The Sports Illustrated article from December 16, 1968, describes the Wheeling Ironmen, a minor league football team playing in the Continental Football League. Despite a shoestring budget, limited facilities, and scarce practice time, the team has an intensely loyal fanbase in Wheeling, West Virginia. Head coach Lou Blumling and team president Mike Valan passionately lead the squad. Key players like quarterback Ed Chlebek, running back Clyde Thomas, and linebacker Jim Cunningham play for meager salaries, hoping to get noticed by NFL scouts. The players face challenges like defensive tackle Joe Pabian having to shovel hot asphalt all day before practicing. But rookies like offensive tackle Darryl Lesser persevere through homesickness and 14-hour road trips for their weddings, dedicated to the team. The coaches and players emblemize the scrappy persistence of minor league sports, playing their hearts out for the love of the game and the Wheeling fans.
The Wheeling Ironmen were a minor league professional football team founded in 1962. They initially played in the United Football League, winning championships in 1962 and 1963 under coach Tom Keane. When the UFL folded, they joined the new Continental Football League in 1965. The team struggled financially but persevered until 1969 when their franchise was revoked by the COFL, which soon collapsed itself. Over their run, the scrappy Ironmen developed future NFL players like Bob Brown while representing a source of civic pride for Wheeling, West Virginia, and the broader Ohio Valley. Though the team and leagues ultimately folded, the Ironmen left a legacy still recalled fondly by the region.
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Photo Credits: Ohio County Library Archives, Wheeling WV