Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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October 19, 1975 – Portland Thunder vs. Jacksonville Express

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Jerry Inman Portland ThunderPortland Thunder vs. Jacksonville Express
October 19, 1975
Civic Stadium
Attendance: 8,713

World Football League Programs
28 Pages

 

This rare, colorful program comes from the final night of action from the star-crossed World Football League on Sunday, October 19, 1975.  Tales of doom and ruin stalked the two-year old league for weeks, with many singling out the struggling Portland Thunder franchise as a weak-link in the fragile confederation.  Portland was far from the only trouble spot though.  A rain-soaked WFL contest in Philadelphia the previous night marked a humiliating nadir for the league when only 1,293 fans showed up.

Portland Thunder WFLThe league said all of the right things about resilience, but in truth the owners were exhausted after losing a collective $10 million through the first 12 weeks of the planned 20-week 1975 season.  The WFL had no TV contract and minimal sponsorship, leaving teams dependent solely on ticket revenue.  The league-wide average through midseason dwelled beneath 14,000 per game and plummeted further each week as the season went on.

This final game was perhaps the finest for the Portland Thunder franchise, who came in as one of the league’s worst clubs with a  3-7 record.  The Thunder pounded away at the Jacksonville Express with 217 rushing yards on 48 carries, while attempting only 12 passes.  Former University of Wisconsin running back Rufus Ferguson led the way with 141 yards and a touchdown.  Portland also scored on a punt return and a flea flicker off a fake field goal attempt.  The 30-13 victory was the most decisive win in the Thunder’s brief 11-game history.

Three days later the league shut its doors for good, on October 22, 1975.  The Thunder finished their only season with a 4-7 last-place record.

Former University of Oregon defensive tackle Jerry Inman is pictured on the cover of the Thunder’s final program.  Inman played eight seasons for the Denver Broncos in the AFL and NFL from 1966 to 1973 before finishing his career in the WFL.  This was his final pro game.

 

==Downloads==

October 19, 1975 Jacksonville Express Roster

October 19, 1975 Portland Thunder Roster

 

==Links==

Jacksonville Express Home Page

Portland Thunder Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

May 31st, 2014 at 12:10 am

September 14, 1975 – Memphis Southmen vs. Shreveport Steamer

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Willie Spencer Memphis SouthmenMemphis Southmen vs. Shreveport Steamer
September 14, 1975
Memphis Memorial Stadium
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==

Memphis Southmen Home Page

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 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

 

==Links==

San Antonio Wings Home Page

Southern California Sun Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

September 6th, 2013 at 1:13 am

1974 Detroit Wheels

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World Football League (1974)

Born: December 13, 1973 – WFL founding franchise.
Died:
October 10, 1974 – The Wheels cease operations in midseason.

Stadium: Rynearson Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners: Louis Lee, Mike Ilitch, Marvin Gaye, et al.

 

The Detroit Wheels were a failed pro football venture that failed to complete their first and only season in the start-up World Football League during the autumn of 1974.   The Wheels’ misadventures and financial problems became a point of national embarrassment for the WFL – although certainly not the only one – as the new league tried to establish itself as a reputable competitor to the National Football League, as the AFL had done in the 1960’s.

The Wheels’ problems stemmed from an overstuffed and underfinanced ownership group of 33 different investors.  The group included Motown star Marvin Gaye and Little Caesar’s Pizza baron Mike Ilitch, who would later own both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers.  But neither were hands-on in the management of the club.  Louis Lee was the official front man, but it seemed no one in the group was willing to make the necessary capital investment to actually operate the team once the initial franchise fee was paid.  Management was unable to provide even the basic essentials of operating a football team, including scouting film for the coaching staff or laundry service and athletic training supplies for the players.

The unwillingness or inability of the Wheels’ owners to spend money also affected the quality of the team.  The Wheels were unwilling to spend more than $10,000 per player, which took them out of the running for most of the NFL and Canadian Football League veterans that were signing with the WFL’s other franchises.  The Wheels signed only three of their 33 college draft choices, which was the fewest in the league.  During the pre-season, the team resorted to advertising an open tryout in the newspaper.  600 people showed up, but none made the team.  As training camp progressed at Eastern Michigan University, one owner suggested that the team move the players into tents in a public park in order to reduce pre-season expenses.

Nevertheless, the Wheels were able to sign a handful of competent players.  Starting quarterback Bubba Wyche was a CFL veteran (and the brother of future NFL head coach Sam Wyche).  24-year old former U. Michigan linebacker Mike Taylor was the New York Jets’ #1 draft pick in 1972 and had a couple of years NFL experience before jumping to the Wheels in May of 1974.  Sam Scarber was a rugged fullback from the Canadian league who led the Wheels in rushing (606 yards) and later became a character actor in movies  TV shows such as The Karate Kid,  C.H.I.PS., the A-Team and T.J. Hooker.

The Wheels couldn’t get a lease at Tiger Stadium or at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  The team ended up 35 miles outside Detroit at Rynearson Stadium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.  The Wheels’ home debut on July 17, 1974 against the Florida Blazers drew only 10,631 fans, which was the worst opening among the league’s 12 franchises.  As it turned out, the Wheels would play only 5 home games during their brief history.

The Wheels lost their first 10 games of the season.  On September 11, 1974 the Wheels travelled to Orlando and shocked Florida Blazers 15-14 for the first and only win in franchise history.   The Blazers, coached by Jack Pardee, were one of the WFL’s best teams and would later appear in the 1974 championship game.  The Wheels lost their next three to drop to 1-13 before the club’s financial problems sunk the club.   The WFL folded the team on October 10th, 1974, cancelling the six remaining games on Detroit’s schedule.  The WFL itself folded a little over a year later in October 1975.

 

 

==1974 Detroit Wheels Results==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
7/10/1974 @ Memphis Southmen L 34-15
7/17/1974 vs. Florida Blazers L 18-15 Program
7/21/1974 @ The Hawaiians L 36-16
7/31/1974 vs. Birmingham Americans L 21-18 Program
8/7/1974 @ Birmingham Americans L 28-22
8/14/1974 vs. Memphis Southmen L 37-7 Program
8/22/1974 vs. Chicago Fire L 35-22
8/28/1974 @ Philadelphia Bell  L 27-23
9/2/1974 Portland Storm L 18-7 Program
9/6/1974 vs. Southern California Sun L 10-7 Program
9/11/1974 @ Florida Blazers W 15-14
9/18/1974 @ Southern California Sun L 29-24
9/24/1974 @ New York Stars L 37-7
10/2/1974 @ Shreveport Steamer L 14-11

 

 

==In Memoriam==

Offensive tackle Jim O’Connor died on October 29, 2004 at age 54.

Wheels Head Coach Dan Boisture died on May 18, 2007 at age 82.

Former Wheels General Manager Sonny Grandelius passed away on April 25, 2008 at age 79.

Tight end Dan Macholz died on July 3, 2012 after a bout with cancer.  Macholz was 60 years old.

Defensive back Dan Lintner died on July 8, 2012.  He was 61 years old.

 

 

==Links== 

In Detroit, Where The Wheels Fell Off“, Mark Speck, The Coffin Corner, Vol 19 No.3, 1997

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

July 13th, 2013 at 7:07 pm