Welcome to the World Football League Website

WFL Interviews

The World Football League Web site presents an interview with former Southern California Sun defensive tackle Dave Roller

The World Football League Hall of Fame is proud to offer an interview with former WFL All-Pro defensive tackle Dave Roller. Dave talked about his time in the NFL, CFL, WFL and his comeback attempt with the Arizona Wranglers of the USFL. After leaving the WFL, Dave joined the Green Bay Packers and later moved on to the Minnesota Vikings. We would like to thank him for his time, and for sharing his memories with us.

WFL: When did you hear about the World Football League?

DR: I was playing up in Canada, with the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL, and they had got me a job up there in the off season- it was a lot easier to get a job up there than it was in the states. In June of 1974, Tom Fears called me and said he'd like me to come and give it a try and I flew out and gave it a whiz and they couldn't wait to sign me up. I was staying at a hotel across from Disneyland, and ended up being there for about thirty days, so it wasn't all that bad.

WFL: What was your initial impression of Sun head coach Tom Fears?

DR: Tom Fears was a players' coach. He had all the experience in the NFL as a player and a coach with New Orleans Saints. He knew how to relate to players and get players to play hard and reckless and put they're "all" into it- Tom did very well with that. I think that Tom Fears was, by far, the best coach in the WFL. Tom had a way of making his players believe in themselves.

WFL: How would you compare the play between the WFL, the NFL and the CFL?

DR: I've got a favorite saying about that, "All the bruises, aches and pains that you get playing football hurt the same, it don't matter what league you play in." The WFL gave a lot of people a second chance and the where-with-all to show their wares and try to do a better job or get a second chance with another league. The money was behind the league, in 1974, they had signed Csonka, Kiick and Warfield and some others to help them make the league an established league.

It takes an awful lot of money, and I thought they did a good job running it- it just takes so much money to make it work. I knew Larry Hatfield and Gary Davidson, and also Doug Patty, who I negotiated with, and who was a minority owner in the Sun. Larry was a small stature guy, the owner, and he did it right. I think Doug Patty put in $500,000 into the Sun.

WFL: What were some of the things that you negotiated for in your contract with the Sun?

DR: Back then, 1974, you could do things; it was kind of an open field. For instance, quarterbacks, instead of giving you more money they would have an open contract on quarterbacks. When we traveled to Hawaii, they had Randy Johnson at quarterback, and Doug Patty had traveled with us and he said, "You know, your contract calls for $500 a sack." I said, "Yeah, I know." I think I had four or five sacks that game and Doug would count off $2,000 in cash and hand it to me. Eventually you couldn't do things like that because it was like puttin' out a contract on the quarterbacks' head.

When we played against the San Antonio Wings in 1975, in the paper the day before the game they ran a picture of me on the front page in my Southern California Sun uniform with the heading, "Wanted: Dead or Alive, Preferably Dead!" I never really cared who the quarterback was; if they had on the other colors- I was gonna getcha. The San Antonio fans wanted my ass; they would throw things and scream things- that's the way it was. I was a talker back then; I would say anything to break your concentration.

WFL: The World Football League introduced some good young quarterbacks. Who were some of the toughest quarterbacks that you played against?

DR: Randy Johnson of Hawaii was good. I actually played with Randy in Green Bay after the WFL folded. Virgil Carter of the Chicago Fire was a good 'back. You know I think that Pat Haden did a great job, along with Tony Adams and Daryle Lamonica for the Sun.

In '75, Daryle Lamonica goes into the game for Pat Haden, and I was playing defense at the time, and our center, Joe Carollo, was telling me that Lamonica gets into the huddle and starts calling plays. All the guys are standing around staring at him and Joe's standing there going, "Hell Daryle, that ain't even one of our plays, that's an Oakland Raider play!" Lamonica's going, "Oh?" All the guys are bustin' up.

King Corcoran of Philadelphia: he thought he was top stuff, and I thought I was top stuff- so I just laid back my ears and went after his ass. They were a good team, and Corcoran was an experienced quarterback, elusive. King took the Bell up a notch. Virgil Carter and the Fire was more of a finesse team. They tried to be elusive- when you play a team like that you better be in position. If you weren't, you would force the linebacker to cover more ground.

