1974 WFL Team Pages
The Birmingham Americans were the World Football League's most successful franchise in the leagues' brief history. The city of Birmingham, a football hotbed, had tried on many occasions to secure a N.F.L. franchise only to be shunned by the N.F.L. elite. When the World Football League came to the city, the group was welcomed with open arms, and the man who owned the club was William Putnam.
The Birmingham Americans were the World Football League's most successful franchise in the leagues' brief history. The city of Birmingham, a football hotbed, had tried on many occasions to secure a N.F.L. franchise only to be shunned by the N.F.L. elite. When the World Football League came to the city, the group was welcomed with open arms, and the man who owned the club was William Putnam.
William (Bill) Putnam was no stranger to professional sports. Putnam was the president of the Philadelphia Flyers of the N.H.L., and he had also owned a percentage of the Atlanta Flames and the Omni Group. Putnam also assisted with the development of N.H.L. expansion in the late sixties and early seventies. was the wife of Jim Stallworth, who owned Ryder Trucking Co., and after close talks with Putnam, Carol decided to invest some of the family cash into the sports venture. Carol Stallworth was named President of the Birmingham Americans.
The Americans signed a contract to play at the 65,000- seat Legion Field, and then announced the signing of Canadian Football League coach Jack Gotta as the Americans Head Coach and General Manager. Gotta had won C.F.L. championships in 1972 and 1973, and brought in Marvin Bass to coach the defense. Bass began his coaching career with William & Mary, and later moved on to be the head coach and athletic director for South Carolina. The offense was coached by Lynn Amedee. Amedee, who once starred for the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, came to the WFL from the New Orleans Saints were he was an offensive backfield coach. The rest of the coaching staff consisted of; Billy Tohill (Defensive Backs), Wayne Grubb (Offensive Line), Ardell Wiegandt (Linebackers), Leonard King (Director of Player Personnel), Pat Dyer (Trainer) and Larry Amedee (Equipment Manager).
Undaunted by the media attention focused on John Bassett's Memphis Southmen for signing Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield, Putnam signed Oakland Raider quarterback Ken Stabler to a WFL contract for the 1975 season. Putnam then followed the Stabler signing by agreeing to contracts with NFL star defensive lineman L.C. Greenwood (Pittsburgh Steelers), wide receiver Ron Jessie (Detroit Lions), tight end Jim Mitchell (Atlanta Falcons), running back Mike Montgomery (Dallas Cowboys), offensive lineman Mel Holmes (Pittsburgh Steelers), offensive lineman Jethro Pugh (Dallas Cowboys) and defensive tackle Rayfield Wright (Dallas Cowboys) for the 1975 and 1976 seasons. The WFL "raids" on NFL rosters would actually prove to do more damage to the league than good. Putnam, and the other WFL owners, were gathering assets (player contracts) with the belief that they could be sold at a profit in the future. But the signings came at a heavy price. Many of the NFL players coming to the WFL were paid huge bonuses, in deferred payments, until they joined the team. These payments proved to put a massive strain on the individual teams' cash flow. The Americans would pay out over $1 million in bonus money during the 1974 season for players that would never ware a WFL uniform.
On the field, the Americans began to assemble what would be one of the leagues' strongest franchiseOn the field, the Americans began to assemble what would be one of the leagues' strongest franchises. Veteran George Mira, from Florida University who played seven years in the N.F.L. and the past two years in Canada, was selected to quarterback the team. The Americans running game consisted of former Washington Redskin star Charlie Haraway, former N.F.L. Rookie of the Year Paul Robinson and L.S.U. running back Art Cantrelle. Wide receivers Alfred Jenkins and Dennis Homan (seven years with Dallas and Kansas City in the N.F.L.) gave Mira two speedy and gifted receivers to throw to. The American offensive line was anchored by NFL veterans John Matlock, Paul Costa, Bob Wolfe, Ohio State rookie Jim Kregel and Alabama rookie Buddy Brown.
The American defense was led by ex-Chicago Bear Ross Brupbacher. The defense also consisted of; Warren Capone, a savage tackler, Steve Manstedt, a rookie who the club signed away from the N.F.L., Larry Estes, Mike Truax and the 6-foot-6 Tiny Andrews. The Americans' secondary was bolstered by Larry Willingham, a veteran form the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals. Willingham sat out of football in 1973 due to a knee injury but was cleared to play for the Americans by his doctors. Charles Reamon (brother of Florida Blazer running back Tommy Reamon) and Steve Williams completed the American secondary.
