New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans
July 17, 1974
World Football League Programs
The upstart World Football League (1974-1975) made its debut in the Big Apple in Week 2 of the league’s inaugural season of 1974. WFL founder and Commissioner Gary Davidson, pictured on the program cover with an early blue & yellow prototype of a WFL football, hoped that his league would become a formidable rival to the NFL, much as the AFL was in the 1960’s. Another model was the World Hockey Association (1972-1979), co-founded by Davidson in 1971, which had already become a thorn in the side of the National Hockey League by challenging the established circuit for top free agents and expansion markets.
To be relevant, Davidson needed the WFL to work in major media markets like New York City. But the New York Stars, a franchise given away for free by Davidson to one of his World Hockey Association connections, Robert Schmertz, turned out to be one of the WFL’s biggest misfires.
For starters, the team played in dumpy Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island, with its horrid lighting, disgusting locker rooms, chewed up field (also used for soccer that summer by the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League), and inaccessible location. Then there was the roster, which was largely anonymous, save for the presence of defensive end Gerry Philbin and wide receiver George Sauer, who were beloved New York Jets stars of the AFL era and veterans of that team’s historic Super Bowl III victory over the Baltimore Colts. That wasn’t enough to sizzle to sell out the Stars’ home opener though, as fewer than 20,000 curiosity seekers turned out.
The game turned out to be a dark foreshadowing of the Stars’ cursed existence in New York. The Stars racked up a 29-3 halftime lead on the strength of three rushing touchdowns. Then they managed to blow said 26-point lead in the second half, allowing Birmingham Americans quarterback George Mira to throw for three touchdowns and run for a fourth. Still, the Stars had a chance to tie in the waning seconds, but German-born placekicker Pete Rajecki – the “Bootin’ Teuton” – blew a 35-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining.
The Stars lost the game and dropped to 0-2. They would play only five more games in New York City before Robert Schmertz ran out of money and dumped the team two months later. The Stars played their final game at Downing Stadium on September 24, 1974 and then were abruptly shifted to North Carolina to finish out the 1974 schedule as the Charlotte Hornets. The World Football league itself folded one year later in October 1975.