1974 WFL Team Pages
Southern California Sun
The Southern California Sun was created in 1974, when Larry G. Hatfield purchased a World Football League franchise for the Los Angeles area. One of the league’s original franchises, the Southern California franchise announced its birth along side the other original W.F.L. franchises; New York, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Memphis, Mexico City, Philadelphia, Birmingham and Hawaii. Prior to the season many of the WFL franchises transferred, but the Sun worked on cultivating a strong club and front office.
Larry Hatfield, a trucking tycoon, secured financial assistance from International House of Pancakes millionaire Al Lapin. Hatfield hired Curly Morrison to be the Suns’ General Manager, signed a lease to play games at Anaheim Stadium and hired head coach Tom Fears. Tom Fears was an All-American end in 1946-47, then spent nine years with the Los Angeles Rams. In 1948, he was the leading NFL receiver and won Rookie of the Year honors. In 1949, he led the NFL again and broke Don Hudson's record with 77 receptions and was named All-Pro. In 1950, he was again the NFL's leading receiver and broke his own record with 88 receptions and set the record for most receptions in a single game with 18. He joined the Green Bay Packers in 1959, and then came back to coach the Rams as an assistant in 1960-61. In 1968 he became the head coach of the expansion New Orleans Saints. Tom Fears was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970. Fears' coaching staff consisted of; Babe Dimancheff (Offensive Coordinator), Earl Leggett (Defensive Line), Ernie Wheelwright (Backfield Coach), Ed Cody (Defensive Coordinator), Tom Baldwin (Special Teams), Dick Enright (Offensive Line), Gerry Okuneff (Director of Player Personnel), Jack Rockwell (Head Trainer) and Chuck Ziober (Equipment Manager).
In a major move for the club and the league, Hatfield and Morrison announced the signing of UCLA star running backs’ James Mc Alister and Kermit Johnson, and the signing of USC guard Booker Brown. The signing of the three local college stars gained the Sun instant media exposure and aided in promoting the team. On the eve of the '74 season, the Sun had 20,000 season ticket subscribers.
Curly Morrison and Tom Fears signed 25 of the Sun's 36 draft choices, plus many free agents and current NFL players for the 74 and upcoming 1975 seasons. The Sun offensive leader was rookie quarterback Tony Adams. Adams, from Utah State, set a NCAA single game passing record in 1972 with 561 yards against Utah. Kermit Johnson and James Mc Alister gave the Sun a solid running game. Johnson led the Pacific 8 Conference in rushing with 1129 yards and McAlister, the Sun’s first round draft choice, added 714 yards. Alonzo Emery, another rookie added depth at half back. The Sun receivers were led by ex-Pittsburgh Steeler and St.Louis Cardinal Dave Williams, Iowa State rookie Ike Harris and Terry Lindsey. Protecting Adams, and opening holes for the rushing game were draft choice Booker Brown, 13-year NFL veteran Joe Carollo, Ed Kezirian, USC's Mike Ryan, Steve Gunther and Stanford center Bill Reid.
The Sun defense was be led by linebackers Cleveland Vann, Charles DeJurnett and Tim Guy. The team also signed NFL veterans Dave Roller (formerly of the New York Giants) and Jim Baker. Southern California’s defensive secondary consisted of UCLA defensive back Jim Bright, Oregon back Jack Connors, Jim Bowman and Eric Johnson.
As the Sun went through their preseason workouts at the University of California at Irvine, Tom Fears and his staff evaluated talent and put together a playbook. The sound of hitting pads, shouts, whistles, and "come on", "hit him", "GO GO GO!" echoed through the facility. By late June the Southern California Sun had taken shape. After scheduling some controlled scrimmages against the Hawaiians, Tom Fears felt his team was ready- the Sun was a very young team, but also a very good team.