On opening day, the Birmingham Americans hosted Southern California before 53,231 fans at Legion Field. The Reverend Hugh W. Agricola delivered a invocation before the game, petitioning the Lord on behalf of the Americans and the World Football League. Before kickoff he prayed, "Grant to these teams who are meeting for the first time the zeal, energy and ability to make a contest worthy of this Football Capital." He later added, "May the Sun of California never go down upon the wrath of the Americans." It was clear which side he, and apparently, the Lord were on. The Americans defeated the Sun 11-7 when defensive back Steve Williams intercepted a pass and ran it back for a 50-yard touchdown late in the game. The World Football League had arrived! The Americans made the front page of many newspapers around the country, and the fans (53,000 strong) were praised for their strong support. The love affair between Birmingham and the Americans had begun. The Birmingham News and the Birmingham Post Herald both covered the game and wrote extensively about the city and its new sports franchise. In the Birmingham News the headlines read, "Mid-summer Night's Dream Comes True for Putnam". Writer Clyde Bolton wrote of how the Americans sold more than 10,000 tickets the day of the game, and the 53,231 was one of the largest WFL crowds of the week.
The Americans not only enjoyed the media spotlight, but would soon also establish themselves as a team that could comeback from any deficit and defeat anyone in the league. The press would christen the Americans or "Ams" (as they were called in their home town) the "Cardiac Kids". No other game illustrated their new title better than their first WFL road game played in New York.
In New York City, the Americans were losing to the Stars 29-3 at half-time. The "Ams" locker room was a scene of absolute shock and confusion. Coach Jack Gotta shouted instructions and adjustments to his team, furiously writing plays and notes on the black board. A group of players sat in prayer. When the Americans walked off the field like lambs, down 29-3, they returned like Lions. In the dim lights of Randall's Island Stadium, quarterback George Mira pierced the Manhattan skyline with precision passing that left the Stars scrambling about like cartoon characters. Mira ran for one touchdown and passed for two others. With the Stars leading 29-25 late in the game, Mira broke the huddle and walked up to the line of scrimmage. The "Matador" as he was called, starred straight into the eye of the Bull that was New York's defensive line. Stars linemen John Elliot and Gerry Philbin, veterans of the NFL, knew that pressure on the American quarterback was desperately needed. The Stars offense had stalled; it was up to the defense to win the game. As he barked out the signals, George Mira scanned the Stars defense, 17,943 fans rose to their feet, and dust blew up off the field. Mira took the snap and dropped back behind a rising wall of rushing New York defenders. He looked right, the left, then right again. And threw the gold and orange WFL ball into the New York skyline. Streaking down the middle of the field was wide receiver Dennis Homan without a single New York Star defender around for miles. Homan gathered in the pass and cruised into the end zone with 2 minutes and 15 seconds left in the game. The horrified Star fans watched stunned, along with the Stars bench, as the touchdown went up on the stadium score board... Visitors 32, Stars 29. The "Cardiac Kids" were born.
After the game, the stadium grew quiet. Only the sounds of traffic from the parking lot could be heard in the locker room. At his locker wide receiver Dennis Homan told reporters, "I was so wide open, I had to make sure I just caught the ball. I looked around and didn't see anybody!" The "Cardiac Kids" were 2-0.
On July 24, 1974, the WFL's fiercest rivalry came into being, the Birmingham Americans and the Memphis Southmen. The "City by the River" (Memphis) came to "Football Heaven", as it was tabbed by the local media. Memphis coach John McVay brought a balanced offense and a hard hitting defense led by ex-Heisman Trophy winner quarterback John Huarte. The Memphis running game was also impressive with rookie J.J. Jennings, CFL standout John Harvey, Willie Spencer and Paul Miles.
61,319 fans packed the stadium and witnessed a WFL record of 91 total points scored. The next day the local media claimed the Americans would need a bigger scoreboard if their performance continued. On the field, the "Ams" took a 28-11 lead to the locker room at halftime on 42-yard touchdown pass from George Mira to Dennis Homan. The "Grizzlies" (as they were known in Memphis) came roaring back in the third quarter. John Harvey ripped a 40-yard run straight through the "Ams" defense and then scored two plays later. John Huarte passed to Roger Wallace for the action point to cut the Birmingham lead to 28-19. With the momentum starting to turn, the Americans drove to mid-field. Quarterback George Mira came up limping from a pile up and left the game with a severe ankle sprain. As Mira slowly walked off the field in pain, young Matthew Reed put on his helmet and ran onto the field. Reed, a 6-foot-4, 225 pound rookie from Grambling had cannon for an arm and the athletic ability to dominate defenses. Reed broke from the huddle, called the signals, and dropped back. He threw a perfect 52-yard touchdown pass to Alfred Jenkins as a stunned Memphis bench watched in dismay. Charles Bartles added the action point, and the "Ams" widened their led to 36-19. Reed's pass took the fight out of the Memphis team, as the Americans won the game 58-33. In the silence of the Memphis locker room, Southmen coach John McVay told reporters, "A lot of credit has to go to the Americans. They were obviously ready to play. That crowd really helped them too." The crowd, a WFL record 61,319 was so loud that the fans couldn't hear the public address system as the Americans ran onto the field. Birmingham had won the battle of the South and its prize was a perfect 3-0 record.
