1974 WFL Team Pages
The Detroit Wheels were the most forgettable of W.F.L. teams. The club came in existence when no less than 32 individual investors, investing from $14-50,000 each, got together and decided to purchase a football team. The groups’ leader, 28-year old Louis Lee, who played end at the University of Michigan, went to work contacting doctors, lawyers, rich widows, and basically anyone with a sizeable checkbook who could finance the "dream" of owning a professional football club.
By March, Lee had his partners. Thirty-two who had contributed a total of $400,000 and purchased a World Football League franchise for the city of Detroit, Michigan. Lee was named president and the thirty-two partners all received gold blazers embossed with the teams’ logo. The franchise, seeking to keep up with city traditions, named the club the "Wheels" and hired Eastern Michigan’s Dan Boisture as its first head coach.
The Wheels entered the league with a spectacular media show as mayor Coleman Taylor held aloft the certificate of ownership for the Wheels at a press conference. As the flash bulbs went off, and the reporters asked their questions, Gary L. Davidson, WFL founder and commissioner, stood next to Mayor Taylor and announced the first "multi-racial" ownership group in professional sports. Detroit’s entry in the World Football League was official.
The Wheels Vice President and General Manager was Everett "Sonny" Grandelius. Grandelius, a former player and television analyst, was working in the Detroit area as a Sales Manager when he joined the Wheels organization. Grandelius brought in local gridiron hero Dan Boisture from Eastern Michigan University to coach the team. Boisture, one of the nations’ finest ends at the University of Detroit, was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, but a knee injury ended his career. Boisture hired Dave Brazil as his defensive coordinator and Ed Chelbek ran the offense, both men worked with Boisture at Eastern Michigan University . The rest of the Wheels coaching staff consisted of; Tommy Vaughn (defensive Backfield Coach), Owen DeJanovich (Defensive Line Coach), Bobby Gill (Offensive Line Coach), Cleveland "Chick" Harris (Offensive Backfield and Receivers Coach), Charles "Rip" Collins (Equipment Manager) and Richard Midler (Trainer). Boisture and his staff assembled the Wheels and conducted the teams workout camps at Belle Isle, Michigan.
The troubles for the Wheels started almost immediately. The owners, short on cash and common sense, seemed to think that purchasing the team was all there was to do. They didn’t take into consideration the cost of equipment, lodging, training facilities and administrative costs that go into owning a professional football team. The Detroit Wheels were assembled at the bargain basement price of $10,000 per player. A team official suggested, on the eve of training camp, that the team pitch tents in the city park so the Wheels could conduct practice at a reduced price. It was bad enough that the Wheels couldn’t practice on a field with sidelines and end zones, but to have the players sleep in tents was simply asking too much. One day, Boisture and his staff traveled to a possible training camp site to find the field covered with three inches of manure. Before they got the chance to pull on their black, gold and red Wheels’ jerseys, the players were surrounded by adversity. They were professional athletes, wanting a chance to live out their dream of playing and belonging to a new league- a dream that would prove to be an impossibility.
The Wheels took part in the W.F.L. draft; selecting 33 players from across the nation- they signed only 3, the lowest in the league. Detroit’s number one draft choice was tight end Paul Seals, a Type University of Michigan standout. In April, Seals shunned the new league and singed with the New Orleans Saints of the NFL. The financial constraints put on the team made the signing of players difficult for Sonny Grandelius. The ownership syndicate of the Wheels seemed to have a "let’s wait and see" attitude, with one eye on the field and another on the checkbook. Rumors flowed around Detroit that the group was already suffering from internal pressures, and the 32 owners were not in agreement on how the team should be managed.
The Wheels put out a call for bodies in hopes of filling their roster. The team ran an add in the Detroit Free Press for "professional athletes". Wheel Coach Dan Boisture and his staff held tryouts at Belle Isle for over 600 hopefuls, including a man who brought his wife (dressed in a fur coat) and a office executive who handed Boisture a note that read, "I’d really like to play football, but if I can’t make the team I’d settle for waterboy." Not one of the 600 hopefuls made the team- not even as waterboy. Boisture had his work cut out for him.
