major League Baseball organization that influenced MLB significantly, despite the fact they never played a game.


Four Continental Football League contributors are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the most of any league not considered a major league: coach Bill Walsh, quarterback Ken Stabler, Doak Walker and Steve Van Buren (the last two of whom were inducted as players but were coaches in this league). Sam Wyche, Bob Kuechenberg, Garo Yepremian and Otis Sistrunk were among the other players and coaches who would later gain fame in the NFL, while a few others, such as Don Jonas and Tom Wilkinson, would emerge as stars in the Canadian Football League.


1965 season

The formation of the Continental Football League (COFL) was announced on February 6, 1965. The league was primarily formed by minor-league teams that had played in the United Football League and Atlantic Coast Football League. [1]

A. B. "Happy" Chandler, former Kentucky governor, U.S. senator, and retired Major League Baseball commissioner, was named COFL commissioner on March 17, 1965. [2]

The league originally adopted a "professional" appearance. Teams were sorted into two divisions and each team had a 36-man roster with a five-man "taxi" squad. The rules were primarily those of the NFL except that a "sudden death" overtime period was employed to break ties, which was not part of the NFL during the regular season at that time.

To reinforce an image of league autonomy, teams were restricted from loaning players to, or receiving optioned players from, the NFL or AFL.

The first COFL season opened with three games played on August 14, 1965. Before the season began, the Springfield, Massachusetts, franchise moved to Norfolk, Virginia. The Norfolk club went on to become the most successful team in the league at the box office and held several minor league attendance records throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

1966 season

Eastern Division

Western Division

In 1966, the league began abandoning the "league autonomy" posture by striving to establish working relationships with NFL and AFL clubs. Commissioner Chandler, charging that the league was altering the terms under which he had accepted the position, resigned on January 20, 1966. He was replaced by COFL Secretary Sol Rosen, owner of the Newark Bears. Rosen sold the Bears to Tom Granatell, who promptly moved the team to Orlando.

The league engaged in some unsuccessful preseason negotiations with the Empire Sports Network to obtain a television broadcasting agreement. However, it was able to get ABC to broadcast the championship game on the Wide World of Sports ; ABC paid the league $500 for the rights to the game. [3]

The Brooklyn Dodgers, although under the general managership of baseball Dodgers player Jackie Robinson, [4] failed to attract at the gate. Part of the problem was that they were playing nowhere near Brooklyn: their home games were at Downing Stadium on Randall's Island.

Evidently, the Dodgers had trouble securing home dates at Downing; a season-ticket application showed only five home games [5] in a fourteen-game schedule. In any event, small crowds (only 29,500 combined for four games, including 12,000 for an exhibition contest) caused the franchise to become a league-operated "road club" in October; one home game against Hartford was moved to Connecticut, and their final "home" contest was shifted to Memorial Stadium in Mount Vernon, New York. [6]

Charleston's Coy Bacon, 1966 COFL All-Star end, went on to play for the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins.

The league also established farm team relationships with semi-pro clubs (for instance, the Dodgers affiliated with the Liberty Football Conference's Long Island Jets in 1966). [7]

 x  = Division Champion y  = Clinched playoff berth

Eastern Division
xy-Toronto Rifles 950.643344280
y-Philadelphia Bulldogs 950.643410355
Norfolk Neptunes 860.571297294
Hartford Charter Oaks 680.429293353
Brooklyn Dodgers 590.357296359
Western Division
xy-Orlando Panthers 1220.857485227
y-Charleston Rockets 1040.714357267
Montreal Beavers 770.500317331
Richmond Rebels 4100.286229367
Wheeling Ironmen 0140.000205400

Home team in CAPITALS


League Championship (December 4, 1966)

1967 season

Atlantic North Division

Atlantic South Division

Western Division

The COFL added a Pacific Division for the 1967 season, adding three teams from the Pacific Football League to its ranks - Eugene Bombers (Oregon), Seattle Rangers (Washington) and Victoria Steelers (British Columbia), while the rest of the division comprised from four minor-league teams in California. The Pacific Division was basically a league-within-a-league and played exclusively against other Pacific Division opponents. The remaining teams in the league split into an Atlantic North Division and an Atlantic South Division.