The Sun traveled to the Bible belt and the heart of football country, Birmingham, Alabama, for their first WFL contest. Over 50,000 fans in Birmingham’s Legion Field cheered on their Americans as the Sun dropped a close game 11-7. Despite the loss, Coach Tom Fears praised his defense for its hard work throughout the game. Down 8-7 with 3:25 left, the Sun coach elected to throw on fourth-and-one from the Sun 15, and after the pass fell incomplete, the Americans added a field goal. Before the Sun melted in the heat (80 degrees) and humidity (above 90%), Adams hit James McAlister with a 70-yard bomb to set up Kermit Johnson’s 1-yard touchdown run. Adams played well for the Sun except for a sideline pass that was intercepted by Steve Williams and returned for the lone Birmingham touchdown.
The Sun returned to their native California for their first game against the Hawaiians. The front office had done an excellent job in promoting the WFL debut in the Los Angeles area. Sun coach Tom Fears and his players worked through the teams' playbook and tried to prepare an offense that lacked punch in Birmingham. The Sun held their home opener before 32,088 fans at Anaheim Stadium against the Hawaiians and the featured a nine-touchdown explosion as Southern California won 38-31. The Sun built a 23-0 lead before the Hawaiians rallied back, scoring all their points in the wild fourth quarter. The Sun won the war of stats with 375 yards to Hawaii's 259.
As the WFL celebrated its successful inaugural week of games, the Sun, with a 1-1 record, prepared to play the Jacksonville Sharks in Jacksonville, Florida. The Sharks were a young team led by quarterback Kay Stephenson and former University of Florida running back Tommy Durrance. The Sharks defense had delivered a win against the New York Stars on national television and the Sun prepared for a straight-ahead, tough, football game.
Under the lights of the Gator Bowl, 40,000 southern Florida football fans watched in awe as a last-second touchdown pass from Tony Adams to Dave Williams gave the Sun a 22-19 victory. The winning score came with seven seconds left on the clock and the Sun trailing 19-15, Adams threw a 40-yard "Hail Mary" pass that Williams hauled in over Shark defensive back Jerry Davis. Shark coach Bud Asher stood in disbelief as the Sun bench erupted after the score- the Sun was 2-1.
The Sun slowed down the WFL's second ranked offense to a crawl but still lost to the New York Stars 11-8. Southern California slipped to 2-3 on the season before a paid crowd of 27,873 fans in Anaheim. New York sprung out of their offensive doldrums with a fourth quarter 86-yard touchdown march that was executed sharply by quarterback Tom Sherman. Sherman, dropping back to avoid the Sun rush, hit a wide open Bert Askson down the middle for a 40-yard touchdown and a 11-8 lead. The Stars winning drive began at New York's 14 yard line and Sherman began in swift action, hitting receiver George Sauer for 16 yards to the 30, and then Al Young for 12 more. Stars running back Ed White ripped off a 9-yard run through the Sun's left side to the Southern California 49. On the next play, Sherman scrambled away from Sun linebacker Jim Baker to the 40 to set up the winning pass. Despite the loss, the Sun outgained New York 277 yards to 231. The Stars stopped two late Sun drives when linebacker Tom Chandler sacked Tony Adams on a fourth-and-three play, and then again when Star James Sims, a former USC star, sacked Adams with 1:17 left in the game. Sun coach Tom Fears was speechless except for one lone quote to reporters, "We were great between the twenties but then we'd have screw-ups."
The offense was still trying to come together with a backfield that consisted of all rookie players; Tony Adams, quarterback; James Mc Alister and Kermit Johnson, running backs. The Sun rebounded in the Houston Astrodome beating the Texans 18-7, and then defeated Philadelphia (31-28).
Eight weeks into the WFL season the Sun finally presented coach Tom Fears with a breather after winning three games in the final minutes. The Sun geared up an offensive juggernaut and routed the Portland Storm 45-15 before 27,814 fans in Anaheim and improved their record to 3-3. Tony Adams ripped Portland apart hitting 12 of 13 passes for 166 yards in the first half. He threw three touchdowns before sitting out the game in place of backup Gary Valbuena. The Sun gained only fine yards on the ground in the first half as Adams put on his aerial show. Jim Baker and Dave Roller bulldogged Strom running backs Marv Kendricks and Rufus Ferguson all night and limited the Storm to minimal yardage.