One of the most talented of the Americans players was wide receiver Alfred Donell Jenkins. Jenkins was a speedy receiver from Hogansville, Georgia who played his college ball at Morris Brown. Jenkins stood at 5-9 ½ , and in street clothes didn't look like a football player, but he could run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 and the 100 in 9.5.In 1973, he spent six weeks in the Houston Oilers camp as a kickoff and punt return specialist. He never got a chance at receiver. The Oilers, who suffered through a 1-13 season, probably regretted not getting Jenkins the ball. When he was cut from the NFL, Alfred headed back to Morris Brown to become a receivers coach until he received word that the Americans were holding a tryout camp in Atlanta. Jenkins attended the camp and caught the eye of scout Leonard King. Jenkins claimed, "It took Leonard three weeks to talk me into getting back out there. Then when I got there (to the Atlanta camp) I saw 350 people and started to turn around to go back. But I finally went out for a return job, and Coach Gotta put me wide receiver." Jenkins claimed on of his better assets was his peripheral vision which he developed during his duties as a punt returner. "Before the game (with Memphis) the coaches told me they probably would be doubling up on their coverage of Dennis Homan. They just looked to my side more. It was kinda planned." Jenkins caught 5 passes for 200 yards and touchdowns of 38, 74 and 52-yards. A penalty called back a fourth touchdown, a 62-yard bomb from Matthew Reed. Coach Jack Gotta added, "I felt that if any guy was going to have a big night it would be Jenkins. Alfred is as fast as there is and he can catch it. Homan (wide receiver Dennis Homan) was been so deadly that they haven't been giving the coverage they should to Jenkins."
The Americans (3-0) traveled to Ypsilanti, Michigan to take on the Detroit Wheels. With George Mira on the injured reserve list due to an ankle injury, rookie quarterback Matthew Reed started the game. "The Cardiac Kids" dodged a bullet fired from the guns of the Detroit Wheels. With Birmingham using a rookie quarterback, and the Wheels at 0-3, Detroit sent linebackers blitzing the entire night. "The only pressure on me was that Detroit wasn't winning and I knew they'd come after me", said Reed. With Detroit leading 18-14 and with only 3:34 remaining in the game Reed took over. The drive began at the Birmingham 33 yard line. It spanned 67 yards in five plays. The Americans looked like a well-oiled machine as they drove at will through the Detroit defense. From the 9-yard line Reed ran a quarterback option that ended with him leaping over Detroit defenders for a 21-18 American win. Reed completed 19 of 32 passes for 260 yards and led the Americans to their fourth straight victory.
In a rematch with the Wheels the following week, Matthew Reed hit Alfred Jenkins with a two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to lead the Americans to a 28-22 win over Detroit. Birmingham was 5-0, and the only undefeated team in the league. The rematch with Detroit also marked the opportunity for national media exposure. Sports Illustrated, the national sports magazine, sent reporter Joe Marshall to Birmingham to report on the Americans. The story, "The Americans Need No Papergate" featured the scandal that centered around WFL attendance figures after it was learned that the Philadelphia Bell gave away over 100,000 tickets for their first two home games and then claimed that the tickets had been sold through conventional means. In contrast, the Birmingham fans were paying cold hard cash to see the Americans, and loving every minute of it. While other teams struggled at the gate, Birmingham was averaging over 45,000 a game. The division in the WFL between the "haves" and the "have nots" was getting wider. In the Sports Illustrated story, Wheel coach Dan Boisture was quoted as saying, "Charlie Harraway and Paul Robinson (American running backs) cost more than our entire offense cost us." The Wheels still came close to winning, "our kids love the game,' said Boisture. "They have to because they sure aren't being paid much." The Wheels' players hadn't received their first paychecks until they played their second game.
The Americans would continue develop a flair for last second victories. In their first ten games (all wins) the Americans would win 6 out of 10 after falling behind the other team. The Americans defeated the New York Stars, Detroit Wheels (twice), the Jacksonville Sharks, Florida Blazers and the Chicago Fire- all on or near the final seconds of play. Birmingham simply knew how to win football games. If it wasn't George Mira throwing touchdown passes, it was Matthew Reed. The American receivers always caught balls in the clutch, and the defense was as stingy as any in the league.