Two of the small western franchises, in Eugene, Oregon and San Jose, California, left the league after the season, while the franchise in Long Beach only played one game before folding. The Toronto Rifles actually folded mid-season, under unusual circumstances: the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League raided the Rifles roster and signed away the Rifles head coach, starting quarterback and starting running back, leaving the team unable to continue.

The remnants of the Brooklyn Dodgers were sold to Frank Hurn, who moved the team to Akron, Ohio as the Akron Vulcans. Hurn used only $2,000 of his own money and $50,000 of Chicago Outfit funding to buy the team and swindled numerous businessmen into providing lavish benefits for his team for which he would never pay. Under Hurn, the team lost $100,000 after just three weeks of play, forcing his big-budget head coaches, Doak Walker and Lou Rymkus, to front their own money to keep the team afloat; Hurn never paid the either the coaches or players for their services, and the Wheeling Ironmen ended up paying the Vulcans' salaries for what would be the Vulcans' fourth and final game in order to avoid a strike. Hurn would later amass a long record of criminal activity after his time in Akron. [8]

Such instability marked the season for the COFL, particularly because the league could not improve upon its overall "semi-pro" public image. Inability to establish working relationships with NFL and AFL teams was a contributing factor. The league's breakthrough television contract with the upstart United Network was another: the network ended up folding prior to the 1967 season it was supposed to broadcast, leaving the COFL without a television partner yet again. [3] [9] [10]

The San Jose Apaches in 1967 were coached by Bill Walsh, who later achieved great success as the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.

W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against

 x  = Division Champion

Atlantic North Division
x-Norfolk Neptunes 1130.786422289
Hartford Charter Oaks 570.417211260
Montreal Beavers 480.333175278
Toronto Rifles 140.2503952
Akron Vulcans 130.2505984
Atlantic South Division
x-Orlando Panthers 1130.786422290
Charleston Rockets 680.429292224
Wheeling Ironmen 590.357252395
Pacific Division
x-Orange County Ramblers 1020.833394104
San Jose Apaches 840.667310150
Seattle Rangers 760.538248236
Eugene Bombers 660.500239260
Victoria Steelers 480.333120268
Sacramento Buccaneers 2100.167110352
Long Beach Admirals 010.0001337

Home team in CAPITALS

Atlantic Playoff

League Championship (December 10, 1967)

1968 season

Atlantic Division

Central Division

Pacific Division

In February 1968, the COFL merged with the Professional Football League of America (PFLA), in order to expand into the midwestern United States. [11] The Quad Cities franchise moved to Las Vegas after losing their first two games.

Danny Hill succeeded Rosen as COFL commissioner. Hill established a weekly payroll ceiling of $200 per player and $5,000 per team.

Ken Stabler played two games for the Spokane Shockers in 1968. Stabler later became the Continental league's first Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee as a player through his work with the Oakland Raiders of the NFL.

The Michigan Arrows began their season with a soccer-style kicker named Garo Yepremian, who had played the previous season with the Detroit Lions but had found himself out of work because of military service. Yepremian later found Super Bowl fame in the NFL as a member of the Miami Dolphins.

On September 8, 1968, Glen Hepburn, a two-way player for the Omaha Mustangs, suffered an in-game injury from which he died four days later; it would be the only fatality in the league's history.

The Orange County Ramblers were featured in the 1968 film Skidoo , in a credited role as stand-ins for a nude Green Bay Packers team. The Ramblers offense is seen, from behind, wearing nothing but helmets, during a scene in which a security guard is hallucinating due to the effects of LSD.

W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, PCT= Winning Percentage, PF= Points For, PA = Points Against

 x  = Division Champion

Atlantic Division
x-Orlando Panthers 1020.833378160
Ohio Valley Ironmen 930.750388257
Charleston Rockets 830.727287180
Norfolk Neptunes 750.583361222
Alabama Hawks 570.417264233
Michigan Arrows 1110.083130418
Central Division
x-Indianapolis Capitols 840.667300169
Omaha Mustangs 750.583242261
Chicago Owls 660.500284241
Oklahoma City Plainsmen560.455199265
Arkansas Diamonds 2100.167177425
Quad Cities/Las Vegas 1110.083120409
Quad Cities Raiders 020.0001584
Pacific Division
x-Orange County Ramblers 1110.917331146
Seattle Rangers 750.583302206
Sacramento Capitols 570.417218248
Spokane Shockers 390.250163302

Home team in CAPITALS


League Championship (November 30, 1968)

1969 season

Jim Dunn replaced Hill as league commissioner for the 1969 season.

