Dennis Kuno on the History of the Continental Football League (1965-1969)
Dennis Kuno on the Continental Football League:
First, can you describe what the Continental Football League was and what it’s place in football history is?
The league was formed on the same day as that of the Professional Football League of America. The significance of this I will go into detail later. The Continental Football League was formed by taking the five best franchises of the top minor league of its day, the United Football League, the Quebec Rifles (soon to move from Montreal to become the Toronto Rifles ), the Canton Bulldogs (last champions of the United Football League, soon to move to become the Philadelphia Bulldogs), the Indianapolis Warriors (soon to be moved to become the Fort Wayne Warriors ), the Charleston (West Virginia) Rockets, and the Wheeling ( West Virginia ) Ironmen.
The other five teams came from the second best minor league of its day, the Atlantic Coast Football League, Newark Bears, Hartford Charter Oaks, Richmond Rebels, Springfield Acorns (which soon moved to become the Norfolk Neptunes), and the Providence Steamrollers (whose owner refused to join the new Continental League, the replacement owners formed the Rhode Island Indians in its place and went to Federal Court successfully to unfreeze the contracts of the 1964 team members for the Continental Football League entry).
It was formed from day one to become the third league of major professional football behind the then American and National Football Leagues.
Albert “Happy” Chandler, former Governor and Senator of Kentucky and former major league baseball commissioner became the first commissioner of the Continental Football League in 1965.
How did you get involved in research of the league and form the Booster Club of the Continental Football League?
As a very young amateur researcher of pro football, I found out that the new league did not have a draft its first season. The reason was its rosters already had veteran players, many with major league experience. The only room that could be made for the new league teams was to hold try out camps.
Much of your research is based on the issues the league had battling the NFL. Do you have any examples of this?
It seemed very unusual that a new major league did not have a national television package. I learned later, that for its second season, Monday Night football for ABC was to have originally gone for the Continental Football League with other ABC contracts to follow. The NFL coerced ABC to not follow through with is contract.
Happy Chandler in the meantime had resigned as commissioner, and had he still be in charge, the NFL would never have tried it, not with all his connections to Washington, D.C.. The league also tried to gain a national contract with the United Network-Overmeyer Network, which was quickly absorbed by NBC to also prevent national exposure of the young league.
Other roadblocks were consistently put in the way of the league to gain a national television contract, limiting it to regional coverage.
The NFL after its merger with the AFL, did everything it could to keep the Continental from gaining major league recognition. Many of the players of the new league remained loyal to the league, and despite playing for less (due to no national television contract) remained with their teams. Many Continental players did go to the NFL, AFL, and Canadian teams for more money.
The new NFL teams tried to get the Continental to hide some of its best prospects from rival teams by paying the Continental to allow these players to ride their benches so they did not have to put them onto their taxi rosters. More often than not, they were not good enough to crack the line-ups for the Continental teams, so they did ride the benches for purported six figures just to keep them away from other NFL member teams!
What happened to many of the league’s players after the league folded?
First, there were some great players that played in the Continental Football League. Bill Walsh was the head coach of the San Jose Apaches in 1967. Ken Stabler was a third-string quarterback on a 3-9 team. Otis Sistrunk, Jeff Van Note, Tom Dempsey and former Steeler John Foruria all played in the Continental Football League, and so many others as well.
If you take the time to go through the players section, you can find Pittsburgh Steelers that began their careers in the Continental Football League.
What would surprise people most about the Continental Football League and the football played in general during those days?
Art Rooney was good friends with Wheeling Ironmen owner Mike Lynn. In fact, in 1965, when Wheeling ran out of funds, Art Rooney gave Wheeling his teams’ extra uniforms to use that season.
Another interesting fact – when Brooklyn and Richmond played in 1966, Richmond was trailing 20-14 when Richmond used the sleeper play to beat Brooklyn. The very next day the NFL called a meeting and outlawed that play.
Any last thoughts for readers?
No matter what some antagonists say, the league was a major professional football league. It absorbed the Professional Football League of America before the 1968 seaosn, and the Texas professional Football League beforr the 1969 season, and for four out of five seasons was international in scope. In 1965, with the Toronto Rifles, in 1966 with the Toronto Rifles and Montreal Beavers, in 1967 with the Toronto Rifles, Montreal Beavers, and Victoria Steelers, and in 1969 with the Monterrey Mexico-Mexico Golden Aztecs.