Undefeated at 5-0, the Americans crushed Hawaii 39-0 before 43,297 fans. The Americans became the first WFL team to surpass the 200,000 mark in attendance. In a league where some teams were suspect over their paid attendance the Americans and Bill Putnam danced to the sound of clicking turnstiles.
While Birmingham was raking in the cash, the Americans traveled to the northern Florida city to face the 2-4 Sharks at the Gator Bowl. The Jacksonville team was second in league attendance (averaging about 32,000 a game), and pulled in a good crowd of 27,140 fans. The game was the debut of new Sharks' coach Charlie Tate. Tate replaced former coach Bud Asher, due to the Sharks' habit of losing close games in the final minutes. Despite the turnout, and new coach Charlie Tate, the Americans would again ware their "Cardiac Kids" label. With the Sharks leading 6-0, Matthew Reed hit Alfred Jenkins on a 27-yard touchdown pass for a 7-6 American lead. Undaunted, Jacksonville rallied behind the running of Tommy Durrance and the play of rookie quarterback Reggie Oliver. On a sweep wide right, Durrance dove into the end zone, and then Reggie Oliver passed to Keith Krepfle for the action point and a 14-8 lead.
The Gator Bowl rocked, and the Sharks' bench was electrified at the thought of the shocking the mighty Birmingham team. Matthew Reed, poised like an All-Pro, led the Americans down the field with less than one minute remaining. Sharks coach Charlie Tate paced the sidelines, as the Shark fans shouted, "DE-FENSE, DE-FENSE!" Reed, pulled back from the line and before being sacked, passed to Jim Bishop, bringing the Americans inside the Sharks 10. With the noise deafening, American running back Charlie Harraway bulled his way through the Sharks defensive line, broke a tackle, and ran for a touchdown and a tie game, 14-14. Coach Jack Gotta sent in the action point play to Reed. The Americans, in blue and red, lined up against the background of black and silver of the Jacksonville Sharks. The crowd rose to its feet, once again chanting "DE-FENSE". With the snap of the ball, the lines collided, the Sharks expected a pass, but Reed ran a naked bootleg to the right and then crashed up the middle and into the end zone over two Sharks defenders. The "Cardiac Kids" had done it again, defeating the Jacksonville Sharks 15-14. After the game, Reed, now know for his last second heroics, told the media, "They (Jacksonville) helped us some. They were in a prevent defense and we just got in a double wing and took the short ones (passes). Their corners were playing deep and that gave us the sidelines. As long as the Good Lord stays with us……. we'll keep winning," said a smiling Matthew Reed.
The Central Division of the WFL was a study of fierce competition. The Americans were 7-0, followed by Chicago at 6-1 and Memphis at 5-2. Jack Gotta desperately wanted some breathing room against the Fire, and with his team traveling to Chicago it wouldn't be easy to obtain. In Chicago, the Americans played one of their biggest games of the year. The Fire were blazing their way to the top of the WFL. Quarterback Virgil Carter led the team and was one of the WFL's highest rated passers. The running game was anchored by the "Baby Bull" Mark Kellar and veteran Cyril Pinder. At wide receiver James Scott and Jack Dolbin were as dangerous as they come. The Americans would have their work cut out for them.
44,872 fans packed into Soldier Field for the game. On the opening kickoff, American Buddy Brown slammed into two Fire blockers, knocking them back and crushing Chicago's kickoff return. It was a devastating hit that set the tempo of the game. When the Americans got the ball they wasted no time. The "Ams" drove 57-yards in 12 plays, using their running game on all but two plays. Jimmy Edwards slammed off tackle from two yards out and Birmingham led 7-0. In the second quarter, the "Ams" geared it up again. The offense drove 69-yards in 11 plays, again using the punishing running game. Quarterback George Mira scrambled out of the pass rush of Fire-men Chuck Bailey and Ron Porter and threw a perfect 19-yard touchdown pass to Paul Robinson. The Americans led 14-0.
The Americans continued to put pressure on Chicago throughout the game. The Fire offense was throttled on two consecutive drives when Warren Capone intercepted a Carter pass, and Jay Casey recovered a fumble. Then, coach Jack Gotta looked to put the game away. He called for a long pass into Chicago territory. As George Mira's pass sailed through the air, Fire defensive back Harry Howard dove in front of the pass for an interception with just minutes left before the half. Howard's interception ignited the Fire and sparked the Chicago fans. The Fire offense responded by making its best drive of the night. Quarterback Virgil Carter hit Don Burchfield for 17, James Scott for 20, and Scott again for 28 yards and a touchdown. Carter then hit Jack Dolbin for the action point and the Fire cut the "Ams" lead to 14-8 at half-time.
