Formation of the Continental Football League was announced on February 6, 1965. The league was primarily formed by "minor league" teams previously in the United and Atlantic Coast Football Leagues.
A.B. "Happy" Chandler, former Kentucky Governor and retired Commissioner of Baseball, was named Commissioner on March 17, 1965.
The league originally adopted a "professional" appearance. Teams were sorted into 2 divisions and each team had a 36-man roster with a 5-man "taxi" squad. The rules were primarily those of the NFL except that a "sudden death" overtime period was employed to break ties. To reinforce an image of league autonomy, teams were restricted from loaning players to, or receiving optioned players from, the NFL or AFL.
The first ContFL season opened with three games played on August 14, 1965.
In only its second year, the league began abandoning the "league autonomy" posture of its initial season by striving to establish working relationships with NFL and AFL clubs. Commissioner Chandler, charging that the league was altering the terms under which he had accepted the position, resigned on January 20, 1966. He was replaced by Sol Rosen, previously the League Secretary and owner of the Newark Bears franchise.
The league engaged in some futile preseason negotiations with the Empire Sports Network to obtain a television broadcasting agreement.
The Brooklyn Dodgers, although under the General Managership of Dodgers (baseball) legend Jackie Robinson, failed to attract at the gates and so the franchise became a league-operated "road club" early in the season.
Coy Bacon, 1966 ContFL All-Star End for the Charleston Rockets, went on to play for the Rams, Chargers, Bengals, & Redskins of the NFL.
The 1967 season brought forth further league instability, particularly because the league was unable to establish working relationships with the NFL or AFL and could not improve upon its overall "semi-pro" public image.
The 1967 San Jose Apaches had a young head coach named Bill Walsh who later achieved great success as a 3-time Super Bowl winning Head Coach with the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL.
For the 1968 season, a midwestern organization known as the Professional Football League of America was absorbed in order to expand into that area of the U.S.
New Commissioner Danny Hill established a weekly payroll ceiling of $200 per player and $5000 per team.
The Spokane (WA) Shockers started the 1968 season with a young QB named Ken Stabler, who later went on to achieve great success with the Oakland Raiders of the NFL.
The Michigan Arrows started their season with a soccer-style kicker named Garo Yepremian, who later found Super Bowl fame in the NFL.
For the 1969 season, Jim Dunn was named new League Commissioner and the Texas Football League was absorbed in order to expand into the Texas area.
Once again expanded and realigned, the ContFL entered the 1969 season with high hopes. In fact, hopes were so high that the Indianapolis franchise was actively bidding for the services of USC star running back O.J. Simpson.
With an average attendance per game of about 5000, there was insufficient action at the gate to offset the continued absence of a television agreement over the long run. Without such an agreement, the economics of the situation ultimately proved to be the league's demise.
In the end, the league's most illustrious alumnus didn't make his mark in the NFL -- but instead chose to play in Canada following the 1969 season. Orlando Panthers QB Don Jonas was a dominant force in the ContFL who actually went on to become a star with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. Jonas was the ContFL's Most Valuable Player for leading his Orlando Panthers to two ContFL Championships in 1967 and 1968. He also led them to a "sudden death" overtime loss to Philadelphia in 1966's Championship Game, as well as the Semi-Finals in 1969.