1975 WFL Team Pages
In 1974, the World Football League announced it would be part of the international sports scene. From the Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles, Gary Davidson announced the creation of a "world" league with franchises that would be located in far-away places like Tokyo, London and Tel Aviv. As the flash bulbs went off and the microphones captured every word from the WFL commissioner, optimism glittered like the streets of gold.
Although the WFL didnít make it to the shores of Japan, Europe or Great Britain, the league did establish a franchise on the exotic island outpost of Hawaii.
Hawaii real estate developer Chris Hemmeter and associate Sam Battistone assembled an investment group that purchased a WFL franchise, located it in Honolulu, and named it the Hawaiians. The tropical setting of Hawaii was appealing to many NFL veterans as the Hawaiians signed Calvin Hill, Ted Kwalick, Randy Johnson, John Gilliam and many other players for future delivery in 1975. Many NFL veterans, such as Randy Johnson and running back Vin Clements were released by their NFL clubs and joined the team late in the 1974 season.
In 1974, the Hawaiians ventured into the world of professional football. Despite a 1-7 record after eight games, the Hawaiians rebounded to go 8-4 and clinch a playoff spot. Led by quarterback and NFL veteran Randy Johnson, running back Vin Clements, wide receiver Tim Delaney the offense began steamrollering WFL defenses. On the defensive side of the ball, Levi Stanley, Lem Burnham, Karl Lorch and Ron East formed a fearsome defensive line that victimized WFL offenses. Hawaii routed Southern California 32-14 in the first round of the WFL playoffs before bowing to the soon-to-be WFL champion Birmingham Americans 22-19.
Financially, the Hawaiians barely survived the Ď74 WFL season. The high cost of travel to and from the mainland, the extended costs of accommodations and the uncertainty surrounding the league put an incredible strain on the financial structure of the team. Despite having one of the WFLís soundest ownership groups, the Hawaiiansí lost $3.2 million their first season- almost three times what the ownership group had projected.
1975 offered much promise for the "islanders". The WFL reorganized and was now headed by former Hawaii owner Chris Hemmeter. Edward Sultan Jr., a Hawaii jewel merchant took control of the Hawaii franchise as Hemmeter moved into the WFL offices in New York City. Sultan hired George Najarian as the Director of Player Personnel, and re-hired head coach Mike Giddings. Giddings hired Billy Wilson, Ed Peasley, Damon Bame and Marv Marinovich as assistant coaches, and selected John Wilbur, Chuck Detwiler and Adrian Young as player coaches.
As the Hawaiians prepared for the 1975 season, Edward Sultan and his front office staff looked ahead to the season with great optimism. NFL star running back Calvin Hill, the former Dallas Cowboy, arrived in camp in great shape and was leading the team through two-a-day workouts. The Hawaiians other premier signings, wide receiver John Gilliam and tight end Ted Kwalick, were allocated to the Chicago Winds and the Philadelphia Bell in a plan to distribute the premier players in the league. Hawaii received an undisclosed amount of cash from Bell owner John Bosacco and $100,000 from Chicago Winds owner Gene Pullano. WFL commissioner Chris Hemmeter thought that Gilliam in Chicago and former Penn State star Ted Kwalick in Philadelphia would help promote ticket sales in those cities.
The 1975 preseason opened with the Hawaiians facing the Charlotte Hornets on a warm tropical night in Honolulu.
Hawaiian head coach Mike Giddings told reporters during pre-game warm-ups, "I play every game to win. But the fans need to take into consideration that pre-season games as used primarily to evaluate personnel. This game is extremely important to the coaching staff because several major decisions must be made during this period."
The first priority for the Hawaiians was quarterback. The loss of 1974 star signal caller Randy Johnson to the NFLís Green Bay Packers put a heavy burden on the offensive squad. Giddings brought in journeymen Rick Cassata and Sonny Sixkiller to lead the squad. Rick Cassata brought six years of proven experience from the CFL and was the Ottawa Rough Riders most valuable player in the 1973 championship game. A athlete with tremendous ability, Cassata played out his option and signed with the Hawaiians. Cassata was scrambler, who liked to take off with the ball, and had an excellent arm and was also a great leader on the field.