In the second half, the Fire offense went up in the flames. Birmingham's defense threw up a wall, harassing Virgil Carter all night and thwarting the running game. Linebackers Ross Brupbacher, Warren Capone and Gary Champagne stopped the hard-charging Mark Kellar dead in his tracks, and the front four of Dick Trower, Tiny Andrews, Clarence Washington and Larry Estes provided pressure on the passing game. Fire Quarterback Virgil Carter never got in a groove in the second half; as his passes were rushed and the Fire receivers seemed to drop everything in sight. In the fourth quarter, running back Art Cantrelle ran four yards for a touchdown to put the game away. Birmingham won 22-8, and knocked the Fire back in the Central Division standings.
The Americans returned to "Football Heaven" and before 36,529 fans defeated the Florida Blazers 8-7. In a game that was a defensive contest, the scoreboard didn't change until the third quarter when Blazer quarterback Bob Davis unloaded a 43-yard bomb to Tommy Reamon for a 7-0 Florida lead. In the fourth quarter Matthew Reed, quickly becoming a fan favorite in Birmingham, came in for George Mira and directed the Americans to the Florida 2 yard line with a pass to Alfred Jenkins and a 11-yard run. From the Blazer 2-yard line, Reed again ran a quarterback keeper and head-down, "bulled" his way through the Florida line for a 7-7 tie. The Blazers and the Americans lined up for the deciding action point. Once again Reed fought off the pressure and rifled a pass to Jim Bishop for a 8-7 Birmingham win. After the game the weary head coach of the Blazers, Jack Pardee, told reporters, "We knew they were strong finishers. Reed (Matthew) always comes up with the big play. He stayed right in there and fought off the pressure." Florida knew all along what the rest of the WFL was quickly learning, With Reed in the game teams had to respect the strength of his arm and the passing game. When the secondary drops back, Reed runs, and his strength and agility are deadly. The win over Florida gave the Americans a two game lead over both Memphis and Chicago in the WFL's Central Division.
The Americans greatest victory in the early part of the season came in a rematch against the Chicago Fire. 54,872 fans came out to Legion Field in Birmingham during a torrential downpour, the after effects of Hurricane Carmen. The Americans were 9-0, and in first place, while the Fire was 7-2, and tied for second with the Memphis Southmen in the Central Division. On the opening kickoff, American kick returner Charley Reamon burst through a crowd of Fire tacklers and looked as though he was gone for a touchdown, when suddenly, he fumbled the ball. Reamon recovered and Birmingham drove to the Fire 1-yard benefiting from two Chicago off-sides penalties. Art Cantrelle bolted over the left side for a touchdown and a Mira to Steve Williams pass made it 8-0 Birmingham. The Americans played as though they had someone watching over them. Perhaps Reverend Agricola gave another sideline invocation, or maybe it was the fact that Americans' quarterback Denny Duron and wide receiver Dennis Homan conducted bible meetings after each practice and before the games. Was the torrential downpour was a sign of divine intervention? Whatever the case, the Americans marched out to a 38-19 lead.
Virgil Carter, an experienced quarterback, led Chicago back. The Fire drove the ball down the field and Carter hit running back Mark Kellar with a 12-yard pass to make the score 38-26. Then Chicago capitalized on a poor Birmingham punt and Carter again drove the Fire deep into American territory, capping the drive with a 5-yard pass to James Scott for another Fire touchdown, making the score 38-33.
The Legion Field hopefuls began to grow uneasy. Was it possible that their beloved Americans would lose to a rough-shod outfit from Chicago? The Fire was 7-2, and a tough team when in a shootout. Their questions would be answered as Virgil Carter once again used his passing to drive the Fire. Chicago kept the American defense off balance by running sweeps with Mark Kellar or Cyril Pinder and then running option plays with Carter passing. In the driving rain, Carter dropped back and hit a diving Jim Seymour with a 38-yard pass for a touchdown. The Fire bench exploded to their feet, and Chicago led 40-38. Birmingham's' winning streak was in jeopardy. With the crowd silent and with seconds remaining, George Mira drove the Americans on short passes. Mira then hit wide receiver Alfred Jenkins at the Fire 34-yard line with only 52 seconds remaining. Coach Jack Gotta sent in the American kicking team to win the game. Kicker Earl Stark, in the driving rain, booted a field goal before the silent crowd. As the ball traveled perfectly through the rain and the glow of the Legion Field lights the 54,000 American fans erupted. Birmingham won 41-40.
While the Americans were the talk of the league, their arch rivals, the Memphis Southmen, were quietly moving up on Birmingham. The Southmen were playing good football and Coach John McVay had the team poised for a second-half run at the playoffs. A Liberty Bowl crowd of 30,675 watched as the Memphis Southmen routed Birmingham 46-7. At 10-1 the Americans were still the force in the WFL. Memphis was beginning to come together to challenge in the Central Division.
