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The World Football League Website presents a conversation with former NFL and Chicago Fire quarterback Virg Carter

The WFL Hall of Fame spoke to Virg Carter recently about his football career and the events that led him to the World Football League and the Chicago Fire. Virg, now living in California, spoke about his playing career, his interest in being involved with the management of the Fire, and the individuals he played with. Virg played twelve games for the Chicago Fire, and was the WFL's passing leader, when, during a game against the Memphis Southmen, he injured his passing hand and was lost for the season. The Fire then suffered through an eight-game losing streak after Virgís injury, ending when Fire owner Tom Origer forfeited their final WFL game against Philadelphia. Virg now works in the insurance business and we would like to thank him for the time he shared with us.

HOF: In 1973, when the World Football League was formed, the Chicago Fire was owned by construction magnet Tom Origer. He was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying, "I knew Virg would be perfect for Chicago", what did he do to bring you into the WFL, when did he contact you?

VC: I was in Cincinnati and I broke a left collar bone, with a minute left in our last preseason game, and it was a left twig break which meant I was going to miss the season. I hadn't signed a contract for the 1973 season, and decided to sit out the season, at 90% of my salary and see what happens. I had no notice of the new league that was forming. In September or October I was then contacted by Origer, we talked, and I made a trip to Chicago to see what he was interested in and we talked about everything right from the ground floor.

HOF: Did Tom Origer want you to take a major role in marketing and managing the team?

VC: That was always part of it. When I left Chicago I had some success playing and I wasn't played in the '69 season when we were 1-13. Then they finally let me play late in the year, I think due to the pressure management was feeling, and I blew a fuse and referred the Bears' management "chickensh*&#@". The Bears traded me out of there. The fans were behind my cause, and threw donations of small change, paid for my $1,000 fine, which was a lot of money then. It was almost a game check. The fans were very endearing and they were real frustrated against the Bears because there was the championship season in 1963 and nothing since then.

HOF: The Fire sold over 20,000 season tickets for the '74 season. Did you feel that the timing (1974) was good for the Fire and the World Football League?

VC: There was a big following. When I went to Cincinnati that next year to play, the Bears had actually sent me to play in Buffalo to be buried. Buffalo or Philadelphia is where you went from Chicago if they didn't want you to see the light of day. I ended up playing in Cincinnati and we won out division. Of course in the newspaper it was "Paul Brown's Bengals Win", while in the Chicago media it was, "Carter's Bengals Win, Bears Lament Loss". The media just turned the knife in the franchise. I also did some TV commercials in Chicago under the billing of "the returning Virgil Carter".

HOF: What was your impression of Tom Origer?

VC: I thought he was a good guy. I liked him. He was salt-of-the-earth, from a construction background, not pretentious, had a lot of money. He wasn't sure what he was going to do. I had just come out of the Paul Brown-Bill Walsh regime. In that regime and in the play design and theory you separate the relevant from the irrelevant. As he was thinking about a team, I was able to give him some concepts and some things he needed to consider and do, and he turned around and did them. So it made my role more than a player. I was involved with in management and how we traveled and where we practiced, and some of the players we signed and some of the coaches we hired. In fact my college coach, Tommy Hudspeth, was hired 'cause he was a friend of Fire coach Jim Spavital. We practiced at Maryville Academy. I told Tom, "We want to find a place where our practice time is visible to kids that need a big brother example." Tom knew Father Smith, and I convinced him that it was a perfect place to work out. The kids got to know the players; they could hang out during practice. The press came out there, there was plenty of space. Tom was thinking about a place that he could rent, and we got Maryville Academy for free and you couldn't buy that facility. There were some things I could talk him through and suggest.

HOF: Starting a football team from scratch must be a huge undertaking?

