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History Buffs Unveil 1974 World Football League Trading Card Series

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Helmet logos of the 12 original WFL franchises circa 1974

Forty years ago, four young boys were among those transfixed by the announcement of a new professional football league.  The World Football League and its brash young Commissioner Gary Davidson conjured visions of a worldwide sports organization, with teams one day spanning the globe from London to Tokyo.  (For the WFL’s inaugural season in 1974, fans would have to be satisfied with a 12-team league that spanned the country from Jacksonville to Anaheim).

The WFL offered bold colors, such as the Southern California Sun’s retina-scorching Magenta & Orange uniforms, innovative scoring system and rule changes, and a salary war with the NFL that was perhaps more entertaining than the action on the field itself.  The WFL provided a form of exceptionally high-risk free agency for NFL stars that were otherwise bound in perpetuity to their clubs by the Rozelle Rule.  Big name stars like Larry Csonka, John Gilliam and Paul Warfield jumped leagues.  The whole thing went bust in less than two full seasons, but the cult of the WFL lives on, thanks to historians, collectors and young boys now long grown who got their first taste of big-time professional football when the World Football League briefly blew through their town.

Now, decades later, four of those men have banded together to issue an eye-catching 40th anniversary trading card set covering the WFL’s debut season in 1974.  Greg Allred, Richie Franklin, Bill Jones and Willie O’Burke combined photo archives culled from 20 years of networking with former players, officials and team photographs and curated this 70-card collection, which evokes the classic Topps bubble gum issues of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Fun While It Lasted got an early look at the card designs and an opportunity to quiz the creators on this unique set.

 

FWIL:

Can you each explain how you came by your fascination with the World Football League?

Greg Allred:

As a 12 year-old in the state of Alabama, I was already a football fan in 1974, so when the WFL announced that Birmingham would have a team I was excited.  I had never been to a professional football game, so actually getting to go to a couple of the Birmingham Americans games was something that I would never forget and it gave them a permanent place in my heart and memory.

 

Richie Franklin:

I remember hearing about the WFL in October of 1973 when they announced the formation of the league.  I was 12 years old. I followed their 1974 WFL College and Pro Drafts.  It was the new logos, team nicknames, colorful uniforms, and the star NFL players making the jump to the new league.  I loved the TVS Sports Network’s promos.  The Florida Blazers trained at Madison College (now JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  I live an hour away, and a guy from our hometown, Don Ratliff tried out for the Blazers and made the team.  I was also a huge fan of the mustard brown football with the orange stripes made by Spalding.  The WFL created a lot of excitement in 1974.

Willie O’Burke:

My dad was a big-time American Football League fan.  He loved the “underdog” quality of that league and passed that on to me.  We lived in Houston.  When the WFL came out and we found out Houston was getting a team, we were instant WFL fans.

Bill Jones:

I was raised in Anaheim, California.  When the Sun came to play at Anaheim Stadium, my father took me to my first professional football game.  I was hooked.  It was fan friendly, affordable, and colorful.  As I grew older, the concept of starting such a business venture, the behind the scenes actions and the historic similarities to the American Basketball Association and World Hockey Association became very interesting to me as well.

 

FWIL:

Color photos from the WFL are rather rare.  Can you describe the process of pulling the photos used in the set together over the years?

Richie Franklin:

Yes, color photos are very rare, and we used as many as we could find.  Sometimes you may have a great WFL photo, but we couldn’t use it because we did not select that player for the set.  Over the years I have met a lot of former players and coaches from the WFL.  I also met a few team photographers.  I have been fortunate enough to receive photos from their collections.  We compiled photos and as a committee chose the best action shots or still pictures we had for each player.

Greg Allred:

It’s always been such a long search for photos of any kind that relate to the WFL, so when we find a color photo it’s a really big deal.  For me this has been a 20-plus year search for photos, so sometimes there are spans of time with no success, then there are spans with quite a bit of activity and fruitfulness…it’s always exciting to find something new.  Willie, Bill, Richie, & I just basically decided to open our collections to each other and see what we had to work with. It a lot of was fun.

 

FWIL:

Do each/any of you have a “wish list” player you wanted to include, but couldn’t because there were no quality photos?

Richie Franklin:

Yes, unfortunately that did happened with a few players. There were many players we did not make cards for that were good WFL players, but quality photos are just as rare for black and white as they are for color pictures. We are starting to see more photos pop up on eBay and from private collections. Hopefully, we will locate a few quality photos for our Traded set and include cards of players we missed in Series I.

Bill Jones:

Not really.  If it were up to me, we would have had more Southern California Sun players, but I think all 4 of us have our favorite teams.  I think we came up with a very balanced representation of WFL players that made an impact in 1974.

Greg Allred:

I would like to have better photos of Tim Delaney of the Hawaiians. He is included in the set, but I sure would like to see a quality color photo of him. I am always amazed when we find photos that folks have had in their basements, attics, etc. for years. It gives me a little hope that there are more out there just waiting to be uncovered.

 

FWIL:

Have you heard reactions or reviews from any former players?

