Continental Football League

Continental Football League
Continental Football League
Sport American football
Founded 1965
No. of teams 22
Country(ies) United States
Ceased 1969

The Continental Football League was a professional minor 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 of 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.

Bill Walsh, Ken Stabler, Sam Wyche and Otis Sistrunk were among a few players and coaches who would later gain fame in the NFL.


Championship games

  • 1965 — Charleston (W.Va.) Rockets 24-7 Toronto Rifles
  • 1966 — Philadelphia Bulldogs 20-17 (OT) Orlando Panthers[1]
  • 1967 — Orlando Panthers 38-14 Orange County Ramblers
  • 1968 — Orlando Panthers 30-23 Orange County Ramblers
  • 1969 — Indianapolis Capitols 44-38 (OT) San Antonio Toros


1965 season

  • Charleston (W.Va.) Rockets
  • Fort Wayne Warriors
  • Hartford Charter Oaks
  • Newark Bears
  • Philadelphia Bulldogs
  • Providence/Rhode Island Indians
  • Richmond (Va.) Rebels
  • Springfield (Mass.) Acorns / Norfolk Neptunes
  • Toronto Rifles
  • Wheeling Ironmen[2]

The formation of the Continental Football League (ContFL) was announced on February 6, 1965. The league was primarily formed by minor-league teams that had played in the United and Atlantic Coast football leagues.[3]

A.B. "Happy" Chandler, former Kentucky governor and retired Major League Baseball commissioner, was named ContFL commissioner on March 17, 1965.

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.

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 ContFL 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

  • Brooklyn Dodgers
  • Charleston Rockets
  • Hartford Charter Oaks
  • Montreal Beavers
  • Norfolk Neptunes
  • Orlando Panthers
  • Philadelphia Bulldogs
  • Richmond Rebels
  • Toronto Rifles
  • Wheeling Ironmen

In 1966, the league began abandoning the "league autonomy" posture by striving to establish working relationships with NFL and AFL clubs. Chandler, charging that the league was altering the terms under which he had accepted the position, resigned on Jan. 20, 1966. He was replaced by ContFL Secretary Sol Rosen, owner of the Newark Bears.

The league engaged in some futile preseason negotiations with the Empire Sports Network to obtain a television broadcasting agreement. However, it was able to get American Broadcasting Company to broadcast the championship game-- for a mere $500 rights fee.[4]

The Brooklyn Dodgers, although under the general managership of the baseball Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson,[5] failed to attract at the gates. The franchise became a league-operated "road club" early in the season.

Charleston's Coy Bacon, 1966 ContFL 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).[6]

1967 season


  • Akron Vulcans
  • Charleston Rockets
  • Hartford Charter Oaks
  • Montreal Beavers
  • Norfolk Neptunes
  • Orlando Panthers
  • Philadelphia Bulldogs
  • Richmond Rebels
  • Toronto Rifles
  • Wheeling Ironmen


  • Eugene Bombers
  • Long Beach Admirals
  • Orange County Ramblers (Anaheim, California)
  • Sacramento Buccaneers
  • San Jose Apaches
  • Seattle Rangers
  • Victoria Steelers

The ContFL added a Western Division for the 1967 season. The division comprised established minor-league teams in British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington. But four small western franchises, in Eugene, Oregon, Long Beach and San Jose, Calif. and Victoria, B.C., left the league after the season.

Such instability marked the season for the ContFL, 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, leaving the ContFL without a television partner yet again.[4][7][8]

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.

1968 season

  • Alabama Hawks (Huntsville, Alabama)
  • Arkansas Diamonds (Little Rock)
  • Charleston Rockets
  • Chicago Owls
  • Indianapolis Capitols
  • Michigan Arrows (Detroit)
  • Norfolk Neptunes
  • Ohio Valley Ironmen (Wheeling, W.Va.)
  • Oklahoma City Plainsmen
  • Omaha Mustangs
  • Orange County Ramblers
  • Orlando Panthers
  • Quad Cities Raiders / Las Vegas Cowboys
  • Sacramento Capitols
  • Seattle Rangers
  • Spokane Shockers

In February 1968, the ContFL merged with the Professional Football League of America (PFLA), in order to expand into the midwestern United States.[9] The Quad Cities franchise moved to Las Vegas midway through the 1968 season.

