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Football Digest, August 1974

How The WFL Will Change Pro Football

By Bob Billings

Putting the conclusion first, the new World Football League is here to stay until the National Football League absorbs its top four or five franchises in the final merger that will make Pete Rozelle's magic number 32.

The new league is founded, formed and structured to be absorbed. It's going to be a tough road and a disappointing road for some who answered Gary Davidson's call to own your own pro football franchise. But for a few it's going to mean a quick welcome into the NFL lodge and a sharing of the big, big pie.

By now it is a classic situation. The formula is simplicity itself. Pick out some new territories, invade some old. Make a big splash or two in the player market with a headline-grabbing raid or two -" like the signing of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield for a reported $3.5 million to make it appear big money is waiting for every hired hand in the old corral.

Tormented and distracted, the old conservative geezers in the NFL, fearing to jeopardize their rich profits, will capitulate quickly and sue for a peace that will take the lucky several into the TV-rich establishment. So the script reads.

It will probably come to pass too, since many of the old owners blanch at the cost of sweat socks, much less increasing the overall pay scale.

Player raids are what got the American Football League into the lodge. When Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams decided to put some of that Texas oil money into football and challenged the old league one of the old hands advised them to first procure for themselves an oblate spheroid.

The AFL drifted with moderate interest, often burdened by game scores of 60 to 58, until Oakland's Al Davis persuaded the other owners that the way to force open the doors was by unrestricted player raids. That made John Brodie an instant millionaire and resulted in dual contracts for people like Roman Gabriel, Mike Ditka and a liberal sprinkling of other box office draws.

The AFL was in business for more than five years before it outbid the NFL for a college draftee like Joe Namath and his legendary $400,000 contract. Had Namath been drafted by one of the NFL's glamour teams instead of the St. Louis Cardinals, the story could have been different.

There is really nothing new about the new league or its tactics. They were used in the American Basketball Association with signing by Rick Barry, and in the World Hockey Association, which made a name and money splash with Bobby Hull and Derek Sanderson. Now they have Gordie Howe and his sons, but no merger.

Csonka, Kiick and Warfield are signed for future delivery in Toronto (or wherever the team finds a field to play on). Calvin Hill, Ted Kwalick, Randy Johnson and Richmond Flowers will do their head knocking in Hawaii starting in 1975. Other of the early jumpers were Virgil Carter choosing the Chicago Fire in favor of the San Diego Chargers and Kenny Stabler futuring it with Birmingham.

Craig Morton went to the Houston franchise and Daryle Lamonica, John Wilbur and Bill Bergey made the move while other players were making noises hoping that the big money lightning would strike them, too.

One wrinkle that the WFL added was a draft of current NFL players to give each WFL team exclusive raiding rights -" sort of legitimatizing piracy. The Fire took John Brockington, New York took Joe Namath, so he won't have to tear up his white rug, and Portland took Jim Plunkett. Proving a sense of humor, the Fire drafted much-maligned Chicago Bears quarterback Bobby Douglas on the 36th and final round, but drafted him as a tight end.

The new league also divided up the rights to all players cut by NFL teams, thus eliminating bidding wars among themselves over the scraps. Each of the 12 teams was awarded the rights to leftovers from two NFL squads. No one took either the New York Giants or the Bears' castoffs potentials. A slap in the face to venerability.


  • Kickoff occur from the 30-yard line
  • Goal Posts are moved to the end line
  • Missed field goals outside the 20-yard line will be returned to the line of scrimmage
  • There will be a two-point conversion option
  • Receivers need just one foot in bounds catching a pass
  • Fair catches are not permitted, with a five-yard catching area protected
  • One offensive back is permitted to go in motion toward the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped
  • A fifth quarter, two seven-minute periods each started with a kickoff, will break ties
  • Hash marks are moved towards the center of the field
  • All in completed fourth down passes will be returned to the line of scrimmage

The WFL also signed a contract with the TVS Sports Network for a reported $1 million to televise 23 games, 13 nationally over a 130-station network and 10 others in regional markets.

That's the good news. But any observer would have to conclude that the whole operation looks a little shaky after even a cursory examination.

There are the franchises themselves. Without a ball being kicked a third of them have already relocated. Memphis went to Houston because they didn't get a stadium. Boston moved to New York. Washington-Baltimore, is now the Virginia Ambassadors playing out of Norfolk.

