Happy 2017 from WFL1974.com
Ed Foster was an offensive tackle at the University of Oklahoma from 1970-73, and was an All-American in 1973 as well as team captain. When Foster’s collegiate career ended, he was drafted by the Jacksonville Sharks of the WFL, as well as the New England Patriots of the NFL. Ed signed with the Sharks and quickly established himself as a fixture on the offensive line. Unfortunately, the Sharks organization wasn’t on as stable footing as their offensive line was. The team folded 14 games into the season, leaving Foster and many other players in limbo. Fortunately, Foster was quickly signed by the Southern California Sun for the remainder of the 1974 Season. In 1975 Foster signed with the CFL, but roster rules regarding the number of Canadian and American players on the CFL roster resulted in Foster being released. His inactivity was quite brief as the Birmingham Vulcans called and signed Foster. The 1975 WFL season was already beginning, but Foster had no trouble gaining a place on the offensive line at left tackle and, once again, became a pillar of the O-line. Foster was a starter through the abbreviated 1975 season when the WFL abruptly folded and ceased operations.
After Ed’s football career ended, he and his family moved to Norman Oklahoma where he established a career in specialty insurance as a business owner and chartered life underwriter. He also was active in coaching youth sports for over 30 years, as well as taking an active part in the ministry in his church and on the mission field.
On May 15, 2015, Ed Foster left this world, as a result of a heart attack, but his influence is still felt by those who knew him or were impacted by his work for his community, his church, and his Lord.
Some time after Foster’s death, a collector of WFL memorabilia, known to this blogger, made contact with Kim Foster, Ed’s widow, and, quietly, without fanfare, sent Kim 2 items that Ed wore during his playing days in the WFL; his Southern California Sun jersey and his Birmingham Vulcans helmet.
Kim continues to care for their 5 children and 8 grandchildren. On a trip with one of her sons this past September, the traveling party made a brief stop in Birmingham, visiting venerable Legion Field, to visit one of the last places that Ed played professionally. One of their grandsons (and Ed’s namesake) is pictured on the same field where his grandfather played over 40 years ago.
To quote a passage in Ed’s obituary, In every area of his life, Ed encouraged others with his strength, gentleness, wisdom, and wit. He lived out his favorite scripture: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8.
Even though I missed the “feature film” that was Ed’s life and work, the 30-second trailer has been enjoyable to witness, thanks to Kim’s faithful narrative.
When the Birmingham Americans won the inaugural World Bowl in 1974, most of the players were presented with championship rings. There were some who did not receive rings due to contractual obligations, ie: the players who did not sign with Birmingham in 1975 did not receive rings. One of the players who received a ring, and wore it proudly was defensive lineman Dickie Trower. Trower was one of the fixtures on the dee line for the Ams & Vulcans, teaming with Bob Tatarek, John Andrews, Jessie Wolf, Harry Gooden, Larry Estes, Butch Brezina, & John Baker to make a formidable defensive front for the Ams & Vulcans. Trower wore his ring with pride and on occasion would show it to anyone who inquired about it. Trower, who works for a resort development in Northern Virginia, was speaking to potential clients one afternoon last year, when one of the group asked about his ring. Dickie took the ring off and showed to the curious patron. Afterwards, Dickie was distracted and went to take care of a business related matter,but returned some minutes later to retrieve the ring, but the people who were in the room, along with his ring, were gone. Dickie looked for the ring as well as those who might have it to no avail. Days and weeks passed, with no luck, while Trower was sickened at the prospect of losing his championship ring.
Trower’s nephew, Greg Vaughn, upon hearing of the loss of the ring, began a mission, of sorts, to replace the ring. Greg contacted Jonsil, the manufacturer of the rings back in 1974, and attempted to order a replacement. The process was quite protracted and at times frustrating, with the details of the original ring finally being replicated after multiple draft models.Vaughn was successful in his efforts, which proved to be Herculean at times. Ultimately, Greg was able to present his uncle with the replacement ring, which is a perfect match to the one that was lost. While Dickie’s original ring is still out there, somewhere, its good to know that he can, again, show his World Bowl ring proudly to any and all who may see him. And he can also boast about a very loyal nephew.
