1974 WFL Team Pages
Hawaii was the pearl of the World Football League. The exotic outpost in the pacific blue that attracted established football veterans to the new league. Before the start of the 1974 season the Honolulu franchise had signed 11 N.F.L. veterans to play with the team including wide receiver John Gilliam, running back Calvin Hill, quarterback Randy Johnson and tight end Ted Kwalick.
The Hawaiians story began in 1973 when Danny Rogers, a sports enthusiast and a All-American USC basketball player, acquired the rights to the WFL franchise from Ben Hatskin. Hatskin, owner the World Hockey Associations' Winnipeg Jets, originally held the rights to the territory but when he was taken ill, Rogers stepped into the picture. Rogers had a strong sales background, and in 1973 was the licensing director for the WHA. Despite his experienced sales background, Rogers lacked the personal wealth needed to fund a football franchise. He managed to solicit two solid investors in Christopher Hemmeter (a successful Hawaii hotel operator) and Sam Battistone (who owned Sambo's restaurants), and together their football dream became a reality. The team signed a lease to play their home games in 25,000-seat Honolulu Stadium (affectionately nicknamed the "Termite Bowl" due to its age and its being constructed mainly out of wood) until the a brand new 50,000 seat Halwala Stadium was completed in 1975. The franchise signed Mike Giddings as their head coach.
Mike Giddings spent six years on the staff of the San Francisco 49ers. Later he became Head Coach Dick Nolan's senior assistant. Giddings staff included; Damon Bame (Linebackers), Matt Hazeltine, former NFL linebacker, (Secondary), Pete Riehlman (Offensive Line), Marv Marinovich, father of former NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich, (Defensive Line) , Bob Schloredt (Offensive Backs), Billy Wilson (Receivers), Lincoln Kimura (Trainer) and Mike Davis (Equipment Manager).
Giddings and his staff went to work, bringing 111 prospects to training camp at University at California Riverside. Here the team suffered through long workouts and incredible summer smog as Giddings began to mold what would be the youngest team in the World Football League. The Hawaiians signed 22 of their 33 draft choices and five of the Los Angeles Rams first 10 selections in the N.F.L. draft. The team did boast two experienced veterans; linebacker Ron East and offensive lineman Jim Cadile, who provided leadership for the team. The search for talent was so widespread that Giddings even gave a tryout to a 49-year old place kicker and his dentist who played for Name Stanford Type University in his college days. The evaluation of talent was made even more difficult when Giddings was hospitalized during training camp due to hip replacement surgery and had to look over video tapes of practice to decide which players would make the team.
Quarterbacks Bill Donckers, Norris Weese and Jim Fassel led the young team. The running game consisted of Ernie O'Leary, Dave Buchanan and Pete Taggares. The Hawaii receivers were rookies Tim Boyer (Name San Diego Type State), Grady Richardson (Name Cal Name State Fullerton), and Tim Delaney from Name San Diego Type State who came via the St. Louis Cardinals camp. Rookie John Kelsey from Missouri was brought on as the tight end. The Hawaiians offensive line consisted of draft choices Jeff Sevy, Mike McGirr and Scott Hanenberg. Al Oliver, Jeff Sevy and Jim Cadile also started on the Hawaii line
The Hawaii defense was led by veterans Ron East and Greg Wojcik, and native Hawaiians, rookie Levi Stanley. Ex-Raider Greg Slough, Karl Lorch and Al Young added speed and toughness, and cornerback Hal Stringert and Dave Atkinson helped in the secondary.
Opening day came on July 10, 1974. The Hawaiians traveled 12 hours by plane to Orlando, Florida to play the Florida Blazers. When the Hawaiians took the field at the Tangerine Bowl, coach Mike Giddings noticed that the grounds crew had just finished welding in the goal posts, and electricians had just completed rewiring the scoreboard.. Starring at the goal posts, one player, a rookie, asked if one (a goal post) had ever fallen on someone during a game. The team broke out in laughter. The Florida Blazers were the last ones laughing as the hula girls that danced at halftime had more moves than the Hawaiians as they lost the opener before 18,625 Blazer fans, 8-7. Quarterback Norris Weese told the Hawaii press after the game, "If I'm gonna play quarterback I have to learn how to drop back properly... my problem is learning to read defenses. I have a long way to go reading keys."
