The World Football League Web site is proud to offer a conversation with WFL yardage leader and Philadelphia Bell running back John Land
The WFL Hall of Fame talked to John Land on three separated occasions dating back to June of 1999. John, a business executive living in Delaware, discussed his WFL career and the impact the WFL had on football history. John played in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Colts, and in the Atlantic Coast Football League with the Pottstown Firebirds where he was team mates with future Bell players James "King" Corcoran and Claude Watts. John was the rushing leader for the Philadelphia Bell in 1974 with 1,136 yards and eight touchdowns, and was also the team's leading receiver with 57 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns. When the WFL reorganized in 1975, John rejoined the Bell and led the team in rushing with 646 yards and two touchdowns and was third on the team in receiving with 32 receptions for 193 yards. When the World Football League folded John retired from football and pursued a career in business.
HOF: When were you first contacted by the World Football League, and when did you consider playing for the Philadelphia Bell?
JL: Ron Waller, our coach in Pottstown, had taken up with the Philadelphia franchise of the WFL. When he first called me about playing the plan was for the team, then called the Express, to sign Penn State star running back John Cappelletti- I would play behind Cappelletti and offer the team a veteran leader. I was a bit older than some of the players and I wasn't sure if I was in the kind of shape I needed to be in to play every down. Waller told me that I would play in certain situations.
HOF: When did you realize that plan would change?
JL: The team had tried to sign Cappelletti. I don't know how close they came to signing him or what they offered but eventually he (Cappelletti) went to the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams. Ron Waller then turned to me to play a major role in the offense- to step up and offer the team some experience and veteran leadership.
HOF: Did Waller fashion the offense around your skills after Cappelletti signed with the NFL?
JL: When you look at total yardage I was always near the top. I was one of the few running backs at the top. I would catch a pass and run for a lot of yards- especially in our offense. I think I had the skills to do the plays- Ron Waller's philosophy was we had a team that featured an "air attack", so he didn't focus much on the running game. When you have a passing attack one of the things you use to offset the defense is screen passes and draw plays. Different formations will confuse the defense and when you counter that a basic running attack, but a strong running attack due to the personnel that we had, you can be successful. The tight ends that we had on the Bell were primarily receiving tight ends- they weren't blocking tight ends.
HOF: The center of the Bell offense was Jim "King" Corcoran. What was your impression of his skills and his role as a leader on the team?
JL: Jimmy was a flamboyant personality. I remember one day in training camp when he arrived he drove this white Lincoln Continental with the license plate "KING" on it. He drove into the parking lot and had a bull horn and was barking out, "THE KING HAS ARRIVED, THE KING HAS ARRIVED". That was Jimmy's nature. He had more pass receptions and yardage, but he also threw more- he was a good quarterback.
HOF: In 1974, when the Bell hosted the Portland Storm did you and your team mates expect the turnout and fan support that you received in Philadelphia?
JL: No. I was really surprised. We hadn't played a game at home, and competing with the Philadelphia Eagles, across the street, I didn't think- I was overwhelmed when 60,000 came out for the game against Portland. There was a massive traffic jam out front of JFK Stadium because the Phillies were playing the same night across the street at the Vet (Veterans Stadium)- there was about 100,000 people trying to get home that night. When you have that number of people cheering for you, as a player it pumps you up and you now have a "win one for the Gipper" mentality.
HOF: When you walked out of the tunnel into JFK on opening night what was your impression?
JL: We practiced at JFK. I remember thinking, "man, this place holds a hundred-thousand people, their never gonna fill this thing up." You go to the top of JFK and people look like ants on the field. That was the perspective I had- a massive stadium. Then to walk out of the tunnel and see all those people, we were like, "damn, this place is almost full." The fans were engaged and into the game. The product was an entertaining product. The fans cheered and hollered and were really behind us.
HOF: What were some of your memories from the Portland game?