With a 5-3 record the Sun hosted the Chicago Fire. Head coach Tom Fears knew the key to the game would be the Sun pass rush. Linebackers Jim Baker, Eric Patton, Ken Lee and Jim Buckmon would have to crash the Chicago offensive line. Fear knew defensive backs Gene Howard, Durwood Keeton, Jim Bowman and Eric Johnson would have a busy night if Fire quarterback Virgil Carter got into a rhythm with receivers James Scott and Jack Dolbin.
27,133 fans at Anaheim Stadium watched as Virgil Carter completed 10 of 16 passes in the first half and led Chicago to a 25-15 lead on touchdown passes to James Scott, Jim Seymour and Jack Dolbin. The Sun, in first place in the West, succumbed to the early Fire lead and lost to Chicago 32-22. Forced to play inexperienced units due to injuries, the Sun fell to Virgil Carters’ passing. The Chicago offensive line of Al Jenkins, Dave Bradley, Guy Murdock, Mike Sikich and Steve Wright provided blocking for Carters’ aerial assault. Fire running back Mark Kellar also ran for 118 yards. Kellar, who ran like a 22-year old Jim Taylor, charged into the Sun line like a bull and enabled Chicago to control possession of the ball in the second half. In the third quarter, the Fire defense anchored by linebackers Rudy Kuechenberg and Ron Porter shot down Sun quarterback Tony Adams on six consecutive series. Chicago tackle Chuck Bailey was another key figure sacking Adams twice. Coach Tom Fears used running back James Mc Alister, but he still appeared hampered by a thigh injury that kept him out of the Portland game. Fears told reporters after the loss to the Fire, "Carter was the difference. He kept getting them out of trouble. Our quarterback played well, but our receivers missed a couple of key passes."
After the Fire contest the Sun looked at a schedule crunch that had them playing at Detroit on a Friday, and then in Chicago for a rematch against the Fire on the following Wednesday. The loss to Chicago dropped the Sun to 5-4.
Ypsilanti, Michigan was located about 40 miles outside of Detroit. Rynearson Stadium, on the campus of Eastern Michigan University, was the home of the lowly Detroit Wheels, a team that had posted a 0-9 record in the young WFL season and was besieged by numerous financial problems.
Under the stadium lights, the sounds of football echoed through empty stands as the Sun and the Wheels went through their pregame warm-ups. The players gazed up to the seats and didn't see one single person. Many of the Sun players wondered if anyone would show up at all. At game time, the Wheels announced a crowd of 6,351- although many reporters claimed it couldn't have been more than 2,000. Southern California got on the scoreboard first when Ron Svarc, a former San Diego Charger, kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. It was only the second successful field goal in ten attempts for the Sun all season.
The Sun and the Wheels played uninspired football until the third quarter when Detroit's Dave Walker intercepted an Adams pass at the Sun 31 to set up a touchdown for the Wheels. From the 31 it took six plays to reach the end zone, with running back Sam Scarber scrambling the last 19 yards with 11:11 left in the period. Detroit led 7-3.
From the Sun 33 with 10:55 left to play in the fourth period, Adams finally mounted a touchdown drive that decided the game. Adams passed to Ike Harris for 39 yards and a first down on the Detroit 37. On fourth down, and seven, Adams, connected again with Dave Williams for a first down on the 24. Then Adams dropped back and hit James Mc Alister, who was all alone at the goal line, for the touchdown to cap a 12-play, 67-yard drove. Southern California defeated Detroit 10-7. The Sun defense limited Detroit quarterback Bruce Shaw to one of eight completions, and the Sun outgained the Wheels 314 yards to 165.