The Hawaiians boarded a flight from Name Orlando Name International Type Airport bound for Los Angeles to play the Sun. On a humid July evening the Hawaiians and the Sun engaged in an old-fashioned AFL style shootout. Before 32,088 fans the teams scored nine touchdowns and the Sun won 38-31. Sun officials predicted a crowd of over 40,000 would attend but a last second decision to broadcast the game lowered the attendance. In 81-degree heat the Sun built a 23-0 lead before the roof fell in. Six of the nine touchdowns were scored in a wild fourth quarter as the teams racked up 665 total yards. The Hawaiians were 0-2.
A grueling travel schedule that produced over 12,000 air miles came to a close as the Hawaiians returned home on July 21, 1974 for their debut. After being away from the island for over seven weeks, (due to training camp and their games in Orlando and Anaheim) the team finally got a look at its home and the stadium. A fog surrounded the Hula Bowl as throughout the stands small pockets of fans huddled in the rain and cold and waited for the kickoff. At the center of the field for the coin toss stood the Norris Weese, Greg Slough and Jim Cadile for the Hawaiians and Bubba Wyche, Mike Wilson and Jesse Parks for the Detroit Wheels. A small crowd of 10,080 welcomed the WFL to the island on a rainy day (the Honolulu Advertiser claimed the crowd was reduced by 5,000 due to the down pour), as Hawaii won its first game of the season, 36-16 over the Detroit Wheels. Quarterback Norris Weese threw two touchdown passes to lead the team. One of the happiest players in the steaming locker room was receiver Jerry Powell. Twenty-Two years ago Jerry's older brother, Charlie, was a 19-year old rookie defensive end with the San Francisco 49ers that terrorized Detroit Lion quarterback Bobby Lanein a humiliating 23-0 defeat. The younger Jerry Powell caught four passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Hawaiians. Despite the celebration in the Hawaiians locker room, wins would come hard for the young club as the Hawaiians would lose five straight games after the Detroit victory.
The young Hawaiians would learn the game of football through a "trial by fire". On a picturesque sunny day on the island, the Chicago Fire routed the Hawaiians 53-29 before 12,608 fans. Rookie Fire running back Mark Kellar scored five touchdowns in the game as the Fire offense moved the ball at will. The Hawaiians only gained 21 yards rushing the entire game as quarterback Norris Weese was forced to the air after his team fell behind 30-0. Weese ended the game completing 24 of 52 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns. After the game Fire quarterback Virgil Carter simply stated, "The Hawaiians just ran into us on a day we were hot." An anonymous fan was quoted, "Name Even Name Fresno Type State held Kellar (Fire running back Mark Kellar) to four touchdowns!" Coach Mike Giddings fumed over the fact that the Fire "ran-up" the score at the end of the game. After two weeks on the island, Giddings and his staff focused on preparing the team for a grueling three-game road trip that would take the team to the South Eastern United States.
The "islanders" embarked on a road trip to the deep south, with games scheduled in Jacksonville, Birmingham and Memphis. In Jacksonville, Florida, both teams entered the game with 1-3 won-lost records. 43,896 fans witnessed rookie quarterback Eddie McAshan dive over from the one yard line with: 20 seconds remaining as the Sharks stunned Hawaii 21-14. The key play was when the Hawaiians were called for off-sides on a missed 37-yard field goal attempt by Shark Grant Guthrie. Instead of losing the ball, the Sharks had a fourth-and-one situation, made the first down, and the proceeded to drive to the one yard line for the winning score. In a very quiet locker room coach Mike Giddings said, "I think the team is taking a hard look at what's happened." He later discussed the off-sides call with the press, "They called the off-sides on our left side, but the right side was the only one that rushed. I asked one referee about it and he said the other guy called it. I then asked the other guy and he said the other called it. They never told me who the call was on." The Jacksonville game was a clear example of the inexperience the Hawaiians had on the field. Giddings and the coaching staff felt the more playing time and better execution would improve the team and they headed on to Birmingham and Memphis.
