American Football Association (1978–1983)
The AFA was concentrated in the southern United States and served as the second tier of professional football between the World Football League, which folded in 1975, and the United States Football League, which began play in 1983. Unlike the WFL or USFL, the AFA always fashioned itself as a minor league, and never planned to rival the National Football League for "major league" status. Players were paid one percent of gross gate revenue, which often meant players were paid only menial sums for their service (often comparable to minimum wage for three hours of work), and the league struggled to acquire recognizable players.
The league played its games on Saturday nights in the summer (beginning its season Memorial Day weekend and ending in August) to avoid direct competition against other football in the fall, a move that foreshadowed the USFL's similar spring football schedule. The AFA ended operations in 1983, unable to take advantage of the strike that hit the NFL the year prior or weather the competition from the USFL.
Teams and cities represented
|Tulsa Mustangs |
|Alabama Magic |
|North Carolina||Charlotte||Carolina Chargers [a]|
|Texas||San Antonio||San Antonio Charros|
|Burleson||Fort Worth Wranglers|
|Arkansas||Little Rock||Arkansas Diamonds|
|Louisiana||Shreveport||Shreveport Steamers [b]|
|West Virginia||Charleston||West Virginia Rockets [c]|
|Illinois||Chicago [d]||Chicago Fire [e]|
Many nicknames came from previous leagues, with minor alterations to avoid trademark disputes: the Steamers, Vulcans and Fire all took their names from WFL teams, while the Rockets borrowed their moniker from a Continental Football League and United Football League team of the same name.
The operations were often fly-by-night, with most teams lasting only one season (or less) before folding. Despite its minor-league status, the league's teams often were able to secure leases for unusually large stadiums, often those used by the WFL and the USFL: the Orlando Americans, in their lone season, played in the 70,000-seat Citrus Bowl, while the Vulcans and Magic played at similarly-sized Legion Field, Houston played at 73,000 seat Rice Stadium, and the Fire played at Soldier Field. The Mustangs played at 30,000-seat Skelly Stadium. The Jacksonville Firebirds played in the Gator Bowl.
The AFA was founded in February 1978 and began to play that summer. It was formed to take advantage of the places where the WFL was the most popular, while avoiding the overspending that led to that league's demise.
Billy Kilmer, the former NFL quarterback (and coach of the AFA's Shreveport Steamers in 1979), was named commissioner in 1981. Kilmer lasted one season as commissioner, working unpaid, during which he encountered numerous problems in the AFA, including a scandal in San Antonio which a player named Robert Lee Johnson misrepresented himself as former NFL offensive lineman Randy Johnson. The Carolina Chargers, one of the league's more successful and stable teams, dropped out of the league mid-season but re-emerged in 1982 under new ownership as the Carolina Storm.
In 1982, with former San Antonio Wings executive Roger Gill at the helm, the league attempted to expand northward by absorbing other semi-pro teams in Buffalo, New York, Racine, Wisconsin and Canton, Ohio.
The USFL's securing of a TV contract, especially after the AFA had failed to do so (the AFA was only able to get a few of its teams onto local cable stations, still a nascent technology at the time), led to the AFA eventually declining into semi-pro status and folding after its 1983 season.
The AFA lasted six seasons, one of the longest runs of a minor professional football organization in the sport's history. The development of arena football and its numerous imitators has effectively reduced most outdoor leagues to amateur or semi-pro status.
The modern American Football Association, a sanctioning body for semi-pro and amateur football, is unrelated to the former AFA.
- Also known as the Carolina Storm. The Chargers/Storm were by far the most successful club in AFA history, playing in four of the league's six championship games (losing in 1979 and 1980, winning in 1982 and 1983; Charlotte was also undefeated in the latter two years).
- Later merged with Orlando as the "Shreveport Americans".
- 1980 and 1981 champions.
- the AFA's largest market, and the only one in the northern US.
- Not to be confused with the WFL team, or the current MLS franchise.
- Encyclopedia of Italian Football - includes all schedules of AFA teams, but includes a spurious 1977 season that may have been a predecessor league.