1974 WFL Team Pages
The players of the Florida Blazers were a testament to the belief that football is a game, and as a game, played for the love and respect of it. In their first (and only) WFL season the Blazers achieved several dubious honors; losers of the leagues’ only World Bowl, going unpaid for three months and changing names four times. In the process the Florida Blazers proved to the world and themselves that there was something more to professional sports than fame and fortune. There was standing together strong in the face of adversity.
The Blazers were actually born in Washington, D.C., the creative outburst of E. Joseph Wheeler, a oceanographic engineer. The club was known originally as the Washington Capitals. Wheeler, committed to brining a W.F.L. franchise to Washington, claimed he had investors in place to fund the $2-3 million it would take to operate a team in the nations’ capital. Then Wheeler’s dream hit a roadblock. The NFL’s Redskins had an exclusive lease on RFK Stadium. Wheeler then talked of moving the club to Annapolis, much to the dismay of his financial partners, or paying large sums of money to the Redskins for the use of the stadium. Edward Bennett Williams, president of the Redskins, claimed that Wheeler presented him with a corporate note from the team but never showed him the first dollar for a proposed lease with the NFL team.
Wheeler’s credibility began to fade. The team changed its name to the Washington Ambassadors, then to the Washington- Baltimore Ambassadors. Wheeler then transferred the franchise from the Washington- Baltimore area of Annapolis to Norfolk, Virginia. The team was renamed the Virginia Ambassadors. Norfolk city manager George Robert House said he (Wheeler) lacked only one thing: money. During this time, Wheeler and several other WFL "owners" began to look lost and the league seemed to be without direction. Many of the other league franchises were moving and changing ownership in a frantic attempt to become solidified by the opening kick-off in July.
Rommie Loudd, a former linebacker and personnel director of the New England Patriots, rescued Wheeler. Loudd, representing a group of Orlando, Florida businessmen who were trying to secure an NFL franchise, wired league commissioner Gary L. Davidson about the possibility of bringing a WFL franchise to the central Florida city. Davidson, well aware of Wheeler’s stadium problems and lack of investors, brought the two parties together. The team ownership was transferred from Wheeler to Loudd’s group for $1.6-million, a far cry from the NFL franchise fee of $16 million. Loudd’s group consisted of David L. Williams (a Holiday Inn hotel owner), William Gieger and Howard Palmer. The financial documents were signed and ownership of the WFL Washington Ambassadors was transferred to Loudd's group. The new Florida franchise was named the Orlando Suns and was slated to begin the W.F.L. season in July of 1974. The ex-Washington Ambassadors brought coach Jack Pardee, former NFL quarterback Bob Davis, running back A.D. Whitfield and tight end Greg Latta to central Florida. Suddenly, the team changed its name to the Florida Blazers, when it was discovered that the Los Angeles franchise owned by Larry Hatfield had rights to the name Suns. The new Florida Blazers would play their games in the 18,000 seat Tangerine Bowl.
The Florida Blazers head coach was Jack Pardee, a veteran of the Washington Redskins. The team he assembled was a team of youth and experience. As training camp pushed on through the dogged heat of summer the Blazer offense was run by seven year N.F.L. veteran Bob Davis. Davis, a backup quarterback to Joe Namath, was a standout player at the Type University of Name Virginia and led the New York Jets to three consecutive victories when Namath was out with an injury. The Blazer running game was led by rookie Name Missouri Type College star Tommy Reamon. A.D. Whitfield and veteran Jim Strong rounded out the backfield. The receiver corps was led by Matt Maslowski, and bolstered by Gary Collins and Billy Walik, both had NFL experience.
The Blazers defense was led by its secondary that consisted of more than 25 years of experience. Safety Rickie Harris was a eight-year N.F.L. veteran with Washington and New England. Harris led the Patriots in tackles in 1972 and was the teams’ captain. Other veterans W.K. Hicks, Billy Hayes, Miller Farr and Chuck Beatty added to the strength of the secondary. The defensive line was anchored by All-American tackle Paul Vellano and the linebacker unit was led by Larry Ely, John Ricca, Louis Ross and Billy Hobbs also added strength and quickness at linebacker.
In June, the Blazers traveled to Shippensburg, Pa. For the first ever WFL game. The controlled scrimmage between the Florida Blazers and the Philadelphia Bell drew about 2,000 fans. In the sweltering heat and sweat, the Blazers came up winners 21-14. Meanwhile back in Florida, a petition to the city of Orlando for the construction of new seating was approved and prior to the Blazers home opener capacity at the Tangerine Bowl was increased to 28,000. The temporary stands were finished with no time to spare and the goal posts were welded just before the Blazers home opener against Hawaii. When team officials asked if the posts were guaranteed, the welder claimed, "until I drive out of here". That prompted one official to suggest supporting the new goal posts with wood two-by-fours. City workers franticly wired the new scoreboard (which had to moved when the team added 6,000 end zone seats) and sounded off a loud cheer as the numbers spun 1,2,3,4, up to nine and then to zero. Other details were being attended to prior to game time. There were no seats in the press box. No elevator to the press box, so chairs had to be carried through the stands to the upper level of the stadium. Minutes before the game Rommie Loudd sat in one of the mobile homes the team used as temporary ticket booths and claimed, "I can’t believe it…this is a small miracle." The Blazers had traveled from Washington, changed names, built a stadium, and all within two short months.