The Hawaiians road trip led to the gate of "Football Heaven", Birmingham, Alabama. Coach Mike Giddings said, "If Birmingham dictates the tempo right from the start we'll be hurting." The Hawaiians should have considered that an omen. American Willie Smith ran back punt 81-yards for a touchdown and a 8-0 lead. Veteran quarterback George Mira entered the game in the second quarter and the roof fell in on Hawaii. With the score 18-0 and the Americans on their own five yard line, Mira hit Alfred Jenkins for a 95-yard touchdown pass. A few minutes later, Mira hit Dennis Homan for another score after a Dicky Lyons interception. The Americans jumped to a 32-0 halftime lead, and routed the "islanders" 39-0. The Americans dominated the game to such a degree that Giddings refused to meet the press after the game and instead assistants Matt Hazeltine and Pete Riehlman offered their comments. "We're all completely sick about what happened," said Riehlman. "We've been beating ourselves with all the mistakes." Giddings before the game had said the Hawaiians needed to develop a let-it-all-hang-out attitude, which was definitely not what happened against the Americans. "We haven't developed that attitude yet," said Hazeltine. "I wouldn't be surprised if we made some personnel changes very soon."
Memphis, Tennessee. The final stop of the Hawaiians carnival tour of the deep south. Three games in thirteen days. After the loss to Birmingham, the Hawaiians traveled back to Jacksonville, Florida to practice before traveling on to Memphis. With Jacksonville and Birmingham behind them the team focused on the mighty Southmen. Whether it was deja vu or just plain old bad luck the Southmen ran up a 39-0 halftime lead. Memphis had 338 total yards at the half to Hawaii's minus -1. Quarterback Norris Weese threw two touchdown interceptions to Dick Thornton and Bobby Majors to make it 53-0 Southmen. Hawaii's lone score came when player-coach Jim Fassel hit a diving Tim Delaney for a fourteen yard touchdown late in the game. The Hawaiians, completely overwhelmed, lost 60-8. Mike Giddings, in shock over his teams' last two losses, said, "There's just not much to say after losing a game this badly...We just had too many breakdowns on defense. It was an up hill battle too soon and when you have a young team its' twice as hard to make it up." The Hawaiians were 1-6.
The United Airlines chartered flight cut through the blue of the south pacific and on the plane Hawaii coach Mike Giddings faced the reality of his situation; the Hawaiians were the youngest team in the WFL, the running game was non-existent, and his team had just been out scored 99-8 in its last two games. At 11:05 a.m. the team landed in Honolulu and immediately went to Richardson Field for a light workout. Danny Rogers and Giddings, after long talks of how to improve the team, decided to sign quarterback Edd Hargett from the Houston Oilers of the NFL, and running back Vince Clements from the New York Giants to add some much needed experience to the team. Both players were scheduled to join the team in 1975, but were released from their NFL contracts. The team also brought in running backs Clem Turner, Al Davis (from the Philadelphia Eagles camp) and Clayton Heath (released from the Chicago Fire) to bolster a lackluster running game. Giddings also brought in defensive linemen Ken Lawyer and defensive tackle Gary Crane. With the Hawaiians receiving team riddled with injuries (Jerry Powell, Tim Boyer and Tim Delaney were all sidelined) Giddings would just be glad to return home to the island and get his team some much needed rest.
