Birmingham Fire

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Birmingham Fire
Birmingham Fire logo
Logo
Year founded 1991
Year retired 1992
City Birmingham, Alabama
Team colors Navy, Gold, Crimson, White
Franchise W-L-T record Regular Season: 12–7–1 Postseason: 0–2
Championships
World Bowls (0)

The Birmingham Fire were a professional American football team based in Birmingham, Alabama. They were a member of the North American West of the World League of American Football (WLAF) and played their home games at Legion Field. The club was a charter member of the WLAF, and was under the ownership of Gavin Maloof. Led by head coach Chan Gailey, the Fire saw moderate success as they compiled an overall record of twelve wins, nine losses and one tie (12–9–1) and made the playoffs in both seasons they competed. The franchise folded in September 1992 when the NFL placed the league on an indefinite hiatus.

Formation[edit]

In June 1989, WLAF president Tex Schramm and other league officials met with Birmingham leaders to discuss the possibility of fielding a team at Legion Field.[1] At that time Schramm stated the Birmingham was under consideration for a franchise based on its past support of the Americans/Vulcans of the World Football League and the Stallions of the United States Football League.[1] The following July, the National Football League (NFL) owners voted to approve the formation of the WLAF in an effort to expand the sport outside of the United States.[2] At the time of the announcement the league was envisioned to have twelve teams with London, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Milan, New York City, Montreal, Mexico City and Northern California as being already selected for franchises.[2] Birmingham was identified as a contender for one of the final four franchises along with Nashville, San Antonio and Orlando.[2]

On April 18, 1990, Birmingham became the second city in the United States officially awarded a franchise after the Orlando Thunder to compete in the inaugural WLAF season.[3][4] At the time of the announcement, Schramm reiterated past support for professional football in Birmingham was a major reason for its selection for a franchise.[4] An group headed by former Houston Rockets president Gavin Maloof was revealed as owners of the Birmingham franchise in November 1990. At that time the league reaffirmed it would begin play in March 1991 with ten teams, and that Birmingham would compete as a member of the North American West division with the Sacramento Surge and the San Antonio Riders.[5] On December 6, Michael Huyghue was introduced as general manager, and at the time of his being hired, he was the first African American general manager of a professional football team.[6] On December 21, 1990, Chan Gailey was introduced as the first head coach of the Fire.[7]

1991 season[edit]

In February 1991, the WLAF held its inaugural draft, and unlike the NFL Draft, the WLAF version was carried out with individual positions being drafted over a period of several days.[8] Offensive linemen were drafted on February 14; running backs, punters and placekickers on February 16; quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends on February 18; defensive linemen on February 20; linebackers on February 22; and defensive backs on February 24.[8] The most notable player drafted by the Fire was when they selected Brent Pease with the first overall selection in the quarterbacks draft.[9] Training camp started shortly thereafter, and in mid-March the Fire lost to San Antonio in a controlled scrimmage at San Marcos, Texas.[10]

The Fire played their first game on March 23 against the Montreal Machine at Legion Field.[11] Although they lost 20–5, an attendance of over 53,000 resulted in the start of the game being delayed 21 minutes to allow fans into the stadium as only two gates were open at the time.[12] The next week, the Fire won their first game against the Sacramento Surge.[13] The 17–10 win only drew 16,000 spectators, but the featured a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown by John Miller.[13] The team then alternated pairs of wins and losses over their remaining eight regular season games. The first pair of losses came on the road against Montreal and at home against the London Monarchs. In their first all-time road game, Birmingham lost to the Machine 23–10 before 27,766 fans at Olympic Stadium.[14] One week later, they suffered their only shutout of the season in their 27–0 loss against eventual World Bowl champion London.[15] Birmingham then rebounded with a 31–6 road win at the Orlando Thunder and a 16–12 with at home against San Antonio to even their overall record at 3–3.[16][17]

The Fire then lost both of the games played in Europe, and as a result their record dropped to 3–5. The first loss came against the Barcelona Dragons in an 11–6 defeat and against the Frankfurt Galaxy in their 10–3 loss at the Waldstadion.[18][19] In their final home game of the season, Birmingham defeated the New York/New Jersey Knights 24–14 to put the team in contention for the last playoff spot as they entered the final week of the regular season.[20] In their regular season finale the Fire defeated the Raleigh–Durham Skyhawks 28–7, and clinched a spot in the first WLAF playoffs as the winners of the North American West division with a 5–5 record.[21] In the WLAF semifinals, Birmingham lost for the second time in the season to Barcelona 10–3 at Legion Field to finish their inaugural season with a final record of 5–6.[22]

In the buildup to their playoff game in the months that followed, the Fire started their effort to host World Bowl '92 at Legion Field.[23] In the formal request for the event, team ownership indicated they were willing to undertake a $12 million renovation of the facility that would increase the seating capacity from 72,000 to 80,000, add luxury skyboxes and a giant TV scoreboard.[23] Ultimately the league awarded the game to Montreal in December 1991.[24] Michael Huyghue resigned as general manager on June 20 to take a position in the WLAF front office.[25]

1992 season[edit]