JL: I scored the first touchdown in the World Football League. We were playing on the east coast and I scored on a running play. After the game Ron Waller came in the locker room, after we defeated Portland 33-8, looked around, and said, "we can play better than that".
HOF: Two weeks later the Bell hosted the New York Stars before a national television audience. There were 64,000 fans in attendance what was the mood and feeling of the team during that game?
JL: We had won against Portland, and we were on a roll. I thought we should've won the game. We sent in a kicker in that game who wasn't our regular kicker. Ron Waller had cut our kicker earlier. Some times Waller would get emotional and if a kicker missed a kick, Waller would cut him. Either that day or the day before the game Waller had cut our regular kicker. The thing you have to remember is that our offense was scoring points, and Waller felt that we didn't need a kicker. Our kicker, I think it was George Chatlos, missed a field goal- and another kicker missed two others.
HOF: What did you think when all three kicks are bad- what kind of effect does that have on a offensive minded team like the Bell?
JL: We thought that we (the offense) had to win it. In that situation, you have to do things that are a stretch. You throw the ball long, and you look for the big play to try to get back into the game. We were thinking. "we've got to score, no field goals-let's just go for it on fourth down and get this thing done."
HOF: The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, after the game with the New York Stars, that out of the 130,000 fans to attend the Bell's first two home games over 110,000 got in for free. The story was instantly spread throughout the national media and the WFL had its first scandal- "Papergate". What did that do to the team?
JL: We were taken back. What really hit us is the next home game (against Memphis) we went from 50,000 to 10,000- a dramatic drop. Then when you put 10,000 fans in a 100,000 seat stadium it really seems like the crowds are small. The interesting thing about "papering the house" or whatever the media called it was I remember being in the front offices and the team had sold a lot of bulk tickets to area corporations. That's what you do to promote your product- sell bulk or discount tickets to companies like Campbell's Soup and Boeing to get people to come out to the games. So many of those tickets were sold at discount prices, but the media sensationalized it to make it seem like all of them were given away for free.
HOF: Were the players worried about the well being of the franchise?
JL: No, from a compensation standpoint we were getting paid. We weren't like a lot of the other teams in the league we received all our pay on time. Even when the WFL folded we received all our play. We had heard that some teams in Portland and Detroit didn't get their pay- but we never worried about that.
HOF: The Bell was owned by John Bosacco. Did you have any interaction with him? What was your impression of him as an owner of a professional football franchise?
JL: Yes. John was at most of the practices and at the games. He was a player at one time. He would bring his family to the games- he was a "hands on" owner. Unfortunately, he passed away about eight years ago. He continued his law practice after the WFL folded.
HOF: The Bell went through a slump in the middle of the season after starting the season at 3-2, what happened?
JL: In my opinion we had an offensive team- our defense was weaker. Those guys were coming together for the first time. Guys like Jimmy (Corcoran), Claude (running back Claude Watts) and I had played together for years and we would know where each other was in certain situations. The defense didn't have that. From an offensive perspective we knew we could score touchdowns. We had the second best offense in the league, and the second worst defense in the league. By the time we had moved some players in and out the defense began to control them more. Early on we would say, "the other team is gonna score, let 'em score, so we can get out there and score touchdowns."
HOF: Did Tim Rossovich hold the defense together?
JL: We were with the Eagles in the early 70's. We had a few guys join us from the Eagles, and Tim, in my opinion was playing out of position. He was great player but I think he could have done better at his regular position. Tim was an eccentric. He would eat glass and cause havoc- but he was a good football player. One story I remember is that Tim didn't get along with Jimmy (Corcoran) and he and Jimmy would get into it with each other. He used to do crazy things like collect dog crap from the city park and put it in Jimmy's car- can you imagine that? He was just crazy, some of the players would just walk around him quietly because you never knew what he was going to do.
HOF: What was one of the most interesting things you remember about Ron Waller?