Off the field the Wheels were about to begin the season without a home. Tiger Stadium in Detroit had an exclusive agreement with the NFL’s Lions and the Wheels were unwelcome. Louis Lee decided to have the team play its "home" games in 22,000 seat Rynearson Stadium in the town of Ypsilanti, Michigan (30 miles from downtown Detroit). Figuring that Rynearson Stadium was better than no stadium at all, or better than playing in the park, the Wheels prepared for their inaugural season.
In their 1974 media guide the Wheels described themselves as a "Now" team. A club that wanted to win now, play now and succeed now. The Detroit Wheel offense featured talented quarterback Bubba Wyche. Wyche, a CFL veteran with Montreal and Saskatchewan, jumped to the WFL at the chance of playing, and starting, for a team in the US and with a new league. "I could have signed with the CFL, but I really wanted the chance to start something new," claimed Wyche. " Detroit and the World Football League gave me the best opportunity." The Wheels running backs were Sam Scarber (a CFL standout with Edmonton) and Warren McVea, who saw action with Kansas City and Cincinnati. Texas Christian University running back Billy Sadler rounded out the backfield. Wyche had ex-Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hubie Bryant as his main target, and a sturdy receivers in Jon Henderson and Terry Phillips. Detroit also signed other promising rookies; offensive guard Doug Neuendorf, running backs Jim Rathje and George Spanish, linebacker Dominic Riggio, defensive tackles Eddie Johnson and Jesse Parks, and defensive backs Rick Murphy and Gary Yeoman.
Dan Boisture put his team through the rigors of a professional training camp. Many of the players were exploding into blocking sleds, running pass patterns and wind sprints, and Bubba Wyche ran the first team offense through its drills while fine tuning the play book. The weather in Michigan was beautiful in July, and the expectations for the season were running high.
Detroit opened the 1974 season in Memphis, Tennessee against the Southmen. On a humid night, the Wheels walked out onto the turf of Memphis' Memorial Stadium and were routed 34-15. Down 18-0, the Wheels first points were scored when quarterback Bubba Wyche threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hubie Bryant. Detroit rushed for only 56 yards, fumbled 4 times and was penalized for 80 yards in their loss. The longest run of the game came when Wheel punter Dale Livingston ran nine yards on a fake punt. In the locker room, Dan Boisture realized he needed to get his running attack going in order to take pressure off of Wyche. In the steam and rumblings of the locker room Boisture had no reason to believe the Wheels would go on to lose nine straight games.
The Wheels’ home opener was much more spectacular than their first game. On July 17, 1974 the Wheels hosted the Florida Blazers. During the pre-game festivities (which featured a rock and roll band on the sidelines) Wheels president Louis Lee walked through the stands greeting fans and talking about the promising outlook for the WFL. General Manager Sonny Grandelius stared out into the stands at the sparse crowd and told reporters, "I’m a bit disappointed with the turnout, we’ll have to do better," and later added, "it will take some time for the fans and the area to get used to the team and support us." The Wheels lost to the Florida Blazers 18-14 before a paid audience of only 10,631 fans. The fans that where in attendance on the Eastern Michigan University campus watched as the Wheels came charging back after a go-ahead Blazer touchdown made the score 18-14. With the experience of Bubba Wyche, the offense drove deep into Blazer territory using short passes and the strong running of Sam Scarber. With only seconds remaining, the crowd screaming, the noise deafening, the two teams lined up to face each other at the Florida 2-yard line. Poised like to bulls ready to charge, the Wheels (in their home white uniforms with red, black and gold trim) crashed into the Blazer defensive line. As the two teams rose like a wave under the shear strength of the linemen, Bubba Wyche handed the ball to Sam Scarber who took three steps and dove over the left side of the Blazer defensive line. Florida Blazer linebacker Eddie Sheats slammed into Scarber with a fury and wrestled him to the ground. Scarber collapsed at the Florida one yard line. With enough time for one more play, Blazer linebacker Eddie Sheats ripped through the Wheel offensive line, causing quarterback Bubba Wyche to throw a desperation pass into the end zone that fell incomplete. The Wheels had lost their second game of the season. The owners, looking into the near-empty grand stand of Rynearson Stadium, realized it didn’t take an accountant to know that 10,000 people paying an average of $5.00 a ticket, simply wouldn’t pay the bills- the gold blazers the owners’ wore in pride were beginning to tarnish.
