1975 WFL Team Pages
The Chicago Winds rose out of the ashes of the Chicago Fire when Eugene Pullano came to the forefront of the WFL franchise derby in Chicago. Tom Origers' folding of the Fire left a void in what the WFL considered one of its major markets. The Fire had drawn over 270,000 fans for 10 home games and the WFL considered it the cornerstone of its survival. Pullano was dedicated to bring a team to Chicago and made an offer to finance the operation if Memphis owner John Basset would transfer Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to the Winds. Pullano also announced that he was meeting with former NFL coach Hank Stram about the possibility of coaching the Winds. As Pullano stood in front of reporters in a pin-stripe suit and expensive jewelry and grinned when asked about the status of talks with the former Kansas City Chiefs head coach. Late in the month, in a series of meetings, Basset decided the ex-NFL stars belonged in Memphis and Hank Stram decided against the WFL.
Gene Pullano then moved to secure the rights to star quarterback Joe Namath. "Broadway Joe" had just played out his option with the New York Jets, and had thrown 26 touchdown passes for one of his best seasons in the NFL. Pullano offered Namath a four-year, $4 million dollar contract (compared to the Jets $1 million offer) and even selected the colors of green and white for his team. After a series of negotiations with Namath and his agent, Jimmy Walsh, "Broadway Joe" decided to remain in the NFL. Chicago did manage to secure the services of All-Pro wide receiver John Gilliam from the Hawaiians for $25,000. The Winds announced that their head coach would be former Stars/Hornets head coach Babe Parilli. Days prior to the start of the 1975 season, the Winds fired Parilli in a bizarre turn of events and hired former Memphis general manager Leo Cahill and former Bears coach Abe Gibron. Gene Pullano told WFL officials that he was worried the "team was too weak", and wanted to make a move to secure the Winds future in Chicago.
On the field, the Winds signed ex-NFL and former Portland Storm quarterback Pete Beathard. Beathard would join Gilliam and former Fire running backs Mark Kellar and Cyril Pinder to form what the Winds hoped would be a potent offense. Former Fire wide receivers Jack Dolbin and James Scott had departed for the NFL, and the Winds signed former New York Jet Margene Atkins and Tim Gillespie to fill the void. The offensive line was led by center Guy Murdock, who played every down for the Fire in 1974. Steve Wright came out of retirement to join the Winds and teamed with former New York Jet Doug Lowery at the guard position. The Winds signed Scottish place kicker Allan Watson, who also played for the Fire.
On defense the Winds were excited about the physical ability and shear strength of Larry Jameson. Jameson teamed with former Fire defenders Ken Sanduk, Chuck Bailey and Mick Heinrich on the defensive line. The linebacking corp was led by former Fire players Tom Roussel and Chuck Kogut, and newcomer Reggie Pleasant. The Winds secondary also had a Chicago Fire fell to it with Harry Howard, Ralph Anderson and Hal Phillips all signing with the team. The only newcomer to the defensive backfield was cornerback Willie Roberts.
As the 1975 WFL season approached, the Winds began their marketing and season ticket drive. In 1974 the Fire managed to sell 20,000 season tickets and the Winds front office was hoping for half of that amount. Pullano knew the Chicago football fans would be difficult to win over, and with the reputation of the league in question made the task harder. Weeks before the opening of the '75 season the Winds had sold only 1,600 season tickets, which accounted for about $80,000 in gross receipts.
The WFL exhibition season opened for the Winds in Chicago. On a rainy night in July, the Winds lost to the Jacksonville Express 34-23 before only 2,000 fans. Express running back Alfred Haywood punished the Winds with two touchdown runs and quarterback George Mira (formerly of the WFL champion Birmingham Americans) threw for two other scores. The Winds offense managed a late touchdown to make it a close game, but clearly some changes would be needed before the start of the '75 season.
In Greensboro, Carolina, the Winds traveled to play the Charlotte Hornets in the final exhibition game. The Hornets came away with a late victory 22-21 before an estimated crowd of 5,000. Wind running back Mark Kellar ran hard for the team, and John Gilliam had four catches to pace the offense. Winds management seemed pleased with the teams' defensive effort- an obvious area of concern.
The Chicago Winds traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to play the Vulcans in their first WFL regular season game. At Legion Field, over 21,000 fans watched as both teams battled up and down the field without scoring. Winds receiver John Gilliam was covered effectively by Vulcan cornerback Steve Williams and the Vulcan defense limited Mark Kellar to minimal yardage. In the end the Vulcans came away with a 10-0 win and the Winds traveled on to Shreveport, Louisiana.