The Blazers drew 18,625 to their home opener against Hawaii, a 8-7 victory. After three quarters of scoreless football, Blazer linebacker Paul Vellano recovered a fumble at the Hawaii 10. The Blazers ran Jim Strong around the left end. Strong followed the blocking of Tommy Reamon evaded Tom Poe and accelerated past Karl Lorch into the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. On the action point, Davis hit Strong in the end zone with a pass and the Blazers led 8-0. The Hawaiians came charging back. Led by quarterback Norris Weese, the Hawaiians drove down the field and Weese hit John Kelsey, who had badly beaten Blazer cornerback Chuck Beatty, for a 6-yard touchdown pass. Hawaii trailed 8-7. The important action point, which gave Florida a possible margin of victory, now, gave Hawaii the opportunity to tie. As Weese rolled out, his pass sailed into the end zone and fell incomplete. The Florida lead was preserved.
Blazer coach Jack Pardee, savoring his first victory as a head coach; lauded his defensive troops while at the same time taking the bite out of reporters’ barbs over a lackluster offense. "From where I was, it looked as if we were close to breaking it on offense a few times and getting our execution going," said the former 15-year NFL linebacker. "It’s hard to open up, though, when you’re backed up to your own 20 all the time. We just didn’t have the field position until the second half."
From the opening kickoff of the 1974 WFL season, clouds gathered over the city of Orlando and the Blazers. One week prior to the game only 5,000 tickets had been sold and later it was announced by Civic Facilities Authority ( Orlando authority that collects funds from ticket sales for rent on the Tangerine Bowl) that the actual paid crowd was a mere 11,484. Throughout the season the Blazers would draw only moderate crowds in Orlando, averaging only 13,953 fans a game. Despite the performance at the turnstiles, the Florida team jumped out to the WFL’s Eastern Division lead and never looked back.
The second week of the WFL season the Blazers traveled to Ypsilanti, Michigan to face the Detroit Wheels.
The Blazers hosted the Houston Texans in the light rain of Central Florida. It was the second game of the young season for both teams. At midfield, the Texan and Blazer players stood for four minutes until they received a signal that the Houston TV crew was on the air. From the kickoff, the Blazers immediately showed some offensive punch. Tommy Reamon bolted for two runs of 13 yards against a tough Texan defense, but a holding penalty killed the drive at the 50. The graybeard Houston offense couldn’t move the ball and punted to Florida. Then Texan Daryl Johnson, who beat Philadelphia the previous week with an interception for a touchdown, intercepted a Bob Davis pass. Two plays later Texan quarterback Mike Taliaferro bobbled a snap and John Ricca recovered. The Blazers then drove 51 yards for the games’ first score. Bob Davis passed to Greg Latta, who went up and over Texan Art McMahon, for the Florida touchdown. Tommy Reamon added the action point and the Blazers led 8-0. In the third quarter, the Blazers, after wasting several chances to capitalize on Houston turnovers, managed to get things going. Texan quarterback Mike Taliaferro, fumbled on third down at his own 16, and Blazer linebacker Paul Vellano recovered. The Blazers found the end zone in two plays as Tommy Reamon darted 15 yards for a touchdown and a 15-0 Florida lead.
From beyond the south end zone seats, a fireworks display exploded and skyrockets lit the air. This was nothing compared to eruption from the 15,000 fans as three straight times Davis threw to Maslowski for apparently successful WFL "action points" only to have officials drop three red flags to nullify all three. The first one was said to be for holding, the second for off-sides and the third for illegal motion. Despite the problems with officiating the Blazers won 15-3. The announced crowd in Orlando for the Texan game was 15,729 but a CFA audit showed that only 11,000 tickets were sold.
The following week the Blazers traveled back to the Astrodome for a rematch against the Texans. 16,268 Houston fans watched as defensive back John Mallory intercepted a Bob Davis pass and return it 59-yards to set up Jim Nances’ touchdown for the Texans 7-6 win. In the Orlando Sentinel coach Jack Pardee claimed, "We beat ourselves……we’ll be ready for Chicago."
The Blazers were ready for Chicago. A 46-21 rout of the Chicago Fire, a fiery and competitive team, put Florida at a 4-1 won-lost record. The Blazers defense came up big against the Fire. Trailing 21-16, the Blazer cornerback Leonard Bryant blocked a Chuck Ramsey punt and ran the ball into the endzone for a score. On the following series, Fire quarterback Virgil Carter was pressured by linebackers Mike McBath and Ernie Calloway and threw an interception to Billy Hobbs, who ran 30 yards for the score to make it 31-21 Florida. The Blazers added a 6-yard touchdown run by Richard James and a 64-yard burst by James to finish off Chicago 46-21.
