1974 WFL Team Pages
New York Stars
In professional sports, any fledgling league needs to have a strong position in the metropolis of New York City. The major television networks are there, news media, communications giants, business and financial centers. Without New York, a young league will die of obscurity- and the World Football League was no different.
The WFL awarded a New York franchise to Bob Schmertz in 1973. If the World Football League was to be considered a "major league" the club would have to have strong ownership and fan support. Bob Schmertz was the owner of the Boston Celtics and the New England Whalers and had plenty of cash (estimated at $25 million) to handle to expenses of operating a franchise.
To the north of New York, in Boston, Schmertz' friend and business associate, Howard Baldwin had secured a franchise for the city of Boston. The Bulldogs, would play in the WFL in 1974 if Baldwin could manage to put together a investment group for the teams' operations. Baldwin contacted Bob Keating, manager of Schaefer Stadium, and General Manager of the ACFL's New England Colonials, who introduced Baldwin to millionaire Henry Vickers and his associates. Baldwin's price tag was $700,000. After several meetings, Vickers and his investors declined to become involved in the WFL and left Baldwin with little hope of finding financial support for his "newly" nicknamed Boston Bulls. On January 14, 1973, Howard Baldwin represented the Boston Bulls at the league's official press conference. As word of the Boston situation spread through the WFL office, Gary Davidson went to work immediately on trying to find financial backers for the team. Meanwhile, Howard Baldwin was talking to city officials about the possibility of the Bulls playing their games at Schaefer Stadium, Nickerson Field or Harvard Stadium, when it became apparent that Boston, without investors, would be a doubtful player in the league. With the situation in Boston seemingly hopeless, Gary Davidson telephoned New York owner Bob Schmertz and offered him the opportunity of merging the two franchises. Soon after that discussion, Schmertz and Baldwin decided they would move the Boston Bulls, originally the Boston Bulldogs, and their players to New York City and begin a working relationship together in the WFL.
Days before the WFL draft, as personnel director Dusty Rhodes and head coach Babe Parilli were on a flight from Boston to New York, Parilli simply stated, "I feel like a star!" Rhodes added, "Yeah, a New York Star." The two looked at each other and smiled. Searching for a name that would represent the city and its "Broadway" image, Bob Schmertz named the franchise the New York Stars. The teams' colors would be black and gold.
The World Football League in New York City never quite achieved the "professional" status it so desired. The team was forced to play its home games in decrepit 27,000 seat Downing Stadium on Randall's Island beneath the Triborough Bridge, and the Stars faced severe competition from both the NFL's New York Giants and Jets.
Downing Stadium, located on Randall's Island, was simply not at professional standards, some argued it wasn't at high school standards. The field was the worst in the league- mostly hard packed sand and dirt. The turf, some players joked, was actually crab grass that the club allowed to grow to give the look of an actual football field. Then there were the lights. The Downing Stadium lighting system was poor by high school standards. When it actually worked, it lit half of the field. Players would joke that they couldn't see the end zones, and the media suggested that the team light candles and place them along the sidelines for better visibility. One W.F.L. official claimed Downing was, "on par with any small town high school football field", and he was right. Bob Schmertz and Bob Keating knew that Downing would have to do. Roosevelt Stadium in New Jersey was in even worse shape, and Yankee Stadium wouldn't be available until renovations were completed in 1976. The day the Stars signed the lease for Downing Stadium with the city Bob Keating walked out of the meeting and told Schmertz, "we just lost $200,000".
With the W.F.L. season closing in the Stars signed several football veterans; ex-New York Jets Gerry Philbin, John Elliott and George Sauer and former Notre Dame and New England Patriot running back Bob Gladieux. Stars' Head Coach Babe Parilli worked on getting the offense a leader and selected veteran quarterback Tom Sherman, who had seen action in the Atlantic Coast Football League with the Hartford Knights, as the teams' signal caller.
Coach Babe Parilli went for experience when constructing the New York Stars offense. At quarterback there was Tom Sherman; at running back he had Gladieux and former New Orleans Saint Jim Ford as his starting full back. The wide receiver corps was led by NFL veteran George Sauer, who starred with the New York Jets. Al Young (who had experience in the NFL with Pittsburgh), Bert Askson and rookie tight end Kelly Pederson rounded out the receivers. The Stars offensive line was anchored by center Bob Kuziel guard Dick Hart and tackle Rich Sharp. Fourth round draft pick Matt Herkenhoff, out of the University of Minnesota, was also expected to add strength to the line.
The Star defense featured Philbin and Elliott, and was bolstered by linebackers Lloyd Voss and Greg Lens. Draft pick Jim Sims and veteran Randy Beverly anchored the Star secondary. The New York Stars had five players who were with the New York Jets when they won Super Bowl III, George Sauer, Gerry Philbin, John Elliott, offensive tackle Sam Walton, and Randy Beverly. Also Star coach Babe Parilli was also a member of the Super Bowl champion squad.
Off the field, Star officials announced the team had sold 6,000 season tickets for the '74 season and expectations were running high around the city and the boroughs.
