Sunday, 27 September 2015

No WLAF-ing Matter

Another football oddity that had some Canadian content spillover was the World League of American Football (or WLAF) that was formed in 1991 by the NFL as a developmental league and played two seasons with teams in both North America and Europe. The Canadian connection was the Montreal Machine franchise that competed in both of the short lived league`s seasons. Since the time frame corresponded nicely with the sports card boom years there were no shortage of trading card sets issued to immortalize the players on cardboard.

A nice team pack with Pennant, Bumper Sticker and Pinback was available,
the Pennant was also available separately (probably all three were)

Because this league played American Football (in Canada) I did not include the trading cards or other memorabilia in the Collecting Canadian Football series of guides, however I will list what is known about the Machine collectibles here in this blog post. The first set of WLAF cards was issued by Pro Set, one of the primary companies fueling the sports card boom with a gazillion different issues, many of which were eventually regarded as junk as soon as the boom petered out. Two sets of WLAF inserts were included as part of Pro Set's primary 1991 NFL Series I trading card set, a ten card helmet set and a 32 card player set. (Actually technically the first WLAF card was part of Pro Set's 1990 NFL issue advertising that the new league would begin play in the following year.)

There were three Machine cards in the first insert set, and one Machine helmet in the second insert set, with the team schedule on the back

Besides the Montreal cards there were no shortage of player and coach cards with significant CFL experience, either prior to WLAF or afterwards

Ten more WLAF cards were directly included in Series II of Pro Set's 1991 NFL set featuring the MVP's and some stats leaders of the first season's league play, but none of these cards featured a Machine player. Later in the 1991 season Pro Set issued a comprehensive WLAF set of 150 cards available in packs (4 complete sets to a box) or in a boxed set. A helmet card with the same front as that issued as a Series I insert was included, but the card number was different and the back contained the results of the season (since this was a spring league). Montreal finished 4-6 and out of the playoffs.

There were eleven Machine cards in this set, one helmet, eight players, one coach and one stats leader

Finally, because Pro Set just could not stop producing sets, a World Bowl set of 43 cards was issued to fans attending the first WLAF championship game at Wembley Stadium in London. These cards were identical to the initial two insert sets (with one trophy card added) except the Helmet cards were renumbered and the backs contained a team narrative. So therefore there was one additional Montreal card available from this issue.

For the 1992 season a new firm, the Ultimate Trading Card Company issued a WLAF set of 200 cards in packs of 9, 12 packs to a box. Such was the insanity of the boom times that they actually ran a contest with a giveaway of $1 Million Dollars ... for a product dedicated to a 2nd year developmental football league ... hard to believe. Each box contained a team hologram insert as well as a promotional poster that had Pete Mandley of the Machine pictured on it along with other players. Several promotional cards were produced but none was of a Machine player.

There were eighteen Machine cards in this set, one team card, one checklist, 15 players and one hologram. There was also one Frankfurt Galaxy player who had a traded to Montreal notation on his card but he is pictured in a Galaxy uniform

The last 1992 WLAF issue was courtesy of Wild Cards whose gimmick was to produce a limited amount of cards with foil stamped denomination stripes on them, supposedly indicating that a particular striped card was "worth" 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 or 1000! times the normal card. Wow what a boom era concept destined to have collectors falling all over themselves to shell out huge $$$ for these extreme rarities.

There were 15 Machine cards in this set, but each one would also have been available in the 6 striped denomination variations, for a total of 90 additional cards

The WLAF was shut down after 1992 (the Machine finished a dismal 2-8) and the Sacramento Surge would transform themselves into the Sacramento Gold Miners as the first ever CFL American expansion team for 1993. Note the Surge uniform color similarities to the Gold Miners on the Carl Parker card. Apparently the San Antonio Riders were also supposed to join the CFL for 1993 but unfortunately they folded before a third Rider franchise could be added to the league.

Naturally the team also produced other ephemera that can be interesting to collect, such as schedules, media guides and a second pennant design illustrated below. For a truly comprehensive look at Montreal Machine (and all WLAF/NFL Europe) memorabilia check out this link.

In fact the 1992 league championship World Bowl was played in Montreal with the Sacramento Surge emerging victorious over the Orlando Thunder, generating more collectible items related to football in Montreal.


The WLAF was resurrected in 1995 with only European teams and was eventually renamed to NFL Europe and contimued to play until the 2007 season before finally ceasing operations. North American involvement was limited to just the 1991 & 1992 seasons and Machine collectibles are pretty reasonably priced and an interesting sidelight of American football played in Canada.