In December 1991, Rick Nichols was hired from the Houston Oilers to serve as general manager of the Fire.[26] In February 1992, the league held its second annual draft and Birmingham made 29 selection during its two days.[27][28] In addition to those players drafted, an additional six players were allocated to the Fire from NFL teams that retained their overall rights.[29] By March, the team was again in training camp, but this season had an official preseason game to play against the London Monarchs. In this game, the Fire lost 14–13, and in a first in professional sports the loss could be utilized as a potential tiebreaker in order to determine playoff eligibility.[30][31]

The Fire opened the season for the second consecutive season with a loss in their opening game, and on the road at Sacramento, Birmingham lost 20–6.[32] They then rebounded by going undefeated over the four games that followed. After a 17–10 victory in their home opener against San Antonio, Birmingham earned their first all-time win in Europe with a 17–7 win at Frankfurt.[33][34] The next week, Birmingham tied London 17–17 at Wembley Stadium. The draw was both the first in the history of the World League, and remained as the only one until Berlin and Hamburg battled to a 17–17 tie as part of NFL Europe in 2006.[35][36] The Fire returned from Europe and defeated Sacramento 28–14 in a rematch of their week one matchup.[37] In week six, Birmingham lost 17–10 on the road to division rival San Antonio before they ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak.[38]

Against Barcelona, the Fire withstood a fourth quarter comeback and defeated the Dragons for the first time in franchise history 19–7.[39] The next week, Birmingham defeated Montreal for the first time and also won their first overtime game with their 23–16 victory over the Machine.[40] A failed two-point conversion gave the Fire a 24–23 victory over Orlando and a comeback, 27–24 victory at the Ohio Glory in the final game of the season allowed Birmingham to qualify for the playoffs as a wild card.[41][42] In their semifinals appearance, numerous turnovers resulted in a 45–7 defeat at Orlando to finish the season with a record of 7–3–1.[43]

Season-by-season records[edit]

Season League Regular season Postseason
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
1991 WLAF 5 5 0 .500 1st (North American West) 0 1 .000 Lost to Barcelona Dragons in semifinal
1992 WLAF 7 2 1 .750 2nd (North American West) 0 1 .000 Lost to Orlando Thunder in semifinal
Total 12 7 1 .625 0 2 .000

Dissolution[edit]

In August 1992, Maloof sold the franchise back to the league.[44] At that time league officials asked former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr to help find a new ownership group in Alabama.[44] On September 17, 1992, the NFL decided to place the WLAF on an indefinite hiatus.[45] The owners stated that the decision was made to shutter the league at that time in an effort to save money to settle potential class action lawsuits brought about by players in the wake of Plan B free agency being declared illegal.[45] The NFL stated that when the league was reestablished it would be focused on European markets with no more than one or two teams envisioned for play in the United States.[45]

Life after the WLAF[edit]

After the dissolution of the franchise, several of its former coaches and front office personnel moved onto other endeavors. Chan Gailey was named the head coach at Samford University in January 1992 to replace the departed Terry Bowden.[46] When he left to re-enter the NFL after only one season with the Bulldogs, he was replaced by former Fire offensive line coach Pete Hurt.[47] Gailey went on to become the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Buffalo Bills.[48] Former owner Gavin Maloof joined his brother in the late 1990s to become owners of the National Basketball Association's Sacramento Kings.[49]