Florida traveled home to Orlando for a big "inter-state" game with the rival Jacksonville Sharks. The biggest crowd of the season 23,890 watched a battle staged in an atmosphere of near fan frenzy. Earlier in the week, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Blazers were considering moving some of their home games to Atlanta due to poor attendance. Only 11,000 fans laid down cash for tickets to the opener against Hawaii, and another 13,000 for the game against the Houston Texans. Rommie Loudd and principle investor David Williams realized that these figures weren’t adequate to operate the team- they began to look for alternatives. Amid the reports of the team moving after only five weeks, the Blazers and Sharks prepared for their "in-state" rivalry. The Blazers, coming off a big win in Chicago, sacked a trio of Sharks quarterbacks seven times. Jacksonville opened with Kay Stephenson at the controls, but after suffering two quick interceptions, the ex-Gator was replaced by Reggie Oliver who later gave way to oldstar John Stofa before coming back to ignite the Sharks in the fourth quarter.
The Blazers, led by quarterback Bob Davis who completed 11 of 15 passes for 132 yards took charge over the Sharks and lept out to almost insurmountable lead on a 90-yard drive in the third quarter. A 32-yard pass from Davis to Matt Maslowski got the Blazers deep in Jacksonville territory. Dickie James ran for another 10 and Jim Strong bulled in from the one. Tommy Reamon added the action point for a 31-11 lead. Oliver ignited Jacksonville for two late scores but the game was out of reach. Florida won 33-26.
After the Jacksonville game several reports surfaced regarding the financial stability of the club. Loudd, and principle investor David Williams were concerned with the low turnouts at the gate for the Blazer home games and, it was rumored, were beginning to entertain the thought of moving the team to another city. General Manger Rommie Loudd told Orlando reporters that he was meeting with potential investors for the club. Loudd also disclosed the Blazers needed to average 25,000-30,000 to break even and they had drawn about half of that figure. One potential investor, real estate developer Tony Nicholson, was representing an investment group from New York. Another group from Name Polk Type County was reportedly interested in funding $2 million to the club to keep it in Orlando. Loudd also conducted talks with a group of Atlanta businessmen about moving the club to that city.
On the field, the Blazers beat Portland 11-7 in the pouring rain in Orlando before 15,451. During the Portland game, Rommie Loudd circulated a memo throughout the stands stating, "The Blazers are Here to Stay" and cited the loyalty of civic leaders and the Blazers booster club as a main reason for his determination to keep the Blazers in Orlando. Loudd also went on to claim that negotiations would continue with any investors interested in the franchise, and also that he was considering the possibility of a public stock offering to raise $1 million. "All these are positive actions which are encouraging, but any of these things could fall through. We’re still in the same financial shape we were in a week ago. The simplest source of revenue is season tickets. We’ve sold about 6,000 so that means that 20,000 are left. At an average of $7 per ticket with six home games left that’s a potential of over $1 million right there, “Loudd said. The Blazers ran their record to a WFL Eastern Division leading 6-1. Although the Blazers were favored by 15 points to win nobody really was surprised when the Portland game went down to the wire. Reports of a possible move to Atlanta took their toll in the Blazer camp this week and Portland came here in coach Dick Coury’s words "finally thinking football".
The Blazers defense put on another show of strength. Led by linebacker Larry Ely and rookie tackle Paul Vellano, the WFL’s number two defense stopped Portland for 212 yards, set up a lone Blazer touchdown with a fumble recovery and denied the Storm a crucial action point with an interception. Quarterback Bob Davis hit 11 of 20 passes for 146 yards, and completed a 20-yard pass to tight end Greg Latta for an uneasy 8-0 lead at halftime. The Storm roared back in the fourth quarter, and capitalized on a Bob Davis interception to close within 8-7 with 9:52 left in the game on a Ken Johnson one yard touchdown run. As the Storm lined up for an important action point, Johnson rolled right, threw into the end zone and the pass was intercepted by cornerback Billy Hayes. Florida led 8-7. Blazer quarterback Bob Davis then led Florida on a 55-yard drive that ended with a Les Perry 26-yard field goal and Florida went on to win 11-7.
Florida coach Jack Pardee met with reporters after the game and offered his insights to the Blazer victory, "It’s hard to concentrate on football when so many rumors of a franchise shift are making the rounds. The fine play of the Storm had more to do with it than anything else. We’ve got lots of big games ahead starting with the Southmen here next week. Really I wish this moving thing had never come up. Players can’t help but react to some extent and they really can’t do a good job out there without complete concentration."
In Orlando, 17,128 fans came out to see the Blazers host the mighty Memphis Southmen. Memphis came to central Florida with the WFL’s leading running duo; John Harvey and JJ Jennings. On the field, Memphis kick returner Tim Beamer victimized the Blazers all night, returning several kicks that gave Memphis excellent field position. With Memphis leading 11-10, Beamer ripped off a 44-yard return and the high-powered Southmen offense drove down the field. Led by Memphis quarterback John Huarte, the Southmen drove deep into Florida territory using the running attack of Harvey and Jennings, and the receiving of Ed Marshall and Gary Shirk. With 11:14 left in the half, John Huarte and the Southmen were on the Florida 35. Looking for a score before the half, the Southmen came to the line. Huarte looked over the Blazers’ defense and called the signals. He dropped back to pass, avoided a rush from rookie Paul Vellano, stepped up in the pocket and threw a perfect 35-yard pass to Ed Marshall, who had beaten Charles Beatty down the sideline, for a Memphis touchdown and a 18-10 halftime lead. Memphis had gained 144 yards rushing (104 by Harvey), and Florida had answered with 225 yards passing. Blazer quarterback Bob Davis finished the half completing 15 of 25 passes.