While the WFL played, the love affair between Birmingham and the Americans grew stronger. On the inner page of the game program against Houston/Shreveport, coach and general manager Jack Gotta wrote a letter to the American fans thanking them for their support. He especially praised the 50,000 fans who sat through Hurricane Carmen as the "Ams" defeated Chicago 41-40. Gotta also warned about the experienced Texans defense. "The front four of Joe Robb, Willie Parker, Jim Kanicki and Don Brumm has a lot of experience, and linebackers Garland Boyette and Ed Mooney are tough." "Don't be misled by their 3-7 record. I know our players are looking for another tough one."
33,619 fans stood at the gates of "Football Heaven" and witnessed the Americans continue their crusade over the Houston/Shreveport Texans 42-14. The game was a difficult one for the Texans, who played without their head coach Jim Garrett or quarterback Mike Taliaferro. Garrett and Taliaferro both quit the team earlier in the week due to the proposed move of the Texans to Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Americans traveled to Portland, Oregon to play the Storm. Birmingham came into the game with George Mira on a hot streak. Against "Louisiana", Mira threw for a WFL record 380 yards and American receivers Dennis Homan (42 receptions) and Alfred Jenkins (39 receptions and 10 touchdowns) were tearing up the WFL. Portland, with an infusion of talent from the NFL, was beginning to be more competitive and were winners of their last three games.
On the field, the Storm were a shadow of what they once were. Quarterback Pete Beathard, linebackers Ben Davidson and Rick Redman, and a cast of ex-NFL'ers combined to improve the Storm in every facet of the game. The Storm, undaunted by the invincible Americans rolled out a 18-7 lead at half time. A punishing running game featuring Marv Kendricks took enough pressure off of Beathard as he completed 22 of 34 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown. The Portland game plan, devised by Coach Dick Coury was simple. Beathard would use the fake to Kendricks or Rufus Ferguson to stall linebackers Warren Capone, Gary Champagne and Ross Brupbacher. Then he would find a secondary receiver under coverage for a completion. With the American linebackers "crashing" the line to protect against the run, Beathard could drive the Storm downfield with his passing. With Birmingham behind 18-7, the Americans struck. Pete Beathard dropped back to pass in the third quarter, and under pressure, over threw his receiver. The ball landed in the hands of cornerback Steve Williams. Williams raced down the sideline without a Storm player anywhere near him. Birmingham was now trailing 18-14. In the fourth quarter, George Mira came off the bench to lead Birmingham on a drive that ended when Charlie Harraway plowed through the Storm defense for a 21-18 Birmingham lead that silenced the Portland fans.
Throughout the WFL season, the Americans had come back from the edge of death to slay their opponents. The American bench displayed an eerie calm, but Storm coach Dick Coury and his team wasn't close to being done. Bethard drove the Storm as though it was on a mission from God. Time and time again he hit receivers under pressure, and all the "Ams" could do was back down the field. With Birmingham's back to the wall, Bethard took the snap and rifled a 16-yard touchdown pass to Bob Christensen with 35 seconds left to defeat the "Ams" 26-21. It was only the second loss of the season for Birmingham.
Birmingham coach Jack Gotta, who watched his team fall into a first place tie with Memphis, credited sloppy play for the loss. "We got beat at our own game," said Gotta, the Americans had made the last-minute score their trademark. "We played sloppy when we got ahead in the fourth quarter and then we relaxed and Portland took advantage of it. Portland is in a good position. They can gamble now. They're going for wins. The team that is hungry like that comes out and does a good job. "Gotta further added, "Bethard and Portland showed a lot of maturity and he picked us apart. When we got behind early in the game, we stopped doing the things that we do best. Portland is playing well with good coaching and some fine athletes."
The Americans would travel on to Hawaii. In Hawaii, the "Islanders" defeated Birmingham 14-8 as another ex-NFL player, Randy Johnson, threw two touchdown passes. Jack Gotta, thoroughly displeased with his team's third loss in four games grunted, "I'm glad this road trip is over. We've got to get back home. We have a lot of work to do." The Americans were 11-2.
When the Americans chartered plane touched down in "Football Heaven" the players breathed in the sights and sounds of the deep south. It was good to be home. American coach Jack Gotta responded to the teams' performance on the field by scheduling grueling workouts in preparation for their game against the Portland Storm. Gotta vowed that history would not repeat itself. As the "Ams" prepared for their game with Portland the news around the WFL grew increasingly grim. Detroit and Jacksonville were gone. Houston had moved to Shreveport, Louisiana and New York had transferred to Charlotte, North Carolina. Birmingham, the WFL's pride and joy, had suffered back-to-back losses and advance ticket sales for the Portland game were hovering around 20,000.