On July 21, the Wheels chartered airplane touched down in the beautiful island paradise of Hawaii, for a game against the Hawaiians. Detroit brought more veteran players to Hawaii than any other WFL team. At the Hula Bowl, only 10,000 fans gathered in the fog and rain as the "islanders" flattened the Wheels 36-16. The Wheels held a 16-14 lead but cracked under the passing of Dennis Dummit and Norris Weese and a 66-yard punt return by John Mosley. With an 0-3 record coach Dan Boisture wanted to upgrade his team with more veteran talent, but it would be a difficult task without the financial support of the owners.
The financial crisis in Detroit received more media attention that the play of the team. Detroit staggered through their season like an Edsel with a flat tire. At one home game against Birmingham, the 14,614 Wheel patrons began throwing a Frisbee around the stands as entertainment, or relief, during Detroit’s fourth straight loss. The crowd erupted in applause prompting Coach Dan Boisture to ask an assistant, "What’s all the damn cheering about?" Apparently a "guy in blue" made a one-armed grab- many wondered if he had been to Belle Isle for the teams’ tryouts. The Wheels lost the game to the Americans 21-18, as American quarterback Matthew Reed bulled over cornerback Floyd Preister, who was taken off the field by ambulance, for a touchdown and the win. After the game rookie American quarterback Matthew Reed explained, "George (Mira) called the play. It was a rollout pass. He told me if the linebacker dropped back, to turn it up," meaning upfield. "He dropped and I was fortunate enough to get over the goal line. I was just trying to score. It didn’t matter how."
In the Detroit Wheels locker room Dan Boisture, when told of the crowd applause for the "guy in blue", dejectedly stated, "That hurts. These guys are playing their asses off." The Wheels road would only get longer and more unpredictable.
The following week the Wheels traveled to Birmingham for a rematch against the Wheels. American coach Jack Gotta said before the game, "If anybody wearing red, white and blue doesn’t believe in the Detroit Wheels, they do now." Gotta was referring to Birmingham’s close win in Detroit. Wheels quarterback Bubba Wyche and running backs Billy Sadler, Jesse Mims and Sam Scarber (who gained a total of 217 yards against the Americans) felt confident they could move the ball on the Legion Field turf. Wheels defenders Sam Britts (12 tackles against Birmingham) and Dick Blanchard (9 tackles) also felt good about Detroit’s’ chances. In Birmingham, 40,637 fans screamed as Wheels quarterback Bubba Wyche hit Jon Henderson with an 18-yard scoring pass for a 22-20 lead in the fourth quarter. With the Wheels lining up for the action point, the sound of the Birmingham faithful was so deafening that a Wyche pass fell incomplete in the end zone. Only 1:00 remained on the Legion Field scoreboard as Matthew Reed led the Americans on a march down the field. Reed hit Dennis Homan on passes of 14 and 19 yards. Then Reed found a streaking Alfred Jenkins for a 39-yard touchdown pass for the win. The Americans fans rose to their feet, as the Wheels prayers sank. Despite the close game the Wheels were 0-5 and headed nowhere.
The Wheels returned to the "friendly" confines of Rynearson Stadium. Before only 14,424 fans the Memphis Southmen ripped Detroit 37-7. In the fourth quarter, P.A. announcer informed the crowd that the Wheels would be out of town after their game against Chicago the next week- 10,000 fans gave a standing ovation.