Sonny Sixkiller, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, arrived in the Hawaiians camp and immediately showed the coaching staff he could throw the ball- and throw it well. Sixkiller spent time with the Los Angeles Rams and Toronto Argonauts, before a brief stint with the Philadelphia Bell. Wayne Estabrook, a backup in Southern California in 1974, was also vying for a position on the team. Whoever would win the quarterback job would have the leagueís top pass catcher to throw to, in wide receiver Tim Delaney, a second year man out of San Diego State. Grady Richardson would line-up on the other side of the field as the teamís other wide receiver.
The Hawaiians sported NFL star Calvin Hill in the backfield and NFL veteran Vince Clements. The loss of 1974 leading rusher Ernie OíLeary would leave the team short on depth, but coach Mike Giddings hoped that Clayton Heath would shore up the need for additional runners.
Opening holes for Calvin Hill and Vince Clements would be 13-year NFL veteran Jim Cadile, guard Cornelius Johnson, and 10-year NFL veteran John Wilbur. Bob Richards would be the teamís starting right tackle. The Hawaiians were trying to solve a question mark at offensive left tackle. Pete Solverson and Ken Lawyer were fighting it out for starting position. The starting center was Ken Bowman who played for the Green Bay Packers during Super Bowl II.
Defensively, the interior line would be sound with Karl Lorch, Levi Stanley and Lem Burnham. The left tackle slot was left vacant with the departure of veteran Ron East, and Rich Watkins and Fred Weber were gunning for the starting spot. Adrian Young was the weak side linebacker, and lined up with Jim Sniadecki and Frank Johnson.
Prior to the kickoff, Mike Giddings, surrounded by the press, added, "The Charlotte Hornets donít seem to have any name players, but they were a solid team last year and there is no reason to believe they will be any different tonight. Head Coach Bob Gibson has a fine coaching staff and I know that they are coming to play."
The Hawaiians had a successful opening to their 1975 pre-season with a resounding 32-14 win over the Hornets. Over 16,000 fans filled the ancient stands of Honolulu Stadium- many straining for a glimpse of NFL star running back Calvin Hill. Hill, carried the ball 10 times for 46 yards, and added a two yard touchdown plunge in the second quarter- much to the delight of the Hawaii fans.
"We made enough mistakes to last a season," said Mike Giddings after the game. "But itís nice to win."
"Iíve got to do better than that," said Hill after the game. "Iím still not seeing a lot of stuff I should. I have to get adjusted to the offensive line- Iím still used to the Cowboys."
On a rainy night in Jacksonville, Florida, the Hawaiians took on the Express in front of 8,222 fans at the Gator Bowl. Going into their second, and last, pre-season game Hawaii lost to Jacksonville 19-7, in an uninspired performance.
"Weíre optimistic about our running game and Calvinís progress," said Giddings. "We need to capitalize on what the defense gives us. We should score more than 7 points a game; we need to score more than 7 points a game."
The Hawaiians opened the 1975 WFL regular season in Philadelphia. The game was held at Philadelphiaís Franklin Field on a clear night. The game was historical not only for the appearance of Calvin Hill for the Hawaiians, but also for standing across the field, Philadelphia Bell coach Willie Wood- the first black head coach in the history of pro football. Prior to the game, Giddings walked around the field and the Hawaiians went through their warm-ups, the players gazed up into the multitude of empty seats. If this was the debut of the WFL in Philadelphia, then Philadelphia didnít do much to take notice. As the fans began to stagger in, the teams went to their locker rooms. 2,732 fans ventured into the city of Philadelphia to witness the game that was billed as Calvin Hillís WFL debut, and the Bell prepared a very unfriendly welcome.