JL: One game we were getting beat. Waller comes into the locker room and goes crazy. He's screaming and yelling and carrying on. While this is going on he walks over to these lockers and starts punching them and swearing. Then he starts kicking them, just going completely crazy. When he was done we all walked out of the dressing room onto the field. We're out there stretching out and warming up and there's no coach. We start looking at each other wondering where he is- still no coach. Then, here comes Waller, out of the locker room on crutches with his foot bandaged- he had broken it kicking those lockers!
HOF: When the WFL began to have financial problems was that a distraction to the team?
JL: No. When your on the field playing the focus to beat the other team. The other things (distractions) aren't issues. Money isn't a factor when you’re trying to beat somebody. The level of play, the competition, the camaraderie is the focus. We were getting paid- some other teams weren't. Some of those guys were playing for free.
HOF: On October 10th the Bell hosted the Shreveport Steamer before 750 fans at JFK. What did that night tell the players of the Bell?
JL: In my opinion I was more disturbed that the media and taken something and was using it to hurt or slander us. They were telling us, "the Eagles are the team here and you guys aren't gonna be around". I remember the mayor of Philadelphia telling Eagles owner Leonard Tose, "don't worry, those guys won't be in this city long." We tried to rent Veterans Stadium and the city wouldn't rent it out to us. The Bell ended up paying more rent for Franklin Field than Eagles did for Veterans Stadium. These were indicators that we were up against the establishment.
HOF: Was there ever talk of the team moving?
JL: No. The WFL had a commitment to stay in the major markets- Southern California, Chicago and Philadelphia.
HOF: In 1974 the Bell had some great games and natural rivalries against the New York Stars and Florida Blazers what were some of your memories of those games?
JL: Downing Stadium was disappointment. I'm from New York City. Downing was the stadium where we would go to play baseball. It wasn't well kept. Not easy to get to. Poor lighting. That was their home ground. The facilities were not good. It was probably bigger than a high school stadium but it wasn't equipped to handle a large amount of people. The facilities and the concessions were not major league caliber. It was like a cross between a high school football game and a county fair. The lighting was so bad you couldn't see the ball. I was hoping that my family would come to the game, my dad did come to the game, and I wear glasses and I need light to see the ball in the evening. If not, I'd miss more than I'd catch. You couldn't pick up the ball- it would drop right into you, hit you in the chest or whatever. One game I remember well was when we were playing the New York Stars and we had a play where I would go out in the flat and cut into the middle of the field to either block or catch a pass- my specialty was running after the pass, I felt I could really break a play wide open. The Stars caught wind of this and had prepared to defend against us. So Corcoran calls the play, we break the huddle, and I run out to the flat. When I get there, there is Gerry Philbin, the ex-New York Jet, who was very tough and pretty fast for a veteran player. As Jimmy's calling the play, all the Stars are yelling, "watch the pitch, watch the pitch", so Philbin turns from looking at Jimmy (and the ball) to face me. He's just staring dead straight at me, not watching the play. So I yell to Jimmy, "check off, check off", which means change the play. Well Jimmy had this attitude that when things like that happened it was your problem and you had to deal with it- so he didn't change the play. The ball is snapped and Philbin charges- he nearly took my head off. After the play, the New York guys are laughing and I walk back to the huddle and Corcoran calls the same play. I said, "I'm not going' out there. I'm not putting myself in that situation- I'll get killed." So we have this little discussion or argument between Jimmy and I and finally Claude Watts goes out in the flat for a different play.
HOF: The last game of the regular season against Chicago Fire was canceled, when did you hear that you would play in the playoffs?
JL: We were focused on the playoffs. We had assumed that we were going to the playoffs, the team was playing better, and we were financially solid. Jimmy Corcoran had a clause in his contract that stated he would get a bonus if he passed for a certain number of yards and when the Fire canceled the game he couldn't believe it- he lost out on his bonus. So we focused on playing Florida.