Memphis took the second half kickoff after a 27-yard return from Tim Beamer, and ran the ball straight at the Blazer defense. The drive blocking of Southmen Ron Mikolajczyk, Charles Bray, Justin Canale and Walter Highsmith opened huge holes in the Blazer front four of Louis Ross, Ernie Calloway, Mike McBath and John Ricca leaving plenty of running room for JJ Jennings and John Harvey. With Memphis driving, Ernie Calloway and Mike McBath broke through the formidable Southmen line and sacked John Huarte for an eight yard loss. The Blazers then blocked Jim Etter’s field goal attempt and the Florida crowd rose to its feet. The Blazers defense, refusing to die, had done it again. On the following series, the Florida offense was unable to move the ball as the Blazer drive stalled at the Memphis 37. Down 18-10, Coach Jack Pardee decided to go with a punt that placed Memphis at their four yard line. From the Memphis 4, John Huarte calmly drove the Southmen on a 96-yard, 15 play drive that ended with Willie Spencer diving over the Blazer defense for a 26-10 lead.
On the sidelines, Jack Pardee was ready to explode. The Blazer defense, one of the best in the WFL, seemed to be broken and weary. Blazer quarterback Bob Davis came out to lead Florida on one last charge. The sound of the 17,000 faithful in Orlando was deafening. The Blazers, in white, red and blue, broke their huddle and came to the line. The Memphis front four of Tom Beckman, Festus Cotton, John LeHeup and Bill Stevenson dug into the turf like bulls ready to charge. Davis came to the line, the Southmen changed defenses, Davis picked up the adjustments, he called the signals and for a slight moment all grew still. The urgency stood on the edge of every face of every fan in the stadium. As Davis took the snap, the Memphis front four came charging. Davis scrambled away from Festus Cotton and two tacklers and, scrambling right, threw left and found Gary Collins open in the end zone for a 26-yard strike. With 4:34 Davis hit Hubie Bryant for the action point and the Orlando fans screamed and shouted for their heroes. Florida cut the Memphis led 26-18. But it wasn’t over.
With 2:54 left in the game the Blazers got one more shot at a win. Following a punt that pinned them at their one yard line. Davis and the Blazers came out passing as Orlando moved quickly out to the 39 yard line. The Memphis secondary seemed helpless against the will of Davis and the Blazer offense. With the thrill of upset in the air, and :44 remaining in the game, Davis dropped back and threw a ball intended for wide receiver Hubie Bryant, but Dick Thornton of the Southmen jumped in front of tight end Greg Latta, hauled in the interception, and the Southmen won the game 26-18. After the game, a dejected Bob Davis told reporters about the interception that robbed Florida of a chance at a win. "It was a misunderstanding between the booth and me," revealed Davis. "Hubie thought I thought Fred (backfield coach Fred O’Connor) wanted a short slant in front of the safety and what he wanted was a slant in back of the safety. It was a great call, because if we had made communication it may have gone for a touchdown." As Bryant made his move, Davis threw the ball and Dick Thornton of the Southmen had the interception.
The following week the WFL schedule for the Blazers didn’t get any easier. In the deep south the Blazers lost a nail-bitter to the Birmingham Americans 8-7 on Labor Day. Florida led for most of the game 7-0, when Bob Davis hit Tommy Reamon with a 43-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes gone in the second half. Reamon rushed for 126 yards on 25 carries to lead the Blazer offense. Birmingham’s miracle man, Matthew Reed, brought the "Ams" back for the winning score. A 10-yard sneak on third and one by Reed and a pass interference call against Blazer Billy Hayes found the Americans at the Blazer 32. Then firefly running back Jimmy Edwards gained 23 yards zig zagging through three tacklers, down to the five. Matthew Reed ran an option play and took it in for the tying score 7-7. With 5:10 left Reed hit Jim Bishop for the action point and a 8-7 win. The Blazers were 6-3.
The Blazers traveled to New York to play the Stars for first place in the WFL's Eastern Division. At Randall's Island, the Stars drew only 3,830 in the aftermath of Hurricane Carmen. Over 14,000 tickets were sold, but the driving rain kept most of the fans at home. Blazer running back Tommy Reamon, undaunted by the weather, ripped through the Stars defense for a WFL-record 179 yards on 33 carries, 140 yards in the first half alone. The Stars drove late in the game to the Florida 22 yard line, but on third-and-eight were called for "delay of game", pushing the ball back to the 27. Then Star quarterback Tom Sherman was nailed for a 19-yard loss, sending the Stars back to their 45, and out of field goal range. A last second desperation pass to George Sauer fell incomplete and the Blazers were in sole possession of first place with a 7-3 won-lost record.
Despite their play on the field the Blazers continued to suffer mounting financial difficulties. In a Orlando Sentinel interview Loudd told the press that the team would lose between $400,000-$500,000 if crowds continued to average 15,000. He also disclosed the demise of the negotiations with the Atlanta business group. "We came close. We did apply for a lease for Grant Field (on the Georgia Tech campus) and over $400,000 was made available immediately. But we (Loudd and principle investor David Williams) turned the money down to stay in Orlando," claimed Loudd. The financial picture for the team grew grimmer as Loudd searched for investors, and principle owner David Williams suffered heavy losses.
