World Football League (1974)
Born: May 1974 – The Virginia Ambassadors relocate to Orlando.
Folded: December 1974
Stadium: The Tangerine Bowl
WFL Championships: None
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.
==1974 Florida Blazers Results==
|7/10/1974||vs. The Hawaiians||W 8-7||Program|
|7/17/1974||@ Detroit Wheels||W 18-14||Program|
|7/24/1974||vs. Houston Texans||W 15-3|
|7/31/1974||@ Houston Texans||L 7-6|
|8/7/1974||@ Chicago Fire||W 46-21|
|8/14/1974||vs. Jacksonville Sharks||W 33-26||Program|
|8/21/1974||vs. Portland Storm||W 11-7|
|8/28/1974||vs. Memphis Southmen||L 26-18|
|9/2/1974||@ Birmingham Americans||L 8-7||Program|
|9/6/1974||@ New York Stars||W 17-15|
|9/11/1974||vs. Detroit Wheels||L 15-14|
|9/18/1974||vs. Philadelphia Bell||W 24-21||Program|
|9/26/1974||vs. Chicago Fire||W 29-0|
|10/2/1974||@ Philadelphia Bell||W 30-7|
|10/9/1974||@ Chicago Fire||W 45-17|
|10/16/1974||@ Memphis Southmen||L 25-15||Program|
|10/23/1974||@ Charlotte Hornets||W 15-11||Program|
|10/30/1974||@ Birmingham Americans||L 26-18||Program|
|11/7/1974||vs. Portland Storm||W 23-0||Program|
|11/14/1974||@ Southern California Sun||W 27-24||Program||Ticket|
|11/21/1974||vs. Philadelphia Bell||W 18-3|
|11/29/1974||@ Memphis Southmen||W 18-15|
|12/5/1974||@ Birmingham Americans||L 22-21||Program|
Blazers tight end Greg Latta passed away of a heart attack at age 41 on September 28, 1994.
Blazers GM Rommie Loudd died of complications from diabetes on May 9, 1998 at age 64. New York Times obit.
Blazers linebacker Billy Hobbs died when his moped was struck by a car on August 21, 2004. Hobbs was 57.
Former Blazers head coach Jack Pardee died of cancer on April 1, 2013 at age 76.