HOF: The Florida Blazers defeated the Bell 24-21 and 30-7during the regular season. When the Bell played the Blazers in the first round of the 1974 playoffs did you feel your chances were good against the 14-6 Blazers?
(HOF note: The Charlotte Hornets finished the 1974 WFL season with a 10-10 record versus the Bell's record of 9-11. The Hornets president Upton Bell opted not to participate in the WFL playoffs for financial reasons. The team was organizing for the 1975 season had didn't have the financial resources to be in the playoffs. WFL officials had tentatively scheduled a playoff game between the Blazers and the Hornets in Charlotte- in hopes of attracting more fans- but when 1,000 tickets were sold the Hornets opted to not play and the league scheduled a game between Philadelphia and Florida in Orlando.)
JL: I felt we could beat them. Florida Blazers had the best defensive team in the WFL. They played a tough, basic defensive scheme and Jack Pardee had them coached well, they positioned and read formations well, and they had the athletes to make their system effective. So we wondered if it would be a tactical game or a physical game- in my opinion it would be a physical game. No matter what formations we would come out in they would sit back and play position in areas. We would try to get them out of position, when you play Florida you realize that you aren't gonna trick them. You couldn't deceive the Florida Blazers. It was old fashioned football- linebacker on lineman, safety on receiver, who wins it in the trenches.
HOF: During the game there was an early turnover that changed the momentum of the game. Do you remember the play?
JL: Claude had fumbled. It was a questionable fumble- we felt he had hit the ground and the ball came out. We argued but the officials in Florida gave it to the Blazers. It was a low scoring game, and we were driving, but Rickie Harris recovered the fumble and ran it in for a touchdown. I felt that if we had scored things would have been different.
HOF: What the mood in the locker room after the loss?
JL: We were out of it. And we were upset. Jimmy (Corcoran) didn't have a good game. I've played with Jim long enough to know that when he gets excited he sometimes would overthrow his receivers or short-arm it- throw the ball into the dirt. The Blazers positioned well and we couldn't establish the running game. Eddie Sheats and Louis Ross raised havoc on us all night- Florida controlled the line of scrimmage. The defense did their job. We would tell them that if they could keep them under 21 points we'd win. Tommy Reamon carried the ball a lot for them, and they did a little bit of passing. It was a George Allen, Redskins type of offense.
HOF: In 1975 the WFL reorganizes with 11 teams. What was your impression of the Bell squad that year?
JL: We had made a coaching change early in the season. Ron Waller was replaced by Willie Wood, who is a good coach and was a great player for Vince Lombardi in Green Bay, but I felt that hurt the offense. Waller is an offensive-minded coach, where Wood was defensive minded. It took us a couple of weeks to get used to that philosophy. Wood's philosophy was, "three yards and a cloud of dust". He would drive the ball up field a yard at a time. He would say to me, "run up into the hole." I'd say, "coach, there's no hole." Wood would just say, "run into the hole it'll be there". Some of the players threatened to quit when Wood came in. Ron was the coach and he ran the team. Ron didn't like superstars and some of the guys didn't like that. Ron would make you work. He worked Ted Kwalick hard, and Kwalick was our "name" player on the Bell. Willie Wood also brought in a young fullback by the name of JJ Jennings- a great runner. JJ played with Memphis in 1974 and joined us in 1975. Wood had asked Claude to retire and Claude refused, so Wood just replaced Claude with JJ. We also changed quarterbacks from Jimmy Corcoran to Bob Davis. Jimmy was flamboyant and Wood didn't respond to that type of behavior so Davis was in and it took the offense a while to adjust. Suddenly, we had an entire new backfield- Davis, JJ and myself.
HOF: What was one of the most vivid memories you have of the Bell in 1975?
