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Will Birmingham join the National Football League?

October 22, 1975
League officials and franchise owners vote to fold the World Football League during their thirteenth week of play.

October 23, 1975
With the decision made to fold the World Football League, Birmingham officials are already at work trying to secure a future in the National Football League.

Birmingham Vulcans general manager Jack Gotta left this morning for Memphis where he will meet with Southmen owner John Bassett to formulate a plan for a two franchise entry request for the NFL. "I think our chances of getting in the NFL are the best of any city in America which doesn't have a franchise already. We have all the necessary ingredients... ownership, the greatest fans in football, and a stadium that seats 70,000. The last two years have proved people here will support professional football. The fact we did close down in October means we will make application for the 1976 season, but we're not in control of anything and we'll have to abide by whatever timetable the NFL decides on," Gotta said.

George Siebels, Birmingham's mayor, announces he will telegraph the NFL's commissioner, Pete Rozelle, immediately to petition entry to the league.

Vulcans head coach Marvin Bass said, "I don't look at it as an ending. I look at it as the beginning of something big. I'm psychic in some ways and that's the way I feel."

October 28, 1975
  A. E. "Pee Wee"
A. E. "Pee Wee" Burgess, who was heavily involved as an owner of the Birmingham Vulcans, Richard Cohn and Ed Friend meet with Rozelle in New York to get acquainted.

Rozelle was interviewed on Monday Night Football and would only say that he has been contacted by Birmingham and Memphis.

Earlier in the week, Rozelle informed all team owners that they were forbidden for the rest of the season from signing any World Football League player that is currently under contract.

December 17, 1975
The National Football League has decided not to extend franchise offers to Birmingham and Memphis.

A formal poll of league owners will occur shortly but they will likely follow the committee's recommendation. It would take a favorable vote for 20 of the 26 franchises to override the committee's decision.

"We're not in for '76, and for now that's about it. Certainly we are disappointed, but we'll keep trying. We aren't giving up. We had a couple of meetings with Commissioner Rozelle and the expansion committee, and they were very nice. But the answer was no. We'll apply again at the proper time," said Burgess.

Bassett is not taking the rejection well, hinting at possible anti-trust proceedings against the NFL. If it occurs, Birmingham will not be a part of that legal action. "We aren't considering a suit at this time," said Burgess. Bassett is taking a wait-and-see approach before making the final decision. "We basically want to see the results of the polling of the ownership before jumping into other areas. All I can say right now is I'm totally disappointed. We hope the league as a whole will not accept this recommendation. We feel the committee has done a great disservice to the American football public and especially to the mid-south community, which has shown tangible support and enthusiasm for our application. In the meantime, we and our counsel will explore all available options in connection with this application," Bassett said.

The NFL says it isn't against Birmingham and Memphis so much as it is against further expansion. Tampa and Seattle were both recently granted franchises and will begin play in 1976. Expansion Committee chairman Dan Rooney explained by saying, "We had no negatives to Birmingham and Memphis. Our problem is expansion per se, not these two cities."

Commissioner Rozelle says the logistics just could not be worked out. "The people in our expansion committee are pro-expansion. The problem is committing now. There are 3 hurdles in any expansion by the NFL. The first hurdle is the state of mind. Then selection of cities and ownership in those cities. It's safe to say Birmingham and Memphis did not clear that first big hurdle. Sports leagues have folded and contracted, teams have folded and other leagues have abandoned expansion plans. This, plus litigation we're not involved in, has created a cloud of uncertainty among the league owners," Rozelle said.

"One of the things Memphis wanted was to participate in the college draft, and this would cause serious problems for our new teams and the weaker teams in the league," Rozelle said.

Birmingham's general manager, Jack Gotta, said they would have been willing to go without the benefit of the college draft, if Birmingham and Memphis could have first access to all the former players in the folded World Football League. "There are so many fine players available it's ridiculous. Don't tell me we couldn't take club and add players from other WFL franchises and not be competitive," Gotta said.

The National Football League did expand, however, Birmingham was not to be a part of it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks both began play in 1976.

Two former World Football League cities, Charlotte and Jacksonville, made it into the NFL in 1995 when the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars began play.

Memphis briefly tasted the sweetness of the NFL, when the Houston Oilers temporarily move there in 1997 and become the Tennessee Oilers. In 1998 the franchise moved permanently to Nashville and become known as the Tennessee Titans.

Yet another former WFL city joined the NFL in 2002, when Houston received a replacement franchise for the departed Oilers. Ironically, they were named the Houston Texans, which is what the Houston team was named in the WFL.

Gene Crowley
Last update: February 15, 2018