The trade winds blew in from the west, and on a beautiful day the Hawaiians hosted the Jacksonville Sharks. The Hawaiians ' fourth game in seventeen days. Giddings and his staff had the team ready to play, and the players were eager to deliver their second win before a home crowd. In the fourth quarter, the Sharks would strike. A 37-yard pass from Shark quarterback Reggie Oliver to Drew Buie with 2:14 remaining gave the Jacksonville Sharks a 14-8 win over the Hawaiians before 10,099 fans. The Sharks scored on two long passes; the winning score from Oliver to Buie and a 46-yard pass from Oliver to Edgar Scott (who beat the coverage of Dave Atkinson and Hal Stringert). "It was a crime the way our defensive secondary played," said a disappointed Mike Giddings after the game. "For breakdowns to occur on third-and-20 situations is inexcusable." Quarterback Edd Hargett played the entire game, despite only three days of practice with the team, and threw five interceptions. In front of his locker the newest Hawaiian told reporters, "I shouldn't throw five interceptions in a season, forget five in one game...I played terrible today." Hawaii's rushing game improved, as Ernie O'Leary gained 80 yards on 17 carries. Running backs Clem Turner, Clayton Heath and Al Davis also played their first game for the Hawaiians and bolstered a lackluster running game.
In the front office of the Hawaiians, Danny Rogers, Chris Hemmeter and Sam Battistone searched for answers to the poor gates at Hawaiian home games. The team was averaging slightly more than 11,000 a game, had drawn a total of 34,000 fans to their three home games and with the extra travel costs to the mainland, would probably lose well over $2 million in their first season. Hemmeter and his associates decided to move the teams home games from Sunday afternoons to Wednesday evenings after September 18th. The thought was fans would come out on the weeknights more than the weekends, and the team would have more time to prepare for its games. The Hawaiians were owners of a 1-7 record and needed answers fast.
The Houston Texans rolled into town in a game that featured the WFL's youngest team against the WFL's oldest. The Texans front four of Joe Robb, Al Dotson, Jim Kanicki and Don Brumm had over 40 years of football experience, while the Hawaii offensive line of Mike McGirr, Bob Richards, Greg Wojcik, Jim Cadile, Al Oliver and George Smith had a total of 9 years. Houston came into the game with the second best defense in the league, and three defensive backs (John Mallory, Pat Gibbs and Daryl Johnson) were in the top ten for interceptions in the WFL. On another beautiful Hawaii Sunday the young "understudy's" didn't respect their elders well. Hawaii exploded against the Texan defense for 23 points in the fourth quarter and a 33-15 win. Hawaiian Ernie O'Leary rushed for 107 yards to lead the team to their second win of the season.
With a 3-6 won-lost record, the Hawaiians worked out on the island before leaving on Friday, September 6, for a game in Portland, then moved on to Houston to play the Texans on September 11th. Although Hawaii enjoyed their second victory of the season, injuries had all but crippled the receiving corps. Jerry Powell, Tim Boyer and Tim Delaney were all sidelined for the Portland game.
Portland, Oregon. A game against the Storm would mean the mid-way point of the season for the "islanders". The Storm and Hawaiians fought out a close game. With seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Norris Weese drove the Hawaiians deep into Storm territory for a potential game-tying score. The Storm fans rose to their feet, Weese came to the line, dropped back, avoided the rush of Rick Redman and passed to Tim Delaney, who caught the ball at one-yard line but was tackled short of a possible tying score by alert Storm defensive back Phil Borjas. With :06 remaining on the clock Hawaiians desperately tried to line up for another attempt but couldn't get another play off. The Storm held on to defeat the Hawaiians 15-6 and sent Hawaii to the bottom of the Western Division of the WFL.
With a 3-7 won-lost record the Hawaiians continued to search for players to help their team. Wide receiver John Isenbarger, a former San Francisco 49er, joined the team as did linebacker Jim Sniadecki. Both players were signed to join the club in 1975 but were released a half season early by their NFL team. The Hawaiians also signed veteran NFL quarterback Randy Johnson, from the New York Giants and well as defensive back Willie Williams. The front office continued to look for corporate sponsorship and investors to help the team financially, although Hemmeter and Battistone had deep pockets. The owners of the Hawaiians weren't panicking, but they continued to look for ways to increase fan support.