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

The Spokane Shockers started the 1968 season with a young quarterback named Ken Stabler, who later achieved great success with the Oakland Raiders of the NFL.

The Michigan Arrows began their season with a soccer-style kicker named Garo Yepremian, who later found Super Bowl fame in the NFL as a member of the Miami Dolphins.

1969 season

  • Alabama Hawks (Huntsville, Alabama)
  • Arkansas Diamonds
  • Chicago Owls
  • Dallas Rockets
  • Fort Worth Braves
  • Hawaii Warriors Honolulu / Portland Loggers
  • Indianapolis Capitols
  • Jersey Jays (Newark, N.J.)
  • Las Vegas Cowboys
  • Mexico Golden Aztecs
  • Norfolk Neptunes
  • Ohio Valley Ironmen
  • Oklahoma Thunderbirds (Tulsa)
  • Omaha Mustangs
  • Orlando Panthers
  • Sacramento Capitols
  • San Antonio Toros
  • Seattle Rangers
  • Spokane Shockers
  • Texarkana Titans
  • Tri-City Apollos (Midland, Mich.)
  • West Texas Rufneks (Odessa-Midland)

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. Midway through the season, the Hawaii franchise moved to Portland, Oregon

The ContFL 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. [10]

But ContFL 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 ContFL champion Capitols and the Canadian Football League champion Ottawa Rough Riders had been laid, but the Rough Riders backed out.

The ContFL's most illustrious alumnus didn't make his mark in the NFL, but instead chose to play in Canada after the 1969 season. Don Jonas, Orlando Panthers quarterback, was a dominant force in the ContFL for four seasons before joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (CFL).

Jonas led Orlando to the 1967 and 1968 ContFL 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 ContFL semifinal game in 1969. Don was inducted into the American Football Association's Semi Pro Hall of Fame in 1983

The league's fate was eventually sealed when Indianapolis, Jersey, Norfolk and Orlando moved to the Atlantic Coast Football League for the 1970 season. San Antonio and Fort Worth planned on launching a Trans-American Football League in 1970.[11] There had been intentions for Spokane, Portland, Seattle and Sacramento to play a West Coast circuit for 1970 under the Continental League banner, but by August 1970, teams had gone silent about the prospects of a 1970 season. The league apparently never made an official announcement of its cessation of operations.[12]


  1. ^ "A Roundup Of The Sports Information Of The Week". Sports Illustrated. December 12, 1966. Retrieved January 8, 2011. "Jamie Caleb kicked a 10-yard field goal after 9:15 of sudden-death overtime to give the PHILADELPHIA BULLDOGS a 20-17 victory over the Orlando Panthers in the league's championship game." 
  2. ^ "Pro Football On A Shoestring". Sports Illustrated. December 15, 1968. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  3. ^ "A Roundup Of The Sports Information Of The Week". Sports Illustrated. February 15, 1965. Retrieved January 8, 2011. "MILEPOSTS—LAUNCHED: The Continental League, a 10-team professional football league to be made up mostly of bits and pieces from the Atlantic Coast and United (now defunct) Football Leagues." 
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ "A Roundup Of The Sports Information Of The Week". Sports Illustrated. May 9, 1966. Retrieved January 8, 2011. "HIRED: JACKIE ROBINSON, 47, former Brooklyn Dodger baseball star, as general manager of the new Brooklyn Dodger professional football team of the Continental League." 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The Fourth Steps Forth". Sports Illustrated. August 15, 1966. Retrieved January 8, 2011. 
  8. ^ "New TV Chain Gets Continental League". Fresno Bee. Associated Press. November 23, 1966. 
  9. ^ "Continental, Professional Leagues Join". Chicago Tribune: p. C2. February 5, 1968. 
  10. ^,6207410&dq=continental-football-league&hl=en
  11. ^,2825814&dq=trans-american+football+league&hl=en
  12. ^,488619&dq=continental-football-league&hl=en

See also

  • List of leagues of American football

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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