The Blazers finished at the half way point of the season at 7-3 and in first place in the WFL's Eastern Division. The teams’ financial situation worsened during the week as Loudd and Williams had an apparent falling out. As Rommie Loudd traveled to Dallas to meet with potential investors (rumors were the group wanted to move the Blazers to Dallas), principle investor David Williams evicted the Blazers from their offices located at the Holiday Inn South. Williams, who had invested close to $1 million in the team was rumored to be feuding with Loudd over the potential sale of the team. Williams claimed that the WFL and Loudd were conspiring to sell the franchise without completely divulging the investors and the price of the sale. Williams claimed that the league stood to make $300,000 from the deal and he wanted full disclosure of the financial agreements between Loudd, the WFL and any potential buyers. Meanwhile, the WFL told the Blazers to get their financial house in order, and pay Blazer players (who did not receive their last paychecks) or lose the franchise. Bob Deutsch, the lawyer for the Blazers, also announced that the team had ceased payments to E. Joseph Wheeler (original owner of the club when it was known as the Washington Ambassadors) for the franchise until they could inspect the books of Washington Capitals Inc., the holding company for the once-owned Wheeler team. "We have paid over $500,000 in cash but I refuse to allow any more payments until we are permitted to examine the books." Wheeler counter-attacked claiming the missed payments meant he could repossess the franchise and sell or move it where ever he wished.
As the WFL, Loudd, Williams and their lawyers continued to push on through their mounting financial problems the Blazer football team continued with their season. Unpaid for a month, the Blazers prepared for a game against the Detroit Wheels.
The Wheels were suffering from the same neglect that surrounded the Blazers. The Wheels were unpaid for weeks, and disregarded by the Detroit media and their fans. Detroit came to town broken and battered but shocked the Blazers. Florida had 20 first downs, 360 total yards, 6 sacks and even received five downs during one offensive series- but the Wheels got the win. 11,511 (only 9,003 paying) watched as the winless Wheels used fake punt to gain 22 yards on a crucial fourth down and then quarterback Bubba Wyche (who played injured the entire game) handed off to TCU rookie Billy Sadler who ran in for the final six yards and a touchdown. Detroit led 15-14. Bob Davis led a furious charge with forty-two seconds left in the game and the Blazers trailing. Davis opened the series overthrowing a receiver. Then he hit Matt Maslowski on a wide turn-in for nine yards to the Detroit 39. Maslowski was wrestled down in bounds and as the Wheel defenders slowly walked back to their positions just eight seconds remained when Davis was able to start a third-down play and stop the clock with a pass to the sidelines. Eight seconds left, fourth down, but the sideline down marker says third. Davis throws deep, incomplete. Fifth down, and four seconds left, Davis throws deep but the ball is batted down and the Wheels win their first WFL game. The Detroit sideline burst into celebration. Their first win of the WFL season, and it came at the hand of one of the WFL’s finest franchises. The following day in the Orlando Sentinel headlines read, "BLAZERS RUN OUT OF TIME, INTO DEFEAT, 15-14". Coach Jack Pardee was quoted in the paper as saying, "We took the night off." Pardee also added, "Bubba Wyche is a heck of a quarterback. It’s tough to be hurting like he did and play like he did. And Scarber (running back Sam Scarber) is a very good fullback."
The loss to the Detroit Wheels brought the Blazers record to 7-4. In the WFL’s Eastern Division,
The Floridians were tied with the New York Stars, and the Philadelphia Bell were in third place with a 5-6 won-lost record.
On September 18, 1974 the Bell came to Orlando for a big Eastern Division contest. The Bell led by quarterback "King" Corcoran had the WFL’s leading passing attack and a pair of gifted running backs in John Land and Claude Watts. The Blazers had the WFL’s number one pass defense with a secondary of Rickie Harris, Chuck Beatty, Miller Farr and Billy Hayes. Both teams were looking to gain ground in a tightening WFL playoff picture.
Before the kickoff, 8,701 fans were scattered around the Tangerine Bowl. The rows and rows of empty seats made many Blazer officials wonder just how long the team had before the city of Orlando would sound a death march for its only football franchise. On the field, quarterback Bob Davis, the engineer of many Blazer victories, endured a chorus of boos from the scattered hometown fans. "They can boo, its they’re right. I’m out here to win games for Jack Pardee and my teammates," said Davis after the game. In a game that saw the lead change hands several times the Blazers pulled out a last second win 24-21 over the Bell. And they did it in grand fashion. The Blazer defense intercepted four King Corcoran passes but with 4:04 left in the game found themselves backing up on their heels from a charging Bell offense. Bell linebacker Mike Mansfield recovered a Davis fumble at midfield and six plays later Corcoran had Philadelphia out in front with a 12-yard Claude Watts touchdown. The score gave the Bell a 21-17 lead with only 1:04 remaining in the game. The Blazers refused to die. Bob Davis completed three passes in a row- a 13-yarder to to Tommy Reamon, a five-yarder to Greg Latta, and a 15-yard pass to Latta- to put the ball at the Philadelphia 22 with: 30 remaining. With the crowd on its feet, the Tangerine Bowl rocked from the sheer frenzy of the fans in the stadium. 8,000 Blazer fans stood on their feet, shouting for their heroes and a last second miracle. Down on the field Jack Pardee put his hands over his headset to hear his assistants over the deafening crowd. Bob Davis, got the play in calmly crouched down in the huddle. The Blazers were living on sweat and sheer determination, on the brink of exhaustion a calm confidence arose from the players. Florida broke the huddle and Davis, in the yellow glow of the stadium lights, called the signals. "Hut, Hike", Davis barked. The lines crashed into each other. Davis dropped back to pass, rolled right, and hit Greg Latta in the corner of the end zone, over a diving Robert Zavalian, for a touchdown and a 27-21 Florida win. The Florida fans had their miracle. Davis ended the game outgunning Philadelphia’s King Corcoran and Blazer running back Tommy Reamon rushed for 124 yards on 22 carries. Florida was 8-4.