The Hawaiians traveled to Houston to play the Texans. In Houston, the Hawaiians played sound football, kept the penalties to a minimum, and defeated the Texans. New quarterback Edd Hargett threw two touchdown passes in Hawaii's 24-17 victory over Houston. Rookie Derek Williams also returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. Head Coach Mike Giddings told his assistants, "We played good enough to win." It was not a particularly impressive win.
The Hawaiians returned to the island for a three-game home stand against the New York Stars, the Philadelphia Bell and the Birmingham Americans. Playing their first "night" home game, (Wednesday, September 18th) the Hawaiians played an error-free game against the Stars. New York came to Hawaii with a 7-4 won-lost record, and all four of their losses were close (Houston 14-11, Jacksonville 14-7, Birmingham 32-29 and Florida 17-15). The Hawaiians went with Edd Hargett at quarterback, and would have to do without running back Ernie O'Leary who was out with an ankle injury. On the field, Rhea "A.A" Coppedge, a nearsighted kicker, booted the game winning field goal without the aid of his glasses. His glasses were broken in the locker room, and squinting at the game ball presented by coach Mike Giddings, Coppedge simply said, "I didn't even know the ball made it over the crossbar- I couldn't see a thing without my glasses. I knew it was good when I heard the crowd cheer." Hawaii won the game 17-14 and improved its record to 4-8.
Aided by the signing of several NFL free agents, the Hawaiians continued to mature throughout the season. Many players who had signed future contracts with the team were being released by their NFL clubs and joined the team earlier than expected. Randy Johnson was released from the New York Giants camp and John Isenbarger joined the club after being released from his prospective contract, as did running back Vince Clements. Giddings also brought in defensive backs Willie Williams and Otto Brown (both from the New York Giants) as well also defensive back Chuck Detwiler (St.Louis Cardinals camp) and linebacker Dave Olerich (Chicago Bears).
On Wednesday, September 25th the Philadelphia Bell and "King" Corcoran came to the island. The flamboyant Corcoran led the WFL in completions with 173 of 319, for 2,257 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Bell ran an innovative offense and with running backs John Land and Claude Watts carrying the ball. The Bell intercepted four Hawaiian passes and knocked Randy Johnson and Edd Hargett from the game. With the score 21-8, third-string quarterback Norris Weese took over with eight minutes remaining and drove the team 76 yards in 14 plays, and hit John Kelsey with a 7-yard touchdown pass with 1:44 left in the game. An on-side kick attempt was nearly covered by the Hawaiians but Bell specialist Ron Mabra recovered the kick ending any hopes of a comeback. The Hawaiians lost a disappointing 21-16 game to the Philadelphia Bell before 14,497 (the largest crowd for a Hawaii home game to date).
The Hawaiians were owners of a 4-9 won-lost record. Despite the 14,000 fans for the Philadelphia game, the team was drawing far less than the needed 25-30,000 to break even. On the field, the team then erupted like a volcano and crashed into the WFL like a tsunami and went on a 5-2 stretch that put them into the WFL playoffs. On Wednesday, October 2nd, the Hawaiians hosted the Birmingham Americans. 12,039 fans watched as the "islanders" pulled off one of the years' biggest upsets defeating the Americans 14-8. Randy Johnson guided the Hawaiians on scoring drives of 95 and 39-yards to avenge the 39-0 bombing the Americans gave Hawaii earlier in the season. Johnson completed 10 of 19 for 147 yards and a touchdown and the running game added 85 yards on 14 carries. The defense dominated the line of scrimmage, as Hawaii's "East's Beasts" (Levi Stanley, Lem Burnham, Karl Lorch and Ron East) harassed and sacked George Mira throughout the game. The Hawaiians were 5-9.