A disappointing crowd of 25,261 watched at Legion Field as veteran George Mira directed the Birmingham team to a 30-8 rout over the Portland Storm. Despite the win, the Americans front office was concerned with a gate of 25,000, compared to the 47,000 the team had been averaging. Coach Jack Gotta summed it up to the press, "I wish we could play all our game at home. A lot of people missed some good football tonight but that hard core of fans that have been with us all along came out again and we appreciate it." The victory was the eight in a row at home for Birmingham.
Birmingham began to feel, as many other WFL teams did, the effects of the 20 game season. The Americans were 12-3, and trailing the red hot Memphis Southmen.
The Americans embarked on another road trip that would take them to Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana. Neither trip would be a comfortable one. In Anaheim, California, the Southern California Sun were one of the "class" operations of the WFL. The team averaged good crowds (around 25,000) and the fans were excited about the team and the league. The game marked an important moment in history for the Sun. A victory, and the Sun would clinch the WFL's Western Division title.
25,247 fans watched as the Sun parlayed two third-quarter touchdown drives into a 29-25 win over the Americans. The Sun lit up the sky, as quarterback Tony Adams surpassed 3,000 yards passing for the season and the team came back from a 17-3 deficit to lead the Americans 29-17. Late in the fourth quarter, Jack Gotta put in Matthew Reed for George Mira. On his second play, Reed got a 50-yard pass interference penalty when receiver Alfred Jenkins went down at the goal line under Jim Bright and Gene Howard. Reed then hit Dennis Homan with a 7-yard touchdown pass with 5:16 left. With the score 29-25, the Americans got the ball back. On third down, Reed was sacked by Sun linebacker Dave Roller and the Americans were forced to punt. The Sun ran out the clock for the win.
Birmingham was a team in disarray. Head coach Jack Gotta tried to search for answers. In Shreveport, Louisiana the Americans were routed 31-0. The team's performance was horrible. Jack Gotta just prayed that things had "bottomed out". The Steamer ran Jim Nance and Paul Gipson straight at the Americans defense and the two running backs gained 243 yards, and hammered out three touchdowns.
The Florida Blazers returned to "Football Heaven" to face the struggling Americans. Head coach Jack Pardee brought the WFL's leading defensive team, allowing an average of 247 yards and 13.6 points a game. Quarterback Bob Davis had completed 56% of his passes and had thrown 17 touchdowns. American coach Jack Gotta said of the Blazers, "Orlando is one of the finest teams in this league. They're basically sound at every position and Tommy Reamon can play with anyone, anywhere. He's a super football player."
At Legion Field, 21,872 fans came out on a cool but clear Halloween night. The Americans masqueraded as a freight train and ran over the Florida Blazers en route to a 26-18 win. The Americans ran up a 23-7 lead through three quarters of play on touchdown passes from George Mira and rookie Matthew Reed. In the fourth quarter, the Blazers roared back. Tommy Reamon ran through the middle of Birmingham's defense for a touchdown that made the score 23-15 after the action point. As Florida drove again down field, the Americans and their fans wondered if a "Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword" analogy would be printed in the morning newspapers. After all, Birmingham was the inventor of the late-game comeback. But it wasn't meant to be. The American defense held Florida in check at the Birmingham 37. Blazer Dave Strock kicked a 37-yard field goal to narrow the game to 23-18, but the "Ams" would add a field goal of their own, and shut down the Blazer offense in the final minutes of the game.
Birmingham was back on track and posted a 13-3 won-lost record.
Despite the play on the field, the Americans and the WFL were succumbing to the financial pressures felt throughout the league. On November 1, 1974, Birmingham owner Bill Putnam and Carol Stallworth met with city mayor George Seibels and local businessmen in an effort to raise funds for the WFL team. Putnam, who owned the majority of the team stock, said the Americans had done well at the gate in their first season but was quoted as saying, "We need a lot more local financing if the team is to remain here another season". Putnam continued, "Before we started the season we said we would raise $1.5 million in local funds. To date we've raised only $150,000." Putnam told reporters that responses from the 28 bankers, businessmen and people attending the meeting with Mayor Seibels was "good," although no immediate solution was reached. Mayor Seibels gave no details but said city funds might be available to help the Americans and he would approach the city council on the matter.
The Americans focused on their play on the field, although many of the players couldn't ignore the reports and rumors of the WFL's financial problems, and possible collapse. The Americans prepared for their home game against the Philadelphia Bell.
Birmingham, back on track, defeated Philadelphia 26-23, and routed Shreveport 40-7 to end the regular season.