Alfred Jenkins grew up in Hogansville, GA and played college football at Morris Brown College. Jenkins was not a hot commodity coming out of college, but was signed by the Birmingham Americans with thoughts that he might be a good kick return prospect. While he did return punts for the Ams, he also worked his way into the starting wide receiver rotation and ended up becoming a hot commodity in the Birmingham offense. Jenkins gathered in 60 receptions (second only to Dennis Homan’s 61) for a whopping 1326 yards & 12 TDs. He also returned 30 punts for 262 yards. His play earned him the team’s MVP trophy, All-WFL recognition, and the admiration of Birmingham fans. When the ’74 season ended, Jenkins signed with the NFL Atlanta Falcons. All he did there was play for 9 years, catching 360 passes for 6267 yards & 40 TDs. He played in 2 Pro Bowls & made all NFL in 1981 where he led the NFL in receiving yards & TDs. recently he was named the number 24 of the top 50 Atlanta Falcons in team history in a survey by the AJC He was a fan favorite and a joy to watch.
This week will mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the WFL. The league had endured questions and hardships throughout much of the 1975 season. Although there were some teams who voted to continue playing, they were out-voted by the weaker franchises and the league folded on October 22nd 1975. Birmingham, one of the strongest franchises voted to continue playing, and was coming off a satisfying win over division rival Memphis.
The Birmingham Vulcan had just returned home from a tough road win, 18-14, at Memphis, only to have the task of facing the Southmen again the very next week. The Southmen came to town with the celebrated trio of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, & Paul Warfied, ready to avenge the loss in the Liberty Bowl. However, there would be no drama or controversy that had marked the earlier contest, with the Vulcans dealing a 21-0 shutout over the visitors from Memphis. The Birmingham defense held a death grip on the Grizzlies offense and never relinquished its stranglehold. Larry Willingham, Warren Capone, Jimmy Teal, Jim McKinney, Larry Estes, and Bob Tatarek were the defensive leaders for the Home team. The Vulcans offense was efficient and crisp, led by Matthew Reed, Art Cantrelle and Johnny Musso, with Denny Duron scoring his first professional touchdown. Cantrelle and Musso added scores on short runs as well.
On Memphis’ first drive, Vulcans DB Larry Willingham set the tone for the day. Memphis QB Danny White found TE Gary Shirk on a short crossing pattern. Willingham arrived an instant after the ball did with Willingham unloading on Shirk. The ball popped loose for an incompletion and Memphis had to punt.
Birmingham scored on its second possession, with Reed leading a 16-play 64-yard drive, with Reed hitting reserve QB Denny Duron on a 14 yard pass for the TD. The action point was no good, and the Vulcans led 7-0. Vulcans LB Pat Kelly delivered a vicious blow to the Southmen’s George Campbell on the ensuing kickoff, jarring the ball loose, and Willie Smith recovered for Birmingham at the Memphis 13. Four plays later Cantrelle scored from the 2-yard line, and Birmingham now led 14-0 (the action point was again unsuccessful). A 51-yard Reed to Jim Bishop aerial started a 77-yard 7-play drive in the 4th quarter, ending with Musso slashing in from 2 yards out. The AP was unsuccessful, but Birmingham’s 21-0 lead held to finish of the Southmen.
The Birmingham News closed out its story on the game by adding that the Vulcans would begin preparations for the Southern California Sun, “…and there is no reason to doubt there will be another week in the WFL.” Sadly, however, 3 days later the WFL announced that it was suspending operations and that was the sudden end to the WFL and the Birmingham Vulcans.
On Wednesday October 22nd, 1975 Head Coach Marvin Bass assembled the Vulcans players for a hastily called closed-door meeting. In it he broke the sad news that the WFL had folded. The WFL had conducted a teleconference with all of the league’s teams and voted to “cease operations”, as worded in a teletype sent out by the WFL office that day. Only Birmingham and Memphis voted to continue playing. After the meeting with the players concluded and press conference was held where Coach Bass addressed the media. “I’ve been in coaching 33 years, but what I had to do 30 minutes ago makes this the saddest day of my life. I had to tell my football team they are unemployed”.
Reaction was swift to the sad news. Players, coaches, fans alike were saddened by the loss of Birmingham’s professional football team. The suddenness, despite rumors, made it especially difficult.
Birmingham, along with Memphis, petitioned the NFL for admission. While there are varying versions of how this process went, the outcome is the same in each version, Birmingham’s football team was gone, and would not return in the form of an NFL franchise.
