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Like the millions of Americans who have sat glued to their TV sets for the past week watching in amazement the devastation that has raised havoc on the citizens of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama - several staff members of the American Football Association can reminisce about a remarkable week in January 1981 when the AFA hosted its first ever Semi-Pro Football All-Star Game at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans. Gormely stadium was located only a couple short of miles from the Superdome. God only knows where it’s located now. Or even, if it’s still standing after last weeks storm.
After conducting its first National Championship Game in California in November (1980), AFA president Ron Real wanted to showcase the many outstanding players from semi-pro teams across the country to NFL coaches and scouts who would be gathered in New Orleans for Super Bowl XV Sunday - so he and his staff selected nearly 100 of the top semi-pro football players in the country and put them together for an East vs. West All-Star Game which was played the day before the Super Bowl.
"I’m sure all the semi-pro players and coaches that participated in the first AFA All-Star Game in New Orleans 25 years ago will remember our 4 days of training camp in Biloxi and Gulfport prior to traveling to New Orleans for the All-Star game", said Real from his Sarasota, Florida office. "I’m also sure everyone that was involved in that all-star game week has been taken back with the scenes of mass destruction from that area as they are portrayed over and over again on the never ending TV news coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
Although the AFA semi-pro football event took place two and half decades ago the AFA founder recalls that his Eastern All-Stars were housed in a Holiday Inn in Biloxi and the West team was staying a few miles away at a Holiday Inn in Gulfport. Both team-training camps had several NFL scouts assigned to the two-a-day practice secessions in those respective cities. Several players from both squads were signed to NFL contracts as a result of that first AFA All-Star Game in New Orleans. In addition, several more were drafted and signed by the USFL pro league the following year.
"I couldn’t help thinking about what was going through the minds of those players and coaches the other night - who 25 years ago were in Biloxi and Gulfport with us - as they watched the TV footage of those same two hotels being ‘swamped’ and destroyed by Katrina", continued Real.
While there are several current semi-pro teams in the Gulf Coast area whose players, staff and families may need our prayers, Mr. Real reminded his AFA member teams that there are also several Semi-Pro Football Hall of Famers that call that regional area home and need to be remembered in our thoughts for a safe and speedy recovery along with all those living in that devastated area.
When reviewing the names of the 500 individuals who have been inducted into the AFA’s Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame over the past 25 years, it’s amazing how may of them played and/or coached in that first All-Star Game in Tad Gormley Stadium and hold fond memories of playing a semi-pro game right in the shadow of the New Orleans Superdome … the day before Super Bowl XV. Now the Superdome seems to be just a shadow itself on our TV screens.
Semi-pro football teams are invited to visit the following link at to direct donations to assist the hurricane Katrina relief efforts.