Wheels coach Dan Boisture and general manager Sonny Grandelius tried desperately to persuade the ownership group of the Wheels for more funds to upgrade the team. "The owners panicked", claimed Grandelius, "when they realized the situation they simply stopped spending any money on the team. Our advertising budget was eliminated- zero. I should’ve realized the problems when they told me I couldn’t have a secretary, and that my photography budget was about an eighth of what I requested. “Grandelius later confided in a friend (who was a WFL official), "We have 32 owners, and I think each of them have another five guys behind them!" The situation was in dire straits. The Wheels decided to ship the signing rights to running back Warren McVea (who refused to sign and play with Detroit) to Houston for $15,000 in cash, and also sent wide receiver Hubie Bryant (the Wheels best receiver) to Florida for defensive end Don Ratliff and cash.
Director of Public Relations, Ray Hozer had an office in a old rundown building with graying walls and nothing but a bright orange "Wheels" pennant to distinguish the room. Before the season was six weeks old the Wheels couldn’t pay their phone bill, they were unable to register into a motel- unless the bill was paid in advance. Prior motel owners had learned of the Wheels’ deadbeat tendencies. The team could not fly to away games- unless the airline had been paid before departure. The Wheels credit rating was zilch.
In Ypsilanti, Detroit players tried desperately to ignore the troubles of the team off the field and concentrate on the rest of their WFL season. On Thursday, August 22, 1974, the Chicago Fire came to the campus of Eastern Michigan University. Chicago, 5-1, was earning the reputation as one of the most powerful WFL teams. Led by ex-NFL quarterback Virgil Carter, the Fire had scored an amazing 29 points a game. Under the lights, the teams played an even first quarter. Then, the Chicago Fire erupted for 20 second quarter points and downed the Wheels 35-23. The back-breaker for Detroit was Walter Rhone’s punt return for a touchdown that began the Fire’s blaze. The game drew 10,300 fans, who rattled around the empty stadium, and watched as the Wheels fell to 0-6. In a twist of irony; earlier in the season, Wheels president Louis Lee claimed that if attendance increased he would consider moving some of the teams’ games to the 100,000 seat University of Michigan stadium at Ann Arbour. The Wheels didn’t draw 100,000 for all of their 1974 home games combined.
The Wheels’ financial problems heightened. For one home game the official programs were not delivered. The printer had not been paid. The Wheels’ launder had not been paid. On several occasions, the team didn’t have uniforms and had to cancel practice. One day the Wheel players were paid an office employee who walked out onto the field and started handing out paychecks while the team ran their plays. A wide receiver running a rout was quickly handed a paycheck and the ball fell incomplete. Money was a rarity, and the checks were stashed in helmets, shoulder pads and socks. One player suggested that the Wheel players would get more of a workout if they sprinted to the bank before the checks bounced.
The saga of the Wheels had become a comic tragedy. The players were the only heroes and the only victims. The team and the city seemed to be confused from the very start. In an effort to create a "competitive atmosphere" ownership had a rock and roll band play from the sidelines during games. The Detroit faithful were encouraged to scream, clap, dance and get the "house" rocking. During the Wheels loss to the Chicago Fire, the band broke into the famous Doors classic "Light My Fire" which caused even the Chicago players to feel some sympathy for the Wheels. Fire quarterback Virgil Carter said to reporters after the game, "You’ve got to feel for them. They’re a good team. It’s impossible to play under those conditions."
Off the field the Wheels struggled, but on the field, despite an 0-6 record Dan Boisture and his staff did have some encouraging factors. Quarterback Bubba Wyche was establishing himself as one the WFL’s better quarterbacks. Wyche stood tall in the pocket and brought the Wheels back from more than one death on the field. Against Birmingham he led the team to go-ahead scores late in the game, only to see them vanish in the final minutes. Wyche consistently poised himself as a leader on the field and off. A defector from the CFL, had won four conference championships with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders and also appeared in three major bowl games as a member of the Type University of Tennessee. Bubba Wyche was a tough competitor and knew how to win. Boisture and his staff placed their prayers for the season on his shoulders.