VC: Yes. He hired a few people. There's not a shortage of people looking for jobs in football. It's not terribly complicated. You hire your coach who handles the plays, a business manager who worries about salary and payroll and a road manager who books the rooms and the flights. My position was that I couldn't always be a player, and I was interested in a piece of the team and if Tom stayed in and it was successful I would have a minority interest in the Chicago Fire. Paul Brown used to say that he wouldn't have come back to pro football if he hadn't been the owner, general manager, chief bottle washer 'cause you could always get fired as a player or a coach. Tom knew right away my interest was in the franchise the opportunity and I think he respected the suggestions and comments.

HOF: What was your first impression of the WFL ball?

VC: Baby-poop yellow with an orange stripe. That ball was a little wider in the middle, not much, a bit different. I was out in Southern California when the league was forming and I would stop by Gary Davidson's office and he'd give me balls to go out and throw. One of the balls had laces down all four sides, and it was like throwing a shot-put.

Virg Carter and Jim Seymour in a 1974 promotional photo for the Chicago Fire

HOF: The Fire opened their season against the Houston Texans in front of 40,000, were you surprised with the turn out?

VC: Not really. We had a lot of advance sales. It was a great night in the summer and we had 44,000 fans in the stands. The thing that I realized was that we had gone over to Ypsilanti, Michigan to play the Detroit Wheels in a scrimmage game, and when that game ended I realized that the offense that Jim Spavital had brought down from Canada was based on three downs. On the bus I was sitting in the back and drawing up plays with Tommy Hudspeth all the way home after we had played and showered. I was giving him what we needed for a four-down concept. We didn't have any control passes or possession type passes, turn-ins, plays that worked against blitz and or zone. In a couple of weeks we really had to scrape off the blackboard clean and start over. The thing that was so nice was it was play design that I got from Bill Walsh, which everyone knows now there is nothing better. I knew the play design and the coach had to explain it to the team, but I had to explain, call and run it on the field. In my ten years of football that was the only team I got to call plays for. Every other franchise they were sent in by Paul Brown or sent in by the Bears, and I never had the latitude to do what I always thought was my best characteristic which was read the defense, call the play and execute.

HOF: The Chicago Fire had a very potent offense. The receivers were strong; some of the players who drew a lot of respect from defenders around the league were James Scott and Jack Dolbin. What was your impression of them?

VC: I thought James Scott was the best receiver I had ever thrown to. I've thrown to some good ones. He was like a Warfield, good speed and great hands. He was a free spirit though, not all there. When we broke camp he wanted to go to Texas for a couple of days and it took us a week or two to get him back. He meant well, but wasn't to used to the regiment of a football team, what a talent. James got a lot of the credit but we had another receiver Jack Dolbin who was equally as talented. He could jump up and touch his elbow on the crossbar, and run a 4.3 40-yard dash and had great hands. Teams in the WFL couldn't double team him. James Scott found a lot of single coverage, and when they teamed James, Jack was open. They were great athletes. James Scott was really smooth but Jack was running hard all the time. You couldn't appreciate how fast he was.

HOF: Did Jim Seymour add some veteran leadership to the Fire?

VC: Absolutely. There was the third guy. We would split him out from the tight end, and then you had three receivers who could catch the ball. I only say this 'cause Bill Walsh is the one who keeps talking about it, but he designed the West Coast offense for me, in Cincinnati, when he lost Greg Cook, a drop back passer. He had to design something to take advantage of my scrambling, and my arm wasn't as strong, and that's what we ran with the Fire. We had a lot of option plays, quick releases, and plays that could be run against any defense. Many plays were dump off to Kellar in the flat, or a slant to Seymour. That is the West Coast offense that you see today.

HOF: The Fire had a good rushing game that complimented the passing game. What was your impression of Mark Kellar and Cyril Pinder?

VC: I thought Mark Kellar was a great player. Reminded me of a, Brian Piccolo type player. A Tom Matte type. Just a good back, he could block well, catch passes, and he could come out of the backfield and pick up blitzes well. He was a straight-ahead runner.......they called him the "Baby Bull". Cyril Pinder was a great guy. He brought so much to the team because of his experience. Anybody who doesn't like Cyril Pinder doesn't like life. He had great speed, was strong, and had a lot of football knowledge.

