Indoor football never caught on in Roanoke. The Steam finished last in the league in attendance in 2000 (3,374 per game) and again in 2001 (2,575 avg.). Midway through the Steam’s third and final season in 2002, the ownership group declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2002. The Steam muddled through the rest of the season under league stewardship and then was quietly euthanized in July 2002.
The team was never a factor on the field either, failing to make the AF2 playoffs in all three seasons of operation.
The 1974 Florida Blazers enjoy a something of a cult following among pro football history buffs. Fearsome on the field, the franchise was a train wreck in the front office. The Blazers were put together by Rommie Loudd, a 41-year old former AFL linebacker and New England Patriots executive. Loudd is occasionally cited as the first African-American owner of a “major league” American sports franchise for his time with the Blazers, but the team’s main money man was a Central Florida Holiday Inn franchisee named David Williams. By December 1974, the Blazers were in the “World Bowl” championship game, the team’s best player had played the entire season without a paycheck, and Rommie Loudd was in jail.
But let’s back up a bit. The franchise originated in late 1973 as the “Washington Ambassadors”, part of the startup World Football League that would challenge the NFL starting in the summer of 1974. Original owner Joseph Wheeler couldn’t secure a lease or put together financing in Washington, so the team became the “Virginia Ambassadors” in the spring of 1974. But Wheeler couldn’t get things off the ground in Norfolk, VA either, so in May 1974 the team was sold to Loudd’s Orlando-based syndicate. Less than 60 days remained before the WFL’s scheduled opening day on July 10th, 1974. Head Coach Jack Pardee had already opened training camp in Virginia, but the team loaded onto a train and decamped for Orlando.
Pardee had a solid veteran squad on both sides of the ball. Bob Davis, a former back-up to Joe Namath on the New York Jets, earned the starting quarterback job. Linebackers Larry Grantham, a perennial AFL All-Star with the Jets in the 1960’s, and Billy Hobbs anchored a stout defense.
The Blazers’ breakout find was diminutive rookie running back Tommy Reamon, a 23rd round draft pick from the University of Missouri. Reamon scored 14 touchdowns and led the WFL with 1,576 yards rushing in 1974. At the end of the season, he was named one of the league’s “Tri-MVPs”, along with Southern California Sun quarterback Tony Adams and Memphis Southmen tailback J.J. Jennings. Reamon split a $10,000 prize with his co-MVPs. Decades later, Reamon revealed that his $3,333 MVP share was the only payment he received for the entire 1974 season.
The rest of Reamon’s teammates faired somewhat better, receiving paychecks during the league’s first couple of months. But things went poorly for the Blazers immediately in Orlando. Crowds failed to materialize at the Tangerine Bowl, which barely met pro standards back in the mid 1970’s, with 14,000 permanent seats supplemented by temporary bleachers. By late August, just six weeks into the season, Rommie Loudd was talking publicly of a midseason move to Atlanta. The move never occured, but paychecks stopped arriving not long afterwards. Promises and rumors of new investors or payroll support from the league office never came through, but Pardee kept the team together through three months without pay.
The Blazers overcame a 15-0 deficit on the road to upset the Memphis Southmen, the league’s best regular season team at 17-3, in the playoff semi-final to earn a trip to the World Bowl I championship game. Trailing 22-0 in the second half to the Birmingham Americans at Legion Field in Alabama, the Blazers mounted a furious late rally, only to fall short 22-21. In the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and an eighth point (or “action point”) could be earned by scoring from the two-and-a-half yard line. The Blazers failed to convert all three Action Points in the title game, and that was the difference in the outcome. That and a controversial call on the Blazers’ opening possession. Television replays on the TVS Network appeared to show Tommy Reamon break the plane in the first quarter, but officials on the field ruled that Florida’s star rookie fumbled the ball through the end zone for a touchback. Reamon, who had a strong game overall with 83 yards on the ground and a touchdown, also failed to convert the decisive action point in the 4th quarter that would have tied the game at 22-22.
The Blazers’ franchise was revoked by the league a few days after the World Bowl loss due to financial insolvency. Within three weeks, Loudd was in jail on charges of embezzling sales taxes collected on Blazers’ ticket sales. A few months later, narcotics trafficking charges were added to Loudd’s legal woes. He was convicted in late 1975 and sentenced to two fourteen-year sentences. Loudd ultimately served three years before being paroled. Loudd later became a minister and passed away in 1998.
Many of the Blazers players ended up playing for a new WFL expansion team in 1975 known as the San Antonio Wings. The Wings were better organized, certainly, than the Blazers. But the league itself went under in October 1975, failing to finish out its second season of operation.
Tommy Reamon played briefly in the NFL in 1976. He later became an actor, most notably playing the wide receiver Delma Huddle in the 1979 Nick Nolte football drama North Dallas Forty.
Back in June 2013, I reviewed a set of World Football League trading cards produced by a quartet of fans and historians who grew up following the WFL during its brief and wacky run in 1974-1975. The WFL came and went just before the trading card boom of the early 1980’s, so no contemporary card sets were issued during the league’s short existence.
