Enter bouncing: a new tag-along league

Pro football, thanks to enterprising Midwesterners, now has its minors, and they just may show a profit
September 23, 1962

Palavers for the Louisville Raiders, anew professional football team, work out in the early evening hours after they finish work. The lights on the field are so dim that an assistant coach, peering through the gloom one day last week, said to a friend, "It's not quite dark enough to grow mushrooms tonight, but you can't see anything, either."

In Toledo the Tornadoes, another new professional team, work out on the infield of a sometime racetrack. Unlike similar pro teams, they have luxurious dressing quarters, since they took over the old jockeys' lounge, a pine-paneled, softly lighted and pleasant room. Of course they had some difficulty when they moved in. The showers, built for jockeys, were navel-high to most of the outsized pros.

On trips of less than 200 miles the Raiders and Tornadoes and the rest of the teams in the United Football League travel by bus; over 200 miles they fly. To make sure that no one runs out of travel money during the season and fails to show up for a game, the league has a rule that transportation money be deposited with the league office before the season starts.

Travel costs are a major concern in minor league professional football, which, while it is not a new phenomenon on the sports scene, is a growing one in the wake of the immense success of the National Football League. The invention of garrulous, energetic George Gareff, a Columbus, Ohio attorney, the UFL seems the healthiest of the crop of minor and semipro ventures which have sprung up from California to New England. It is in its second year, and preseason crowds were significantly larger than they were in the league's first year.

"We drew 75,000 paid for 11 exhibition games," Gareff says, proudly. "This is just about double our average paid attendance for league games last year. I figure we can do 350,000 paid during the season, for 48 games." If Gareff, who is almost painfully optimistic, is right, then the teams in the league—Wheeling, Columbus, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Toledo and Louisville—could make a little money in 1962.

"Our budget is up to $84,000 for the season," says Mike Valan, head of a roofing contracting firm in Wheeling and president of the Wheeling Ironmen. "We figure if we do about 7,000 a game at home, we're all right. We won't have anything to spare, but we'll be all right."

Biggest item on team budgets is player salaries, although on the players' budgets it is a relatively small item. The league limits the salary figure to $1,650 per game—or an average of $50 per man for the 33-man squads. The clubs can split this up any way their managements like, so that some of the players may draw as much as $75 per game, others as little as $25. It need hardly be noted that the coaches, like the players, make their living off the football field.

Bob Snyder, who once coached the Los Angeles Rams, gets $1,200 for coaching the Toledo Tornadoes, a small supplement to his salary as a radio executive; Ken Carpenter, the former Cleveland back, gets about the same for coaching Indianapolis. He is an office manager for an architectural firm off the field. The coaches' budgets are as small as their salaries.

"We got a couple of late cuts from the NFL not long ago," says Tom Keane, the Wheeling coach who played with several NFL clubs. "One of them lived in California and the other one in Utah, and I never did contact them. Our budget wouldn't stand the long distance calls."

Operating on a much smaller scale, the clubs run into problems that would make the National and American Football League teams wince. A good example is what happened recently to the Louisville Raiders. The team is coached by Paulie Miller, one of the few men in the league who did not play in the NFL. Miller produced Paul Hornung and several other major league stars in high school and was a strong candidate for the University of Kentucky job when Blanton Collier left this year to go back to the Cleveland Browns. Each evening he leaves his high school job to coach the Raiders. He is a good, intelligent man who handles his pro club with the same attention to detail which has produced high school champions. This story is told by Lou Karibo, an assistant coach.

"The other night, we're making a bus trip," Karibo said. "We have a few seats left over, so we tell the boys we'd sell them the seats for three bucks for their wives. Maybe 10 guys hold up their hands, saying they'll pay the three. Then we get on the bus and the owner says, 'What the heck, it's only 30 bucks. I'll pay it.' So we got to where we're going to play the game, one guy gets up and says if he knew the club was paying he would of brought his wife. He wants the three bucks and won't suit up until he gets it. We gave it to him."

It would seem that rewards so small would engender effort on the same scale, but this is not true. The teams in the UFL hit with enormous enthusiasm, play intelligent football and seem to care about winning as much as, say, Notre Dame.

"We get two kinds of kids," Carpenter said recently. "We get the kid who will never make it in the NFL or the AFL but loves to play football so much that he'll take $50 a week and an outside job and work out at night just to stay in the game. You don't have to worry about his desire.

"Then we get the kids who were cut late by a major league club and feel that, with another year's experience, they can move back up and stick. They know that they are being scouted by both the major leagues. If they do well, they get another chance."

Some 30 UFL players were, indeed, given another chance this year. Only three were still around when the NFL and AFL finally cut their squads to size, but those three are enough to create enthusiasm among the ones left in the UFL.

Gareff, who never finished high school, and gave up a career as a barker in a carnival at 26 to go to college for his law degree, played his only football during his sophomore year in high school.

"I got interested in minor league ball because a client called me in Columbus and asked if he could field a team for $2,500," Gareff says. "We incorporated for $15,000 three years ago, played a bunch of hamburgers in tank towns before 300 or 400 people. I figured a good team in a city like Columbus could do better than that, and I was right."

Gareff modeled his league almost exactly on the NFL, appropriating league rules, playing rules and player contracts nearly word for word. "If we can bring the player salaries up to an average of $100 a game," he said the other day, "we're home free. Then we can offer the boys enough money so that all they have to do is play football for a living. But we have to be careful. We're a minor league, and I think we'll continue to be. If we get delusions of grandeur, we're in trouble. There's not enough money available in the parks we have to go big league. But there's a place in the Midwest for this kind of football. I think we've proved that."