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The Arkansas Diamonds professional football team competed in the Continental Football League in 1968 and 1969. The Continental Football League, a fledgling professional league, operated from 1965 to 1969. A. B. Chandler, former Kentucky governor and Major League Baseball’s second commissioner, was the league’s first commissioner and provided the upstart league with a recognized level of credibility. Nevertheless, by 1968, Chandler had departed and the league was struggling to survive.
Still, the Continental Football League provided players with an opportunity to be paid to play, although in 1968 team payrolls were capped at $5,000 per game, and no player could earn more than $200 per game. Furthermore, the league offered players a chance to continue playing after their collegiate careers ended. Several former college football standouts from Arkansas were on the Diamonds roster.
Among the former Arkansas gridiron stars to play for the Diamonds was the club’s quarterback, Bobby Tiner of Morrilton (Conway County). Tiner played for the Diamonds after an outstanding collegiate career at State College of Arkansas, now known as the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). A fine passer and runner, Tiner—a future Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee—provided the Diamonds with a dynamic offensive attack in 1968 and 1969.
Another notable player was Tommy Trantham, a former All-Southwest Conference defensive back at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). Years after his collegiate career, Trantham was named to UA’s All-Decade Defensive Team. The Little Rock (Pulaski County) native played with the Diamonds in 1968 and 1969, serving as player/assistant coach in 1969.
Sharing time at quarterback with Tiner in 1969 was another former Razorback standout, Jon Brittenum, of Brinkley (Monroe County). Brittenum came to the Diamonds after a brief stint with the American Football League’s San Diego Chargers.
In 1968, Tiner led the team in passing and rushing, piling up almost 1,700 yards. Stung by a porous defense, the Diamonds stumbled to a 2–10 record. The 1969 campaign featured a stingier defense, posting an improved record of 5–7. Leading the squad’s defensive unit, and notching seven pass interceptions, was Tommy Trantham.
Mirroring league-wide hardships, the Diamonds struggled to attract crowds large enough to sustain a professional football team. Efforts to boost attendance for the 1969 campaign included having local high school drill teams at half-time shows, two-for-one ticket specials, and a statewide effort by the Jaycees, but they failed to gain traction.
On October 1, 1969, the Diamonds’ ownership received notice from the Internal Revenue Service that almost $12,000 in back taxes were owed for the last quarter of 1968. The league office also demanded a payment of $20,000. Failure to pay the league fees carried a threat of revocation of the franchise. After the owners renounced their ties with the league and team, the remainder of the season was in jeopardy. The season was salvaged when a player-organized fundraising drive collected the league fees. Players then agreed to finish the season without pay. For the remainder of the season, the league office covered team expenses. Local fundraising attempts continued but ultimately fell short of keeping the team afloat. An attempt to incorporate the team also failed. On January 18, 1969, the league revoked the team franchise. Later that year, the league also folded.
Former Diamonds linebacker Conley “Buzz” Bolding from Searcy (White County) and defensive end/kicker Coy Clark from Bentonville (Benton County) later fondly recalled their days with the Diamonds, noting that they would have been happy to play for free. Moreover, Bolding argued that the Diamonds provided an excellent training ground for several future Arkansas high school football coaches.
From 1965 to 1969, dozens of players with ties to Arkansas played in the league. The league produced a handful of noteworthy players and coaches who went on to enjoy successful careers in the National Football League (NFL), including defensive lineman Coy Bacon, placekicker Garo Yepremian, quarterback Kenny Stabler, and San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh.
Stadium Venues 1968–1969
Conway (Faulkner County)
War Memorial Stadium
1968 Arkansas Diamonds: Head Coach Tom Burke
Oklahoma City Plainsmen
Ohio Valley Ironmen
Las Vegas Cowboys
(at) Omaha Mustangs
1969 Arkansas Diamonds: Head Coach Fred Williams, replaced by John Hoffman
New Jersey Jays
For additional information:Bailey, Jim. “Ironmen Rusty in Middle but Crack Diamonds Late.” Arkansas Gazette, September 15, 1968, p. 5B.
Booster Club of the Continental Football League, Inc. http://www.boosterclubcfl.com/index.php (accessed March 12, 2012).
“Dallas Passes May Be Trouble For Diamonds.” Arkansas Gazette, August 11, 1968, p. 2B.
“Diamonds’ Effort Spoiled, Chicago Takes 14–13 Win.” Arkansas Gazette, August 25, 1968, p. 5B.
“Diamonds Fall Prey To Mustangs, 34–7.” Arkansas Gazette, November 10, 1968, 6B.
Harres, Jeffrey L. “The Life and Times of the Arkansas Diamonds.” Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 30 (Spring/Summer 1988): 9–14.
Kennedy, Sarge. “The Continental Football League: A Mini-tragedy in Five Acts.” The Coffin Corner 10.5 (1988): 1–12. Online at http://www.profootballresearchers.org/Coffin_Corner/10-05-347.pdf (accessed March 15, 2012).
McCoy, John. “Hungry Diamonds Slap Down Owls.” Arkansas Gazette, November 2, 1969, p. 7B.
“Orlando Shatters Diamonds, 54–20, With Steady Attack.” Arkansas Gazette, September 1, 1968, p. 5B.
Peterson, Harold. “Pro Football on A Shoestring.” Sports Illustrated, December 16, 1968, p. 36–41.
“Rockets’ Late Surge Foils Diamonds’ Exhibition Debut.” Arkansas Gazette, August 12, 1968, p. 2B.
“State’s Jaycees Set to Sponsor Diamonds’ Game.” Arkansas Gazette, November 8, 1969, p. 2B.
“Tommy Trantham Shares CFL Lead for Interceptions.” Arkansas Gazette, November 6, 1969, p. 5B.
Wilder, Jimmy. “Diamonds Thwart Omaha by 21–17, behind Brittenum.” Arkansas Gazette, August 31, 1969, p. 6B.
Paul EdwardsBoston, Massachusetts
Last Updated 9/12/2012
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