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Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1975

Flickering Fire Folds; Memphis To Move Here?

By Leo Zainea

The Chicago Fire reduced to a smoldering ash in recent months, is finally out.

All that remains of the World Football League franchise is uniforms and equipment, and owner Tom Origer intends to sell these as soon as he and his wife, Susan, return from a sailing vacation on the Caribbean.

Origer, the first man to buy into what is left of the new league, lost about $1.2 million. That included the $440,000 he paid for the franchise in October, 1973, and he noted recently: "The loss has been written off for my 1974 income taxes."

He notified the four remaining members of his staff last week -" Personnel Director Bill Byrne, Publicity Director Jim Walker, Ticket Manager Frank Cunningham and Equipment Manager Pat Marcuccillo -" that their checks (for half-pay) would be discontinued the end of this month. "I will be folding my franchise," he reportedly told one staffer. "This is the end [of the Fire."]

All the office equipment in both the Fire's rented, Park Ridge headquarters and Maryville Academy training site in Des Plaines has been sold. Telephones at Maryville were disconnected in December.

As late as two weeks ago, Origer clung to a wall to a wait-and-see attitude about the fate of the WFL, choosing to link his and the Fire's future to any semblance of order for a 1975 season.

"It doesn't look good at all for the league," he said at that time. "I've had a few people express interest in the Fire, but I'm not about to sell them a lemon. All they would be buying is another season of losses. Smart businessman won't be buying losses the way the economy is now."

Origer once investigated the possibility of mortgaging his club and interesting other owners in doing the same with the WFL. But that fell thru, like so many other ploys did in the WFL's troubled inaugural season. That, apparently, was the last straw for the 41-year old millionaire builder.

His departure leaves a marketable void the WFL will try to fill quickly. Leo Cahill, general manager of the Memphis Southmen, said combining the Memphis and Fire franchises in Chicago has been seriously considered in recent weeks.

Current and prospective owners will meet in Birmingham, Alabama, Wednesday to study this latest problem, among many new President Chris Hemmeter said that commitments have been received from eight cities that have met financial requirements for entry into the league. He would not identify them.

Memphis, Hawaii and Philadelphia are supposedly the most solid clubs and the only franchises prepared to start another season. Now Memphis owner John Bassett is negotiating with a group of investors in New Haven, Connecticut that wants to field a team for 1975 in the Yale Bowl. They are also interested in Miami's Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield, signed for $3.5 million by Bassett in March, 1974.

Conceivably, the Hawaiians could be relocated in Philadelphia, and Memphis in Chicago with leftover Fire players available to stock the New Haven club.

Hemmeter said any team that fails to meet the stipulations of his so-called Hemmeter Plan by February 15 would not eligible to play in 1975.

According to Cahill, the idea for the WFL would be an eight team league -" which Origer pushed for from the start. Most likely franchises, Cahill said, would be Southern California, Chicago, New York [New Haven], Birmingham, Jacksonville, Florida, Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina, which is currently trying to sell stock in the club.

Origer's Fire started strongly enough, winning its first four games. Its home game at Soldier Field against Central Division leader Birmingham drew 44,000, and the Fire reported averaging 28,000 [paid] for the year, even the attendance dwindled to under 12,000 in the midst of the team's 10-game losing streak.

Fullback Mark Kellar and Wide Receiver Jack Dolbin, among others, have talked to NFL clubs.