The Wheels rolled into Philadelphia with a 0-7 won-lost record. Broken, battered and dejected the players entered the ancient monolith called JFK Stadium. In the locker room it was discovered the team didn’t have the necessary tape and medical supplies needed to prepare the club for the game. One observer stated, "We can’t play without taping up, we’ll get killed out there." The team was almost forced to not play the game. Wide receiver Jon Henderson eventually persuaded a medical supplies salesman from Johnson & Johnson to "donate" a box of tape to the team- the Wheels, taped, lost 27-23.
In the face of adversity, the players became more vocal about the mismanagement of the Wheels organization. Jesse Mims, a Canadian Football League refugee, claimed the club never had a professional atmosphere- "the whole thing was a joke from the beginning." Bubba Wyche, the Wheels quarterback, simply stated, "In Detroit sharing food and rent is a matter of survival…it’s just the way it is here." Players talked of how they needed to bring towels from home for showers; how a player couldn’t even get a shoelace when he needed; and how the Wheels couldn’t even film their games to study, however pathetic they were. In an act of desperation, quarterback Bubba Wyche had contacted WFL commissioner Gary Davidson regarding the financial condition of the club and its effects on the players. Davidson promised assistance, but wasn't clear as to how or when help would arrive. Reports in the media had the Wheels being sold to anyone who could pay off their debts.
The Wheels, at the brink of complete financial collapse, took another step towards the edge of oblivion. Management moved the Wheels’ September 2nd home game against the Portland Storm to London, Ontario, Canada (120 miles from Detroit) for $30,000 in survival cash from Portland owner Robert Harris. Harris was interested in moving the Storm to the Ontario city and renaming it the London Lords. On an overcast day, an announced crowd of 5,101 (actually only 2,000 tickets were sold) watched what the media christened the "Battle of the Beaten" as Portland defeated Detroit 18-7. The Wheels were 0-9.
The Canadian debut of the WFL was more than slightly less than a success. The Canadian fans at one point shouted, "Where are the professionals," and more than one shouting match erupted between the WFL players and the few fans in the stands.
The Wheels returned home and hosted the Southern California Sun at Ypsilanti. A crowd of 6,351, sat in silence as the Wheels lost to the Sun 10-7. Rynearson Stadium appeared to actually have less than 2,000 fans in attendance. After the game, Sun quarterback Tony Adams explained the listless performance of both teams, "How can you play before a crowd like that? We came out to warm up and nobody was there. We simply kept waiting for the Wheels to beat themselves." The game was actually a close one. Detroit’s Dave Walker intercepted a Adams pass and six plays later, Sam Scarber, ran 19-yards at 11:11 of the third quarter for a 7-3 Wheels lead. From the Sun 33 yard line, Adams passed to Ike Harris for 30 yards and a first down on the Detroit 37. Adams then hit David Williams for a first down at the Wheels 24. Adams then fired to James McAllister (who was standing alone on the one-yard line) for the winning score. Unbelievably, Wheel kicker Eric Guthrie missed a field goal with 29 seconds left and then, incredibly, missed another with 9 seconds left. Quarterback Bubba Wyche was sidelined with an injury, and back up Brian Shaw completed only 1 of 8 passes for 11 yards. The Sun out gained the Wheels 314 yards to 165 and almost lost the game. Detroit had fallen on hard times. The Wheels were 0-10.
Before a landscape of empty rows of aluminum benches, blowing trash and the yellow-tinted lighting system at Rynearson, the Wheels 32 owners were starring into oblivion. They were in trouble. Serious trouble. The owners of the Wheels, who thought they would "strike it rich", were the owners of nothing but a broken dream of what could have been, and they couldn’t agree on the teams’ fate.
Rocky Long, left the British Columbia Lions of the CFL to sign with Detroit. In an article in the Sporting News he told writer Charlie Vincent, "I don't know where things went wrong, but they sure went wrong somewhere along the line. The first time I knew we were in trouble was when I read it in the newspapers." He added, "The team and coaches always have been the last ones to know anything. We never know day to day, almost, where we're going to practice or where we're going to play. We went a couple of games without film because the club couldn't afford to process it and more than once we've worn dirty uniforms to practice. We've just had to patch up old stuff and make it do. I guess because we couldn't afford to buy anything else."
