EPISODE 134: The World League of American Football’s London Monarchs – With Alex Cassidy

By popular request, we begin our exploration of the enigmatic 1990s international experiment known (initially) as the World League of American Football with a deep dive into its first championship team – the London Monarchs – with author Alex Cassidy (American Football's Forgotten Kings: The Rise and Fall of the London Monarchs).

Resurrected from an idea originated (but never launched) by the NFL in 1974 called the “International Football League,” the WLAF was formed in 1989 as both a spring developmental circuit as well as an operational test bed for full-fledged expansion of American football into markets outside the United States.

Eventually comprised exclusively of European teams by 1995 (later under the banners “NFL Europe” from [1998-2006] and “NFL Europa” [2007]), the first two seasons of the WLAF also featured a Canadian franchise (the Montreal Machine) as well as six in the US – most of which (Orlando, Birmingham, Sacramento, San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham [1991], and Columbus, OH [1992]) were historically forlorn pro markets.

The Monarchs played their first two seasons at the original/famed Wembley Stadium and became an immediate sensation in London, averaging over 40,000 fans per game – including a league-record-setting 61,108 for the WLAF’s inaugural World Bowl 21-0 championship over the Barcelona Dragons on June 9, 1991. 

Though the team never achieved the level of success or stability in the years that followed (the league’s return in 1995 began a peripatetic journey of future home stadiums across London, as well as Bristol and Manchester), the Monarchs boasted a memorable array of characters that – like other WLAF/NFLE teams – consisted of veteran NFL journeymen and promising young developmental talent from both the US and the Continent, including:

  • Kicker Phil Alexander, the league's 1991 points leader (and now Managing Director of Crystal Palace);

  • RB Victor Ebubedike, the first European native to score a touchdown (vs. the Orlando Thunder, 4/6/91):

  • Journeyman NFL QB Stan Gelbaugh, 1991’s WLAF Offensive Player of the Year; and

  • Former Chicago Bears Super Bowl-winning defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry.

PLUS: The “Yo-Go” Monarchs theme song!

American Football’s Forgotten Kings: The Rise and Fall of the London Monarchs - buy here

EPISODE #65: The CFL’s American Expansion Experiment with Sportswriter Ed Willes

As Johnny Manziel’s pro football comeback journey wraps up a promising pre-season with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, we take a moment this week to reminisce on the approaching 25th anniversary of the CFL’s bold, but ultimately ill-fated attempt to bring its exciting brand of pigskin south of the border in 1993.

When the NFL put the brakes on its two-year World League of American Football experiment in the summer of 1992 (which included a franchise in Montreal, dubbed the “Machine”), an economically wobbly CFL sensed an opportunity to fill the gap in US markets newly comfortable with the notion of pro football, as well as a potential growth path for the tradition-rich Canadian game to expand outside the Provinces.  In fact, two WLAF owners, Fred Anderson (Sacramento Surge) and Larry Benson (San Antonio Riders) "crossed over" to the Canadian League and were awarded newly rechristened franchises for 1993 – Anderson’s Sacramento Gold Miners and Benson's San Antonio Texans. 

While the Gold Miners were the only ones to make it into the following season’s expanded CFL schedule (Benson literally – and ominously – left the league at the altar by bowing out the day of the league’s press conference announcing the expansion), the door was open to a wild three-season adventure that brought the wide-open Canadian game to far-flung American outposts in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Shreveport, Memphis, Birmingham, and, ironically (via eventual relocation from Sacramento), San Antonio.

Longtime Vancouver Province sportswriter Ed Willes (End Zones and Border Wars: The Era of American Expansion in the CFL) joins the podcast to discuss the league’s short-lived American expansion effort, which then-commissioner Larry Smith had hoped to eventually encompass ten US teams in a fully expanded 20-team league.  

Among the misadventures, Willes recounts: the 1995 champion Baltimore Stallions (who operated as the nickname-less “CFLers” the previous season in a trademark dispute with the NFL over the “Colts” moniker); the woefully attended Las Vegas Posse (who practiced on the Strip in the Riviera Hotel’s parking lot and were forced to play their last “home” game in Edmonton); the Memphis Mad Dogs’ unique approach to fitting the longer/wider CFL field into the Liberty Bowl; why football-mad Birmingham couldn’t draw flies for Barracuda games once college and high school seasons started; and the “Great Tucker Caper” – featuring the infamous brothers Glieberman and their attempt to steal away the Shreveport Pirates to the greener pastures of Norfolk, VA.

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End Zones & Border Wars: The Era of American Expansion in the CFL - buy book here