So Greg Allred, Richie Franklin, Bill Jones and Willie O’Burke decided to rectify that with a lovingly curated 70-card series of cards, featuring players from the WFL’s first (and only) full season of 1974. After an enthusiastic reception by football collectors, the group is back with three new WFL issues, including a Series II devoted to the WFL’s abbreviated 1975 season and a unique “Die-Cut” helmet & logo sub-set, which pays tribute to the Sunbeam Bread grocery store inserts of the mid-1970’s that featured NFL helmets of the era.
Fun While It Lasted caught up Bill Jones & co. for a look at the latest issues in their World Football League retro series.
So give me the lowdown on the current state of your WFL Card Series. How many series are there now, covering how many cards?
We currently have 3 series of 70 cards each and the Die-Cut helmet set. The Series I and III sets feature the 1974 WFL season, while the Series II set features the 1975 season. We would love to print a card of every player who played in the World Football League, but we know that is not possible.
With our new WFL Die-Cut cards we have paid a great tribute to the WFL and it’s unique style. Our cards have been a way of keeping the spirit of the World Football League alive.
Talk more more about the Die-Cut series. It features helmets and logos of all the WFL franchises, along with one which never took the field, the Washington Ambassadors. What was the inspiration there?
That credit goes to Willie O’Burke. They were influenced by the Sunbeam Bread NFL cards from 1976. Sunbeam Bread came out with a series of die-cut helmets cards for the NFL. It was one of the best football card sets every produced. The WFL folded before Sunbeam ever had a chance to produce a set for the league, so we’re just trying to capture the same excitement and design of that NFL die-cut series with a version of WFL die-cut cards. Gene Sanny did the artwork for the set and did a fantastic job. We all wanted to produce something that would give a nod to the early to mid 1970’s while using today’s higher quality technology and materials.
After you issued Series I in 2013, did you have any new photo discoveries that you were especially excited about for Series II or III?
Actually, every photo we have used on these cards is a “discovery.” Photos of WFL players are very rare in general, so they are each very special. And that’s what makes these cards that much more exciting…they are like little rare photo treasures of a league that made a quick entrance & exit on the pro football landscape. The best part has been our willingness to open our own collections to allow the best photos to be used in these sets. The four of us together have an extensive collection of photos. For us, we have been re-discovering WFL photos from our own collections that we forgot we had. Together we select the very best we have on each player. We have a few contributors who have lent us photos from their private collections as well. We are very grateful to Chris Gmyrek and Jim Cusano, who both have many great photos. We have even reached out to a few former WFL players.
How were sales of the 1st Series compared to your expectations?
I’m not sure we had any clear sales expectations when we started out. The WFL was not around long enough to have a set of cards made. Fans of the WFL have been waiting for these cards for almost 40 years, and we get to satisfy their long wait. That’s ultimately why we’re doing this: to honor the WFL…a league we loved dearly…and to bring joy to all of the WFL fans we can!
Series I has been our overall best seller. When collectors discover our Web site or read a review on our cards they usually order Series I. Most have been repeat customers, and they end up buying Series II and now Series III. Our die-hard customers also request our Die-Cut cards too.
I continue to be impressed with the card stock especially. Comparing your WFL series to the recent Topps Archives issues, your cards actually have a much more authentic look and feel than Topps own in-house retro productions. How did you work to get that authentic/vintage look & feel in the age of digital printing?
First of all, thank you for the compliment. The four of us were clearly influenced by the Topps cards we collected growing up in the 1970’s. One of our initial goals was to create a set of cards that looked like it came from the mid-70’s, both in the art design and the materials. The grey card stock gives the WFL cards that authentic feel. We had many prototypes that we came up with, and we worked diligently together to come up with our design. It was a total team effort that the four of us are very proud of. It was also important to all four of us to produce a product that we would want to buy and add to our personal collections.
Do you each have a favorite card from the entire series?
I love all of our cards. I don’t think I have a particular favorite, but a few do stand out for me. I love the Series II Title card with the painting from Gene Sanny. Gene did an outstanding job on that card for us. I like our Virgil Carter (Fire) and Tom Sherman (Stars) cards in Series I. The Don Horn (Thunder) and Anthony Davis (Sun) are great cards from Series II. Our new Series III cards have some great photos of Gerry Philbin (Stars) and Ron Porter (Fire), and they made excellent cards. Again, there are a lot of great cards in all of our sets with rare WFL photos.
Personally, I’m a fan of the quarterbacks. Even in my NFL football card collection, I mainly stick with the quarterback cards. So each of the quarterback cards in the WFL set stand out to me. I grew up in Houston so the Houston Texans cards are also special.
As a fan of the Southern California Sun, I am really excited to have cards of players from this team. As a helmet enthusiast, I also really like the cards that feature great shots of helmets. I am particularly happy with the Don Horn (Thunder) card, which shows a helmet stripe combination that was rarely photographed.