JL: One thing I remember was at halftime against the Jacksonville Express we were getting beat. Willie Wood comes in and started giving us hell. He's going on and giving us a real lashing. Then, he says to the guys, "you're playing like a bunch of women....none of you are man enough to stand up to me even now!" Well, a guy on our special teams, Frank McGuigan, a tough player who made his reputation by breaking the wedge- running down the field and throwing his body into the wedge, stands up and says to Wood, "I'll fight you now!" Wood just stood there. He didn't know how to react. McGuigan was angry; he was ready to fight him right there or in the parking lot - the entire locker room was deadly quiet. Then Jimmy and I stood up and got between them. They were standing there starring at each other and we're all up on our feet now yelling. "Frankie, sit down fool! What the hells' wrong with you!!" Wood went on to talk but that was the craziest thing I ever saw.
HOF: When did you hear the WFL was folding?
JL: We were in a hotel, Claude Watts, Ron Holliday and myself- we were roommates. We heard over the TV that the league had ceased operations. We were taken back; we were getting ready to play down in Memphis. Most of the guys were wondering, "what do we do now?" There was some decision on whether we would came back reorganized with just some of the teams. We also wondered how we would get paid- we eventually got every penny owed to us from Bell owner John Bosacco.
HOF: How did the lack of national television exposure in 1975 hurt the WFL?
JL: I remember getting mail from people all across the United States in 1974 who had seen the games. But in 1975 we didn't have it and all the attention was local. Our games were televised on Channel 17 out of Philadelphia- but there wasn't national exposure. We had some of the bigger, more established stars, but the league couldn't get a foothold against the NFL or the establishment. The media also reported things in a negative light and that hurt us.
HOF: Who were some of the toughest defensive players you played against?
JL: Gerry Philbin who played for the New York Stars was a challenge. He wasn't big but he was quick, and he had a lot of experience. Eddie Sheats of the Florida Blazers was probably the best linebacker I played against. Louis Ross who played for the Blazers, and then for the Bell in 1975 was also tough. Ross was a tough, tall player. Those three guys gave me fits. Dave Roller of the Southern California Sun was a tough player, and he had a reputation as a dirty player. Anytime a team went to California they had to deal with Roller. Charles DeJurnett was a tall, quick defensive end and he was difficult to play against. The Hawaiians had a guy named Lem Burnham who could close the gap and shut down the run. He would stuff the run, and he was difficult to deceive, he was a disciplined played who could stop a offense. One guy who I didn't play against but was tough was Vince Papale and also Frank McGuigan of the Bell.
The Florida Blazers were the toughest team defensively- they just knew how to play. One of the weakest defenses was the Portland Storm- I always had good games against them. I seemed to have a lot of freedom to do what a wanted to do- screen pass, draw, circle pass.
HOF: What would you want people to know about your experience in the WFL?
JL: It was a rewarding time for me personally. The World Football League allowed me to achieve a level of play and accomplishment that I thought I was capable of. There wasn't much difference in the level of play between the WFL and the NFL. The major difference was that in the WFL you didn't have the experience of playing with your team mates for a long time. There was some excitement in the WFL that the NFL lacked. When I look back now I really understand the power of the NFL and their effect on the media, and how they control fans by what they print and report. Philadelphia reporters would use a certain tone to sensationalize situations. The players shared a lot of friendship. The travel was the same between the WFL and NFL; the facilities were similar in most cities- Chicago, Southern California, Birmingham, Memphis, Jacksonville and Hawaii. We played in the Astrodome in Houston, and Aloha Stadium in Hawaii- which was state-of-the-art, the stands would move to accommodate football and baseball. I was sorry the WFL had the problems, and that the media never gave it a chance. The WFL gave me a forum to show that I was a quality football player. When the WFL folded many players joined the NFL- quality players.
NOTE: The John Land interview was conducted by Jim Cusano and Richie Franklin. This interview appeared on the former WFL Hall of Fame Web site, and is used with permission. This interview is property of the World Football League Web site and may not be used without the written permission of the Web site owners.
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