On Opening Day, the Stars boarded a chartered flight and traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, to play the Sharks. Before a national television audience and a raucous crowd of 59,112 the Stars dropped their first WFL game 14-7. The Stars were victimized by two miscues on punts; a punt return by Shark Alvin Wyatt, and a blocked punt of a Robbie Reynolds kick that led to a Jacksonville touchdown. New York managed 136 yards rushing and Tom Sherman hit 15 of 34 passes for 202 yards- scoring the Stars first points on an 8-yard pass to veteran George Sauer. After the game, Star coach Babe Parilli told reporters that the team had played good enough to win, but gave the game away on mistakes. He also vowed the Stars' home opener would be different.
The World Football League drew good crowds for its first week of action. In New York city, many football fans and the Stars hoped for a good crowd to welcome the team. The New York Stars played their home opener before a crowd of 17,943 in dumpy Randalls' Island Stadium. Earlier in the day, General Manager Bob Keating watched as workmen climbed the derelict lightning towers of Downing Stadium, wiping off layers of filth that caked the ancient bulbs, untangling rotting electrical wires and struggling with unyielding sockets. In the end, there wasn't enough power to handle the high-intensity circuitry needed to televise the game. There wasn't enough candlepower to send pictures back to Birmingham in black and white- and more importantly, the lights lit half of the field, and not very well. The lighting towers of Randall's Island Stadium were actually the same towers that were used at Ebbett's Field in 1939. The ghosts of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Leo Durocher would dance in the moonlight between the running and tackling players of the WFL. On the field, the Stars moved out to a commanding 29-3 lead over the Birmingham Americans, but were overcome by a Birmingham rally of almost epic proportions, and lost 32-29. At half-time New York had 315 total yards to Birmingham's' 10, and 18 first downs to none. In the third quarter, American quarterback George Mira threw four touchdown passes, the last one to a wide open Dennis Homan to complete the victory. Most of the 17,000 fans came out due to curiosity rather than devotion to the home team. Sitting in the old stands beneath the Triborough Bridge, the fans had difficulty following the ball and the plays at times in the lighting system that was less luminous than the collection of movie marquees on 42nd Street. Star officials said the lighting system of 40 lamps was to be improved, but delays occurred, and at game time only 80% of those lamps worked. The Stars would have to solve their stadium and on-field problems in the weeks to come.
New York, after posting a 0-2 won-lost record, would then go on a 10-4 tear through the next fourteen weeks of the season.
The Stars traveled to Philadelphia and before a national television audience, and a wild crowd of 64,719 fans, faced their Eastern Division rivals the Philadelphia Bell. WFL Commissioner Gary Davidson, who was in attendance for the game was overwhelmed by the turnout in Philadelphia telling reporters, "this is incredible. I never would have expected this." Under the glow of the JFK lights, the Bell struck first. With the crowd behind them and making enough noise to wake up the neighbors in New Jersey, Philadelphia drove down field and scored when King Corcoran hit running back Claude Watts with a 18-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead. The action point failed but on the field was an officials' yellow flag- the Stars were offside. Philadelphia got a second chance, and failed. But again the Stars were offside. A third attempt and the Stars defense throttled a running play for no gain but again there was another flag!! Offside New York Stars! Three plays, three penalties. On the sidelines Babe Parilli was furious with his defense, shouting at his players to stay calm and regroup. With the ball only inches from the goal line, King Corcoran sneaked across for the point and a 8-0 lead.
Trailing, the Stars got moving against Philadelphia. Tom Sherman led the team on long drives that finished with both Dave Richards and Bob Gladieux scoring on one-yard runs to give New York a 14-8 lead at halftime. In the third quarter, King Corcoran drove the Bell for a second score hitting tight end LeVell Hill with a 9-yard touchdown pass and a 15-14 lead. The Philadelphia fans, 64,000 strong, went wild. The Bell and Stars were in a good old fashioned dogfight, and the fans loved it. In the fourth quarter, with the crowd roaring, the Stars drove deep into Bell territory but on third down-and-four the drive stalled. On the sidelines coach Babe Parilli called for the kicking team. As the Stars players ran out to the field amid a chorus of boos and cat calls from the Philadelphia fans, Moses Lajterman lined up for the go-ahead field goal. Lajterman, a 21-year old Argentinean, was playing his first game as a Star, replacing the injured Pete Rajecki. Lajterman waited for the snap, head down, focused on the spot. As the outstretched hands of the Bell defensive line rose into the air, Lajterman's 40-yard field goal rocketed into the night air and gave the Stars a 17-15 lead.
With time dwindling down the Bell fought back. King Corcoran drove the Bell down field with precision passing but on third-and-long a pass attempt fell short. The Bell, with 2:18 left in the game, sent out their kicking team to tie the game but a Jack Simcsak 36-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. In a twist of the surreal, Philadelphia got another chance to win but George Chatlos 26-yard field goal with: 01 remaining sailed wide left and the Stars had their first win of the season. The one second of Chatlos' kick was like an hour for the Stars, but when it was over, Babe Parilli stood surrounded by the press with Moses Lajterman grinning, answering questions from reporters and feeling great.