In 1995 World League returned after a two-year hiatus, and the Fire nickname was resurrected in Düsseldorf, Germany as the Rhein Fire.[50] Professional football returned to Birmingham in 1995 when the Canadian Football League (CFL) awarded what became the Birmingham Barracudas as part of their CFL USA expansion.[51]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "New league interested in Birmingham". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). June 22, 1989. p. C1. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Global N.F.L. game plan: New league, new lands". The New York Times (New York: NYTimes.com). July 20, 1989. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Birmingham gets World League team". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles: LATimes.com). Associated Press. April 17, 1990. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b "Birmingham logical choice for Schramm, new league". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. April 19, 1990. p. D1. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Franchise report for World League". The New York Times (New York: NYTimes.com). Associated Press. November 15, 1990. Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  6. ^ "First black football GM named in Birmingham". The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland: BaltimoreSun.com). December 7, 1990. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Birmingham hires Gailey". TimesDaily (Florence, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. December 22, 1990. p. 3B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Brown, Ben (February 12, 1991). "WLAF ready to hire players". USA Today (McLean, Virginia: Lexis Nexis). p. 1B. 
  9. ^ "Ex-Montana star goes first in WLAF Draft". Spokane Chronicle (Spokane, Washington: Google News). February 19, 1991. p. C2. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  10. ^ Griffin, Tim (March 14, 1991). "Riders outscore Birmingham in controlled scrimmage". San Antonio Express-News (San Antonio: Newsbank). Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  11. ^ Felts, Jerry (March 25, 1991). "Montreal extinguishes Fire". TimesDaily (Florence, Alabama: Google News). p. 6C. Retrieved July 28, 2012. 
  12. ^ "WLAF gets big greeting in Birmingham". Daily News (Bowling Green, Kentucky: Google News). Associated Press. March 25, 1991. p. 9. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  13. ^ a b "Fire's small crowd not disappointing". The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. April 1, 1991. p. 7B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Former NFL player burns Fire". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. April 9, 1991. p. B1. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  15. ^ Mason, Bret (April 16, 1991). "Monarchs put out the Fire". The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Google News). p. 1B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  16. ^ Collins, Dwight (April 22, 1991). "Fire lights up Orlando en route to 31–6 victory". Star-Banner (Ocala, Florida: Google News). p. 1C. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Fire holds off rally to beat Raiders". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. April 30, 1991. p. D1. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Rice guides Dragons' win with 354 yard performance". Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, South Carolina: Google News). Associated Press. May 5, 1991. p. D5. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Frankfurt rallies to drown Fire". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. May 13, 1991. p. B5. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Fire wins, shares lead in division". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. May 21, 1991. p. D3. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Playoff bound Fire wins season finale". The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. May 27, 1991. p. 4B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  22. ^ Southern, Michael (June 2, 1991). "Fire falls, 10–3". The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Google News). p. 1C. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  23. ^ a b Marshak, Larry (June 4, 1991). "Birmingham, Montreal make pitches for '92". USA Today (McLean, Virginia: Lexis Nexis). p. 6B. 
  24. ^ MacDonald, Ian (December 20, 1991). "Montreal gets World Bowl '92 against long odds". The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec: Lexis Nexis). p. F1. 
  25. ^ "Deals: Football". USA Today (McLean, Virginia: Lexis Nexis). June 20, 1991. p. 11C. 
  26. ^ "Oil to the fire". USA Today (McLean, Virginia: Lexis Nexis). December 19, 1991. p. 1B. 
  27. ^ "Scoreboard: 1992 World League Draft". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. February 5, 1992. p. C2. 
  28. ^ "Scoreboard: 1992 World League Draft". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. February 6, 1992. p. D2. 
  29. ^ "NFL stocks World League". The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec: via Lexis Nexis). February 21, 1992. 
  30. ^ Wetherell, Richard (March 14, 1992). "Season opens with tie-breakers". The Times (London, United Kingdom: via Lexis Nexis). 
  31. ^ Elliott, Ken (March 16, 1992). "Monarchs have McNair to thank". Evening Standard (London, United Kingdom: via Lexis Nexis). 
  32. ^ "Surge burns fire in opener". Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, California: Google News). Associated Press. March 23, 1991. p. 15. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Fire beats San Antonio". TimesDaily (Florence, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. March 30, 1991. p. 3B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  34. ^ "Fire burns unbeaten Galaxy, ties for first". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington: Google News). Associated Press. April 6, 1991. p. C3. Retrieved July 31, 2012. 
  35. ^ "Doyle's field goal gives Fire tie". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). April 12, 1991. p. C4. Retrieved July 29, 2012. 
  36. ^ "Late FG lifts Thunder to 17–17 tie with Hamburg". via HighBeam Research. AP Worldstream. April 1, 2006. Retrieved August 1, 2012.  (subscription required)
  37. ^ "Fire grabs 28–14 win over Surge". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. April 19, 1992. p. E4. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  38. ^ "Fire beats San Antonio". TimesDaily (Florence, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. March 30, 1991. p. 3B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  39. ^ "Fire tops Barcelona". The Gadsden Times (Gadsden, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. May 3, 1992. p. C4. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  40. ^ "Machine's OT gamble fails; Fire keeps World League playoff hopes alive". The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec: via Lexis Nexis). May 11, 1992. p. E3. 
  41. ^ "Thunder rally falls shy in loss to Birmingham". Star-Banner (Ocala, Florida: Google News). Associated Press. May 18, 1992. p. 3B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  42. ^ "Doyle kicks Birmingham into playoffs". TimesDaily (Florence, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. May 25, 1992. p. 3B. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  43. ^ Collins, Dwight (May 31, 1992). "Thunder blows out Fire". The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Google News). p. 5C. Retrieved August 1, 2012. 
  44. ^ a b Carey, Jack (August 4, 1992). "Fire sale". USA Today (McLean, Virginia: via Lexis Nexis). p. 1C. 
  45. ^ a b c Freeman, Mike (September 18, 1992). "NFL postpones expansion, World League return". The Washington Post (via HighBeam Research). Retrieved August 2, 2012.  (subscription required)
  46. ^ "Samford tabs Gailey to take over as coach". TimesDaily (Florence, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. January 12, 1993. p. 2B. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  47. ^ "Sparks backs out, Samford names Hurt". TimesDaily (Florence, Alabama: Google News). Associated Press. February 2, 1994. p. 2C. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  48. ^ "Bills hire Gailey as coach". ESPN.com. Associated Press. January 20, 2010. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  49. ^ "New Owners For the Kings". The New York Times (New York: NYTimes.com). January 16, 1999. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  50. ^ "World League will return". The Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pennsylvania: Google News). Associated Press. January 27, 1995. p. B2. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 
  51. ^ "CFL expansion franchise coming to Birmingham for 1995 season". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta: Newsbank). Associated Press. January 12, 1995. Retrieved August 2, 2012. 

External links[edit]