The league expanded into Texas by absorbing the Texas Football League, which also brought the first and, to date, only team from Mexico to play in a professional American football league, the Mexico Golden Aztecs (whose owner, Red McCombs, would later buy the NFL's Minnesota Vikings). Midway through the season, the Hawaii franchise moved to Portland, Oregon.

The COFL entered the 1969 season with high hopes. That optimism was exemplified by the Orlando Panthers' bidding for the services of the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner, halfback O. J. Simpson of the University of Southern California (USC). The Panthers made an offer of $400,000 (nearly double the entire team's salary) for Simpson to play for the Panthers if his negotiations with the Buffalo Bills fell through; they did not, and Simpson signed with Buffalo for the 1969 season. [12]

But COFL attendance averaged approximately 5,700 spectators per game (the top attended team, Norfolk, had 13,000), insufficient to offset the lack of a TV contract. These economics contributed to the ultimate demise of the league after the 1969 season. Plans for an interleague exhibition between the COFL champion Capitols and the Canadian Football League champion Ottawa Rough Riders had been laid, but the Rough Riders backed out.

The Alabama Hawks played a pre-season game against the NFL's Atlanta Falcons rookies, losing 55–0.

The Indianapolis Capitols featured a rookie quarterback named Johnnie Walton during the 1969 season. Walton would become a regular in second-tier professional football; after several failed attempts to get onto an NFL roster in the early 1970s, Walton got his break in the World Football League, starting for the San Antonio Wings in 1975. Walton would spend the 1976–79 seasons as an NFL backup, then came out of retirement in 1983 to lead the Boston Breakers of the United States Football League.

COFL's alum Don Jonas did not reach the NFL, but instead chose to play in Canada after the 1969 season. As Orlando Panthers quarterback, he played four seasons before joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (CFL). Jonas led Orlando to the 1967 and 1968 COFL championships, and was named the league's Most Valuable Player for each season. He also paced the Panthers to the 1966 championship game, which they lost to Philadelphia in overtime; and to the COFL semifinal game in 1969. Don was inducted into the American Football Association's Semi Pro Hall of Fame in 1983. Many CFL teams used the COFL as a developmental league sending players that need time to improve their skills.

Obert "Butch" Logan, a receiver, defensive back and player-coach, played his penultimate season in professional football with the Continental league's San Antonio Toros. Logan is notable for being the last professional football player to wear the singular jersey number zero (two others, Ken Burrough and Jim Otto, would wear a double zero, 00, into the 1970s).

The end of the COFL

A number of franchises folded or defected during and after the conclusion of the 1969 season, making the end of the COFL all but inevitable.

Championship games

SeasonDateWinning TeamScoreLosing TeamMVPVenueAttendance
1965November 28, 1965Charleston Rockets24–7 Toronto Rifles n/a Laidley Field 7,100
1966December 4, 1966 Philadelphia Bulldogs 10–3 (OT) Orlando Panthers n/a Temple Stadium 5,226
1967December 10, 1967Orlando Panthers38-14 Orange County Ramblers n/a Anaheim Stadium 8,730
1968November 30, 1968Orlando Panthers51–10Orange County Ramblersn/a Tangerine Bowl 10,134
1969December 13, 1969 Indianapolis Capitols 44-38 (OT) San Antonio Toros n/a Bush Stadium 7,019

Notable people and achievements

Coach of the Year

League MVP awards

Rookie of the Year

Pro Football Hall of Fame alumni

* Inducted as a player

See also

Related Research Articles

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The 1969 COFL season was the fifth and final season of the Continental Football League (COFL). Following the season, nine of the league's remaining teams split from the league, with five forming the Trans-American Football League and four joining the Atlantic Coast Football League.

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