The Stars returned to New York with a 1-2 record, and hosted the Jacksonville Sharks. At Downing Stadium, 15,648 fans watched as the Stars prepared to avenge their earlier loss to the Sharks. It was hard for the fans to watch the game because the stadium lights weren't changed from the home opener two weeks ago. The Stars blamed it on bureaucratic bumbling among various city employees. Even with the limited lighting, the teams traded scores and at the half were tied 16-16. In the third quarter, Tom Sherman ran over from the one yard line to give New York a 24-16 lead.
In the fourth quarter both teams offered the New York faithful some dramatics.
Emerging from obscurity was Jeff Davis. Davis, the 441st player taken in the 442 player NFL draft in 1973, was shoved into the game as the Sharks' quarterback after their two legitimate quarterbacks were injured in the space of three plays. Starting quarterback Kay Stephenson was crushed by Gerry Philbin, and backup Kim Hammond was sent to the sidelines when he was sacked by James Sims. Davis, the 24-year old rookie moved the Sharks first to the Stars' 9-yard line but he missed on several passes that could've pulled Jacksonville into a position for a tie. Davis thought he had a touchdown on a pass to Tony Lomax in the end zone, but officials ruled Lomax was out of bounds. "He's a different type of quarterback," explained John Elliott, the Stars' experienced linebacker. "We weren't mentally prepared for that sort of thing. It's hard to change in the middle of the game." Despite Davis' fifteen minutes of fame, the Stars won 24-16 and improved their record to 2-2.
The Stars were trailing the Florida Blazers in the Eastern Division. In the Stars front office, General Manager Bob Keating was pleased with the play of the team and looked for ways to increase fan and corporate support of the Stars. On August 7, 1974 the Stars traveled to Anaheim, California to play the Southern California Sun. The Stars, plagued by a rash of penalties and fumbles were shut out until the last play of the half. In the fourth quarter, quarterback Tom Sherman hit receiver Bert Askson for a 40-yard touchdown on third-and-2 for the winning score and a 11-8 victory. After the touchdown the Sun tried to stage a rally but Tom Chandler and James Sims dumped Tony Adams in two different situations, assuring the win. The Sun attempted two field goals but both missed in the third quarter, as the Stars improved their record to 3-2.
Returning to Downing Stadium after their successful road trip to California the Stars came back east to host the Portland Storm. In the shadows of the Triborough Bridge, a crowd of 16,222, watched as the Stars pounded the Storm 33-16. The play that set the pace for the game occurred within the first five minutes. A fumbled punt by Darrell Mitchell on Portland's five yard line set up the Stars' first score. With 16,000 on their feet, quarterback Tom Sherman rolled out to the right and ran 4 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. The action point (a pass to Al Young) made it 8-0. The mighty New York machine geared up again after a Portland punt. Tom Sherman led the Stars on a 74-yard, eight play march through a thin Storm defense. As the Stars held the ball with: 15 remaining, in the first quarter, with the ball on the Portland 20, Tom Sherman threw a touchdown pass to George Sauer in the corner of the end zone and Dave Richards added the action point New York led 16-0. In the second quarter, the Stars again mounted a long drive and Andy Huff blasted through a tired Storm defense for a 23-0 New York lead. At halftime, Stars coach Babe Parilli was pleased with his teams' performance. The offense, behind quarterback Tom Sherman was moving the ball at will and keeping the ball from the Portland offense. The defense had throttled the Storm running duo of Rufus Ferguson and Marv Kendricks, and the passing game was non-existent with Storm quarterback Greg Barton spending most of the evening running from blitzing linebackers or sacked under an awesome Star pass rush. In the third quarter, most of the New York fans had headed home and Downing Stadium echoed with emptiness as the Stars added a Gary Danielson touchdown run for a 30-0 lead, and a runaway rout. New York went on to win 38-16. The crowd, (16,222) made up of mostly late arrivals, was the second largest since the Stars started playing at Downing Stadium. The team played a good game and the lighting system, criticized for its antiquity and ineffectiveness was bolstered by a battery of 36 lights mounted on a tower at midfield. It helped only slightly. The mid-field area glowed under the new lights but the fans found it difficult to follow the action at either end of the field at the end zones. Stars General Manager Bob Keating looked out at the situation and planned more phone calls to the Parks Commission of the City of New York. The Portland Storm could have used the darkness to hide from the embarrassment of their sixth straight loss.