Richie Franklin:

I have heard from Upton Bell who was the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jere Brown, who was a linebacker for the Hornets, signed the guestbook on our Web site, along with Bob Rush of the Florida Blazers, Rick Cash of the Philadelphia Bell (1974) and San Antonio Wings (1975), and Don Van Galder of the Portland Storm. I also received a nice message from Bob Paschall of the Bell and Gary Wright who worked in the front office for the Southern California Sun in 1975. The overall reaction from everyone has been extremely positive and complimentary.

 

FWIL:

Are your plans for a 1975 Series and a Traded Series definite, or does that depend on the response to this first set?

Richie Franklin:

Yes, the Series II set is in the planning stages right now.  We are currently selecting players and gathering photos.  The big name NFL players who jumped to the WFL will be in Series II along with the top 1975 WFL rookies, such as Anthony Davis and Pat Haden. When we started this project we were looking to find ways to celebrate the WFL’s 40th anniversary. The cards were something that we ourselves would want to collect in celebration of the WFL.

Willie O’Burke

This project is a labor of love for all of us, so I see us finishing series 2 & 3 regardless of series 1 sales.

 

FWIL:

The production design, front and back, is striking and really evokes the classic Topps issues of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Was there a particularly set from the past that inspired the design elements of your set?

Bill Jones:

We had at least a dozen designs that we considered.  Ultimately, we wanted a classic, Topps-inspired design.  It was important to have team logos on the cards, and we really wanted to have a classic card stock look to the backs.  I think we accomplished all of that with this set.

Richie Franklin:

We took our time and exchanged many, many e-mails to come up with the best retro feel of the 70’s. It was a total team effort and I think as a group we hit a homerun.

 

==Links== 

1974 WFL Trading Cards are available at WFLFootballCards.com

World Football League History Site curated by Richie Franklin & Greg Allred 

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Written by AC

June 1st, 2013 at 6:32 pm

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

August 2, 1975 – Philadelphia Bell vs. The Hawaiians

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Philadelphia Bell vs. The Hawaiians
August 2, 1975
Franklin Field
Attendance: 2,732

World Football League Programs
32 pages

 

This was an historic game which is now all but forgotten.  When the Philadelphia Bell faced The Hawaiians in a World Football League game at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field on August 2, 1975, it marked the first time in the modern era that a black man led a pro football team onto the field as Head Coach.  That man was Willie Wood, a former eight-time Pro Bowl safety on Vince Lombardi’s mighty Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960’s.  Wood originally signed on with the Bell as defensive coordinator for the 1975 season under Head Coach Ron Waller.  When Waller abruptly resigned in training camp, Bell owner John Bosacco tabbed Wood as his replacement.   Wood took over the coaching reigns with just four days to prepare for this regular season opener.

Wood’s breakthrough appointment drew major press coverage around the United States, but it did little to spark ticket buying interest in Philadelphia.  The Bell announced an embarrassing opening day crowd of just 2,732 at 60,000-seat Franklin Field for this game.  In two other WFL games the same  night, the Memphis Southmen drew 25,166 and the Birmingham Vulcans claimed 29,000 in their respective home openers.

There was some extra context to the pitiful numbers in Philadelphia.  The year before – the WFL’s debut season of 1974 – the Bell announced staggering crowds of 55,534 for their inaugural game and 64,719 for their second home game.  Within weeks, however, Bell Vice President Barry Leib sheepishly acknowledged that the team gave away more than 100,000 free tickets for the first two games.  Of the 120,000 fans the Bell claimed, fewer than 20,000 actually purchased tickets.  It was the kind of attendance chicanery that many teams engage in, but inflated to an industrial scale that enraged the media.  The national sporting press dubbed it “Papergate” and sharpened their knives.  The scandal instantly deflated the credibility of the fledgling league and the Bell franchise.  By the time 1975 rolled around, the WFL was in wobbly shape and the Bell literally couldn’t giveaway tickets in Philly – but at least they were honest about it.

Beyond Wood prowling the sidelines, there were a number of interesting players in this game.  The Hawaiians featured former Dallas Cowboys #1 draft pick and All-Pro running back Calvin Hill.  He shredded the Bell defense for 155 yards on 32 carries for the night.

The Bell’s big star was Pennsylvania native and former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl tight end Ted Kwalick.  Kwalick was only 28 years old and still considered one of the best tight ends in pro football.  He signed with the WFL the previous year, committing the join the team in 1975 after playing out his option year with the 49ers in the 1974.  Despite his elite talent, the 49ers punished Kwalick for his disloyalty by banishing him to the end of the bench for much of the 1974 season.  Kwalick caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in this game from Bell quarterback Jim “King” Corcoran as the Bell held on to defeat the Hawaiians 21-15.

One other player of note on the Bell this night was an aging wide receiver named Vince Papale.  After the demise of the WFL later on in 1975, Papale earned a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles at an open tryout.  He later became a cult hero as a 30-year old NFL rookie and special teams star in Philadelphia during the mid-late 1970’s.  Disney turned Papale’s unlikely success story into the 2006 film Invincible, with Mark Wahlberg as Papale.

Written by AC

October 13th, 2012 at 4:18 am