At the midpoint of the WFL season, with a 6-4 record, the Southern California Sun went on a seven game winning streak that would put them in sole possession of first place in the WFL Western Division. The first game of the winning streak was a rematch in Chicago against the Fire. The Sun, playing their second game in eight days, shocked Chicago when wide receiver Keith Dennison, acquired from the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, caught a pass diving over defensive back Ralph Anderson, for the winning score on the last play of the game. The Sun defeated Chicago 31-28.
While the Sun was enjoying its victory over Chicago, owner Larry Hatfield (the Sun owner) was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury. The indictment alleged that on February 27, 1974, Hatfield submitted false financial statements to a Santa Ana bank to obtain a $365,000 loan to get the team off the ground. It was further noted that Hatfield reportedly over estimated his net worth by $ 250,000. These allegations were later proven false but the NFL spin doctors were able to get the story in print.
While the Sun owner battled the courts, the Sun team battled the hapless Detroit Wheels. 22,143 watched as the Sun won for the second straight time on the last play of the game, defeating Detroit 29-24. The engineer of the victory wasn’t Tony Adams but backup quarterback Gary Valbuena. Valbuena drove the Sun 64 yards on three plays and hit ex-NFLer Dick Witcher with a pass that won the game. It was Witchers’ first catch since joining the Sun, and the previous week against Chicago, Keith Dennison’s catch for a winning touchdown was also his first.
On September 25, 1974 the Sun hosted the Jacksonville Sharks. The World Football League continued to suffer from bad press and the Sharks were dealing with huge financial troubles. Earlier in the week, the Jacksonville players, represented by quarterback/lawyer Kim Hammond, refused to make the trip to the west coast unless the league brought the team's back pay current. During a conference call with Hammond, WFL Commissioner Gary Davidson promised the Sharks a payday if they traveled to Los Angeles for the game. The players had threatened to travel to the stadium and then picket outside the stadium until they were paid three weeks of back pay. Davidson eventually came up with a games’ salary (about $150 per player).
The Sharks came to Anaheim with a 4-8 record, after suffering heartbreaking losses to Philadelphia, Birmingham, Southern California and Chicago. Jacksonville came into the game without their number one wide receiver Drew Buie who fractured his hip and linebacker Glen Gaspard.
The Sun roared out to a 46-0 lead and then romped Jacksonville 57-7 for their fourth straight win, and their eight win in nine games. The rout, witnessed by 22,017 fans, was the widest margin of victory in thirteen weeks of WFL play. Tom Fears quarterbacks, Tony Adams and Gary Valbuena, threw strikes all night long and wore out the Sharks' secondary early. Late in the second half, when the Sun scored on four of six possessions, Jacksonville was all but helpless. The Sun gained 549 yards, and recorded 23 first downs. Quarterback Tony Adams completed 12 of 21 passes for 244 yards; Valbuena completed 6 of 10 for 107 yards.
The Sun continued to blaze, and find a way to win. Southern California defeated the Portland Storm with 1:56 left to play as Tony Adams hit Keith Dennison with a touchdown pass for a 26-22 win and then defeated Shreveport in a close game 25-23. Southern California stood at 11-4.
October 16, 1974 saw a rematch of WFL superpowers- the Birmingham Americans and the Southern California Sun. The two teams faced each other during the first week of the season and the Americans came up with a 11-7 win. American quarterback, George Mira, brought 11-years of experience to the team, and his backup was the exciting Matthew Reed who had pulled out more than one victory in his time.
25,247 fans sounded like 200,000 as the Sun parlayed two third quarter touchdowns into a 29-25 win over Birmingham. Quarterback Tony Adams went over the 3,000-yard mark completing 20 of 30 for 316 yards and one touchdown. Wide receivers Ike Harris and Dave Parks had their best nights with 173 yards. The Sun's two third quarter touchdown marches, measuring 62 and 72 yards, were pass orientated. Sun linebacker, Dave Roller, a Sun fan favorite, ended the game with 14 tackles and two sacks- one coming at 3:45 left to play when Roller slammed American quarterback Matthew Reed to the Anaheim Stadium turf.