In Shreveport, the Winds ran straight into running back Jim Nance. Nance, a veteran of the NFL who played past year for the WFL Houston Texans and the Steamer gained over 100 yards as the Steamer pounded Chicago 38-18.
In Chicago, the exploits of the Winds went relatively unnoticed. The team seldom received press from the city's major newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, and overall fan support was minimal. General Manager Leo Cahill organized a "Welcome Home Abe" promotion, to promote Winds coach Abe Gibron's return to Chicago. Each adult bringing a young fan to the game would get their child through the gate for $1.00, and the first 5,000 children would receive a free Winds T-Shirt. On a rainy night in Chicago, the Soldier Field lights cast a yellow glow onto the field as 3,502 Winds fans huddled from the elements, as their cheers echoed throughout the empty stands. On the field, the Winds, 0-2, let out a collective sigh following a heart-stopping 25-18 win over the Portland Thunder. The win snapped a fourteen-game losing streak for Chicago's World Football League entry when the old Fire whipped the Southern California Sun for its seventh win in nine games in 1974. Winds quarterback Pete Beathard brought the victory, the first ever sudden death game in Chicago, with a 28-yard touchdown pass to John Gilliam, his former teammate with the NFL's St.Louis Cardinals. The Winds veterans, Harry Howard, Mark Kellar, Tom Roussel and Mick Heinrich to name a few, were former players of the Chicago Fire and celebrated their feat with the media. "Everything Abe has been teaching us this week makes sense now," said Howard who returned an interception for 33 yards to set up a Mark Kellar touchdown run. Mick Heinrich, a defensive end who also weathered the losing string with the Fire: "Man, when I saw Pete's pass going to Gilliam in the end zone, chills went up my back. That's never happened to me before."
The Winds held off Portland and bulldozing running back Jim Evenson, who gained 161 yards on 29 carries and stopped Portland in overtime when linebacker Chuck Kogut intercepted a Don Horn pass. Chicago got a second chance and then a scrambling Beathard hit Gilliam for the score. Winds coach Abe Gibron told reporters, "You don't know how good this feels. We made some mistakes out there, but the guys played like hell. You gotta start somewhere."
The Winds prepared for their road game in Honolulu against the Hawaiians. With a 1-2 record Chicago hit the island fresh off their first win of the season. Hawaii coach Mike Giddings told reporters, "Abe Gibron is the type of head coach that produces hitters. I know they will be a tough team and with the likes of Gilliam and Beathard, they can score." On a perfect night in Hawaii, 10,313 fans moved about Halwala Stadium. On one sideline, the green and white, New York Jet-looking Winds warmed up and on the other side of the field was the hometown Hawaiians. The Winds' players were relaxed and confident; fresh off their first win of the season, and Pete Beathard threw warm-up passes behind the team bench in the reddish light of a "Sony Trinitron" sign. The excitement in the air was not only for the up-coming game but also the newest member of the WFL, Hawaii running back Duane Thomas. Thomas joined the WFL under a special one-game contract and carried the ball five times for 17 yards. On the field the Winds struck first. Wide receiver Margene Adkins, a former New York Jet, halued in a five-yard touchdown passes from Beathard to put Chicago up 7-0. The Winds followed in the second quarter with a Mike Haddox field goal for a 10-0 lead early in the second. Hawaii fought back from a AA Coppedge field goal to cut the lead to 10-3, and then Sonny Sixkiller hit Tim Delaney with a three yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 10-10. With Abe Gibron stalking the sidelines, the Winds came back again with Beathard firing short passes and moving the team down the field- Mark Kellar bulled over from three yards out for a 17-10 Chicago halftime lead. In the third quarter the Hawaiians managed a Coppedge field goal to bring the game to 17-13. Then the roof fell in on the Winds. Under the Halwala Stadium lights quarterback Sonny Sixkiller came to the line. The crowd rose in a chorus of cheers as the Hawaii signal caller dropped back, avoided the Winds rush, and threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to running back Dave Atkins for a 20-17 Hawaii lead. The Winds attempted to come back but the Hawaii defense stopped running back Mark Kellar on two tries and forced Pete Beathard to overthrow John Gilliam. With Winds' coach Abe Gibron pacing the sidelines, snorting and puffing like an old bull, the Hawaiians got ready to shoot out the lights on the Midwesterners. Sixkiller again dropped back and from behind perfect protection spotted receiver Tim Delaney cutting into the center of the field and then, suddenly, cut out to the corner of the end zone. Sixkiller threw a perfect pass to Delaney, who was behind Harry Howard, for a Hawaii touchdown. The Hawaiians defeated Chicago 28-17.