If you were at any of the Birmingham Vulcans games in 1975, you probably noticed the replica Vulcan Statue in the open area of the south end zone. Not too long ago, my buddy Tony Walls clued me in on the venerable iron man’s new home. Its located on the east side of Birmingham, in front of a business and its still looking great. You can still see the old Vulcans logo peering through the paint as well as the log of the Alabama Vulcans, a later Birmingham football team, from the late 1970’s. Its always amazing to see this stuff, even 40 years later.
40 years ago tonight Birmingham defeated the Florida Blazers 22-21 in the first (and only) World Bowl to determine the WFL championship.
The first quarter saw no scoring, but The Ams got on the board in the 2nd quarter with a 15 play drive that covered 58 yards, with Joe Profit carrying the final yard for the score. The action point failed and Birmingham led 7-0. On their next possession, Birmingham rolled 66 yards in 7 plays with Art Cantrelle doing most of the damage, first on a 30 yards bolt and then by finishing it off with a 5 yards blast up the middle for the TD. Matthew Reed came on and rolled around right end for the AP, and the Ams were up 15-0. That’s the way things stood at intermission.
The 3rd quarter saw Birmingham take the kickoff and Mira direct a 74-yard 11-play drive for 7 more points. Mira found TE Bob Brown alone in the right flat and Brown scored from 26 yards. The AP was no good and Birmingham seemed in control 22-0 as the 4th quarter got underway.
However, the Blazers had no intentions of going away quietly.
On the first play of the final period, Blazer QB Bob Davis threw to Reamon who scampered 39 yards for the TD. The AP failed and the score now stood 22-7
Davis then directed a quick 83 yards in 7 plays to score, Davis going to TE Greg Latta for 40 yards for the TD.
The Americans offense could get nothing going and punted. Blazer return man Rod Foster zigged and zagged his was 76 yards with the punt all the way to the end zone, and suddenly the Ams lead stood at one point. Reamon got the call for the AP, but Warren Capone met him head on at the goal line to preserve the lead. Birmingham then had to run out the remaining time on the clock. Reed had a clutch 12 yard run with Blazer defenders hanging all over him for a crucial first down. Charley Harraway delivered a big 10 yard run for the game’s final first down, to allow the Ams to run out the clock at the Blazer’s one yard line. Birmingham wasn’t trying to score, as Head Coach Jack Gotta said, “One point was just perfect”.
The Win meant that Birmingham had won 13 straight home games with no losses, completing a wondrous 17-5 run.
After the players filed into the lockerroom, defensive captain LB Ross Brupbacher presented the game ball to “The City of Birmingham-and I hope they bring us back next year to play here”. Meanwhile Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies were standing by, not to secure the celebration, but to confiscate the winner’s uniforms and equipment as a result of unpaid bills. To add to the ignominy even trainer Drew Ferguson’s shoes were repossessed.
But the spirit of the victors was not dampened, when the World Bowl trophy was hoisted in the room. All got to see and touch the large trophy, rightly deserved after a hard fought win.
After 40 years the World Bowl trophy still resides at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham. Many of the memories may have faded, but the Ams place in history, if not in the hearts of many football fans, was secured.
Larry Willingham recently shared some thoughts regarding the WFL’s 40th anniversary. I had asked Larry to share his responses regarding the Ams; his favorite memory, his favorite place to play on the road, and his memories of the locker room after winning the World Bowl. I’ll let Larry’s words paint a mental picture for you. I truly appreciate Larry’s time and responses.
- I guess the best memory would be the opening game against California . We had just broke training camp in Marion and were in Pre-game warm up at Legion Field as the fans were coming in. We had no idea how the crowd would be, much less, how many.
As we completed pre-game and went in the dressing rooms, we noticed the crowd was ok but nothing special. As it became closer to game time, we were delayed on going out due to the mass of people trying to get in few gates that were open. Birmingham Park and Recreation had not planned on such a crowd. I think the game started 45 minutes late in front of 60 to 70 thousand screaming “new” fans. Birmingham had a professional football team!!
- That’s easy! There was a team in Hawaii and we spent the week after playing Portland on Waikiki Beach trying to practice. Think we got beat!!
- I think they had to get the champagne out of Florida ’s dressing room. As many may recall, the team had not been paid for the last 5 weeks of the season and getting paid for the playoff games and the championship game was in question also. As one of the “player reps”, Ross Brubaker, Charley Harraway and myself had met with Coach Gotta and agreed to take a percentage of the gate as settlement prior to the game. I think it amounted to about $1700 per player, if memory serves me. Glad it was settled. Would have been a shame for a season like we had to not have been completed.
Many thanks Larry!