Dave Roller closes in on Bell QB King Corcoran at Anaheim Stadium on October 23, 1974.

WFL: The Sun played their WFL season opener in Birmingham, against the Americans, what was the mood on the team?

DR: I had been to the south, I'm from Tennessee and went to school at UK, and I'd been to Birmingham, but a lot of the guys had not. There was a lot of anticipation and guys were thinking, "Is it going to be sold out? Will there be a good crowd?" We had 53,000 fans come out that night.

We had the kickoff, I was on kickoff coverage, and after the opening kickoff I ran up to the Americans back and I took the ball away from him. The referee came up wanting the ball and I said, "you ain't getting' this damn ball I'm taking that." I just ran up and took it; I don't know what made me do it. I just wanted that ball. So after the play I ran up and took it from him- the first ball used in a Southern California Sun WFL game. The Pro Football Hall of Fame wanted that ball and I never gave it to them- I think it still has the original air in it.

WFL: Despite losing the opener how would you describe the teams' play in Birmingham?

DR: We moved the ball well, racked up some yards but didn't score many points. It was a struggle defensively. I thought with that kind of defense and with the type of people we had on both sides of the ball I thought that it was going to take off good. We (the league) almost did. We (the league) just didn't have the money that it took to make it last.

WFL: How would you compare the behind-the-scenes operations of the WFL to the NFL?

DR: Everything that we did was no different than in the NFL- the hotels were first class; we went over to Hawaii and stayed in Chris Hemmeter's hotel on Waikiki Beach. The training camp, meals, travel, equipment- all of it was first class.

WFL: How did the Anaheim community receive the Sun?

DR: Being in Anaheim in Angels' Stadium was first class, the stadium was fairly new. We had a great crowd and I think the fans liked the magenta and orange uniforms of the Sun and all the fan fare the league created. I thought we put on a good show. Anaheim supported us well; we drew about 30,000 fans that first season- all of them to Wednesday and Thursday night games.

Fans at a Southern California Sun game at Anaheim Stadium in 1974.

WFL: What was your impression of the WFL football, the action point, and the marketing efforts of the World Football League?

DR: A lot of things were different- like that ball. At night, the dew would make the gold paint come off in your hands- you'd have greenish hands. The "Dicker rod" was unique, and better than the chains. The Dicker rod slid up and down a ten-yard rod- the yard marker slid up and down the rod. The action point was exciting; a lot better than the NFL extra point. We had more of a following for a new league at that point than anyone had before.

WFL: The Southern California Sun had a history of winning games late. What was the team's secret?

DR: We were real tight on all our games- the press called us "the Cardiac Kids". We had a receiver on offense, Dave Williams, and he came through with a lot of clutch catches. Kermit Johnson and James Mc Alister were good runners. I think the defense kept us in a lot of games.

WFL: What was one of the funniest moments of your career in the World Football League?

DR: We were playing at Anaheim Stadium and we had a tunnel that we had to go through and run up some stairs on to the field. There was a small restroom to the left of the stairs before you reached the field and it had a door that was self-locking. Our offensive line coach, Dick Enright, he went in there to use the rest room and the damn door was self-locking- he got locked in. The beauty of this is no one missed him until halftime when he was still beating on the damn door trying to get out.

WFL: The WFL suffered from severe money problems half way through the season, when did you hear about the troubles in the league?

DR: At the end of the season the World Football League was having some money troubles, and we heard of all these things that were happening to the other players and teams. We had traveled out to play Hawaii for a game against the Hawaiians. We found out, after the game, that the Sun didn't have any money to pay the airline for a flight home- so we were "forced" to stay out there for a couple extra days. We spent the whole time renting cars and driving around the island, laying around the beach and having a whole lot of fun. Guys were going unpaid for months, and here we were "forced" into spending some extra days on Waikiki Beach!