HOF: What were some of the tougher WFL defenses you faced?

VC: The Birmingham Americans were strong defensively. We played them down in Birmingham in a driving rain storm and lost 41-40. The Southern California Sun was a good team. Also, the Florida Blazers. Jack Pardee had them coached well and they knew how to play their position defense.

HOF: Who were some of the defensive players in the WFL that caused you concern?

VC: The personnel werenít as memorable, not to say they weren't good. I was so concerned with how the Fire was doing that I spent all my time working on plays and studying films.

HOF: The Chicago Fire finished the first half of the season at 7-3. You were one of the strongest teams in the WFL and then went on to lose ten games straight. What, in your opinion, caused the downslide?

VC: What happened is I broke a finger, fractured it, playing against the Memphis Southmen. I had thrown a pass and on the follow through hit my hand on a defenders helmet and broke or sprained my middle finger on my passing hand. I talked to the Fire trainer and tried to make a brace on my hand so I could start against the Florida Blazers the next week in Orlando. In the warm-ups, Guy Murdock had to have an equipment change and the backup center came in and snapped the ball into that finger and the fracture turned into a dislocation and swelled up. My hand was throbbing and I tried to play a couple of downs but had to leave the game. When it was a displaced fracture and they had to pin it my season was done. I don't mean this egotistically, but when I left, there was no chance for the team to dominate on offense. The offense had been so dominating but when you lose the quarterback its hard to recover. As the season progressed we were having injury problems on defense, losing a lot of starters, and when I went into the locker room to try to cheer up the guys all I remember the sad, long looks on the playerís faces but you can't help if you can't get on the field.

HOF: When you were injured you were the leading passer in the WFL. James Scott was injured against the Southern California Sun, he was the leading receiver in the league and Mark Kellar (who was also a leader in the league in rushing) was injured and lost for the season. The Fire, suddenly, was without its top three offensive players. What was your role with the team after your injury? Did you help Coach Maurice Dagineau, Bill Cappelman, Leo Hart and Bubba Wyche?

VC: After my injury, and realizing that my presence wasn't helping the team, I wasn't around the team. Maybe itís wrong but it came from Paul Brown's philosophy that guys who are injured can only subvert the confidence that you need to build in the guys who can play. Maurice Dagineau needed the team to play for him. So using that philosophy I felt that me hanging around the team was only detrimental to the Fire. I had a personnel services contract with Tom Origer so I took care of some business in the front office and kept a low profile. I still talked to Spavital, Tommy Hudspeth, Tom Origer and some of the guys. I was tough to watch, we started off so well, and the entire WFL started to fall apart.

HOF: Did you ever consider joining the Chicago Winds in 1975?

VC: My contract was with Tom Origer, a personal services contract. I wasn't property of the Chicago Fire. Tom had sold the rights to the Chicago franchise to Gene Pullano. But when the '75 season came around I wanted to get back to the NFL. I wasn't interested in staying in the WFL, there just didn't seem to be any point.

HOF: Tom Origer was one of the WFL founders who encouraged an eight-team, fourteen-game season, and was very discouraged that the league went with a twelve-team, twenty-game season. What was Tom Origer's feeling towards the league going in that direction?

VC: Tom Origer told me that Gary Davidson let his friends, some of the promoters and agents have franchises at discount prices. Those guys should have sold those franchises to people who had money, like Origer and John Bassett in Memphis, but when the guys who had money came into the WFL the promoters and agents thought that if they could make through the year on ticket sales their franchises would be worth millions. That was the WFL's downfall. Davidson never told those guys that they had to market and promote their franchises and sell it to some one who had the money to run the team for the entire season. Not only was the season too long, but only four of the twelve franchises had the money to last the season.

