American Football Association (1977–1983)

The American Football Association (AFA) was a professional American football league that operated from 1977 to 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.[1] 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.[2]

The league played its games on Saturday nights[1] 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

State City Team(s)
OklahomaTulsaOklahoma Thunder
Tulsa Mustangs [3]
AlabamaBirminghamAlabama Vulcans
Alabama Magic [4]
KentuckyLouisvilleKentucky Trackers
FloridaJacksonvilleJacksonville Firebirds
Jacksonville Sunbirds
OrlandoOrlando Americans
North CarolinaCharlotteCarolina Chargers [lower-alpha 1]
TexasSan AntonioSan Antonio Charros
AustinAustin Texans
DallasDallas Wranglers
BurlesonFort Worth Wranglers
HoustonHouston Hotshots
Houston Armadillos
ArkansasLittle RockArkansas Diamonds
MississippiJacksonMississippi Stars
VirginiaNorfolkVirginia Hunters
LouisianaShreveportShreveport Steamers [lower-alpha 2]
West VirginiaCharlestonWest Virginia Rockets [lower-alpha 3]
IllinoisChicago [lower-alpha 4]Chicago Fire [lower-alpha 5]

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, and players played for a paycheck equal to one percent of the net gate receipts after expenses (In August 1980, Shreveport Times sports reporter Ron Higgins estimated the average Steamer game check to be about $35 per man).

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.[9] The Mustangs played at 30,000-seat Skelly Stadium. The Jacksonville Firebirds played in the Gator Bowl.


The AFA was founded in May 1977 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.[1]

Billy Kilmer, the former NFL quarterback (and coach of the AFA's Shreveport Steamers in 1979),[10] 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.[11]

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.[9]

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.[2]

The AFA lasted six seasons, one of the longest runs of a minor professional football organization in the sport's history, and considered the strongest league in the era between the WFL and the USFL.[12] 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.


Harry Lander and Roger Gill, from the existing San Antonio Charros amateur club, decided to create a new minor league football league and attract local investors. Five other clubs from Houston, Fort Worth, Austin, Wichita Falls, and Oklahoma City joined the Charros to establish the AFA.[13]

The plan was to play two exhibition games, and then each team would play twelve regular-season games beginning on July 2. The players were promised 1% of each game's gate receipts.

After three games (including two preseason) where they failed to score any points, the Fort Worth Stars were forced out of the league, while the Houston franchise—which had failed to secure a home stadium, pay their league dues, or secure medical insurance for their players—folded mid-August.

San Antonio Charros 8001.00032981Champions
Oklahoma City Warriors 430.57119273
Austin Texans 440.500168177
Wichita Falls Steelers 250.28574162
Houston Seagulls 050.00038183Folded mid-season
Fort Worth Stars 010-077Forced out of the league

The San Antonio Charros finished undefeated in the regular season and were declared league champions.


The AFA entered an agreement for a loose affiliation with the California Football League for the 1978 season, that both leagues will play their normal league schedules, and at the end of the season the champions of each league will play in the "King Kong Bowl" to determine the "national champion".[12][14][15]

Shreveport Steamer 910.900375161
San Antonio Charros 640.600235185
Houston Titans 640.600226206
Oklahoma City Stampede 640.600263185
Wichita Falls Roughnecks 280.200101300
Austin Texans 190.100158273


September 2
American Bowl I
September 16
1 Shreveport 14
4 Oklahoma City 0
1 Shreveport 17*
2 San Antonio 14
2 San Antonio 25
3 Houston 7

* Indicates overtime victory.

King Kong Bowl
(September 30 at State Fair Stadium)
San Jose Tigers 32 vs. Shreveport Steamer 6


The league grow to nine teams and had plans to divide to Eastern and Western divisions, but after Tulsa Mustangs folded the remaining teams has gone from two divisions format to one, with the top four teams making the playoffs.[12][16]

Alabama Vulcans 1350.722406220
San Antonio Charros 1040.714405301
Carolina Chargers 1250.705457277
Jacksonville Firebirds 1150.687497277
Shreveport Steamer 970.562387279
Mississippi Stars 5110.312220386
Kentucky Trackers 4120.250342544
Tulsa Mustangs 140.25039120
Arkansas Champs 2140.125138503


September 15
American Bowl II
September 29
1 Alabama 21
4 Jacksonville 28
4 Jacksonville 27
3 Carolina 7
2 San Antonio 21
3 Carolina 28


The AFA started the season with eight teams and split up to Eastern and Western divisions. The league revoked Kentucky Trackers license after several cases of misconduct with four remaining weeks in the regular season. The Trackers' remaining games was filled with semi-pro teams from the Atlantic Coast League and the Dixie League, but those games did not count in AFA standings.[12][17]