The Winds traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to play the Southmen and their heralded trio of Csonka, Kiick and Warfield. At Memorial Stadium, the Southmen routed Chicago 31-7. Chicago's defense was helpless against the passing of Memphis quarterback John Huarte, and the Winds offense couldn't get anything started. Memphis went 99 yards in eight plays as Huarte hit receiver Ed Marshall for a touchdown with 8:25 remaining in the first quarter. Danny White replaced Huarte and tore apart the Winds secondary for two touchdowns, as Memphis led 22-7 at halftime. Chicago fell to 1-4.
Back in Chicago the team prepared for a home game against the Southern California Sun. Owner Gene Pullano and General Manager Leo Cahill worked on improving the team and gaining support for the club. Then the final curtain fell. On September 11, 1975 the Chicago Tribune reported......."WFL TOSSES OUT WINDS FOR SHORTAGE OF MONEY". It was reported that two of the Winds' investors had withdrawn a total of $175,000 that they had on deposit with the league when ownership documents were not finalized. Pullano pleaded for time to raise new investors for the Winds but the WFL, shaken by scandal in '74, quickly moved to disband the franchise rather than suffer more bad press.
Winds General Manager Leo Cahill gathered the Winds players together at their Des Plaines office on Tuesday morning to let them know of the WFL's decision. Formal notice that the franchise had been revoked had come from WFL commissioner Chris Hemmeter in New York. Hemmeter said the WFL governors voted to oust the Winds at a lengthy meeting after two investors withdrew their backing. Hemmeter said the move left the Winds below the capitalization limits under the so-called "Hemmeter Plan", a stringent financial setup. "The revocation of the Chicago franchise is an example of the true strength of the Hemmeter Plan in action," said the commissioner. "The plan does not allow any team, irrespective of the size of its market, to vary from the precepts agreed to by all members."
Many of the Winds players were dispersed throughout the WFL in a draft, with priority going to the Portland Thunder and the Philadelphia Bell. Winds fullback Mark Kellar, who kept muttering, "I thought this season would be different, really I did." was drafted by the San Antonio Wings. Quarterback Pete Beathard and ALL-Pro wide receiver John Gilliam were both selected by the Philadelphia Bell. Gilliam, the WFL's leading receiver, was not bound to move to another WFL team. He was given an extra $25,000 to allow his contract to be assigned to Chicago from Hawaii. Winds played mulled around the offices at Des Plaines, trying to contact their new teams, or phoning home, before Cahill told them he would advise them what to do the next day. Cahill pledged to find new investors for the team before leaving for Canada.
Winds coach Abe Gibron was more stunned. He learned of the league's decision from the equipment man, and then left for his hometown of Michigan City, Indiana.
Chicago's problem was in its basic internal structure, according to Hemmeter. Because of continuing difficulties surrounding partnership arrangements, two investors pulled out. When Pullano petitioned the WFL for more time to locate new funding, the WFL refused and voted 10-1 (with only the Winds in the minority) to disband the franchise. The WFL had its first victim of the '75 season.
Birmingham Vulcans: LB Van DeCree, WR Tim Gillespie, DT Mark Ilgrenfritz, DB Richard Marks.
Charlotte Hornets: C Mike Botts, DB Harry Howard, RB Matthew Williams
Hawaiians: TE Don Burchfield, RB David Gagnon, P/K Earl Sark
Jacksonville Express: OT Tom Forrest, TE Fred Pagac, DB Bill West, DB Russell Williams
Philadelphia Bell: QB Pete Beathard, WR John Gilliam, OT Steve Kinney, RB Cyril Pinder, LB Tom Roussel, DT Ken Sanduk, LB Clyde Simonton, LB David Smith, OG Mike Wilson
Memphis Southmen: LB Rich Griffith, LB Larry Shorty
San Antonio Wings: WR Margene Atkins, DE Chuck Bailey, DE Larry Jameson, RB Mark Kellar, DT Bill Line, DB Hal Phillips
Shreveport Steamer: DE Alan Aldrich, DT Ron Curl, C Guy Murdock, DB Charlie Reamon, DB Walter Rhone
Southern California Sun: OG Mike Hoban, OT Al Jenkins, LB Chuck Kogut
NOTE: The 1975 Chicago Winds 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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