HOF: You had experience in the NFL. What was your opinion of some of the WFL facilities? Where they major league?

VC: Once the game starts it doesn't matter where you play. The stadium is irrelevant once you put on the uniform. In the NFL I played in War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo and Ypsilanti Stadium (home of the Detroit Wheels) was just as nice as that facility. In fact, when you came to play in Chicago, Wrigley Field was so bad that you had to double-up in a locker and the floor was cinders and coming out of the shower you feet turned black. The WFL was never as bad as that.

HOF: Did you feel the pressure or competition from the NFL?

VC: The establishment (the NFL) was always welcome in some towns. The media knew where their bread was buttered and those people benefit from having the NFL in their towns. The NFL owners had lost a lot of money with the creation of the AFL and they werenít about to lose millions again fighting the WFL.

HOF: Many of the teams and players in the WFL suffered through missed paydays and bounced checks, what was it like on the Fire?

VC: We were fine. Tom ran a great franchise. Guys in Florida (the Florida Blazers) played seventeen weeks without pay, that tells you that they didn't care what the stadiums and facilities were like. They wanted to play football. You have to understand where the bread is buttered. The media, television and newspapers, benefit from having the NFL in town. They've certainly got the connections to mute any other league. They had lost a lot of money to the AFL and didn't want to go through it again. One example of the guys who benefited from the WFL was in Cincinnati, linebacker Bill Bergey. He was paid much more money than he was worth before due to the bidding war between the WFL and NFL.

Virg Carter passes against a fierce Southern California Sun defense

HOF: Who were some of the players on the Fire that you respected as players?

VC: Guy Murdock. A good center. He played every down in every game. Smart. A great leader. It's important to have a good center and he was one of them. Steve Wright was a weird character. He could be a bigger distraction than a positive influence. That was his reputation on every team and ours was no exception. He was certainly a nice guy, had talent, but was known for his unusual stuff. Dave Bradley was good. And Glenn Hyde was as good as lineman as I'd seen in the NFL, he actually went back to play in Denver. Rudy Kuechenberg, definitely. Oh yeah. Sure. He had a real engaging personality. He would entertain guys after games over a few beers. He had some attributes towards bar room brawling. Rudy would run through a brick wall if it would benefit the team. Ron Porter was a quieter player than "Kooch" but he was talented, a stabilizing force on the defense. Harry Howard and Joe Womack were also good players in the secondary.

HOF: Were there any WFL quarterbacks in the league you respected?

VC: Tony Adams. I really liked Tony. He had all the tools to be a great NFL quarterback. He was a great scrambler, could really take charge of a game. I remember one game in Anaheim when he and I just had an old-fashioned "shootout". We won the game 32-22 but it was a rough, hard hitting game.

HOF: Do you remember when you were hurt against the Memphis Southmen?

VC: I was throwing a pass and my hand went into the defender's helmet on the follow through, which isn't uncommon. Right away I knew I was hurt, I got through the game alright. It wasn't displaced, it didn't need surgery, it would only take four weeks to heal. I didn't want to wait four weeks, I wanted to play against Orlando on the next Thursday night and I talked to the trainer and came up with a way to do it. I thought I could out smart mother nature and tired it and it didn't work. It made it tougher for the Fire to be competitive. When the offense doesn't move the ball the defense will tire and then who knows what will happen.

HOF: What was the most memorable game for you?

VC: The home opener against the Houston Texans. The large crowd. We were all excited to play, and I had a good game against them. Our first road trip that took us to Hawaii and Portland. The Hawaiians were a pretty good team for a quarter or two and then we just opened up on them. Portland gave us a fright when we were up there in their little stadium, we won the game 29-22. The Birmingham game, in Birmingham. We landed the day before and there was concern about the weather. We ran our "Double Cross" play against them and they couldn't stop it. We were behind 30-10, or something like that, and we were sending the tight end (Don Burchfield) across the field and the receiver on the same side (Jack Dolbin) across the field, then the split end on the other end of the field (James Scott) cuts into the field and the defense would dictate which one was open, the defense couldn't stop it. I dropped back on one play and hit James Scott for a long touchdown. I was hitting Dolbin and Scott all night on that one.

