Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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September 14, 1975 – Memphis Southmen vs. Shreveport Steamer

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Memphis Southmen vs. Shreveport Steamer
September 14, 1975
The Liberty Bowl
Attendance: 18,003

World Football League Programs
56 pages

 

Rare program from the 1975 Memphis Southmen from the final weeks of the World Football League (1974-1975).  The Southmen got loads of press attention (including a Sports Illustrated cover story) after team owner John Bassett convinced Miami Dolphins stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Paul Warfield to jump leagues for the 1975 season.

Although the ex-Dolphins were the top headline makers in the failing WFL, it was actually a pair of anonymous holdover players from Memphis’ 1974 squad who outperformed them, at least statistically.  Willie Spencer, an unusually tall running back (6′ 4″) who never played college football, outrushed both Csonka and Kiick and led the club with 581 yards on the season.  And former All-Pro Paul Warfield’s modest output (25 catches for 422 yards and 3 TDs) was overshadowed by small college product Ed Marshall (31-582-9 TDs).

Spencer was pictured on the cover of this September 14, 1975 program for a Memphis home game against the Shreveport Steamer and would score the game’s first touchdown on an 8-yard run.  (Csonka was on the sidelines, missing his second straight game due to injury).

This game was notable as the first professional start at quarterback for Danny White, a second year player out of Arizona State whose primary role on the Southmen was as the team punter.  As a rookie in 1974, White backed up 1964 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte and passed for over 1,000 yards, but it wasn’t until late in the 1975 season that White finally unseated the elder quarterback.  With White under center, the Southmen raced out to a 26-0 halftime lead and then held on as Shreveport back-up quarterback D.C. Nobles came off the bench and threw three second half touchdowns as the Steamer mounted a furious comeback.  It wasn’t quite enough.  Memphis held on to win 34-23.

The World Football League folded just over a month later without completing its second season.  Csonka, Kiick and Warfield all returned to the NFL.  Willie Spencer and Danny White managed to latch on as well.  Spencer saw limited time as a reserve back with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants from 1976 to 1978.  White signed with Dallas Cowboys as a punter and Roger Staubach’s back-up in 1976.  He took over the starting QB job after Staubach retired in 1980 and ran the offense for most of the 1980′s, taking the Cowboys to three straight NFC championship games but never making it to the Super Bowl.

 

==Downloads==

September 14, 1975 Shreveport Steamer Roster

 

 

==Links==

Shreveport Steamer Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

January 5th, 2014 at 2:28 am

1974 Birmingham Americans

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World Football League (1974)

Born: January 1974 - WFL founding franchise.
Died: January 1975 – The WFL terminates the Americans franchise.

Stadium: Legion Field

Team Colors:

Owner: William Putnam

 

The Birmingham Americans were the first and only champions of the World Football League (1974-1975), a brash but undercapitalized effort to go head-to-head with the National Football League in the mid-1970′s, much as the American Football League had a decade earlier.

The Americans had a terrific squad under Head Coach Jack Gotta, an import from the Canadian Football League.  The Americans won their first ten games of the 1974 season.  The team then hit a rough patch in the middle of the schedule, dropping five out of the next seven, before regaining their form to finish a 15-5 regular season with a three-game win streak.

George Mira took most of the snaps at quarterback, ably backed up by former Grambling star Matthew ReedDennis Homan, a star at Alabama in the mid-60′s and former first round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, led the Americans in receptions with 61, but the true breakout star of the offense was receiver Alfred Jenkins, a playmaking rookie out of Morris Brown University.  Jenkins caught 60 passes for 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Jenkins would sign with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 1975 and earn two Pro Bowl nods during his nine-year NFL career.

In the 1974 WFL playoffs, the Americans escaped The Hawaiians 22-19 in the semi-final and earned the right to host the World Bowl at Legion Stadium on December 5, 1974.  By the time of the World Bowl, the WFL was in deep trouble.  Several franchises folded during the season.  Another club, the Charlotte Hornets, decided it couldn’t afford to compete in the playoffs despite qualifying.  Neither the Americans nor their opponents, the Florida Blazers, had received paychecks in weeks and there was discussion of the players staging a boycott of the title game.

But in the end, they played and it was a great game.  The Americans raced out to a 22-0 third quarter lead before the Florida Blazers roused themselves and reeled off a furious 21 point rally late in the game.  Americans linebacker Warren Capone stuffed Blazers running back Tommy Reamon on an “Action Point” try late in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game, and Birmingham eeked out a 22-21 victory.  The Action Point was a WFL innovation, which was sort of a hybrid of an extra point and a two-point conversion.  Touchdowns were worth seven points in the WFL and an eighth point could be added by passing or running the ball in from the two-yard line.