The Blazer players continued to go unpaid. Loudd traveled the globe searching for anyone who could pour in much needed capital for the operation of the team. In the middle of the mess was the WFL executive committee. The WFL claimed they would take over the franchise due to the financial condition of the team and the lack of prospective investors to improve the situation. Circuit Court judge, Claude Edwards, ordered the WFL to keep from interfering and taking control of the team as Loudd struggled to find answers to the teams dismal attendance, lack of financing and their stadium. The Blazers lowered ticket prices from $7 to $2.50 but still couldn’t fill the stands. Loudd borrowed $5,000 from the Blazers booster club to post a bond to keep the WFL from moving a home game against Charlotte to North Carolina- the WFL forced the move and offered financial assistance. Loudd also considered moving the teams’ last two home games to Tampa in an effort to raise more capitol but Tampa turned him down. Despite the troubles, on October 24, 1974, the Blazers found themselves in first place of the Eastern Division, one game ahead of their rivals the New York Stars, who had just shocked the sports world with their transfer to Charlotte, North Carolina.
In Charlotte, the Blazers, unpaid for two months, came from behind and beat the Hornets 15-11 when Bob Davis hit Jim Strong with a 8-yard scoring pass that silenced 23,613 Hornet fans. The game was originally scheduled for Florida, but the WFL moved the game to Charlotte and promised the Blazers a portion of the gate. Florida was now 10-5 and had a comfortable lead for the Eastern Division crown. When the team arrived in Orlando, each player received a check for $200.
The players rallied around Coach Jack Pardee who simply told them, "I don’t know when we’ll be paid, we might never get paid, there may not even be a league next year!" The Blazers kept their focus on the field thrashing the Chicago Fire 29-0, the Philadelphia Bell 30-7 (before only 7,150 Bell fans) and then routed Chicago again 45-17. The Blazers had prepared all week to face the Jacksonville Sharks, when that team folded the Blazers were hurriedly scheduled for a game in Chicago. The Blazers were 12-4.
In October, the WFL office received a plea from the Blazer players regarding their financial problems. The team had gone without pay for almost two months. Stories began to surface regarding the financial hardships the players were experiencing: Wide receiver Hubie Bryant couldn’t pay his paperboy and couldn’t cash a personal check, running back Jim Strong had his phone shut off and had to send his wife and son back to their hometown of Houston, many of the Blazer players roomed together and saved money buy getting meals form the booster club. Talk of "boycott" and "no pay, no play" began to echo throughout the empty stands of the Tangerine Bowl.
The next week the Blazers fell to Memphis 25-15, the Southmen had beaten Florida two straight.
The Blazers continued to crumble under their mounting financial difficulties. General Manager Rommie Loudd was threatened with a lawsuit by the WFL, he countered sued, and then claimed that majority owner, David Williams, had only paid $950,000 of a promised $3.5 million- Loudd proposed the WFL go after Williams and not the team.
On October 25, 1974, the Blazers were sold to a unspecified party in an out-of -court settlement. Loudd continued to work on solving the issues that confronted the team.
The Blazers traveled to Birmingham, Alabama. The game originally scheduled for Orlando was switched with the promise of a $100,000 from Americans’ management. The team eventually received about $48,000. The Blazers lost 26-18, made five costly turnovers, missed a 21-yard field goal and watched as American receiver Alfred Jenkins flew down the sidelines with a 80-yard touchdown pass.
With the WFL season coming to an end the Orlando Sentinel reported that investors were seriously interested in the Blazers, and keeping them in Orlando. The prospective owners wanted the Storm-Blazer game (scheduled for Portland, Oregon) to be moved to Orlando. The truth was far this statement. It was rumored that the Storm players (unpaid for weeks) would boycott the final game unless they received their pay. Storm owner Bob Harris, financially strapped, couldn’t promise them a payday. So instead of no payday the Blazers and the WFL offered the Portland team $50,000 to travel and play the game in Orlando. Portland, in desperate need of cash, jumped at the offer. The Portland officials and the players never received a penny.
11,676 Blazer fans filled the Tangerine Bowl as Florida crushed Portland 23-0, many thought it would be the teams’ final game in Orlando. The Blazers were in a shambles, and constant feuding between Loudd and the city seemed to distract the die-hard football fans from its successful team. The Name Orlando Type City Council claimed Loudd and the Blazers owed back taxes from ticket sales, and money from the lease of the stadium.