The Hawaiians were back on the road. After a practice at St. Louis High's practice field, the team boarded a plan and flew to Philadelphia to play the Bell. The Hawaiians would then travel on to Detroit to play the Wheels, and then to Chicago for a game against the Fire. A much-welcomed final three-game homestand would end the 1974 WFL season.
When the Hawaiians took the field at Philadelphia's JFL Stadium only 4,900 fans were in the spacious 100,000-seat stadium. Philadelphia scored on the first series. King Corcoran drove the team 70 yards on eight plays, hitting Claude Watts on a seven-yard TD pass. John Land added the action point for a 8-0 lead. In the third period, the Hawaiians tied the game at 15-15 when Al Davis scored on a two-yard run. Hawaiian cornerback Willie Williams intercepted his third pass of the game, and one minute later A.A. Coppedge made it 18-15 Hawaii. "King" Corcoran led the Bell back, and John Land broke a 44-yard draw play for a touchdown to make it 22-18 Philadelphia. The Hawaiians sideline grew silent. Coach Mike Giddings knew that the Bell was a tough team in a shootout. After Coppedge missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, the Hawaii defense held Philadelphia on the next series, and the Hawaiians had one last shot at a victory. Norris Weese broke the huddle and scanned the Philadelphia secondary. He dropped back and hit Vince Clements with a 26-yard bullet, and on the next play ran 12-yards. With the Hawaiians at the Bell 8 yard line, running back Al Davis caught a pass from Weese for a touchdown with 2:45 remaining and a 25-22 Hawaii lead. With seconds remaining, Bell quarterback "King" Corcoran brought Philadelphia from the Bell 15 to the Hawaii 28 before a last second field goal attempt by Jerry Warren sailed wide right. The Hawaiians defeated the Bell 25-22.
Weese, replacing an ineffective Randy Johnson (7 of 15 for 49 yards and three interceptions), completed 11 of 19 for 128 yards and a touchdown. The Bell was hit with 9 penalties for 80 yards, compared to Hawaii's 5 penalties for 35 yards. After the game Giddings confirmed Weeses' roll on the team. "He's our come-off-the-bench guy. He's the Mike Marshall (Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher) of our team. He gives you that lift. I felt it was the right time to get our lift, so I put in Norris at the start of the second half."
The heart breaker for the Hawaiians was a 3-0 loss in Portland to the Storm. 11,032 fans watched as Storm kicker Booth Lusteg nailed a 37-yard field goal for the only score of the game. On the other side of the field stood Hawaiian kicker R.A. Coppedge, head hung down, dejected, Coppedge missed field goal attempts from 27, 42, 47 and 50 yards. Coppedge' last attempt (from 47 yards out) came with just over a minute left. The kick was far enough but just barely sailed wide to the left. In fact, the kick was so close several Hawaiian players ran onto the field in celebration. The officials ruled the kick no good and Hawaii lost the game. Hawaii moved the ball well throughout the contest racking up 323 total yards to Portland's' 219. The Hawaiians held Portland to a miserable 24 yards rushing but the team fell to 6-10, and was in jeopardy of missing the WFL playoffs.
In Chicago, 20,203 fans watched as quarterback Randy Johnson led the Hawaiians to a 60-17 rout of the Chicago Fire. The 60 points tied a WFL record for most by a team in one game (the previous team to achieve this was when Memphis routed Hawaii 60-8). Johnson victimized the shattered Chicago secondary for four touchdown passes, and completed 22 of 29 passes for 304 yards. The game was gratifying for Mike Giddings who watched his improving club avenge an earlier 53-29 loss to Chicago, "It's probably about as relaxed a feeling that I've ever had...Here it is the 17th game of the season and this was the first one where we had things over early." The Fire scored first when Tim Delaney fumbled a pass reception and quarterback Bubba Wyche (signed from the defunct Detroit Wheels) led Chicago for an early score on a quarterback sneak. Hawaii answered quickly, as Randy Johnson hit Jon Isenbarger on a six-yard touchdown pass to lead in the game at 8-7. Fire kicker Alan Watson then hit a WFL record 52-yard field goal to give the Fire a 10-8 lead. The last lead the Fire would have for the evening. Hawaii led 38-10 at halftime, and ended the game with 322 passing yards to the Fire's 94 and 26 first downs to Chicago's 13. This was not the same Hawaii team, but then again the Chicago Fire had lost quarterback Virgil Carter, running back Mark Kellar, wide receivers Jack Dolbin and James Scott, secondary players Joe Womack and Harry Howard. The Hawaiians improved to 7-10.