As the Americans celebrated their championship in the Legion Field locker room, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies burst in to seize the team’s uniforms and equipment on behalf of a local sports goods supplier holding bad debt from the team.  This proved to be the final game the Americans ever played, as their debts sunk the franchise about a month later.

The team had severe financial problems, but they weren’t result of poor attendance.  The Americans were actually very  popular in Birmingham.  World Football League attendance figures were notoriously inflated and the subject of much media derision in 1974, but there’s little debate that the Americans were far and away the most popular team in the league.  The team’s official figures claimed 39,269 fans per game for 10 regular season home games in 1974.

But other factors conspired to drag down the club, including owner Bill Putnam’s failure to secure additional local partners to join his ownership group.  Further, Putnam spent himself into oblivion in the spring and summer of 1974, paying out signing bonuses to NFL stars such as Ken Stabler and L.C. Greenwood who signed futures contracts to jump to the Americans once their current NFL deals expired.

Although the Americans were gone, the World Football League survived (barely) to stage a second season in 1975.  The WFL put a new franchise into Legion Field called the Birmingham Vulcans, which returned a number of key players and coaches from the Americans World Bowl team.  (Mira and Jenkins did not return, however).  The Vulcans played well, although the crowds dipped substantially from 1974.  The Vulcans folded in October 1975 along with the rest of the WFL, which ran out of cash and failed to complete its second regular season.

 

==1974 Birmingham Americans Results==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
7/10/1974 vs. Southern California Sun W 11-7
7/17/1974 @ New York Stars W 32-29 Program
7/24/1974 vs. Memphis Southmen W 58-33
7/31/1974 @ Detroit Wheels W 21-18 Program
8/7/1974 vs. Detroit Wheels W 28-22
8/14/1974 vs. The Hawaiians W 39-0
8/21/1974 @ Jacksonville Sharks W 15-14
8/29/1974 @ Chicago Fire W 22-8 Program
9/2/1974 vs. Florida Blazers W 8-7 Program
9/7/1974 vs. Chicago Fire W 41-40 Program
9/11/1974 @ Memphis Southmen L 46-7
9/19/1974 vs. Houston Texans W 42-14
9/25/1974 @ Portland Storm L 26-21
10/2/1974 @ The Hawaiians L 14-8
10/9/1974 vs. Portland Storm W 30-8
10/16/1974 @ Southern California Sun L 29-25
10/23/1974 @ Shreveport Steamer L 31-0
10/30/1974 vs. Florida Blazers W 26-18 Program
11/6/1974  @ Philadelphia Bell W 26-23
11/13/1974 vs. Shreveport Steamer W 40-7
11/27/1974 vs. The Hawaiians W 22-19
12/5/1974 vs. Florida Blazers W 22-21 Program

 

==Key Players==

  • Dennis Homan
  • Alfred Jenkins
  • George Mira

 

==Links==

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 8th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

July 17, 1974 – New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans

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New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans
July 17, 1974
Downing Stadium
Attendance: 17,943

World Football League Programs
40 pages

 

The upstart World Football League (1974-1975) made its debut in the Big Apple in Week 2 of the league’s inaugural season of 1974.  WFL founder and Commissioner Gary Davidson, pictured on the program cover with an early blue & yellow prototype of a WFL football, hoped that his league would become a formidable rival to the NFL, much as the AFL was in the 1960′s.  Another model was the World Hockey Association (1972-1979), co-founded by Davidson in 1971, which had already become a thorn in the side of the National Hockey League by challenging the established circuit for top free agents and expansion markets.

To be relevant, Davidson needed the WFL to work in major media markets like New York City.  But the New York Stars, a franchise given away for free by Davidson to one of his World Hockey Association connections, Robert Schmertz, turned out to be one of the WFL’s biggest misfires.

For starters, the team played in dumpy Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island, with its horrid lighting, disgusting locker rooms, chewed up field (also used for soccer that summer by the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League), and inaccessible location.  Then there was the roster, which was largely anonymous, save for the presence of defensive end Gerry Philbin and wide receiver George Sauer, who were beloved New York Jets stars of the AFL era and veterans of that team’s historic Super Bowl III victory over the Baltimore Colts.  That wasn’t enough to sizzle to sell out the Stars’ home opener though, as fewer than 20,000 curiosity seekers turned out.