I think mine would have to be Johnny Musso. I’ve always been a big University of Alabama fan and Musso fan. He played in the CFL, WFL, & NFL, but only had CFL cards. I’ve never seen an NFL card of his (I don’t think any were ever produced of him) so I’m really grateful to actually be able to have a card of his in this series.
WFL Trading Cards Series I, II, III and Die-Cut Helmets Cards are available at:
The Arizona Outlaws were a pro football team that competed in the third and final season of the United States Football League in the spring of 1985. The team emerged from the merger of the USFL’s Arizona Wranglers and Oklahoma Outlaws franchise in December 1984.
The Wranglers were a top-flight squad, coached by future Hall of Famer George Allen, and had appeared in the USFL Championship Game in 1984. But team owner Dr. Ted Diethrich, a Phoenix heart surgeon, had lost millions on the club and went looking for someone to take the team off his hands. He found his partners in William Tatham Sr. and his son, William Jr. The Tathams owned the Oklahoma Outlaws and they had suffered a nearly immediate case of buyer’s remorse after choosing Tulsa’s Skelly Stadium to host their expansion franchise in 1984. The stadium was inadequate, it rained nearly every time the team played at home in 1984, and the Outlaws lost their final ten games to finish 6-12. The Tathams would control 75% of the new club while Diethrich stepped back into quiet anonymity as a minority shareholder
The net effect of the merger was to combine the Wranglers’ stout defense of NFL veterans, built up by Allen over the past two years, with Oklahoma’s management and offensive skill players. The Tathams also made the dubious decision to re-brand the team as the “Arizona Outlaws”, eradicating two years of marketplace investment in the Wranglers identity.
Allen had already resigned his post prior to the merger. The Tathams appointed former Arizona State head coach Frank Kush to coach the team in 1985. Three of the Wranglers key offensive threats from 1984 departed the team: quarterback Greg Landry returned to the NFL. Top running back Tim Spencer departed for the USFL’s Memphis Showboats. And wideout Trumaine Johnson, one of the most dangerous weapons in the league, would sit out the entire 1985 season in a contract dispute.
What the Tathams brought with them from Tulsa wasn’t a whole lot. The main asset among the ex-Oklahomans was former Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round draft pick Doug Williams, who capably replaced Landry at quarterback. Al Williams, another Oklahoma holdover, posted a 1,000-yard season, making up for some of Trumaine Johnson’s lost production.
After a promising 4-2 start, the Outlaws went into a tailspin and missed the playoffs with a 8-10 record. Attendance took a big plunge to 17,877 per game, down from over 25,000 for the 1984 Wranglers. Nevertheless, the Tathams and the Outlaws were on board for the USFL’s planned move to a fall season in 1986. Those plans came to naught when the USFL’s massive anti-trust suit against the National Football League fizzled out in a $3.00 “victory” the summer of the 1986, leaving the USFL owners with no will or funds to continue. The Outlaws folded along with the rest of this very fun league in August 1986.
In early 1988, St. Louis Cardinals (NFL) owner Bill Bidwill moved his club to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, former home of the Outlaws. When the move occurred, the terms of an unusual agreement between the defunct Outlaws and Arizona State University came to light. All fans who put $125 down towards 1986 Outlaws season tickets were offered the right of first refusal on NFL season tickets if and when the USFL folded and an NFL team came to Tempe instead. The agreement was good for up to two years from the date that the USFL ceased operations, which meant the contract was still binding when Bidwill and the Cardinals arrived in early 1988. The former Outlaws season ticket holders now controlled nearly 12,000 prime loge season tickets. Further, Outlaws officials had horse-traded with the tickets, transferring the rights to various people in lieu of payments and salaries. By the time the deal was revealed, Bill Tatham Jr. personally controlled the rights to 1,728 prime season tickets for the city’s new NFL franchise. The revelation caused an uproar in Phoenix. Tatham was investigated by the university on allegations of ticket scalping and the resulting bad publicity over the handling of ticket sales (and the Cardinals league-high pricing) helped cement negative perceptions of the Bidwills in Arizona for years to come.
==Arizona Outlaws Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
The Wichita Stealth were an indoor football team that played in Arena Football 2, the small-market minor league for the Arena Football League, in the early 2000’s. During the franchise’s first two seasons, the club was operated on a management contact by the DeVos family of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The DeVos’ owned the Orlando Magic of the NBA, several Midwestern minor league hockey teams and the Grand Rapids Rampage of the Arena Football League.
Shortly before the Stealth’s third season in 2003, the Devos’ sold the team to a local buyer in Wichita named David Key. Key was a novice sports investor who owned a rapidly growing facilities management business called Premier Maintenance Management. Less than a year after purchasing the Stealth, Key ran into a string of legal and financial troubles. Late in the 2004 season, Key handed the franchise back to the league and the Stealth finished out the season as wards of the league office. Postseason efforts to find a new buyer were hampered by uncertain over the availability of the Kansas Coliseum for the 2005 season and franchise quietly closed it doors.
Arena Football 2 went out of business after the 2009 season.