Many stadiums are undersized for the 45,000 fans they will have to draw to reach a realistic break-even figure. For some the struggle to find a playing field was ended much too late in the off-season.

The schedule is something like a used car dealer's loss leader. Playing dates are in competition with major league baseball as much as they are with the NFL. The league is supposed to open July 18 and play on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. The first eight games nationally televised games will be Thursday nights. Four others will be televised in competition with the late show on September 21 (Saturday), October 21 (Monday), November 21 (Thursday) and November 23 (Saturday) with the championship game on November 29, the afternoon after Thanksgiving. The season will end by the time NFL teams are starting their stretch run for Super Bowl playoff spots. (The 10 regional games will all be on Thursday nights.)

The Schedule appeals to the stay-at-home TV fan, not the ticket-buying fan. Thursday night isn't the best time to go to a football game. Not when Joe Fan gets home at midnight and has to face work the next day. And, for the first, rough year there will be few legitimate box office attractions. Program sales, if nothing else, should be brisk.

Also, the new league might destroy the Canadian Football League, a fear that forced a move in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa to legislate the Toronto Northmen, the future home of Csonka, Warfield and Kiick, out of existence.

The Northmen are owned by John Bassett and his son, John Jr. Until a couple of months ago they owned the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. They sold the Argonauts to prevent other CFL owners clouting them with conflict of interest charges. They also own the Toronto Toros in the World hockey Association and a franchise in the new World Team Tennis League.

If CFL demands are met by parliament it could crimp any merger deal the new league would have with the NFL, since Toronto would be a key city in that plan. But if political moves are made against the Northmen it could open the possibility of other retaliation. As one WFL owner said, “If the Expos baseball team and Canadian hockey teams can play in the United States, we should be able to play up there.”

The happiest group through all is the players. A few lucky ones will become wealthy, but for every one it provides at least another place to go. For a couple of years at least it's going to keep an awful lot of guys off assembly lines and shipping docks.

It should also help the NFL Players Association in their fight against the Rozelle Rule (which demands compensation to the team that loses a player who played out his option). There is no way Pete can enforce the rule until he becomes commissioner of all the footballs again.

But Pete likes things tidy. He's managed to keep most of the owners and all of the networks happy. There is no reason he shouldn't open up the lodge to teams like Toronto, Portland.

Birmingham and Hawaii. He's always said his eventual goal was a 32-team league subdivided into eight fours. The more divisions the more champions, and the more champions the more network interest.

Those cities aren't in competition directly with established NFL franchises and the NFL has been looking favorably at sites like Tampa, Memphis, Phoenix and Seattle. Throw in Hawaii and Toronto and it makes a nice package -" 32 teams.

As for those WFL franchises that are in direct competition with NFL teams -" New York, Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Southern California, Philadelphia and now Norfolk, well, you pays your money and you takes your chances. You can't fool around with Father Football. Not for long, anyway.

Birmingham Americans Bill Putnam, past president, Atlanta Hawks and Flames Jack Gotta (CFL) Legion Field (72,000)
Chicago Fire Tom Origer Construction Jim Spavital (CFL) Soldier Field (55,701)
Detroit Wheels 34 partners Dan Boisture (E. Michigan U.) E. Michigan U. (23,000)
Houston Texans R. Steven Arnold Attorney To be announced Rice Stadium (80,000) or Astrodome (47,000)
Honolulu Hawaiians Sam Battistone restaurant chain Mike Giddings (NFL) Honolulu Stadium (27,000)
Jacksonville Sharks Fran Monaco Medical Laboratories Bud Asher (New Smyrna Beach High School) Gator Bowl (72,000)
New York Stars Bob Schmertz, Owner Boston Celtics Babe Parilli (NFL) Downing Stadium (27,000)
Philadelphia Bell Jack Kelly, past President, AAU Ron Waller (NFL) Franklin Field (60,000)
Portland Storm Bruce Gelker, hotel chain Dick Coury (NFL) Civic Stadium (33,000)
Southern California Sun Larry Hatfield, Trucking Tom Fears (NFL) Anaheim Stadium (47,000)
Toronto Northern John F. Bassett Jr., television John McVay (U. of Dayton) CNE Stadium (33,000)
Virginia Ambassadors E. Joseph Wheeler, Jr. Marine engineering Jack Pardee (NFL) Norfolk, VA (32,000)