The game turned out to be a dark foreshadowing of the Stars’ cursed existence in New York.  The Stars racked up a 29-3 halftime lead on the strength of three rushing touchdowns.  Then they managed to blow said 26-point lead in the second half, allowing Birmingham Americans quarterback George Mira to throw for three touchdowns and run for a fourth.  Still, the Stars had a chance to tie in the waning seconds, but German-born placekicker Pete Rajecki – the “Bootin’ Teuton” – blew a 35-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining.

The Stars lost the game and dropped to 0-2.  They would play only five more games in New York City before Robert Schmertz ran out of money and dumped the team two months later.  The Stars played their final game at Downing Stadium on September 24, 1974 and then were abruptly shifted to North Carolina to finish out the 1974 schedule as the Charlotte Hornets.  The World Football league itself folded one year later in October 1975.

 

==Downloads==

July 17, 1974 New York Stars Roster

July 17, 1974 New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans Official Stats Sheets

July 17, 1974 New York Stars Pre-Game Ceremonies Timing Sheet

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Written by andycrossley

October 22nd, 2013 at 2:09 pm

July 5, 1975 – Southern California Sun vs. San Antonio Wings

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Southern California Sun vs. San Antonio Wings
July 5, 1975
Anaheim Stadium
Attendance: 15,722

World Football Programs
32 pages

 

This 1975 exhibition season opener for the Southern California Sun of the World Football League (1974-1975) saw the pro debuts of a trio of former University of Southern California stars.  Quarterback Pat Haden and wide receiver J.K. McKay were best friends and co-MVPs of USC’s thrilling 18-17 Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State seven months earlier.  The mostly highly touted rookie star for the Sun – and the entire struggling league – was Anthony Davis, the former Trojans All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up.  Davis was featured on the cover illustration of the evening’s game program (above right).

Davis got off to a strong start, running for 62 yards on 16 carries in the first half and returning a kickoff for 70 more.  (Davis’ breakout would come in pre-season week two, rushing for four touchdowns against Memphis). But Haden was the revelation this evening, coming on in the second half to relieve projected starter Daryle Lamonica, the former Oakland Raiders star who’d lost his NFL job to Ken Stabler.  After a scoreless first quarter, the game turned into a barnburner with the visiting San Antonio Wings taking a 31-29 lead late in the fourth quarter.  Haden engineered a game winning 97-yard drive with a few minutes to play that ended with a one-yard QB sneak into the endzone for the winning score.

Lamonica turned out to be washed up and separated from the Sun after only a few games in 1975.  Haden ended up handling the bulk of the quarterbacking duties, which was rather unexpected since he had an arrangement with Sun management to leave the team at midseason to pursue a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford.  As it turned out, the World Football League ran out of money and shut down in October 1975, the same month that Haden left for England.  Haden returned to Southern California in 1976 and latched on with the Los Angeles Rams, leading the team to three consecutive NFC West division titles from 1976 to 1978.

 

==Downloads==

July 5, 1975 San Antonio Wings Roster

July 5, 1975 Southern California Sun Roster

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Written by andycrossley

September 6th, 2013 at 1:13 am

October 18, 1975 – Philadelphia Bell vs. Charlotte Hornets

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Philadelphia Bell vs. Charlotte Hornets
October 18, 1975
Franklin Field
Attendance: 1,293

World Football League Programs
32 pages

 

Pretty sure this was the smallest crowd in the short, wild history of the World Football League (1974-1975).  Only 1,293 fans rattled around in 60,000-seat Franklin Field on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  Perhaps Philadelphians detected the scent of putrefaction hanging over the entire WFL enterprise – the league would fold just four days later without managing to complete its second season.

The weather was rainy and the game was even sloppier than the turf.  The visiting Charlotte Hornets lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions.  Leading rusher Don Highsmith ran 16 times for -2 yards.  But Philadelphia Bell quarterback Bob Davis was determined to keep the visitors in the game, completing five-of-eighteen passes with three picks.  The only offense came from the Bell ground game, with Claude Watts churning out a team record 136 yards on the ground and John Land adding 93 more.  The Bell won the final game of their brief existence 18-10.

Three-time NFL All-Pro tight end Ted Kwalick was the biggest star to take part in this game.  He jumped to the Philadelphia Bell from the San Francisco 49ers for a bigger contract in 1975.  In the era of the “Rozelle Rule” reserve clause, jumping leagues was just about the only leverage NFL stars had to reap the benefits of something like free agency.  But Kwalick must have wondered what the hell he got himself into as he gazed around the empty confines of Franklin Field.  He would be back in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders within the month after the WFL blew up.

Written by andycrossley

August 20th, 2013 at 1:39 am