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1974 Florida Blazers

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1974 Florida Blazers Media GuideWorld Football League (1974)

Born: May 1974 – The Virginia Ambassadors relocate to Orlando.
Folded: December 1974

Stadium: The Tangerine Bowl

Team Colors:

Owner: David Williams, Rommie Loudd, Will Gieger, Howard Palmer, et al.

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 he sold the team 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.

Florida BlazersThe 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 occurred, but paychecks stopped arriving not long afterwards. Promises and rumors of new investors or payroll support from the league office never came through. Somehow, Pardee kept the team together through three months without pay. The club staggered into the playoffs. In the playoff semi-final, the Blazers overcame a 15-0 deficit on the road to upset the Memphis Southmen, the league’s best regular season team. The Blazers headed to Birmingham’s Legion Field for the World Bowl championship game.

Trailing 22-0 in the second half to the Birmingham Americans, the Blazers mounted a furious late rally, only to fall short 22-21. In the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and teams earned an eighth point (or “action point”) by scoring a conversion 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 of the Americans’ end zone 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 league revoked the Blazers franchise 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, the feds added narcotics trafficking charges to Loudd’s legal woes. He was convicted in late 1975 and sentenced to two fourteen-year sentences. A parole board freed Loudd after three years in prison. 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.  

 

Florida Blazers Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

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.

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.

 

Links

Florida Blazers Fans, Friends & Former Players Facebook Page

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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December 5, 1974 – World Bowl I

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World Bowl I
Birmingham American vs. Florida Blazers
December 5, 1974
Legion Field
Attendance: 32,376

World Football League Programs
24 pages

 

Here we have World Bowl I, the first and only championship game of the doomed World Football League (1974-1975).  The two finalists, the Birmingham Americans and the Florida Blazers, limped to the finish line on the brink of insolvency.  The Americans were unpaid for five weeks and staged a walkout during practice three days before title game.  The Blazers were in even worse shape – Florida’s players hadn’t received a paycheck since September.  Both clubs hoped for a modest payout from a share of the gate receipts at Birmingham’s Legion Field, where the Americans had been a popular draw through the first half of the 1974 season.

The game itself was a tale of two halves.  The Americans took a 15-0 lead into the half and added a third touchdown in the third quarter for a commanding 22-0 margin.   Blazers quarterback Bob Davis threw two picks in the first half without completing a single pass to his own teammates.   But Davis woke up in the fourth quarter.   First he found rookie running back Tommy Reamon – one of the WFL’s “Tri-MVP’s” for the 1974 season – for a 39-year touchdown pass.  Then it was a 40-yard bomb to tight end Greg Latta to narrow the score to 22-14.  With 4:14 remaining, Blazers rookie cornerback Rod Foster out of Harvard University returned a Birmingham punt 76 yards for a touchdown to make the score 22-21.

The Blazers had a chance to tie the game on an “Action Point” after Foster’s special teams heroics.  In the WFL, touchdowns were worth seven points.  An eight point – the Action Point – could be added by running or throwing the ball into the end zone from the two-yard line.  Florida lined up to tie the game and went where you would expect – handing off to league-leading rusher Tommy Reamon.  But Birmingham linebacker Warren Capone came around the end to stuff Reamon short of the goal line.  The Blazers never got the ball back and Birmingham escaped with a 22-21 victory.

Birmingham quarterback George Mira, a 10-year veteran of the NFL and the Canadian Football League, won World Bowl MVP honors with what has to be the least impressive stat line on any championship game MVP anywhere ever.   Mira completed 5-of-14 passing for 90 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 27 yards.  Sports Illustrated reported that the Legion Field fans lost patience with Mira in the second half and began yelling for back-up Matthew Reed to enter the game.  If true, that’s a remarkable fact, considering Matthew Reed was one of the earliest black quarterbacks in pro football and Legion Field was the home of the University of Alabama football program, which finally desegregated only three years earlier.

Shortly after the game, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies entered Legion Field and seized the Americans’ jerseys and equipment to settle a bad debt with a creditor.

The WFL announced attendance of 32,376 for the game.  A month later The Orlando-Sentinel Star reported that figures from the National Commercial Bank of Birmingham, which handled the distribution of gate receipts, showed the actual attendance was 22,918 with 20,985 paid.  The Blazers, unpaid for around fourteen weeks, received $400 each.

Both teams folded in the weeks following World Bowl I.   Birmingham was granted a new franchise – the Birmingham Vulcans – for the second season of the WFL in 1975, with many of the Americans players returning to play for the new club.  The re-organized WFL was plagued by the same problems in year two and the league closed up shop on October 22, 1975 without managing to complete its sophomore season.

==Links==

“World Bowl In Crisis” – Sports Illustrated feature article. December 16, 1974.

Birmingham Americans Home Page

Florida Blazers Home Page

 

==Downloads==

 

 

 

Written by AC

May 15th, 2013 at 12:50 pm

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