While the New York media continued to praise the play of the Stars and to criticize Downing Stadium. Downing, unreachable by transit, and dark enough that many joked the team played ‘by the light of the moon' was becoming a constant problem for the club. With a 4-2 record, the team was beginning to gain attention from the rest of the WFL. On August 22nd, the Stars hosted the Houston Texans at Downing. Beneath the din of the lights, the Stars opened up an offensive power house that ran over the Texans 43-10. The wheel horse of the onslaught was running back Bob Gladieux. Gladieux scored four touchdowns, and ran for 84 yards to lead the Stars to their fifth win of the WFL season. "Naturally, I always thought I could contribute something to any club," said Gladieux, "but after last year I felt my career was over, I was cut by 12 NFL teams. It was my fourth year and I was beginning to feel everybody was just trying to cut me out of my pension. In the NFL they all want their running backs to be 6 foot 2, weigh 220 pounds and run the 40 in 4.6 and what am I? About 5-foot-10, 195 pounds and run the 40 in 4.8 I was seriously thinking of trying to get a job coaching." The Stars wasted no time humbling the Texans, who came into Downing Stadium with the best defense against the rush in the WFL. New York, led by Gladieux, ran for 231 yards (130 in the first half). The Stars capitalized on several miscues; Gerry Philbin picked up a Mike Richardson fumble on the Texans' 37-yard line to lead to the first score, Steve Dennis, the Stars' right cornerback, intercepted a Mike Taliaferro pass at the New York 45 to set up another score. Stars quarterback Tom Sherman completed 10 of 20 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown, as the Stars rumbled to a 5-2 record.
The Stars enjoyed a few days of solid practices at La Salle Military Academy and on August 28th, met the Houston Texans met for a rematch in Houston. 10,126 fans in the empty Astrodome saw their hometown Texans win 14-11. The man who beat the Stars was quarterback Mike Taliaferro, one of many former Jets on the team. Taliaferro threw for two touchdowns, including the game winner to wide receiver Rick Eber.
The Texans and the Stars game would also be remembered in history but not for the play of the game, but for something that happened on the field. After two defensive series, former number one draft pick of the Houston Oilers John Matuszak, was confronted not by a stampeding New York Star running back but by the long arm of the law. The historic play of the game was when a process server walked out onto the Astrodome turf and served a restraining order to the Texan linebacker who had earlier in the day jumped from the NFL to the WFL... Matuszak presence motivated the Texans and that was all the Houston team needed to avenge their rout. In the locker room after the defeat coach Babe Parilli told reporters, "We embarrassed then last week and teams don't take that lightly. I remember once with the Jets we beat Houston 55-something and then came here and got shut out." Despite the loss to the Texans, the strength of the New York running game continued to carry the Stars. Bob Gladieux, Andy Huff and Jim Ford provided the Stars with tough yards and big plays.
Undismayed by the smallest crowd to see a WFL game in the United States, the Stars formed their own cheering section as they defeated the Philadelphia Bell 24-16 on Labor Day. 5,237 fans witnessed Star quarterback Tom Sherman throw touchdown strikes of 9 and 28 yards and run a quarterback sneak 1 yard for a touchdown. A joyful Bob Gladieux celebrated in the Stars locker room, "I felt like going when I got up this morning." The Stars running back gained 161 yards on 28 carries. Despite the celebration linebacker John Elliott told reporters, "It's going to be rough. We can't take a day off. We'll be practicing on Tuesday to get ready for Florida on Friday, and then Saturday to be ready for Wednesday's game against Portland." Later, in the tunnel under Downing Stadium at Randalls Island that houses their locker room the Stars all joined together and sang the Notre Dame fight song in honor of Gladieux performance. The Stars were tied for first place with the Florida Blazers. Stars owner Bob Schmertz and General Manger Bob Keating expected a large crowd at Downing for the game against the Blazers. Reports were circulating that the Stars were already up for sale for a reported $5 million, and a good crowd would certainly bring out potential investors.
Under the graying skies, the Stars and Blazers warmed up for their game at Downing. Stretching, running pass routs, talking to the media, the players got ready for what was to be an important game in the WFL Eastern Division. Before the game, the skies ripped open and a heavy rain pored onto the field and turned into a quagmire. Bad luck and bad weather followed the Stars. A crowd of only 3,830 (despite 14,625 tickets sold) came out, huddled in the rain to see the New York team battle Florida for the Eastern Division lead. Those fans who didn't hide in the runways saw Florida Blazer Tommy Reamon run for 179 yards, a new league record, as Florida defeated New York 17-15. The game was an overall disappointment. The Stars had sold more tickets for the game than the Yankees had sold for their game the same night at Shea Stadium, but the team couldn't do anything about the weather. The few fans who did show up watched the New Yorkers come within field goal range of winning the game at the Florida 22-yard line. As the rain fell down on Downing Stadium and the shadows of the few New York faithful huddled in the exits, below the empty stands the Stars began a last second drive. Quarterback Tom Sherman completed short passes to his running backs and Bob Gladieux picked up rough yards as the Stars drove into Florida territory. On third-and-eight the Stars broke their huddle and came to the line. The Blazer defense began moving around the line, showing a blitz formation, then dropping out and then dropping their linebackers in again. In the confusion the Stars were unable to get the play off in time and a game delay penalty drove them back to the 27. On the next play, quarterback Tom Sherman was sacked for a 18-yard loss by Ernie Calloway putting the Stars out of field goal range. A last second desperation pass to George Sauer, fell incomplete and the New Yorkers fell to second place in the WFL East losing 17-15.
