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Birmingham Bulls MVRP


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  A History of the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA.


  The Bulls were an original WHA club that began as the Ottawa Nationals for one season followed by becoming the Toronto Toros under owner John Bassett, who in exasperation over the horrible terms of his lease with curmudgeon Harold Ballard, a former close friend now turned sworn enemy, something that happened more often than not with our pal Hal.

  So needing a place to play, Bassett looked around the landscape and chose: Birmingham Alabama. Home of stock car, 'rasslin' and moonshine, he figured give them a little fighting and mix in a tad bit of hockey and see what can happen.

  Three seasons, the final three in the WHA saw the raiding of Juniors as had never been done before. Mixing veterans such as Summit Series hero Paul Henderson, a born again Christian who says he along with Frank Mahovlich kept the younger crazier players from killing themselves and the other team, along with nasty bits of work Steve Durbano, Dave Hansen (Yes, from the Hansen brothers) Giles 'Bad News' Bilodeau, Frank 'never' Beaton, all of whom a book could be written about their misadventures on the ice, and other assorted miscreants as well.

  Essentially, according to the big M, who played the first two seasons in Birmingham, "we would usually play solid hockey for the first period or so, then the home crowd would get restless and start boing, and begin screaming 'send in the goons' at which time the game sort of got away from us."

  Coaches Glen Sonmor and then John Brophy both of whom went on to coach in the NHL did the best that they could. The first two seasons saw some of the worst of hockey, if you want to call it that. The club missed the playoffs the first season and snuck in the second, but was essentially a two headed calf at the county fair in Alabama, something people came to stare at in wonder but not really know what the hell they were looking at. More than one remembrance from players mention the smell of marijuana that hung in the air at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. "There was a section of fans behind our bench who got high through the entire game when we were at home," Said Phil Roberto "I played more than one third period myself with the munchies from a contact high."

  By 1978 it was obvious the league was fading fast, Bassett was a stubborn cuss and in an attempt to make the NHL negotiate in good faith began raiding juniors hot and heavy, something he had done all along but now he stepped up hard. The list of Junior players he signed causing agony throughout Canada and the NHL includes:

Mark Napier

Ken Linesman

Rod Langway

Michel Goulet

Keith Crowder

Gaston Gingras

Craig Hartsburg

Pat Riggen

Rob Ramage

Rick Vaive


  WOW. Read that list carefully, one hell of a sniping party. Along with them, Bassett went hard and heavy after Wayne Gretzky before the great one signed with Indianapolis.

  The WHA signed terms of surrender after 1979, all junior players were returned to the NHL teams as property of the clubs who had drafted them, (except Gretzky who signed a personal service contract with the Edmonton owner) and four teams merged, the Bulls wound up on the outside looking in. 

  But for three years professional Hockey or a semblance was played in Alabama. Two years of gooning it up followed by the best collection of kids breaking in at one time to be seen. Missing the playoffs twice in three seasons, this remarkable club featured some of the best and worst of the games between the kids, the aging graceful vets and even the bad guys. Key parts include

FRANK MAHOVLICH Hall of famer who stumbled thru his final two pro seasons in the WHA.

PAUL HENDERSON 'The greatest goal' scorer ever put up 84 goals in his three seasons in Birmingham supplying grace and dignity to a club that often lacked both

JOHN BROPHY Coach, who was the real life inspiration for 'Reg Dunlop' of Slapshot fame. That is all you need to really know.

VACLAV NEDOMANSKY An early iron curtain escapee, who was a WHA superstar before being part of the only trade between leagues the Bulls traded him to the Detroit Red wings for Dave Hansen because they needed more muscle.

ALL THE KIDS. Vaive, Goulet, Langway, Ramage, ect... all.... Rick Vaive came along after the two years of goons beating the hell out of everyone in the league, he says he fought more in the one year in the WHA than in his entire career combined because everyone wanted revenge for what the Bulls had done to them with the crazies.


  I would not exactly call this a MVRP article, just a quick look back at a club that for three years brought fun and excitement to the deep south, if not exactly hockey.

  The Baby Bulls

  Bring on the Goons

A fitting summary for the Birmingham Bulls brief life in the World Hockey Association

Edited by yave1964
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