The World Football League schedulers had mercy on the Blazers. The team finished their season away from the rickety, empty seats of the Tangerine Bowl as Florida beat the Sun 27-24 before 28,000 in Anaheim. The mighty Blazers fought back for the victory as rookie linebacker Eddie Sheats intercepted a "action point" attempt by Sun quarterback Tony Adams, and later blocked a punt with twelve seconds remaining to set up a Don Strock field goal that won the game. One Blazer player was quoted as saying, "Now I know what seats are for in a stadium, they’re for people to sit in! The locker room burst out into laughter.
With the financial end in sight, an angel came into the Central Florida area with a promise of hope. New owners came to the rescue of the Blazers. Robert Prentice, a Cocoa Beach financier, displayed a $1.5 million dollar check for the purchase of the Florida Blazers. The original plan called for a investment group to put up $100 million for a complicated land investment deal that included the Blazers and renovations to the stadium. Orlando reporters claimed that Arab Oil money was behind the deal, but Prentice was quick to claim, "we are getting all of our money from U.S. banks and where they get their money I don’t know" and went on to state, "the team is 3% of the total we’re looking at." Prentice was featured in an interview in the Orlando Sentinel, and the $1.5 million dollar check was displayed on national television.
The WFL had limped through its maiden season. Many of the teams were suffering massive financial problems and reports circulated that the franchises in Chicago, Charlotte, Portland, Shreveport and Hawaii were also questionable for the 1975 season. In Orlando, the Blazers had found new hope, but the complicated transaction involving the transfer of ownership of the team was delayed. In the meantime, the players went unpaid.
In the opening round of the WFL playoffs Florida tore through Philadelphia 18-3. The Bell came to Florida when the Charlotte Hornets ended their season due to financial problems. Hornets owner Upton Bell declined to pursue the playoffs and focused on securing investors for the 1975 season. Charlotte's decision gave the Bell an invitation to the World Bowl playoffs.
Two minutes into the game with the Bell, Blazers safety Rickie Harris picked up a fumble and ran thirty yards for a touchdown. The play developed like this: On the first series of the game, the Bell went to running back Claude Watts, who was hit hard by linebacker Paul Vellano. The ball came loose; Harris picked up the ball and ran thirty yards for the touchdown as stunned Philadelphia players watched. Florida led 8-0. Later in the game, with the Blazers leading 15-3, the defense threw up a wall and stopped the Bell with a first and goal situation at the Blazer four yard line. The crowd, rejecting a pass interference call that put the Bell at the Blazer two yard line, forced Philadelphia to rehuddle three times. When the Bell finally got a play off, running back John Land was thrown for a two-yard loss by Mike McBath. On the next play "King" Corcoran threw incomplete. A ten-yard holding penalty by the Bell pushed back the ball to the 14, where Corcoran, back to throw was sacked by Eddie Sheats for an 11-yard loss. The Bell kicking team entered the game. As Jerry Warren booted a 42-yard field goal, running back Alan Thompson ran onto the field and almost interfered with the snap. The officials called a illegal procedure penalty nullifying the field goal. Then Philadelphia was penalized five yards for illegal motion and found themselves on the Florida 35 yard line. The punting team came on.
In the locker room after the game the Blazer players celebrated their victory and the new owners that would save the franchise. Amid the helmets, pads and equipment lying around the loud and busy locker room, tackle Mitch Johnson said, "With all the adversity we’ve had, I don’t see how anyone can stop us now- especially if what we’ve heard about the money is true. It’s a whole new outlook, a whole new desire to play." The Blazers prepared for their second-round playoff game with the Memphis Southmen, the team that had beaten them twice in the regular season.
In Memphis, the Southmen were owners of the WFL’s best record (17-3) and a favorite to win the World Bowl. A slim crowd of only 9,692 showed up in the rain as the Blazers staged an all-world comeback. With 3:15 remaining the Blazers punted the ball into the waiting arms of Southmen David Thomas. Thomas took off, but lost the ball and Florida rookie Luther Palmer recovered the fumble at the Memphis 22 yard line. Backup quarterback Buddy Palazzo, in for the injured Bob Davis, drove the Blazers to the Southmen four yard line where Dickie James bulled over for the score and a 18-15 lead. The game was far from over. Thomas, seeking revenge, intercepted Buddy Palazzo’s action point pass, leaving the Blazers win a vulnerable three point lead. Memphis roared back. Using his passing and timeouts wisely, Memphis quarterback John Huarte drove the Southmen down to the Blazer 24 yard line with only seven seconds remaining in the game. Southmen kicker Bob Etter lined up for what was to be the winning field goal but Blazer linebacker Louis Ross roared through the line to block the field goal attempt and send Florida to the World Bowl.
After the game emotions ran high in the Blazers locker room: "We beat Memphis, the World Football League and the refs here tonight," shouted linebacker Larry Ely. "We beat their money," he later added.
"This is one of the few times in history," claimed receiver Hubie Bryant, "that anyone has beaten the system."
"We messed up the entire WFL," said quarterback Bob Davis, who injured his ribs in the second quarter and gave way to rookie quarterback Buddy Palazzo on the final series of the period. "They’ve (the WFL) been trying to get rid of us all season and can’t."