In the front office of the Stars, the financial situation was beginning to look desperate. Bob Schmertz had invested over $200,000 in renovation costs to Downing Stadium and the bills continued to pile up. The Stars, despite selling 6,000 season tickets, had averaged only 4,000 fans to their last two home games. The lighting situation was pathetic, the stadiums accessibility by mass transit even worse. Bill collectors began to form a line at the front offices and General Manager Bob Keating was looking for answers. The long list of financial issues was compounded by the fact that Stars owner Bob Schmertz was involved with legal problems regarding his position with the Boston Celtics of the NBA. New York media reported that the Stars were in debt over $1 million since the start of the season. Keating told reporters that the Stars needed to do better at the gate and come to some resolution with the city of New York over renovations at Downing to continue.
With the rumors of the Stars financial situation making it to the pages of the New York papers the team boarded a charter flight to Portland, Oregon to face the Storm. The Storm, despite their 2-7-1 won-lost record was on the crest of a two-game winning streak. Star quarterback Tom Sherman would be without two of the top offensive players as veteran wide receiver Al Young was injured and running back Bob Gladieux was nursing a sore leg. Gladieux injury was especially troubling due to the fact he was the WFL's second leading rusher. The Stars, led by running back Jim Ford, tore a hole through the Storm defense and defeated Portland 34-15 before 13,000 on the West coast. The win put New York at 7-4, and a half game behind the Florida Blazers. The Stars opened up a 23-7 lead in the third quarter when Ford bulled his way over from the one yard line and Tom Sherman hit George Sauer for the action point. The Storm answered with a two yard touchdown run by Marv Kendricks to cut the lead to 23-15, but the Stars defense threw up a wall as John Moss, Tom Chandler, Marty Huff, Jim Sims, Art Reynolds and Jere Brown stopped the talented Storm offense and quarterback Pete Beathard dead in its tracks.
After the Portland game, the Stars continued their West coast trip and boarded a flight to the island of Hawaii for some rest and a game against the Hawaiians. On a beautiful Hawaiian evening, 12,000 fans sat in the stands of the Hula Bowl. The New York players had spent some time recreating on the Hawaii beaches, nursing injuries and taking in the sights and sounds of the island. The Stars took a 3-0 lead on Moses Lajterman's 37-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and it a 11-0 lead a few minutes later as running back Don Highsmith scored on a 3-yard run. The former Oakland Raider added runs of 20 and 14 yards to lead the charge. Hawaiian Adrian Young, a former Philadelphia Eagle, recovered a Dave Richards fumble on the New York 19 and Hawaiian quarterback Edd Hargett hit Tim Delaney for a 5-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 11-8. Both teams traded field goals in the third quarter to make the score 14-11. In the fourth quarter, AA Coppedge kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 14-14 and set up a stunning finish.
With the Hawaiians offensive drive stalled at the New York 39 coach Mike Giddings sent in the kicking team. Rhea Allen Coppedge, who joined the team from the Atlanta Falcons camp, ran out onto the field. The kick, at least 10-15 yards outside his confidence range would prove to be even a greater challenge due to the fact Coppedge didn't have the aid of his glasses, which were broken in the locker room. With 6 minutes and 25 seconds remaining, Coppedge kicked a wobbly line drive that cleared the cross bar and gave the Hawaiians a 17-14 lead. Stars quarterback Tom Sherman led the team back but two New York drives were killed on interceptions by Otto Brown and Willie Williams. After the game, a disgusted Babe Parilli told reporters, "We played a very poor game. We showed no consistency at all and our defense didn't play up to its potential." The Stars record fell to 7-5.
On September 18th the WFL announced the move of the struggling Houston Texans to Shreveport, Louisiana. The WFL then announced that Texan head coach Jim Garrett had been suspended by the league for imploring his players to boycott the move. Despite his denials, Garrett was fired from his head coaching position. Starting quarterback Mike Taliaferro also quit the team and the Texans, on the brink of financial ruin and abandoned by former owner R. Steven Arnold, left Texas they way the came….broke and unwanted.
On September 21st, Detroit Wheels quarterback Bubba Wyche sent a letter to WFL Commissioner Gary Davidson that stated, "The situation here is desperate. We haven't been paid in weeks. We've been calling off practice because we can't afford the laundry service. And, in case you didn't know, if the Johnson and Johnson rep in Philadelphia hadn't supplied us with free tape we couldn't have played the Bell. And that was a month ago! Please, give us some relief, will you?" The WFL seemed to be crumbling.
On September 20th, after receiving a tip from Stars officer Howard Baldwin, Upton Bell, a 37-year old ex-General Manager of the NFL's New England Patriots, placed a call from his home in Boston to Bob Schmertz in New York City. During their conversation, the two discussed the possible sale of the team, and a verbal agreement was made that would transfer the ownership of the New York Stars to Upton Bell and allow him to transfer the franchise to Charlotte, North Carolina. The price, $1.4 million, to be paid in increments over a three-year period. Bob Schmertz's last words to Bell were, "the creditors are banging at our doors. How soon can you come up with the first payment?"