Paced by two touchdowns by Philadelphia quarterback Jim "King" Corcoran (who completed 13 of 25 passes for 212 yards), one to tight end Ted Kwalick, the former San Francisco 49er, and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ron Holliday, the Bell stormed out to a 18-8 lead in the third quarter. Mike Giddings decided to turn to his second quarterback, Sonny Sixkiller to replace Rick Cassata. Sixkillerís first possession with the offense turned to three-and-out as the Bell defense overwhelmed the Hawaiians. Two handoffs to Clayton Heath and Calvin Hill went nowhere as the Hawaii runners were buried by Don Ratliff and Louis Ross for minimal yards. Then, with Giddings sending in the plays, Sixkiller dropped back and threw to his right where receiver Tim Delaney was covered closely by Bell cornerback Bill Craven- the pass fell incomplete.
Philadelphia then continued where they left off. Moving the ball at will, "King" Corcoran marched the Bell down field to the 30 where the drive stalled. A third-and-four pass play to tight end Ted Kwalick was batted down at the line and Willie Wood sent in kicker Bob Cooper. Cooper split the uprights to give the hometown team a commanding 21-8 lead.
On the sidelines Mike Giddings tried to rally the Hawaiians. There was plenty of time left to put points on the scoreboard, and with kicker A.A. Coppedge a long field goal to win the game was not out of the question.
Sonny Sixkiller quietly went to work. With Calvin Hill pounding inside between the Philadelphia tackles, and Vince Clements and Clayton Heath running outside, Hawaii slowly started to move the ball downfield. Sixkiller found an open Tim Delaney at the Philadelphia 11, where three plays later the Ďislandersí closed to within 21-15 on a Clayton Heath two-yard touchdown run. Hawaii had found new hope for the victory.
The Hawaii defense rose to meet the challenge. Blitzing linebackers, using double coverage schemes, the Hawaiians collapsed the Philadelphia offensive line that had protected "King" Corcoran throughout the night. As the Hawaiians silenced Corcoranís arm- the Bell offense grew silent. With less than two minutes remaining, the Bell punted the ball and set the stage for a last Hawaii attempt at a win.
Sonny Sixkiller stood calmly on the sidelines as Giddings directed the plays for the drive, "Take what they give you. If thereís pressure, roll out, look for the back, throw it away if you have toÖÖweíve got plenty of time."
Sixkiller ran out onto the field and the Ďislanders" began a late-game scoring march. With Sixkiller rolling right to avoid the rush, he completed short passes to Calvin Hill and Vin Clements, gaining precious yardage as the clock ticked down. Aided by an off-side call and pass interference play the Hawaiians moved to the Bell 16 with: 38 remaining. The 1,500 Bell fans still in attendance were on their feet as the tension hung like the late-night mist caught in the Franklin Field lights. Looking over the Bell defense, Sixkiller caught a glimpse of Bell linebacker Tim Rossovich moving up to the line- "BLITZ" thought Sixkiller. With the snap of the ball, Sonny Sixkiller took two quick steps back and threw the ball deep into the Philadelphia end zone, where Tim Delaney, running a crossing pattern made an incredible diving catch to haul in the pass for the touchdown. Seconds later referee John Holden walked over to the yellow flag on the field and signaled Hawaiian Dave Olerich for a holding penalty which nullified the touchdown- the Hawaii bench was stunned, the Philadelphia bench celebrated- Philadelphia won 21-15.
Despite losing by a penalty, the Hawaiians played a hard fought game. Calvin Hill blitzed the Philadelphia defense for 132 yards on 32 carries and Sonny Sixkiller played a hard game and proved to the coaching staff that he could lead the team back from a deficit. All the team could do was look towards their next game in Portland, and improve on the mistakes they had made in Philadelphia.
"Itís tough to lose a game like this," said Mike Giddings in the hallway outside the Hawaii locker room. "We played well enough to win. Calvin ran hard, and I thought the defense played well. We just came up short tonight."
Portland, Oregon. The Hawaiians came to the Pacific Northwest to face their divisional rivals the Portland Thunder. Portland, who lost their opening game in Southern California 21-15, featured explosive running back Rufus Ferguson, who rushed for 1,086 yards in 1974, and veteran quarterback Don Horn formerly of the Green Bay Packers.