The Western Division belonged to the Southern California Sun. The Sun, owners of a 12-4 record, were looking over their shoulders at runner-up Shreveport at 6-9-1. Media and league officials wondered if the Sun would experience a late-season let down due to their large lead in the Division. Sun coach Tom Fears promised that there would be no letdown from his club- he was almost right.
The Philadelphia Bell, led by King Corcoran, visited Anaheim Stadium and destroyed the Sun 45-7. The game was fairly close until Corcoran rallied the Bell for 31 fourth quarter points to win. The Sun continued to melt. Despite a 34-25 victory over Charlotte, the Sun dropped a 29-8 game to Hawaii.
28,213 fans and a national television audience rocked Anaheim Stadium for the Sun's final home game of the 1974 WFL season. As the two first place teams took to the field, the lights went up and at center stage was Blazer rookie linebacker Eddie Sheats. Sheats, in the final minutes of the game, intercepted a Tony Adams pass to kill a Sun drive and then blocked a Norm Hainlen punt to set up a Dave Strock winning field goal as the Blazers won 27-24.
The mood around the Sun front offices was optimistic. Dark clouds surrounded the WFL and the playoffs. The Florida Blazers, winners of the WFL East, were without ownership and hadn't received regular paychecks since August. Runner-up Charlotte, losers of four-in-a-row, were strapped of cash and team president Upton Bell was looking to turn his back on the playoffs and restructure for 1975. Chicago, Portland, Shreveport and Hawaii were all in trouble, and league officials were seriously considering cancelling the playoffs and naming the Memphis Southmen champions of the 1974 season. In a league meeting, Birmingham, Southern California, Florida and Philadelphia all agreed to participate in the playoff games despite the fact that many of the players may only receive $200 for their efforts.
Off the field, Sun owner Larry Hatfield had missed the teams’ payday and was scrambling for financing to help his franchise. The Sun had averaged about 25,000 a game, near the top of the WFL, but still the debts kept mounting for the bewildered Sun owner. After the news broke to the team, the Sun was notified by league officials that they would host the Hawaiians in the first round of the WFL playoffs. Advance ticket sales were disappointing. Many team officials claimed the league hadn’t given them enough advance notice to promote and advertise the games. Sun officials announced that only 10,000 tickets had been sold prior to the game.
On game day, the Sun was dealt another huge blow when their three star rookies, James Mc Alister, Kermit Johnson and Booker Brown announced that they would not play in the match against Hawaii. Agent Mike Trope claimed that due to Hatfield missing a payday, the contracts of the three players had been violated, making them free agents and free to go to the NFL..
The trials and tribulations of the 1974 WFL season came crashing down on the field of Anaheim Stadium. Hawaiians quarterback Randy Johnson threw two touchdown passes and Al Davis ran for another as the much improved Hawaiians routed Southern California 32-14. Sun quarterbacks' Tony Adams and Gary Valbuena outdistanced Johnson in yardage 361-148, but the Hawaiians' secondary helped out the cause with four interceptions.
"It sure as hell didn't help any not having Kermit and Booker." said Sun coach Tom Fears.
Dave Roller, the Sun's star defensive tackle added, "If management had done their part, we would have gone all the way. You can't win if you can't concentrate and you can't concentrate if you don't get paid."
As the final seconds ticked away, the sun set on Southern California’s season and many of the 11,430 fans at Anaheim Stadium wondered if it was the last for the team and the WFL.
NOTE: The 1974 Southern California Sun team page was researched and written by Jim Cusano. This page appeared on the former World Football League Hall of Fame Website and is used with permission.
© Copyright 1982-2015 Richie Franklin, Jim Cusano, Greg Allred, and WFL Films, All Rights Reserved
© Copyright 1996-2007 Robert Phillips, All Rights Reserved