Publicly, the Stars were already rumored to be moving out of New York City due to dismal crowds (less than 10,000 total for their last two home games), ancient Downing Stadium and financial losses that were mounting. Stars' owner Bob Schmertz claimed the club had lost a total of $1 million and ownership simply couldn't afford to renovations to bring Downing Stadium to professional standards. Schmertz also had his own financial problems. He had recently lost a law suit over the ownership of the Boston Celtics and was forced to pay $4.2 million in damages to Harold Lipton and Irving Levine. Schmertz' main asset, Leisure Technology, had suffered serious financial losses due to a recession and red hot inflation. Leisure Technologies' stock had plummeted from a high of $34 ¾ to $2 ¼ per share- Bob Schmertz' personal wealth was estimated to have fallen from $25 million to $5 million. It was time to for him to abandon the WFL ship.
Upton Bell arrived at the offices of the New York Stars in Manhattan and informed the staff of the sale of the team and its transfer to Charlotte. A silence filled the offices as employee's boxed paperwork, contracts, photos and anything else related to the team for the trip to North Carolina. In Bob Keating's' office, Bell then sat down and called head coach Babe Parilli to inform him of the sale. "Babe, Charlotte is a great city. You'll love it. Everything is set for the team to go down there, and I want you and your staff to get the players ready."
As the fortunes and the home of the New York Stars changed, the Detroit Wheels came to town. The Wheels were in worse financial shape. Detroit had averaged about 10,000 a game (and many of those fans didn't pay to get in), couldn't pay any bills after its first three games, and had lost over $2.5 million. The ownership of the Wheels had attempted to schedule games or move the club to either Charlotte, North Carolina; Shreveport, Louisiana; or Louisville, Kentucky. Before the game at Downing, players of both teams mulled around the field, stretching, running wind sprints, throwing and catching balls but most were contemplating their future- or lack of one. In the stands an eerie silence fell as a few scattered Stars fans lazily walked around to find their seats for the game. Detroit head coach Dan Boisture talked to his staff wondering how much longer the team could hold on. He desperately hoped that a new owner would appear with a truck load of cash, or a new city would welcome them with open arms- anything to get the players minds back on football. All was quiet throughout Downing, too quiet.
The Stars tore through the Detroit Wheels 37-7. Star running back Don Highsmith rushed for 122 yards on 19 carries scored two touchdowns and led a ground attack that out gained the Wheels 277 to 67. The Stars defense also had a field day, intercepting five Bubba Wyche passes, as New York built a 22-7 halftime lead and never looked back. Only 4,220 fans at Downing witnessed the game. In a press conference after the game, Stars general manager Bob Keating told reporters that the Stars were officially moving from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. Citing attendance and poor stadium facilities the WFL promised to return to New York in '76 when Yankee Stadium would be available.
The morning news blared the obituary of the New York Stars. In sports papers across the country headlines read, "Stars Relocate; WFL Plans '76 New York team" and "WFL Stars Headed for Charlotte". The WFL landscape had changed overnight. Houston Texans moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and now the Stars were headed for Charlotte, North Carolina. Many WFL officials worried that the league was becoming a minor league with the major market teams moving to such smaller cities. The move of the Stars left the WFL without a team in the country's richest market. The Stars had been suffering in dismal Randall's Island Stadium, an eyesore in the middle of the East River, and before everything was said and done lost close to $2 million. In various newspapers Stars part-owner Howard Baldwin was quoted as saying, "The reasons for the move are obvious. Downing Stadium is totally inadequate. Poor parking, bad lighting and lack of accessibility are all contributing factors to the move."
WFL Commissioner Gary Davidson told the national media, "We plan to come back to New York for the 1976 season when Yankee Stadium renovations will be completed." Officials of the New York Yankees shot back a rebuttal at the WFL when hearing of their plans, stating the Yankees had an exclusive lease on the building and had every intention on seeing the lease remain intact after construction was completed. The WFL was unwanted in New York.
The move to Charlotte was official, and the old New York Stars needed a "facelift" as they embarked on road trip to Chicago to play the struggling Fire. Upton Bell wanted the "New York Stars" logo removed from the helmets and told equipment manager Tiger Ferraro to see to the creation of a temporary logo. When the Stars landed in Chicago, Ferraro and his son went to work. Visiting various print shops in the Chicago area, the Ferraro's were surprised to find that they couldn't locate an acceptable logo design. Lowering their expectations to a "C" in any graphic style they were further surprised to find that they couldn't locate one that fit the helmet. Finally, Tiger Ferraro thought of a plan. He called the Chicago Bears and talked to their equipment manager and arranged to purchase one hundred "C" Bears logos. The price was $150. As the Stars ran out onto Soldier Field, the crowd noticed something familiar about their helmets. The Ferraro's had placed the Bear "C" over the Stars "NY" - the new logo of the Charlotte Stars was born.
The game between the Charlotte Stars and the Chicago Fire was originally scheduled for Wednesday, October 3rd, but with the state of affairs in Detroit (home of the previous scheduled game), the WFL and TVS decided that a televised game that featured thousands of empty seats in Detroit was not as attractive as 20,000 fans in Chicago. TVS chairman Eddie Einhorn and the WFL decided on the switch to Chicago, but the game would have to be played on Thursday the 4th to suit the national television audience. On October 3rd 5,000 Fire fans ventured out to Soldier Field for the game to learn from a security guard that refused to let them in that the game had been rescheduled….another WFL moment had become folklore.
