World Football League Programs
This was an historic game which is now all but forgotten. When the Philadelphia Bell faced The Hawaiians in a World Football League game at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field on August 2, 1975, it marked the first time in the modern era that a black man led a pro football team onto the field as Head Coach. That man was Willie Wood, a former eight-time Pro Bowl safety on Vince Lombardi’s mighty Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960’s. Wood originally signed on with the Bell as defensive coordinator for the 1975 season under Head Coach Ron Waller. When Waller abruptly resigned in training camp, Bell owner John Bosacco tabbed Wood as his replacement. Wood took over the coaching reigns with just four days to prepare for this regular season opener.
Wood’s breakthrough appointment drew major press coverage around the United States, but it did little to spark ticket buying interest in Philadelphia. The Bell announced an embarrassing opening day crowd of just 2,732 at 60,000-seat Franklin Field for this game. In two other WFL games the same night, the Memphis Southmen drew 25,166 and the Birmingham Vulcans claimed 29,000 in their respective home openers.
There was some extra context to the pitiful numbers in Philadelphia. The year before – the WFL’s debut season of 1974 – the Bell announced staggering crowds of 55,534 for their inaugural game and 64,719 for their second home game. Within weeks, however, Bell Vice President Barry Leib sheepishly acknowledged that the team gave away more than 100,000 free tickets for the first two games. Of the 120,000 fans the Bell claimed, fewer than 20,000 actually purchased tickets. It was the kind of attendance chicanery that many teams engage in, but inflated to an industrial scale that enraged the media. The national sporting press dubbed it “Papergate” and sharpened their knives. The scandal instantly deflated the credibility of the fledgling league and the Bell franchise. By the time 1975 rolled around, the WFL was in wobbly shape and the Bell literally couldn’t giveaway tickets in Philly – but at least they were honest about it.
Beyond Wood prowling the sidelines, there were a number of interesting players in this game. The Hawaiians featured former Dallas Cowboys #1 draft pick and All-Pro running back Calvin Hill. He shredded the Bell defense for 155 yards on 32 carries for the night.
The Bell’s big star was Pennsylvania native and former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl tight end Ted Kwalick. Kwalick was only 28 years old and still considered one of the best tight ends in pro football. He signed with the WFL the previous year, committing the join the team in 1975 after playing out his option year with the 49ers in the 1974. Despite his elite talent, the 49ers punished Kwalick for his disloyalty by banishing him to the end of the bench for much of the 1974 season. Kwalick caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in this game from Bell quarterback Jim “King” Corcoran as the Bell held on to defeat the Hawaiians 21-15.
One other player of note on the Bell this night was an aging wide receiver named Vince Papale. After the demise of the WFL later on in 1975, Papale earned a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles at an open tryout. He later became a cult hero as a 30-year old NFL rookie and special teams star in Philadelphia during the mid-late 1970’s. Disney turned Papale’s unlikely success story into the 2006 film Invincible, with Mark Wahlberg as Papale.