World Football League (1975)
Died: October 22, 1975 – The WFL folds in midseason.
Stadium: Civic Stadium (33,000)
Team Colors: Royal Blue, Kelly Green & White
Owner: William Tatham Sr.
The WFL’s debut season was an utter disaster, plagued by teams relocating and folding in midseason, bounced paychecks, epic PR blunders and an estimated $20 million in red ink. It was somewhat surprising that a small cabal of surviving owners, led by Chris Hemmeter of The Hawaiians franchise, regrouped to stage a second season in 1975. Even more surprising was the continued inclusion of Portland, Oregon where the WFL’s Portland Storm franchise had been one of the league’s more embarrassing efforts. The Storm started 0-7-1 and managed to complete the season only because the players were willing to continue playing games without paychecks for the season’s final two months. The IRS slapped a lien on the Storm and the discredited (literally) club was more or less out of business by December 1974.
In early 1975, Hemmeter and a few other holdovers reorganized the insolvent league as a new corporation and attempted to start over again. A twelve-team league was put together for 1975, featuring eleven holdover cities from 1974 (plus San Antonio). Most of the owners and investors were brand new. Portland came back with a new identity and a new owner: Fresno-based William Tatham. A handful of Storm players returned, despite the broken contracts and promises of the previous year. This included 5′ 5″tailback Rufus Ferguson who led Portland in rushing during both seasons of the WFL.
But Portland had seen enough of the World Football League. A meager 7,700 turned out at Civic Stadium for the Thunder’s regular season home opener in August 1975. This was about half what the Storm averaged a year earlier. In several ways, the Thunder just seemed like a chintzier knockoff of Harris’ discredited club. Not only was the name similar, but the Thunder retained the old colors of blue and green and slapped new logo stickers on the Storm’s old helmets to save money on equipment.
By October 1975 – around the point in the season that the Storm ran into serious financial trouble the year before – the Thunder were on the verge of collapse. The other ten WFL franchises had to take up a collection of $300,000 to keep Portland in business. The rest of the league was in terrible shape as well and two weeks later the owners decided to cut their losses. The World Football League shutdown on October 22, 1975 without managing to complete its second season of play. The Thunder finished their only campaign with a 4-7 record.
Pro football returned to Portland and Civic Stadium a decade later with the arrival of the Portland Breakers of the United States Football League. For local football fans, it was deja vu all over again. The Head Coach of the Breakers was Dick Coury, the same man who coached the Storm in 1974. And like Portland’s previous entries in the WFL, the Portland Breakers lasted only one season and left town owing unpaid wages to their players and debts to local businesses.
Portland Thunder owner William Tatham also got involved with the United States Football League in the 1980′s. Tatham and his son owned the USFL’s Oklahoma/Arizona Outlaws in 1984 and 1985.
==1975 Portland Thunder Results==
|7/12/1975||@ Birmingham Vulcans (Exh.)||L 25-9|
|7/27/1975||vs. Philadelphia Bell (Exh.)||L 30-21|
|8/3/1975||@ Southern California Sun||L 21-15|
|8/9/1975||vs. The Hawaiians||L 25-24|
|8/16/1975||@ Chicago Winds||L 25-18||Program|
|8/23/1975||vs. Shreveport Steamer||W 33-24|
|8/30/1975||@ San Antonio Wings||L 22-0||Program||Roster|
|9/6/1975||vs. Birmingham Vulcans||L 26-8|
|9/13/1975||@ Philadelphia Bell||W 25-10|
|9/21/1975||vs. Memphis Southmen||L 16-3|
|10/4/1975||@ Jacksonville Express||L 32-29||Program|
|10/12/1975||vs. San Antonio Wings||W 28-25|
|10/19/1975||vs. Jacksonville Express||W 30-13||Program||Roster|