Birmingham Americans

1974 Art Cantrelle
(Game Worn)

The World Football League was comprised of cast-offs, characters, and many excellent players. The 1974 Birmingham Americans running back Arthur Cantrelle, an LSU legend, was all of these rolled up into a package of fierce determination and a bit of mayhem, both on and off the field. The Louisiana State University football program is justly proud of its long history of outstanding players, championship teams, College Football Hall Of Fame luminaries, and incredible individual performances. From Billy Cannon’s Halloween Night Run against Ole Miss in 1959 to the “they will never win” Cotton Bowl victory over Arkansas on January 01, 1966, to the “Set Your Watches Back” catch of Brad Davis, to…the list of highlights goes on and on. A state always focused upon its beloved Bayou Bengals, the program has naturally attracted the very best football talent that Louisiana has to offer. However among all of those great players, among all of those hardnosed players brought up in the tradition of faithfully representing the home state university and its history, among all of the hardscrabble guys from the oil rigs, swamps, farms, and cities, there is but one who seems to have brought a total consensus when it comes to deciding upon “who was the toughest LSU player of all time” and that man is Arthur Cantrelle.

The stories seem to be never-ending in a series of “I can top that one” tales that could not possibly be true except they are. There have been physical monsters on LSU’s teams and young men described as being “mean as a rattlesnake” but none exceeded the intimidating fear spawned by Cantrelle. Though the next comment will spark debate, the LSU fans seem to have one of the best “senses of history” and pride in their past. Their many internet forums pay homage to the players of the past and when “tough” is discussed, be it among former players or fans “who were there” during Cantrelle’s 1969 through 1971 varsity career, Arthur is the hands-down unanimous victor of “All Time, King Hell Bad Ass.” Never overlooked is the on-field talent or exploits of Cantrelle, one of the Tigers’ truly great players. The 6’, 203 pound Thiboudeaux, Louisiana All State running back had the unusual pedigree of having also been All State at Biloxi High School in Mississippi. Failing to make the cut-off date for age-related eligibility, he spent his senior year “across the border” though his sojourn did not remove him from the A-List of Tigers recruits. His great acceleration and toughness, the one word that always came up when describing him was more or less kept secret through a sophomore season for the most part lost with a broken collarbone. Thus, it should be with a sense of astonishment that he completed his collegiate career as the second leading rusher in LSU history, behind the illustrious Billy Cannon, after only two full seasons of play. Second team All SEC in ’70 and First Team All Conference in 1971, he had the talent to go further but the “outstanding feature” of his resume were the incidents related to his penchant for brawling.


A sampling of commentary from some of the LSU boards provides what might be termed, “the aura” that surrounded Cantrelle, feared by all including his much larger teammates:


“Cantrell (sic), on the other hand, was pure mean all the time. A good friend was a Sheriff's deputy, stationed at the old substation down from the Keg, & he would tell stories bout them getting a call bout Cantrell being on a rampage & the immediate response was to call all the available units in the area. One mild story was the time he picked UP a pinball machine & threw it at 4 deputies who were approaching him with their batons drawn & wearing their facial shields. Freshmen were told their first practice to stay the hell away from him at all costs. He was the only player on the team not to have a roommate, no one dared try to live with him. All the guys listed here, S.Burks in particular, are in the top 6-10: Cantrell holds #1-#5 all by himself”


”Art Cantrelle is pure evil, formed of twisted blue steel and raised in the smoldering fires of HELL.”

“When Cantrelle entered a bar, everyone knew him and they either left or all walked over to other side of the room. That's how bad Art was.”

”… he finished his high school at Biloxi High. He is by far the baddest in the land. I've watched him ever since he came to Biloxi, which is where he still lives, and can tell you that everyone on the coast that knows anything will agree with me. He has the strongest grip you can imagine, and can literally break your hand shaking hands. The trick is not to squeeze too hard, or he'll bring you to your knees. He plays a lot of golf these days, and has done everything from booking to shrimping. He is fun to hang with and is a great friend. He has a strong Cajun accent, and you better watch out if he starts talking really fast, cause you're about to get dropped. He has some distant family relationship to my dad's family. If I remember the story right I think his dad passed away in a bar fight (stabbing) in Tee Bois.”

