The American Football Association was a professional American football league that operated from 1979 to 1982. It was concentrated in the southern United States and served as an interregnum in 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 similarly inspired spring football schedule. The AFA ended operations in 1982, unable to take advantage of the looming strike that hit the NFL that year.

Teams included those in Tulsa, Oklahoma (the Tulsa Thunder and the Tulsa Mustangs),[3] Birmingham, Alabama (the Alabama Vulcans and Alabama Magic),[4] Louisville, Kentucky (the Kentucky Trackers), Jacksonville, Florida (the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jacksonville Firebirds), Charlotte, North Carolina (the Charlotte Chargers, a.k.a. the Charlotte Storm),[5] Orlando, Florida (the Orlando Americans), San Antonio, Texas (San Antonio Charros), Austin, Texas (Austin Texans), Dallas, Texas (Dallas Wranglers), Houston, Texas, Little Rock, Arkansas, Jackson, Mississippi (Mississippi Stars), Virginia (Virginia Hunters), Shreveport, Louisiana (Shreveport Steamers) and Charleston, West Virginia (West Virginia Rockets, 1980 and 1981 champions).[6][7] Its northernmost team, and largest major market, was Chicago, Illinois, where the Chicago Fire played.[8] Many of the names 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 name from a Continental Football League and United Football League team of the same name. The Jaguars name would later be recycled for a National Football League team in 1995. 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.[9] The Mustangs played at 30,000-seat Skelly Stadium.

The league was founded in February 1978 and began play in summer of 1979. 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, former NFL quarterback (and a man who coached the AFA's Shreveport Steamers in 1979),[10] was named commissioner in 1981. After failing to come to terms with a television contract, the decision of the Carolina Chargers (one of the more stable franchises, and one that had come in second place in the 1979 and 1980 championships) to disband midseason, a scandal in which a player named Robert Lee Johnson misrepresented himself as former NFL lineman Randy Johnson,[11] and a lack of payment, he quit. In 1982, with former San Antonio Wings executive Roger Gill at the helm, the league attempted to expand by absorbing other semi-pro teams in Buffalo, New York, Racine, Wisconsin and Canton, Ohio.[9] The USFL's securing of a television 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), led to the AFA folding.[2]

The modern American Football Association, a sanctioning body for semi-pro and amateur football, is unrelated to the former AFA.


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