At the end of the 1974 season the leagues best drawing team was hovering around 25,000 paid customers (it was reported that even that figure was inflated) and the WFL was in a shambles. Gone were the glory days of 50,000 fans in the seats and the promise of NFL stars such as Ken Stabler, Ron Jessie and L.C. Greenwood wearing American uniforms. Owner Bill Putnam was being sued by the city (for public taxes) and investigated by the IRS. The team was forced to move out of its offices at Legion Field and into a mobile trailer, as Putnam was rocked by a $110,000 IRS lien. Later in the week, Putnam was hit by another $230,000 lien in back taxes. Putnam had paid out so much money in signing bonuses that he couldn't afford to pay for the teams' operating expenses when the gate receipts declined.
The players voted to stop with practices until they were paid four weeks of back pay, and also refused to play in any playoff games (if there was a playoff). Player representative, Charlie Harraway, said the players wouldn't play until the overdue funds were distributed. The players stance didn't sit well with Coach and General Manager Jack Gotta, and a rift began to develop between him and some of the American players. Owner Bill Putnam managed to get the players back to practice with a promise of pay from gate receipts of the playoff games and championship rings if the team won the World Bowl. On the eve of the WFL playoffs, the IRS filed a $237,000 lien against the Americans. Another suit of $160,000 was filed against owner Bill Putnam personally. In addition, the Americans owed over $100,000 in back taxes to the city, county and state, and a local Birmingham bank claimed it is owed over $800,000.
The World Football League worked out a deal with the IRS and others debtors to pay the past debts with gate receipts- but the "rushed" nature of the scheduling left little time for preparation and resulted in low attendance. The Americans prepared for the Hawaiians to come to Legion Field for their second-round playoff game. The Hawaiians, led by ex-NFL quarterback Randy Johnson, had seven of its last ten games to earn a playoff spot and then upset the favored Southern California Sun 32-14. Hawaii also brought a talented running game that featured Vin Clements, Al Davis and Ernie O'Leary and also the WFL's premier receiver in Tim Delaney. Hawaii's defense featured the "East Beasts", the defensive front of Karl Lorch, Levi Stanley, Lem Burnham and Greg Wojcik. The secondary was also talented with Hal Stringert, and ex-NFL'ers Willie Williams and Otto Brown.
The uncertainty that surrounded the WFL and its playoff format was apparent in the ticket sales for the games. In Birmingham, only 15,739 fans attended the game between the Americans and Hawaiians. In the cold November night, the Americans drove into Hawaii territory and Charley Harraway (who rushed for 63 yards on 13 carries) bulled over from the two yard line to give the "Ams" a early 7-0 lead. The Hawaiians came back with a A.A. Coppedge field goal, and a Randy Johnson one-yard run to take a 11-7 lead early in the third quarter.
The Americans went to rookie quarterback Matthew Reed, who replaced George Mira. Reed orchestrated a touchdown drive that ended with a 32-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Alfred Jenkins, who sprinted through the Hawaii secondary, for a 14-11 Birmingham lead. Reed then passed to Jerry Powell for the action point and the Americans suddenly had a 15-11 lead- the 15,000 Legion Field patrons sounded like 100,000 as they rose to their feet in support. The Americans added another touchdown off a Hawaii turnover. Reed ran from 2-yards out to make the score 22-11 with little time remaining.
Hawaii quarterback Randy Johnson, who had led his team back from behind more than once, mounted a drive that took Hawaii from their 30 yard line to a touchdown. Johnson hit Vin Clements with a 17-yard scoring pass to cut the Birmingham lead to 22-19, but the Americans held and won a birth to the World Bowl.
Birmingham defeated the Florida Blazers 22-21 in the WFL's only World Bowl before 32,376 fans at Legion Field.
The end of the 1974 season brought many questions as to the future of the Americans. Bill Putnam was searching for local investors to help him finance the team, but there were few interested. The WFL announced that Chris Hemmeter had devised a plan that would secure the future of the league and its financial stability, and that the WFL would go forward with a '75 season. The WFL demanded that all potential investors establish a $650,000 line of credit with the league. Hemmeter vowed that the deposits would guarantee that the league paid its bills and could finish the entire season without the problems that plagued the WFL in 1974. Putnam, without financial support, was left out of the WFL restructuring, when it was announced that Ferd Weil and A.E. Burgess had purchased interest in the WFL's Birmingham franchise for the league's 1975 season. Putnam, enraged, sued the WFL, and demanded the rights to a New York franchise. The lawsuit and the franchise never materialized, and Putnam was left with the rubble of what was once the WFL's only championship team.
NOTE: The Birmingham Americans 1974 team page was researched and written by Jim Cusano. This page appeared on the former World Football League Hall of Fame Website and is used with permission.
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