Eastern Division
Carolina Chargers 1030.769315231
West Virginia Rockets 940.692294183
Jacksonville Firebirds 850.615306225
Kentucky Trackers 0130.000135248
Western Division
Shreveport Steamer 910.900265122
San Antonio Charros 640.600227179
Austin Texans 460.400189245
Fort Worth Wranglers 0100.00085307


August 30
American Bowl III
September 7
1 Carolina 36
4 San Antonio 20
1 Carolina 18
3 West Virginia 42
2 Shreveport 17
3 West Virginia 21


Billy Kilmer was introduced as the first full-time commissioner of the American Football Association. Also, for the first time, the league expended behind southern United States, when they add the Chicago Fire.The Chargers players voted to walk out on the team four games into the season, while both Shreveport Steamer and Austin Texans folded before season end, resulting in Kilmer resignation before the American Bowl. He was replaced by AFA president Roger Gill.[12]

During the season a member of the Orlando Americans admits he impersonated former NFL guard Randy Johnson to make the team. He was discovered when he couldn't crack the starting lineup.[18]

Eastern Division
West Virginia Rockets 1110.916307144
Jacksonville Firebirds 840.666228206
Virginia Hunters 750.583187210
Orlando Americans 570.416229202
Carolina Chargers 2100.166102117
Western Division
Chicago Fire 840.666311223
San Antonio Charros 660.500276297
Shreveport Steamer 660.500169182
Texas Wranglers 570.416149237
Austin Texans 2100.166184324

* Includes forfeit games.


August 23
American Bowl IV
August 30
1 West Virginia 42
4 San Antonio 12
1 West Virginia 29
2 Chicago 21
2 Chicago 24
3 Jacksonville 17


The AFA expended to 18 teams, and split up to three divisions, while two teams (Florida Sun and Roanoke Valley Express) folded mid-season.[12][19]

Southeastern Division
Carolina Storm 10001.00033989
Georgia Pride 640.600178179
Alabama Magic 640.600209138
Tallahassee Statesmen 550.500120178
Jacksonville Sunbirds 370.300136225
Florida Sun 0100.0007141
Southwestern Division
Shreveport Americans 820.800291124
Oklahoma Thunder 820.800308125
Texas Wranglers 820.800291124
San Antonio Bulls 460.400203195
Houston Armadillos 280.20054308
Austin Texans 0100.000113345
Northern Division
Racine Gladiators 10001.00030988
West Virginia Rockets 730.700363121
Akron Bulldogs 640.60022998
Roanoke Valley Express 370.30063106
Buffalo Geminis 370.30093294
Virginia Chargers 190.10027410

* Includes forfeit games.


First Round (August 7):
Racine 44 vs. Akron 6
Carolina 61 vs. West Virginia 18
Texas 17 vs. Oklahoma 14
Shreveport 42 vs. Georgia 35

August 15
American Bowl V
August 21
Carolina 35
Racine 8
Carolina 46
Shreveport 22
Shreveport 30
Texas 27


It was the seventh and final year of the AFA. Oklahoma City Drillers announced that they would play the season as a travelling team before folding altogether after two weeks. The majority of the teams followed, and the league decided that division champions Carolina and San Antonio would meet in the final American Bowl.[12]

The Bulls knew before season's end that they would join the United States Football League as an expansion team for the 1984 season, where they played as the San Antonio Gunslingers (as the Jacksonville Bulls had already claimed rights to the "Bulls" name).[20]

Eastern Division
Carolina Storm 6001.00028944
Canton Bulldogs 410.8008777
Charleston Rockets 130.25010881
Pittsburgh Colts 150.16680236
Western Division
San Antonio Bulls 610.85727658
Shreveport Americans 520.714237113
Baton Rouge Red Wings 230.40043224
Dallas Wranglers 240.333115137
Houston Mustangs 040.00045159
Oklahoma City Drillers 020.000796


Semi-finals American Bowl VI
July 23
Carolina 39
San Antonio 0
San Antonio


  1. 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).[5]
  2. Later merged with Orlando as the "Shreveport Americans".
  3. 1980 and 1981 champions.[6][7]
  4. the AFA's largest market, and the only one in the northern US.
  5. Not to be confused with the WFL team, or the current MLS franchise.[8]


  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-10-18. Retrieved 2010-06-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. Bob Gill, with Tod Maher. Outsiders II: Minor League And Independent Football, 1951-1985, p. vii. St. Johann Press, 2010. ISBN 1878282654
  12. "1977 AFA Timeline".
  13. "1978-1981 Shreveport Steamer".
  14. "1978 AFA Timeline".
  15. "1979 AFA Timeline".
  16. "1980 AFA Timeline".
  17. "1981 AFA Timeline".
  18. "1982 AFA Timeline".
  19. "1983 AFA Timeline".
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