In Chicago, the WFL continued to suffer incredible financial problems. The Fire, Chicago's entry in the league, had fallen on hard times losing star quarterback (Virgil Carter), running back (Mark Kellar), their leading receiver (James Scott) and the WFL's leading kick returner (Charlie Reamon). The Fire had lost four games in a row and the fan support was dwindling. Fire owner Tom Origer was feuding with WFL Commissioner Gary L. Davidson and the league seemed to be headed for ruin. On the Soldier Field turf, before a national television audience, the Stars exploded for 33 first half points and defeated Chicago 41-30. Tom Sherman threw two touchdowns and Larry Sheats intercepted a pass and ran it back for another. The Stars defense also throttled ex-NFL great Leroy Kelly who made his debut with the Fire. The win lifted the club's won-lost record to 9-5 to remain a game behind the Florida Blazers in the WFL's Eastern Division.
In Charlotte, owner Upton Bell was working feverishly on preparing the front office, the ticket facilities, and various other needs of a professional football franchise. Bell had obtained control of the Stars/Hornets but still lacked the financial backing needed for a team. He went to work contacting business leaders in the community and civic leaders to put together an investment group. He announced that the team would be called the "Hornets" in reference to the historical folklore that the Charlotte townspeople used hornet's nests to defend themselves against the invading British army.
In a televised press conference, news reporters asked Bell about his plans for the team, as the fans of North Carolina lined up to purchase tickets to the WFL's newest franchise. The Hornets new home welcomed them with open arms. A parade, a "welcoming" party and a series of sold out games greeted the unwanted New Yorkers. The football fans of North Carolina lined up and purchased 12,000 season tickets (for the last four home games) already showing more support for the team than the city of New York did in the Stars' last few home games. The stage was set for the Hornets to host the Memphis Southmen in their home opener.
The Hornets' home opener was against the red hot Memphis Southmen. Memphis, coming in at 10-2 was the WFL's Central Division challenger and hot on the heels of the Birmingham Americans. 25,133 screaming Hornet fans jammed into Memorial Stadium to support the team and cheer for their new-found heroes. In the first quarter, Memphis linebacker John LeHeup laid a savage hit on Hornet running back Don Highsmith and recovered the ensuing fumble and six plays later Southmen running back JJ Jennings blasted over the Hornets' defense for a 1-yard touchdown and a 8-0 lead. The Hornets, undaunted, came right back with quarterback Tom Sherman scoring on a 1-yard run of his own for a 8-8 tie.
After three quarters the Hornets led 15-11, the go-ahead score on Don Highsmith's 5 yard touchdown run, and the crowd began to shake Memorial Stadium to its foundations. The Southmen then answered with one of the WFL's best offenses. Quarterback Danny White, quiet for most of the game, began to go to the air and riddled the Hornet secondary. White, who ended the game completing 9 of 18 for 127 yards, and a touchdown fired a 13-yard touchdown to Ed Marshall for a 19-15 Southmen lead. Then, only minutes later, White again led the Southmen down field. On second-and-three White again hit a streaking Ed Marshall for a 19-yard touchdown and a 27-15 Memphis lead.
The Charlotte faithful were stunned. On the sidelines coach Babe Parilli tried to regroup the Hornets.
On the field, quarterback Tom Sherman huddled and looked up at his teammates. He was clearly in control, and the Hornets marched 61 yards down field against a Memphis team that was unable to stop it. With 2:06 remaining, Don Highsmith bulled his way through the Southmen defense for a Hornet touchdown. Under the thundering cheers of the Charlotte fans, Sherman rolled out and hit receiver Al Barnes, who beat a sprawling David Thomas, for the action point. As the 25,000 fans exploded the Hornets had cut the lead to 27-23, and there was still plenty of time for an on-sides kick and a possible game-winning drive.
A thundering roar came down from the stands of Memorial Stadium. Underneath the lights the fans screamed and cheered the Hornets on, pounding their feet and clapping their hands. Hornet kicker Pete Rajecki lined up for an on-side kick. Every face of the Hornet players was stoic and focused on the gold WFL ball as it sat on the kicking tee. As the officials whistle sounded, Rajecki approached the ball and struck it. The ball hobbled end over end, as Hornet and Southmen players scrambled and dove for the ball. George Sauer, who was speeding along the right sideline caught the ball on a bounce and was dragged down by the Memphis bench. The Hornets were back in business.