One Wheel assistant coach was refused housing when the prospective landlords learned he worked for the Wheels. Eventually groups of players, their wives and even kids moved into a single house, making it easier to evacuate if the word came that the franchise would fold or be moved.
As stories of the team’s collapse surfaced in the Detroit area press, one insider for the Wheels told reporters that during one meeting one of the owners actually walked around the conference room checking lamps for bugs. While the team and management struggled, General Motors executive John DeLorean was reportedly interested in bringing the Wheels to downtown Detroit. If the price was right. DeLorean’s dream was to leave Rynearson for the professional confines of Tiger Stadium.
Overcome with adversity, quarterback Bubba Wyche wrote to league commissioner Gary Davidson pleading with him to intervene in regards to the Wheels financial situation. In his letter, Wyche explained how the team had to cancel practice because their uniforms couldn’t be delivered from the cleaners, how the players were forced into sharing rent and food for survival and how the players wondered about the future of their team. One week later, Wyche, was arrested and later sued for getting into a fight with Albert Chester the Wheels’ controller of finances, over back pay owed to the players.
Almost mercifully, fate changed for the Detroit Wheels. Abandoned by their management, their league and the Detroit fans and media, the Wheels traveled to Orlando to play the financially strapped Florida Blazers. Trailing 7-0, quarterback Bubba Wyche dropped back and hit receiver Jon Henderson with a 49-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7. Later in the game, the Wheels drove deep against the Florida defense. From the six yard line, Wyche handed off to rookie running back Billy Sadler who bulled through the Blazer line and ran 6-yards for a touchdown. The Detroit sideline erupted. Players on the bench jumped as though they were shot out of a cannon. The 9,000 stunned Florida fans, who thought they had bought a ticket to an easy win, watched in amazement. On the action point attempt, quarterback Bubba Wyche through to Sadler to give the Wheels a 15-7 lead.
The Blazers roared back. Bob Davis drove the Florida team down the field with short passes, and Tommy Reamon broke through the Wheels’ defense for long gains. Reamon busted over the Detroit line for a one-yard touchdown to make the game 15-14 Detroit. The Blazers attempted the action point but the Detroit rush hurried Davis and the pass fell incomplete. The Wheels held on to win their first, and only, game 15-14. In the Wheels locker room players screamed and shouted as the weary team felt a huge burden lifted. Coach Dan Boisture sat on a dressing room bench and reveled in the moment. The Wheels were winners.
Soon after the victory against Florida, the league took over the team. Each of the remaining clubs were assessed a $60,000 fee to help finance the Wheels’ debts. On September 24, 1974 the Detroit Wheels organization filed a petition for reorganization under Federal bankruptcy laws, listing debts of more than $2.5-million. The team had been plagued by the worst record and lowest attendance in the W.F.L. and listed as debts; $480,000 in unpaid franchise fees; $140,000 in loans from the Bank of the Commonwealth and three loans from individual owners. While the league and the former Wheels owners fought out the legalities in the courts, the Wheels left behind a legacy of possible new home towns to roll into.
Shreveport, La. was actually the first rumored city. Reports had the Wheels moving to Shreveport and making a multi-million dollar offer to North Carolina coach Paul Deitzel, and a multi-year offer to star N.F.L. quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who lived in Shreveport. After a Texas judge ordered a game between the Houston Texans and the Hawaiians to be played in Houston, the Texans announced their move to Shreveport, and the Wheels were unwanted.
Louisville, Kentucky was the nest destination for the Wheels. Management and the city talked in depth about bringing the team to Kentucky, but talks fell through in the last seconds. Ex-Chevrolet Executive John DeLorean was reportedly ready to purchase the franchise and keep it in Detroit. DeLorean also held negotiations with Tiger Stadium officials about moving some of the Wheel games to the venue. In the end, DeLorean balked and the Wheels were again unwanted. Race car driver Robert Penske was also rumored to be interested in the Wheels.