Known as a tough player who always went all out, Cantrelle found himself as a rookie running back in camp with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. The tremendously strong grip he was known for was used as an accomplished arm wrestler and in addition to the “usual” Cantrelle related stories, yet another from Ottawa tells of his insistence on arm wrestling other players on Rookie Night including the muscularly huge and rather famous in weight lifting circles defensive tackle, Tom Laputka. After begging off a number of times from Cantrelle’s louder-by-the-minute taunts, Laputka agreed to a bout which ended with a short left jab to Cantrelle’s jaw which knocked him unconscious. Former Ottawa DB John Kruspe had stated in print, “Well, now you’ll hear the true story because I was there, I saw it.” Kruspe went on to relate that Cantrelle ran outside after being revived, and “five minutes later, I was outside on the sidewalk when I saw him coming back. He was in a rage. His eyes were on fire. In his hand he was waving a pistol. He was looking for Laputka….He fired a bullet into the door” but was eventually restrained. Apologies were made and the team functioned as one again, but the legend of Cantrelle grew larger.

After two CFL seasons Cantrelle signed with the Birmingham Americans of the World Football League for their inaugural  ’74 season. Of course, every description of his play included the word “tough” as in “he could get the tough yards,” and “Cantrelle always ran hard and tough” while demonstrating an ability to get to a hole as fast as anyone in that league and faster than many in the NFL. With the Americans and their 1975 version as the Vulcans, Cantrelle always gave 110%, leaving all he had on the field. Jack Gotta, his coach at both Ottawa and the Americans not surprisingly called him “the toughest player I ever coached.” Although he wasn’t a statistical leader in ’74, Cantrelle got the tough yards, the necessary yards when needed and still churned out a 4.0 yards per rush average while accumulating 504 yards with seven TD’s. When the Americans became the Vulcans for the WFL’s ’75 return, he finished the year as the league’s number two rusher behind Anthony Davis and the third leading scorer with eleven touchdowns.

Always a fan favorite because of his enthusiastic and energetic play, Cantrelle’s wonderful Riddell PAC 3 helmet with Schutt OPO red dot mask is a great reminder of the original WFL. Though not as distinctive as some of the other WFL helmets, the Americans headgear of red, white, and blue was a very crisp and clean design. World Football League fans may also recall one of the unusual aspects of the Americans uniform as noted in HELMET HUT’S WFL section presentation   

[ ]: 

One important distinction that the Americans’ uniforms claimed was that they were the only team to eschew the Davidson generated WFL design. While most who are still available for comment from the Jacksonville Sharks claim that Bud Asher pushed for the silver and black color combination to pay homage to his former employer and mentor Al Davis, the WFL office still dictated the sleeve and helmet stripe combination, the Shark logo, and other features of the entire uniform. The Americans wore the only jersey design that was independent of the WFL office with wide fishnet material, perhaps in response to the hot and humid conditions of Alabama, and a sleeve stripe that gave an overall look that reminded many of Auburn University. Wearing either the blue or white jersey, they were distinct when compared with any of their opponents. The white helmet with royal blue center stripe was flanked by red stripes that were often not clearly distinct and simply made the center stripe appear to be one wide blue stripe. The stylized “A” on each side was identifiable if not particularly memorable. Again, utilitarian is perhaps the best descriptive word for the helmet. Americans fans certainly loved their team and the team uniforms and supported them well, well enough that the NFL should have given full consideration to Birmingham as an expansion city.”

The one-and-one-half-inch royal blue center stripe with red flanking stripes was made a bit more memorable by the stylized “A” on each side of the shell and the addition of small stick-on numerals under the left ear hole that allowed each player to quickly identify his own helmet. The Dymo tape with Cantrelle’s name placed inside of the shell was a standard way to identify one’s helmet. The memories of the exciting play of the WFL and the excellent team that Birmingham put onto the field is reflected in this wonderfully preserved helmet of Arthur Cantrelle. 

If interested in any of these or more WFL helmets please click on the photos below.