Quarterback Tom Sherman drove the Hornets into Memphis territory. On third down, Sherman dropped back and hit George Sauer with a perfect pass and Sauer ran to the Memphis 40. The Charlotte fans were on their feet. With 1:03 remaining on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard the Memphis defense brought the blitz. Sherman read the rush and threw long to Al Barnes but the pass fell incomplete. With the fans on their feet, and cheering on the Hornets, Sherman again dropped back, scrambled, and threw a screen pass towards Al Barnes at the sideline. As the ball traveled through the air, Memphis cornerback David Thomas, who read the play perfectly, dove in front of the pass for a interception, killing the Charlotte drive and preserving the Southmen win. In the Charlotte locker room, Coach Babe Parilli defended the pass play. "Anytime they blitz, that puts them in one-on-one coverage. We wanted them in one-on-one coverage, it just wasn't our night, "said Parilli. Linebacker Gerry Philbin also told reporters, "They didn't walk away with it. I'm sure they got their bumps and bruises. I've got to give our guys a lot of credit for playing so well. Moving down here recently, on top of this long season has made it tough. Normally, in the NFL after four and a half months, you're finished but we still have five games to go. It's grueling, long, and hard. I hope the fans appreciate what's going on- they sure seem to- and we appreciate having them."
Despite the loss to Memphis, Charlotte possessed a 9-6 won-lost record and a firm hold on second place in the WFL's Eastern Division. Over 20,000 fans (20,333) attended the clubs 27-0 rout over Chicago the following week to extend their record to 10-6. Running back Don Highsmith, an ex-Oakland Raider, scored on two touchdown runs for the Hornets.
While the transition on the field to Charlotte went smoothly there were still many other concerns on the management level. Owner Upton Bell was unsuccessful in acquiring new financing for the team. His major backer, or potential backer, Mayor John Belk was uncommitted to the project. The old creditors from the New York Stars were lining up wondering who was going to pay the $2 million in debts and the jolted Stars season ticket holders (6,000 of them) who wanted their refunds. Bell managed to hand Gary Davidson a $100,000 certified check for league assessment fees on the team from the gate receipts from the Memphis and Chicago games. Bell hoped the team could continue to draw good crowds and that local investors would materialize.
A charged crowd of 23,613 came out to see the Hornets battle the first-place Florida Blazers. Florida's stingy defense limited the Hornets to a field goal in the first quarter and a Don Highsmith 1-yard touchdown run in the third. With the Hornets ahead 11-7, the Blazers came charging back. Quarterback Bob Davis led his team on a fourth quarter drive that ended in a 8-yard touchdown pass to Jim Strong for the Blazer win. The Hornets had lost an important game, and the loss would send Charlotte into a tail spin for the remainder of the WFL season.
19,436 fans in Charlotte watched the Hornets lose to Southern California 34-25, and then the club lost on the road o Shreveport 19-14. The Hornets, inches away from the Eastern title, had now lost three in a row and were 10-9.
Despite the good attendance figures the Hornets' couldn't live on ticket sales alone. Bell attempted to put together a public stock offering to raise needed cash, but the deal fell through. He had received some financial backing from the community, but not nearly enough to continue the season. Off the field, the Hornets were struggling to put together enough cash to secure the franchise in North Carolina. Without financing, the team would have to be returned to Bob Schmertz and the franchise revoked. When the Hornets returned to the Carolinas after their loss to Shreveport their equipment was impounded. A $26,000 cleaning bill from a firm in New York had gone unpaid and sheriff's deputies seized the gear before the flight home. The players were forced to practice in shorts and T-shirts until Bell could post a bond for the equipment.
The Hornet's final game was played at Memphis' Memorial Stadium before 13,000 Grizzlies fans. The Hornets lost a close game 28-22 as wide receiver Ed Marshall caught two touchdown passes to lead the Southmen/Grizzlies. The Hornets, despite drawing good crowds, failed to play in the W.F.L. playoffs as Upton Bell called and end to their season. The team ended with a 10-10 won-lost record, and a four-game losing streak.
With the close of the WFL regular season, the Hornets, due to their 10-10 record, and despite a horrific losing streak, qualified for the WFL playoffs and were to travel to Orlando to play the Florida Blazers. On Saturday, November 16, Bell received a phone call from WFL executive committee chairman John Bassett. Bassett informed Bell that only 1,000 tickets had been sold for the Wednesday night Hornet/Blazers playoff game in Orlando and that the players could only expect a $100 payday from the gate receipts. Bassett then told Bell that the game would be canceled, and the Blazers would travel to Birmingham to play the Americans in a much more lucrative Thursday night game. Upton Bell saw the writing on the wall. Without financial backers he needed time to restructure the Hornets for the 1975 season, and he still needed cash to send to Bob Schmertz in New York City and the Hornet players had not received regular paychecks since the third week in October. John Elliott, the highest paid Hornet player, was owed $14,000 before taxes. The Holiday Inn South, also was after Bell for $13,000 in team debts. He calmly agreed with Bassett and then phoned Parilli and had the coach prepare for a team meeting.
At Belmont Abbey, the Hornets' training facility, Upton Bell addressed the entire squad. He told the players they would receive back pay from playoff receipts; a new commissioner would be selected, and new investors must be found in order to solidify the WFL for the 1975 season. Bell couldn't guarantee that there would be a 1975 season. The future of the WFL was bleak, and the Hornets season was over.
NOTE: The 1974 New York Stars team page was researched and written by Jim Cusano. This page appeared on the former World Football League Hall of Fame Website and is used with permission.
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