Out of desperation the Wheels attempted to move to Charlotte, North Carolina for survival cash and greener pastures. Upton Bell, former director of player personnel for the NFL New England Patriots, was interested in bringing a franchise to the city of Charlotte and felt that Detroit quarterback Bubba Wyche would be a great cornerstone for the team. Bell attempted to settle a purchase price with the Wheels and the WFL. One day a curious caller phoned a Charlotte newspaper to ask if the club had moved there. It was head coach Dan Boisture.
The team continued to focus on the games but the distractions and lack of pay became too much. The Wheels situation was the worst in the WFL. On a road trip to sunny Southern California, the Wheels took a late 24-22 lead against the Sun. Sun reserve quarterback Gary Valbuena led a three-play 64-yard drive, and hit Dick Witcher for a 26-yard touchdown and a 29-22 Sun victory. The late loss, after their only win of the season seemed to take whatever fight was left out of the Wheels.
The next week in New York, 4,220 fans watched as the Stars ripped the Wheels 37-7. The Wheels were completely ineffective. In the din of Randalls Island Stadium, Bubba Wyche completed only 7 of 23 passes for 57 yards. Late in the game, Stars general manager Ed Keating walked into a crowded press box high above the high-schoolish Downing Stadium. As he did, he was greeted by a throng of questions from the New York media who had heard a rumor that the team (the Stars) were about to be sold and transferred to Charlotte, North Carolina. "There will be an announcement at the end of the game," Keating said doing his best not to confirm the report which was true. Suddenly, a reporter jumped up and shouted the news from the wire service, "the Wheels have filed for bankruptcy!" The bustling crowd of reporters stated, "Frankly Charlotte, I don’t give a damn!" The press box burst into laughter.
On the flight back to Michigan, the Wheels players sat in silence in the dark cabin of the aircraft. Thousands of miles below them were countless lights of various cities and communities, and the unwanted team now was more alone than ever. The New York Stars were headed to Charlotte, and the Wheels were headed nowhere. The end seemed inevitable.
On October 2, 1974, the Wheels traveled to Shreveport, Louisiana for a game against the Steamer. The club was named the "Wheels" in the game program, further underlining the hope that someone would buy the team and move it to greener pastures. The season of turmoil came to an end as the Wheels lost to the Shreveport Steamer 14-11. After the game the WFL, which had taken over financial obligations for the bankrupt club, folded the franchise claiming massive debts. The Wheels ended the season with a won-lost record of 1-13.
The Detroit Wheels were the first W.F.L. franchise to fold in 1974.
The WFL held a dispersal draft for the Wheels players. The first pick went to the Shreveport Steamer who selected defensive end Mike Taylor. The rounds continued with the following players selected: Jessie Mims, running back (Portland Storm), Bubba Wyche, quarterback (Philadelphia Bell), Rocky Long, defensive back (Chicago Fire), Terry Hoeppner, defensive back (Charlotte Hornets), Brian Stenger, linebacker (Southern California) and Jim Coode, offensive tackle (Memphis Southmen). Quarterback Bubba Wyche, selected by Philadelphia, was signed by the Chicago Fire and appeared in the teams final games of the season.
In the second round, Shreveport and Portland passed their picks and Philadelphia selected defensive end Don Ratliff, Chicago tabbed defensive tackle Ted Wheeler, Charlotte passed, Southern California chose Sam Scarber and Birmingham selected defensive back George Haynes. The rest of the selected Wheels players were: Eric Guthrie and Mike Wilson (Philadelphia), Terry Phillips (Chicago), Wimpy Winther ( Birmingham).
The "garage sale" was the final act, and the curtain fell on the comic tragedy of the Detroit Wheels.
NOTE: The 1974 Detroit Wheels 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.
© Copyright 1982-2015 Richie Franklin, Jim Cusano, Greg Allred, and WFL Films, All Rights Reserved
© Copyright 1996-2007 Robert Phillips, All Rights Reserved