Asked if this was the greatest moment in his football career, rookie quarterback Palazzo answered, "It’s my only moment." Palazzo only completed three passes but all three were crucial in leading to Blazer scores.
"We came here to play despite the WFL setting it up for Memphis and Birmingham to make the finals," added Tommy Reamon, the WFL’s top rusher who exploded for 125 yards on 25 carries after a lackluster first half. "They (the WFL) set it up (the World Bowl) for the money teams and we spoiled it."
"I feel mighty fine," said Luther Palmer about his fumble recovery, "tell the world I’m the king of specialty teams."
Sitting at his locker in a torn and battered red Blazer jersey, a quiet Louis Ross said, "this is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had….God is with us. He’s been with us all year. That’s why we’ve stayed together."
The following days leading to the World Bowl were spent with Jack Pardee and his staff preparing for a tough Birmingham American football team. Off the field, the financial saviors of the franchise still hadn’t come up with overdue paychecks. Bob Deutsch, Rommie Loudd and controller Rocco Iatesa spent the days prior to the championship in a Nashville bank awaiting the cash from the sale of the Blazers to Prentices’ group. "I was prepared to write out the players’ checks but the OK that was promised did not develop. So there is still no money. I’ll be back on the job Monday when the banks open."
In the newspapers prior to the World Bowl speculation circulated around the completion of the sale of the Blazers. Many wondered if the "miracle $100 million deal" would actually go through. The Blazer players were still unpaid, but rallied around coach Jack Pardee and his staff. Meanwhile, American and Blazer players used the media to "air out" their differences regarding the WFL and their current situations. The Americans were unpaid for five weeks, the Blazers thirteen weeks.
On December 5, 1974 the WFL’s only championship game, The World Bowl took place. A crowd of 32,376 attended the game at Birmingham’s Legion Field. Keeping pace with the craziness of the WFL’s first season the game was decided by a controversial touchdown. Capitalizing on four Blazer turnovers the Americans drove to a seemingly insurmountable 22-0 lead. In the first quarter, Florida running back Tommy Reamon scored what seemed to be the Blazers first score. Players on the field claimed that as Reamon crossed the goal line he was hit, and as he fell the ball dropped to the ground and rolled out of the endzone. Television replay confirmed the Blazer touchdown but the officials ruled it a touchback and the Americans breathed a sigh of relief. In the third quarter, the "never say die" Blazers fought back on the passing of quarterback Bob Davis who threw touchdown passes to Tommy Reamon and Greg Latta to cut the lead to 22-14. The Americans threw up a wall and stopped both action point attempts to preserve their lead. Later in the game, the Blazer defense stopped an American drive. The Birmingham team sent out their punting unit and kicker Ron Sark punt sailed into the waiting hands of Florida’s Rod Foster. The next few moments all 30,000 American fans starred in disbelief as the Blazer bench erupted. Foster returned the punt 76 yards for a touchdown. The Blazers now trailed 22-21. With time dwindling the Americans managed to run out the clock and preserve their WFL championship win. The struggle that began with the opening kickoff in Orlando, Florida ended on the Legion Field turf as the Americans held on to win 22-21.
The Blazers and Americans erupted in a brawl at the final gun. J.R. Pardee, son of Blazer coach Jack Pardee, scooped up the game ball and ran down the sidelines with American linebacker Paul Costa in hot pursuit. Pardee flipped a perfect swing pass over Costa’s head to Blazer Billy Hayes and the chase continued to the locker room. Players from both teams ran through the Florida tunnel in a shoving match to the locker room door. Hayes got the ball to Pardee who got inside the locker room as police and coaches chased the American players back to the field.
In the Florida locker room, the Blazer players wore their troubled season on their faces. Weeks of no pay, wondering if the team would move or stay in Orlando, wondering who owned the team, wondering if they would ever be paid, and simple exhaustion over the countless lies to by the league, the players vented their frustration to the media:
"I was in, I know I was. No question," moaned Tommy Reamon regarding the nullified touchdown in the first quarter as a team doctor attended to his injured shoulder.
"You just don’t blow calls like that," added linebacker Billy Hobbs. "The officiating is the worst part of the WFL. The officials are even worse than not getting paid. These were the same officials we had during our final game in Southern California and they’re the worst crew in the league."
Blazer coach Jack Pardee indicated that the weeks of frustration were worth it and that American quarterback George Mira had played the "best game of his career".
The 1974 season was over. The Blazers received about $700 for the game and team traveled home pondering their future and the status of the team.
On December 13, 1974 the $1.5 million dollar check presented by Bob Prentice and his group bounced. On December 18th Florida District Attorney Robert Eagen announced his investigation into the Prentice group and their financial handling with the Blazers and the WFL. The $1.5 million dollar check, displayed on national television at halftime during the World Bowl, was written on TW Limited whose’ president and treasure is ex-convict Coleman M. Taylor, arrested for transporting stolen cars across state lines. The investigation was the final blow, the final act in a comic tragedy that brought the curtain down on a great football team and a fine collection of proud professional athletes. The Florida Blazers were forgotten, but their legacy and the dedication of Jack Pardee and the players is a lesson for all to admire.
NOTE: The 1974 Florida Blazers 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.