The WFL head office announced that it would revise its playoff schedule to include two teams with the best "second half" record for the season. Philadelphia was 2-2 (7-10 overall) and Hawaii was 3-1 (7-10 overall and tied with the Charlotte). The Hawaiians Tim Delaney was leading the league in receptions with 53 for 732 yards and the offense was coming threatening with Randy Johnson leading the charge. Early indications had the Hawaiians playing Southern California if they made the playoffs.
The Hawaiians had improved to 7-10. The attitude in Hawaii was more than optimistic. On the field the team looked as though it was ready for a drive to the WFL playoffs. The goal was simple; beat Memphis, Southern California and Portland and move into the WFL playoffs. Off the field, Rogers and his partners (Chris Hemmeter and Sam Battistone) continued to lose money of the team. Several reports claimed the Hawaiians were losing over $200,000 for every home game played. The state of the WFL wasn't much better. Detroit and Jacksonville had filed for bankruptcy and their players dispersed throughout the WFL. The New York Stars had packed up and moved south to Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite the adversity, the drowning franchises, and the bad media in some major markets, on October 21st, owners and officials came out of a meeting at Newport Beach, California with renewed optimism about the WFL's future. Hawaiian investor Chris Hemmeter said, "I came here very negatively, ready to write off a $3.2 million commitment we had in the team, but now I'm very encouraged." One of the reasons for the encouraging picture was the announcement of "big and sophisticated" money coming into the WFL (rumors circulated that financier Fred Ballon or Broadway producer David Merrick would purchase the rights for a New York WFL franchise to play in Yankee Stadium in 1976).
With the financial future of the Hawaiians and the WFL solid at least until the end of the season, the team took to the field Halloween evening on "10-cent Beer Night" to play the Memphis Southmen. 20,544 (the largest ever to see a WFL game in Hawaii) watched as the Hawaiians lost a close game to Memphis 33-31. After the game the Hawaiians locker room was as quiet as a bar after closing hours. "It was one of those games- they were just in the right corners at the right times," said defensive back Chuck Detwiler. The mood in the locker room was obviously low; many players cursed and wondered if they had just blown the playoffs.
The following week before 13,780 fans the Hawaiians routed the first place Southern California Sun 29-8. Randy Johnson completed 17 of 30 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The Hawaiian defense nearly decapitated Sun quarterback Tony Adams, and later forced him out of the game in the fourth quarter. The Hawaiians were now 8-11. The Hawaiians came together almost at the same time the WFL was falling apart. The ownership group, which had deep reserves, were handling the crushing financial drain on the team. The Hawaiians didn't miss paydays, although a few check were received late, at least on the level of some of the other WFL teams. Averaging only around 12,000 a game and burdened by massive travel costs the Hawaiians were watching their financial resources blaze into the Pacific blue like a jeweled sunset.
Coach Mike Giddings team was playing and believing like champions. The offense was high-scoring and the defense was limiting the big plays of the other teams. The playoffs were the goal, if there would be a playoff. The WFL struggled with its playoff format when it became evident that several of the franchises wouldn't be financially able to play in the post season. There was concern that the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Fire and the Shreveport Steamer couldn't afford to play even if they did make the playoffs. Southern California Sun general manager Curly Morrison was quoted in the papers as saying it was ridiculous of the WFL playoffs to go on if they were guaranteed to lose money. Some WFL officials wanted to end the season after seventeen games, declare the Memphis Southmen the champions and reorganize for the 1975 season. After several hurried press announcements it was confirmed the WFL would have a playoff that would involve six teams (down from the original plan of eight).
