By Michael E. Miller
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It is impossible to determine exactly how much money Chambers collected and spent. If league books were maintained, no one has seen them, and Chambers was notorious for failing to give players and coaches receipts for money they handed in. Individual teams' record-keeping was similarly lax. Some team officials admit they began to hold back funds because they didn't trust Chambers any more. Others acknowledge that some players' checks did bounce. (Rick Doemel says that of the $2000 he turned over to Chambers in player checks, at least $400 worth were returned for insufficient funds.)
Chambers waived the application fee for some players, and persuaded others to contribute $100. The assistant coach for the Miami Storm, Lindsay Diaz, says his mother gave Chambers $150, ostensibly to buy stock in the league. She never received any certificates.
Chambers did pay for the Miami team to travel to Tampa for one of the preseason inter-squad scrimmages, picking up the cost of vans, motel rooms, and meals. He gave the Metro-Dade Parks and Recreation Department a $500 deposit to reserve the Tropical Park stadium for a game, but forfeited the money when he failed to come up with the $1500 balance. And for a few of the preseason games that were held, Chambers did pay the officiating crews, says Erik Joh, who was in charge of organizing officials for the league. Mostly, though, it seemed Chambers was spending the league's money to cover his own expenses as president. He rented an office in North Bay Village, paid for phones, electricity, and a fax machine. He traveled, sometimes in rented cars, pressing the flesh and talking up his league.
In attempting to keep the cash coming in, Chambers appears to have cheated his own players. In one case he collected eighteen dollars apiece from Miami Storm players for jerseys. After taking the money, he passed around the blue shirts so the players could see what they looked like, then took them back, promising to return them in time for the next game.
A few days later, several Storm players went to a scrimmage between Hialeah and Tampa, and immediately noticed that the Hialeah squad was wearing Miami's jerseys. Hialeah coach Joe Montoya says on the eve of the game, Chambers had sold his players the jerseys - for twenty dollars each. Montoya says that although he didn't learn until much later that the shirts originally had been sold to Miami, he had suspected something was wrong because Hialeah's colors were supposed to be orange and green, not blue.
Jim Chambers's Continental Football League of America opened its inaugural season on January 25 with a thriller in Tallahassee, in which the Jacksonville Blazers defeated the Tallahassee Senators, 19-13, in overtime. "We started the league off with a bang," says Blazers coach T.D. Knox, who tried to get in touch with Chambers after the game to to find out why the league president had failed to show up for the opener. On January 28 Knox was surprised to hear Chambers's answering machine announce that all league play was suspended because various teams had been withholding money from the league. Knox immediately went to the bank to check on his team's individual account, which, like the league's Barnett account, Chambers controlled. Only 66 cents remained from the $300 that had been there the day before.
By the next day, Knox says, Chambers had taped a new message: All players, coaches, and general managers were released from their contracts. The league might be reformed at some future date.
That was the last anyone from the CFLA heard from Jim Chambers.
Players, coaches, and officials portray Chambers as a master thief, a con man who made a fine living for himself while operating fraudulent semipro leagues. They say his office was merely a post-office box, that he had neither a Social Security number nor a Florida driver's license. Always a shadowy figure who deliberately shied away from cameras, Chambers, they say, never allowed himself to be photographed. They say he hid behind sunglasses and a cap.
"Information I have received is that Jim Chambers is not his real name; it was one of several aliases he used," says T.D. Knox. There was also talk that he had been known in Texas as Lou Hires, and that just two years ago he was involved in a failed football league there and ran off with nearly $50,000 in cash.
Contracts were distributed, and they all agreed to defer payment until February 1993, when the league would be on sound financial footing.
Perhaps those myths are more easily accepted than what might actually be the truth. Instead of saying they blindly followed a loser, people can claim they were duped by a seasoned pro. And it is easier to hate someone if you believe he deliberately set out to cheat you, rather than someone who just can't seem to succeed, someone who isn't really much different from you.
In a league filled with dreamers, Jim Chambers was probably the biggest dreamer of them all.
He does have a Florida driver's license (although it expired last month) and a Social Security card. He was born in Nashville, Arkansas, on February 7, 1942. His father was a salesman, his mother a housewife. In 1960 Chambers graduated from Texarkana Senior High School, after receiving the F.E. Pharr Trophy as the school's most valuable football player. After a three-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, he came home to Texarkana and football. He played tight end, and sometimes quarterback, for the Texarkana Phantoms, at least until his knees gave out. He moved to Miami in 1970 and graduated from the University of Miami in 1975 with a major in accounting and a minor in business administration. He ran his own accounting business, and for a time he worked as a substitute teacher at Miami Beach Senior High.