HOF: What was it about Mark Kellar and Cyril Pinder that complimented each other?

VC: For a quarterback itís important that your backs be able to run, catch and not miss picking up the blitz. I never worried about where they were. They were always in the right place. I think Mark, growing up in Illinois, had to know and admire Cyril's career, being a former Bear, and Cyril had a lot of experience and he mentored Mark out a lot on the field. Mark came in with maturity and experience and fit right in.

(HOF note: Cyril Pinder ended the season with 925 yards rushing despite the fact that the Fire cancelled their final game against the Philadelphia Bell)

HOF: What was your relationship like with Jim Spavital?

VC: I liked Jim. He was a good coach. My closest friend was Tommy Hudspeth the offensive coordinator. He would spend nights at my kitchen table drawing up plays, and then putting them in the playbook the next week. It would have been hard for Jim to compete with that but he was a good coach, a drill sergeant, and you needed that kind of discipline.

HOF: What could the World Football League done differently to survive?

VC: Oh, real simple. Eight teams, eight good owners and a twelve game season. They could've kept the television contract because there would have been sold-out stadiums, good games and no negative publicity from people not being paid. If the owners had money and were making an investment in the future it would have been fine to survive on six or seven home games. I was in the front office, and Tom Origer was a good businessman and I know he made money on that franchise just from his ticket sales alone. They may have only broke even on six or seven home games but as it turns out, he would've made more money on those home games than going through twenty with no interest. I think twenty games is too long. Some of the teams, Detroit and Portland, didn't sell enough tickets to survive that long a season.

HOF: When the WFL ran into trouble financially, John Basset (Memphis), Tom Origer (Chicago), Chris Hemmeter (Hawaii) and John Bosacco (Philadelphia) were all assessed higher league fees to bail out the other troubled teams. Tom Origer was openly against this practice, what did he tell you about the situation?

VC: In the Fire front office, Tom would tell me, "there are four of us that have money and eight of us that don't, and they want us to take care of the other teams." Tom was from a construction background and in construction when a job goes bad you gather up your tools and you head home. He saw that the league was falling apart at the seams and he wasn't going to spend another dime on the WFL. Then there is only three guys left to finance the league. Tom never wanted to pursue the league in 1975. There isn't any secret that he gave the blame (on the WFL's troubles) directly to Gary Davidson. Davidson, in his opinion, was more concerned about marketing than the day-to-day financial solvency. Origer would tell me that an official from Detroit would fly to Southern California to do a game while an official from Southern California would fly to Detroit to officiate a game. Tom wanted the local officials to do the local games. He felt some of the WFL founders missed the importance of sound financial practices, and he encouraged many of the owners without much money to sell their teams before the kickoff of the season, but those guys felt if they could make it through one year on ticket sales alone their franchise would be worth $10 million instead of $3 million. I like Gary, he's a great guy, but he misjudged a few concepts. Some of the teams that were losing just couldn't sell enough tickets to pay the bills, especially once that they were out of the playoff race.

The Chicago Fire and the WFL was a great experience for a lot of guys, and I played on some good teams and was a part of some great franchises. I would pick the Fire and the WFL as the best experience. Twelve games. The best time of my life playing professional football. I could be a quarterback. I was in charge on the field, called the plays, made decisions; I was responsible for the success of the offense. That was something I never got in nine years of NFL play. I have no regrets, the Chicago Fire ran one of the first versions of the West Coast offense and those guys (my team mates) were some of the best I ever played with.

NOTE: The Virgil Carter interview was conducted by Jim Cusano. This interview appeared on the former WFL Hall of Fame Website, and is used with permission. This interview is the property of the World Football League Website and may not be used without the permission of the Website owners.