By Dr. Ken 


Noting the proliferation of minor league football teams throughout all parts of the United States during the 1960’s, it becomes important to distinguish between “minor league” and “semi-professional league” football. In the terrific volume referenced in the July 2013, Part One of this article [ see         ]  Outsiders II, Minor League And Independent Football 1951 – 1985, the authors Bob Gill, Todd Maher, and Steve Brainerd noted that “minor league football has enjoyed two golden eras; first the 1930s and ‘40s, and later the 1960s and early ‘70s.” Their book, which will provide hours of enjoyable and interesting reading and “referencing,” notes that the formation of the United Football League in 1961 through the demise of the World Football League in 1975 demarcates the second of those so-called golden eras. The intent of the United Football League, which survived from 1961 through ’64, was described by its owners upon its formation, to be “a cut above semi-pro football and a cut below the major leagues,” referring of course to both the National and American Football Leagues. The Continental League (CFL) “…attempted to maintain cordial relationships with the other professional leagues, including the National, American and Canadian Leagues, as well as the other minor leagues in the country. The CFL likes to consider itself as a ‘farm system’ to the major leagues, much like in baseball and soon hopes to be recognized as such and have each member team be affiliated with a major league club. The comparison has been made that the CFL would be the Pacific Coast League of football,, meaning that the caliber of play is in the AAA category.”


Bob Tucker, future New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings tight end is pictured on left, with his Bloomsburg State College teammates. Tucker traveled the minor league circuit through Lowell, MA and Pottstown, PA before embarking on a successful NFL career that lasted from 1970 through 1980.


Each thirty man roster in the United Football League was to have a salary limit of $15,000.00, and typical for all of the minor leagues of the day, player salaries could range from $100.00 to $500.00 per week. Relative to the specific era of the 1960’s, the fact that there were salaries paid, a “salary cap” for each team, and actual player contracts can in part explain the difference between semi-pro and minor league football. I know that the concept is very much lost among typical New York City area football fans and those of the past two generations due to the paucity of football played outside of the boundaries of the major television networks and big time cable linked programming. Despite the legitimate efforts of the players to do their best and earn a shot at the NFL, the circus like legacy of the XFL and what seemed like a half-hearted and ineffective attempt to establish itself by the United Football League of 2009 – 2012 has left the public with a negative view of what they interpret as minor league football.


With definitions firmly dependent upon perspective, one can best think of the 1960’s version of semi-pro football as a group of men and sometimes teenagers, managing to practice weekly and who played games when a suitable number of active participants showed. They did so for the love of the game as most contests were absent of salary. It was certainly common to pass the hat through the stands, and yes, it would be a large old hat or coffee can, and collect donations from appreciative fans but semi-pro most often meant “not paid.” Minor league football was much better organized with paid coaching staffs and players. For a select few, the salaries were competitive with the NFL standard of the day. The most obvious example of a minor league player who was paid well is Don Jonas. The former multi-position stalwart at Penn State University starred for a number of minor league teams after a year with the Philadelphia Eagles, and later played in the Canadian Football League. After moving from receiver to quarterback, he became one of the best known names in the minor league ranks and in 1967, it was accepted as fact that his salary with the Orlando Panthers exceeded an offer he received from the Denver Broncos! Within the ranks of minor league football, everyone received a salary, even if it ranged from only $100.00 to $200.00 per game. The caliber of player was also of a much higher standard in the minor leagues relative to semi-pro ball. While a former pro player and/or college player might populate a semi-pro roster, most of the minor league teams of the mid to late-1960’s fielded teams with former NFL, AFL, and collegiate participants. There certainly were those like the Oakland Raiders’ Otis Sistrunk, whom Alex Karras famously noted was “from The University Of Mars” on a Monday Night Football broadcast and who did not have college playing experience, but the vast majority of players did. Many of those players had resumes that included having been through at least one pro pre-season or try-out camp.



While not quite the famous Green Bay Packers sweep versus the Baltimore Colts, the Atlantic Coast Football League Hartford Knights’ version of the same play seems reminiscent of the signature Lombardi play. Like most of the ACFL teams, the Knights were “affiliated with” the Green Bay Packers and the uniforms reflected that. The Harrisburg Capitol Colts pictured in this photo, are in fact attired in Colts uniforms, serving as their affiliate. Some teams received uniforms, and some much more than that. The Westchester Bulls of 1968 were supplied with uniforms of the New York Giants, coaching staff assistance, the same playbook, and the use of players that were in the process of “playing themselves back into condition.” The minor leagues of the ‘60’s allowed some players like Otis Sistrunk to have an American Football League or NFL career where it otherwise would not have happened. Others like Mel Meeks, the ball carrier in the above photograph, were terrors in the various minor leagues but never quite made the cut in the AFL, NFL, or CFL. Meeks, at 6’1” and 215 pounds, was already twenty-five years of age when he began his minor league career in 1963 and lacked the advantage of collegiate experience.



Playing in the ACFL or Continental Football League between ’63 and 1970, he amassed 4710 rushing yards and an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. He is considered royalty among minor league players as the ACFL’s all time leading rusher, posting 4198 yards in six seasons and a monster 1964 season. His 1460 yards is still considered the single season rushing mark for any of the “major minor leagues.” His abilities serve as a reminder that “minor league” football, in addition to providing high level sports entertainment in many small cities that lacked major league sports teams, also provided a very high level of football. 


Number 30 Claude Watts of the Bell


Others like John Land and Claude Watts were able to gain a bit more recognition, well deserved recognition, by playing in the World Football League as the backfield duo of the Philadelphia Bell, and further served to reflect what was often, the ignored and under appreciated talent level of the minor leagues.  


 John Land