The money troubles in the league only hit a couple of the teams. We didn't worry about that. There were times when the paychecks were late, but eventually we got our money. I never did worry about that. I made $40,000 a year and was paid every penny- I never had a check bounce. I always got paid. We may have had to wait a couple of days to cash checks, but it was always there. In 1975, the Sun did ask some players to take pay cuts and play for a lower wage.

WFL: When reports surfaced about WFL teams lying about attendance figures, what did you think would happen to the league?

DR: The Southern California Sun was a pretty strong team, Jacksonville, Birmingham, it seemed that the farther north you got the more problems that there were in the WFL. We traveled to Ypsilanti to play the Detroit Wheels, up in their stadium up there, and we had to chase the cows off the damn field. When we came out to warm up there wasn't a single person in the stands, and when we kicked off there wasn't a person up there. The only fans there were relatives of the guys playing on the team. As a professional you try to focus on the game, and Tom Fears would tell us, "don't worry about who is or isn't here- play football." As you look up into the crowd, and there isn't one, you really have to try to put it behind you and play the game.

WFL: How did you feel the fans would support the non-NFL cities would perform in the league?

DR: I think the lack of a national television contract killed the WFL. A lot of WFL cities like Memphis, Birmingham and Jacksonville eventually turned out to be good NFL towns. The non-NFL cities appreciated the fact that they had a pro team- towns like Shreveport, San Antonio and Orlando.

WFL: Who were some of the defensive players that stood out on defense?

DR: Eric Patton was a laid-back kind of guy off the field but very aggressive on the field. Jim Baker was a very aggressive guy, quick. Neal Skarin was tough. We had a real aggressive defense and we swarmed to the ball. That first year, 1974, we went 13-7.

WFL: Who were some of the toughest running backs in the World Football League?

DR: The Chicago Fire had a great running back, Mark Kellar. He was tough. I remember playing the Fire and hitting the running backs hard- Mark Kellar actually broke his leg- the poor guy. I think I said to him, "Hell, come on back out and we'll break the other one." I was young and brash, but I didn't want anyone to get seriously hurt- but it happens.

The New York Stars had Bob Gladieux, and Memphis of course, had Larry Csonka. Calvin Hill in Hawaii. Calvin Hill was a tough guy- he was huge. When Calvin started running hard it hurt to bring him down.

Dave Roller was named to the Pro Football Weekly WFL All-Leagueand World Football League All-Pro teams in 1974.

WFL: When the Sun made the playoffs, the first game was scheduled against the much-improved Hawaiians. Before the game, offensive stars Kermit Johnson, James Mc Alister and Booker Brown left the team due to a contract dispute. How did that affect the team?

DR: I thought that it was a bit sleazy. The Sun had signed these guys out of UCLA and USC, and they were the 'big guns' of the offense. They had missed a payday and refused to play. Their agent, I can't remember his name, told them to 'walk'. As a player you understand that, but there were a lot of other players on the Sun that weren't making a lot of money. What about them?

In 1975, Anthony Davis would drive his Rolls Royce to practice and he would have guys, offensive linemen, blocking for him that were making $300 a game- the disparity was there. I don't hold anything against Anthony or anyone who gets paid a lot of money, but that was a problem that the WFL had.

WFL: You played with quarterback Randy Johnson on the Green Bay Packers, what was it like to play against him in the WFL?

DR: Randy had a good arm, and was a smart quarterback. He and I played in Green Bay together. He had played for the New York Giants. Randy had a manner and a stature about him that a lot of coaches liked. He was a good leader. Randy brought the Hawaiians to a new level- he turned that team around.

WFL: When the Detroit Wheels and the Jacksonville Sharks folded, where you concerned about the stability of the league?

DR: I started talking to my lawyer, cause' I used a lawyer instead of an agent. We knew that leading the league in tackles would be a good way to get paid. When I signed for the 1975 season I demanded all of my money upfront- it was guaranteed. There were a lot of players who got burned in '74, and when the league reorganized.

There were players that lost money. Many of us wanted it to last and were willing to play for nothing. Larry Hatfield and Gary Davidson used money from some of the stronger WFL teams to keep the weaker teams in business. That was a real drain on the league. Instead of folding them up they kept the team going. I remember hearing that the league was pooling their money to pay payroll and pay those teams to travel. As the year progressed we paid money for commercial airfare instead of charters to save on costs.

