World Football League (1975)
Born: 1975 – WFL expansion franchise.
Folded: September 2, 1975.
Stadium: Soldier Field
Team Colors: Green & White
Owner: Eugene Pullano, et al.
Program for the one-and-only regular season home game staged by the doomed Chicago Winds of the World Football League (1974-1975). The Winds were the WFL’s second attempt in Chicago. During the league’s inaugural season in the summer/fall of 1974, the Chicago Fire played at Soldier Field and drew reasonably well (27,000 per game) going head-to-head with the NFL’s Chicago Bears. But owner Tom Origer lost money and folded the team in late 1974.
The WFL, which lost a reported $20 million along with most of its original franchises in 1974, re-organized for the 1975 season and granted a new Chicago franchise to a group led by insurance man Eugene Pullano. In the spring of 1975, Pullano made a very public bid to sign NFL free agent quarterback Joe Namath, offering the Jets star a four-year $4 million deal. As negotiations continued with Namath’s agent, Pullano began to furnish his new team in a manner that would make Broadway Joe feel at home. Green and white were selected as the Winds’ color scheme. Namath’s former back-up on the Super Bowl III-winning Jets, Babe Parilli, was hired as Head Coach & General Manager.
The negotiations were sufficiently high profile that the WFL’s television partner from 1974, Eddie Einhorn’s TVS syndication network, reportedly informed WFL President Christopher Hemmeter that TVS would not carry the league in 1975 unless it signed Namath. Einhorn was all to familiar with the league’s instability, having witnessed the mid-season relocation of major market franchises in Houston and New York City to the media backwaters of Shreveport, Louisiana and Charlotte, North Carolina during 1974.
Namath and his agent Jimmy Walsh ultimately spurned Pullano’s offer. The Winds were forced to go with journeyman Pete Beathard at quarterback and the WFL would not be on national television in 1975, a crushing blow for the league. The Winds’ big name player would be John Gilliam, a former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl wide receiver who jumped to the WFL for a bigger contract.
The Winds made their Chicago debut on July 12, 1975, hosting a preseason exhibition against the Jacksonville Express. Only 2,627 turned out to see Chicago’s newest team lose to the Express 34-23. After a second exhibition loss, Pullano fired Head Coach & GM Babe Parilli and brought in 300-pound former Chicago Bears coach Abe Gibron with just days to go before the start of the regular season.
After two road losses to open the year, the Winds returned to Chicago on August 16, 1975 to play the Portland Thunder. The Winds carried an 0-2 record and just 2,000 season tickets sold at 55,700-seat Soldier Field. Only 3,470 Chicagoans showed up in the rain. The game was an exciting one and it produced the only victory the Winds would enjoy in their short history. The teams were tied at 18-18 at the end of regulation and WFL rules called for a sudden death overtime period. Winds linebacker Chuck Kogut turned the momentum Chicago’s way in overtime with an interception of Thunder quarterback Don Horn. Pete Beathard then hit Gilliam with a 28-yard scoring strike to give the Winds a 25-18 victory. (Touchdowns were worth seven points in the WFL, followed by an “action point” pass or rush attempt, which wasn’t necessary in sudden death).
The Winds would lose two more on the road to drop to 1-4 by the end of August 1975. At that point, two of Pullano’s investors allegedly withdrew $175,000 that was supposed to be in escrow to cover team expenses. Who these guys were, exactly, was never quite clear. William Oscar Johnson’s amusing 1975 Sports Illustrated eulogy for the World Football League offers one opaque explanation. Johnson quotes Winds Vice President of Football Operations Frank Mariani on the runaway investors:
“It was George and Rich from California. I don’t know their last names, but one’s an Arab and the other’s a Greek.”
The investor pullout dropped the Winds beneath the WFL’s minimum capital requirements. Pullano pleaded for more time to find new investors, but the other ten WFL owners voted unanimously to expel the Winds from the league on September 2, 1975. The team finished with a 1-4 record in the regular season, two additional losses in the pre-season, and a grand total of 6,000 souls who ever saw the team play at Soldier Field.
The lifespan of the Winds was so short that star wide receiver John Gilliam was able to return to the Minnesota Vikings, for whom he was a Pro Bowler in 1974, in time to play the entire 1975 NFL season. His six games with the Winds just became his substitute training camp.
Six weeks after expelling the Winds franchise, the rest of the WFL succumbed to reality as well. The financially troubled league shutdown on October 22, 1975 without managing to complete it second season.
==1975 Chicago Winds Results==
|7/12/1975||vs. Jacksonville Express (Exh.)||L 34-23||Program|
|7/21/1975||@ Charlotte Hornets (Exh.)||L 22-21|
|8/2/1975||@ Birmingham Vulcans||L 10-0||Program|
|8/9/1975||@ Shreveport Steamer||L 38-18||Program||Roster|
|8/16/1975||vs. Portland Thunder||W 25-18 (OT)||Program|
|8/23/1975||@ The Hawaiians||L 28-17|
|8/30/1975||@ Memphis Southmen||L 31-7||Program|
- John Gilliam
Former Winds Head Coach Abe Gibron died on September 23, 1997 at age 72.