With Hawaii bidding for a playoff spot the team hosted the Portland Storm. 14,425 came out as the Hawaiians shut out the Portland team 23-0. Quarterback Randy Johnson and Norris Weese each threw for a touchdown to lead the team. During the game, a fight broke out between the forgotten players of the Portland Storm and the Hawaiians. Players began piling on each other, chasing each other, throwing punches and causing a near riot scene that was uncontrollable by the W.F.L. officials. Mike Giddings suddenly ran on to the field. In an attempt to end the skirmish, Giddings yelled at his players, "Who ever isn't back on the sidelines in five seconds is going to be fined!" Suddenly a player shouted back, "Fined!? Fined from what!" Immediately the Storm and Hawaiian players broke out into fits of laughter. The most controversial play came with ten seconds left in the game as Norris Weese hit Grady Richardson for a touchdown. The Storm players and coach Dick Coury, completely disgusted and at their breaking point with the season and the WFL, walked off the field as Hawaii lined up for the action point. Coury claimed, "I didn't think Mike would do that (run up the score)". The Storm players, unpaid for weeks, had had enough and dejectedly walked off the field- no action point attempt was made.
Hawaii finished the season with a 9-11 won-lost record. An incredible improvement considering their horrific start. The investment group led by Chris Hemmeter and Sam Battistone lost an estimated $3.2 million on the team. Attendance averaged 13,502 in Honolulu Stadium, and many fans pondered the future of the World Football League. Hemmeter claimed, "If next year is anything like this (the '74 season) I would rather not be a part of the WFL."
Prior to the W.F.L. playoffs, Hawaii chairman Chris Hemmeter resigned from the investment group to take the position of league commissioner after Gary Davidson was driven out by the "reputable" owners. The Hawaii team had qualified for the W.F.L. playoffs and would be traveling to Anaheim, California to take on the Sun. When the airplane landed in sunny Southern California team officials were told that the Suns' highly touted rookies; Kermit Johnson, James McAllister and Booker Brown would not be playing in the game. Apparently the three players claimed that when Sun owner Larry Hatfield failed to meet a designated payday the missed payment constituted a breech in their contract and they were now free agents.
The Hawaiians took the field and routed Southern California 32-14 as Randy Johnson led the charge. Johnson completed 14 of 24 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns and running back Al Davis rushed for 49 yards and two touchdowns. Southern California committed four turnovers, and quarterback Tony Adams left the game in the fourth quarter due to an injury. Hawaii led 17-11 at the half, but the Sun closed the gap to 17-14 on a Rod Garcia field goal. Hawaii then ran over the Sun in the fourth, with Davis' touchdown and a 8-yard pass from Johnson to John Isenbarger.
The next week, the Hawaiians' Cinderella season made its way to the football hotbed of America; Birmingham, Alabama. The Hawaiians shocked the Birmingham faithful after quarterback Randy Johnson ran 1-yard to give Hawaii a 11-7 lead early in the third quarter. Then American quarterback Matthew Reed passed 32-yards to receiver Alfred Jenkins to give Birmingham a 15-11 lead. Reed then engineered an American drive that ended with him running 3-yards on a quarterback option play to give the southerners a 22-11 lead. The Hawaiians fought back. With Johnson passing, the team drove deep into American territory and Johnson hit running back Vince Clements with a perfect 17-yard pass. Norris Weese added the action point with a completion to John Kelsey and the Hawaiians cut the Birmingham lead to 22-19. The Americans then used a sound running game (which ran for 308 total yards in the game versus Hawaiians' 71) to eat up the clock and set the sun on the pearl of the World Football League.
NOTE: The 1974 Hawaiians 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.