WFL: Describe the events that occurred the day the league folded.

DR: We were out at Honolulu and there was an announcement, or we heard that they were going to announce that the league would fold. We took a vote and decided to go ahead and play the game anyway. We didn't know for sure, the owners did I'm sure, and we played the game and flew back to California- my second son was born while I was away, so I couldn't worry much about it- and then they announced that the WFL had folded.

It was sad. No one wanted it to end that way. All of these guys, Larry Hatfield, Sam Battistone, Gary Davidson, Doug Patty, all these guys who put money into this thing- they did it right in Southern California. Some of the other teams, Philadelphia, Memphis, did it right, but some of the teams didn't have the support of the fans.

(NOTE: The Southern California Sun defeated the Hawaiians 26-7 in the league's final game of their short existence on Sunday, October 19, 1975.)

WFL: How did you feel when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle prohibited WFL players from signing with NFL teams?

When the WFL folded, I received calls from the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins. George Allen (then coach of the Redskins), told me not to sign with anyone until he talked to me. I went up to Green Bay and Bart Starr talked me into signing with the Packers then and there. I actually signed a contract one hour before Rozelle made that announcement.

The National Football League had let John Gilliam leave the WFL and sign with the Minnesota Vikings, and they (the NFL) had set the precedent. Pete Rozelle called my lawyer and my lawyer told him that we weren't trying to "cause trouble", but that the Packers would have to keep me for three games, so I could get one year's retirement and pay me for the full season. Rozelle told Bart Starr that he had to do it. Bart was upset because he had to send me home with full pay. Here I was, on Monday, unemployed, when the WFL folded, and then on Tuesday with a new baby, and then I signed with the Packers and then Rozelle announces no signings until the league reviews it- and I was sent home with full pay.

(NOTE: The World Football League actually folded on Tuesday, October 22, 1975)

WFL: The World Football League owners spent a lot of money on bonuses to future stars that never played a WFL game. How did this 'star syndrome' impact the players on the Sun?

DR: It didn't sit well with some of the guys- they felt burned from it. Here was our team, the Sun, and we were successful, and had the fan support, and we could've made it and they could have paid these our guys more money- but so they were throwing so much money to keeping the other teams alive. There was always talk of us getting a national television contract.

WFL: Did you feel the media was fair to the World Football League?

DR: In certain instances and in certain towns the press was unfair. The press would say that our best teams couldn't beat some college teams, hell, that's true of NFL teams right now- Oklahoma could beat the Atlanta Falcons right now. The papers in L.A. and Anaheim were good to us.

Dave Roller had 17 QB sacks for the Sun in 1974.

WFL: When you joined the NFL, was there any animosity towards you being from the WFL?

DR: There wasn't any animosity. The Packers welcomed me with open arms. I think that they were glad to get some fresh blood on the team and perhaps make the season a better season. Reporters would ask us what the WFL was like, and I would say that everything was no different from the NFL- we went first class at Southern California.

WFL: What events centered around your comeback attempt with the USFL?

DR: I believe that I was the only player to sign with all the leagues; the NFL, CFL, WFL and the USFL. I signed with the Arizona Wranglers, but I never went to training camp. I called the coach, Doug Shively, and told him that I didn't want to go through the entire camp 'cause I didn't think I would hold up. Well, he didn't go for that. As a player, you get to the point where you mind says "maybe" and your body says "no".

(NOTE: Roller's former Sun teammate, Anthony Davis played in the WFL, CFL, NFL and USFL)

WFL: What would you want people to know about your time in the World Football League?

DR: I would want them to know that I greatly appreciate the opportunity to play. The Sun was so well organized and I would like to thank everyone again- from the coaches, to players, to owners. I think everybody had a good time, despite the shortcomings of the league. I'd do it all over again.

NOTE: The Dave Roller interview was conducted by Jim Cusano and Richie Franklin. This interview was slated for the World Football League Hall of Fame Web site, but was never posted, 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.