Portland Thunder head coach Greg Barton told radio listeners before the game, "I know a lot about Calvin Hill. Heís a kind of big Anthony Davis. All weíve got to do is buckle up for another game against Anthony Davis- except this week heís 45 pounds heavier. If Hill carries the ball 30 times against us, like he did in Philadelphia, weíve got to be prepared for a physical game."
The contest between the Hawaiians and the Thunder was physical, but mostly it would be marred by mistakes and turnovers, and a last second sigh of relief from the Hawaii sideline.
Before a Portland crowd of 7,709, the Hawaiians took every opportunity the Thunder gave them and turned those opportunities into points on the Civic Stadium scoreboard. Hawaii defenders were chasing down Thunder quarterback Don Horn when he fumbled, not once but twice on his scramble, and Hawaii recovered. Four plays later, Rick Cassata hit Dave Atkinson for a 15-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead. With the Portland defense stopping the Hawaii running attack, Giddings sent in Sonny Sixkiller to open up the offense. Despite this move it was the Hawaii defense that set up the next opportunity. Thunder quarterback Don Horn fumbled a snap and Hawaii linebacker Lem Burnham recovered. At the Portland 20, Hawaii ran two running plays and then Sixkiller hit Grady Richardson from eight yards out for a 17-7 lead.
The stunned Portland crowd finally had something to cheer about when Don Horn hit Jim Krieg with a 39-yard touchdown pass to make it Hawaii 17, Portland 14 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Hawaii defense came up big on another play. Thunder running back Rufus Ferguson took a Don Horn handoff, cut right, followed blocker Mike Askea on the sweep. Then, like a bullet, Hawaii cornerback Willie Williams hit Ferguson and the ball went flying. Hawaii safety Phil Andre picked up the ball and raced 43 yards down the sideline for a commanding 24-14 Hawaii lead. Sonny Sixkiller, further cementing his starting quarterback position, ran across the goal line for the all-important action point, to make it 25-14 Hawaii. Portland coach Greg Barton was beside himself- 21 points on turnovers, and his team was scrambling.
The Hawaiians and Thunder entered a third quarter slugfest that surrendered only to a Don Warner 25-yard field goal to make the score Hawaii 25, Portland 17. In the fourth it was more of the same. Neither team could run the ball against the defenses, and the short passing game was yielding the only real yardage.
Trailing 25-17, within five minutes left in the game, the Thunder marched 35 yards to the Hawaii 12. The Portland crowd rose to its feet- 7,000 sounding like 100,000 and letting out a boom that could be heard throughout the Northwest Cascades. Don Horn broke the huddle. The veteran looked over the Hawaii defense, calling out the signals. On the sideline Thunder Coach Greg Barton and Hawaii coach Mike Giddings hung in silence on the play. "Down, shouted Horn.ĒSet", "Hike"- the lines crashed, Horn scrambled right, set his footing, and threw to an open Bob Christensen- TOUCHDOWN PORTLAND! The crowd exploded like thunder.
Hawaii 25, Portland 24. The teams lined up for the important action point with time ticking down. Don Horn came to the line. He took the snap, scrambling right and threw to a wide open Rufus Ferguson. The football hit Ferguson in the shoulder, bounced off, and fell incomplete. The Hawaiians had their first regular season victory, 25-24.
"Itís extremely hard to run against Portland," said Giddings. "Their front four is fantastic. And when Hill (Calvin) hurt his ribs, I decided to bring in Sonny."
Sixkiller, a native of Ashland, Washington, directed the Hawaiians to their first win throwing one touchdown and completing 8 of 15 passes for 58 yards.
"Itís the most Iíve played since college. I played a half once in Canada, but this is the first time Iíve had a real good chance," Sixkiller told reporters after the game. He added, "I was nervous at first. Iíve got a lot of friends around here, and quite a few were here. Some of my family too. The field (tilted) bothered me at first, but I wanted to get loose, and I did."
"Weíre happy to get out of Portland with a win," said Hawaiians coach Mike Giddings. "This is a tough place to win. I think the Thunder is a good team and will give a lot of teamís trouble."
The Hawaiians were 1-1, and headed home to host the mighty Southern California Sun.
The Hawaiians returned to the islands tired and battered from a three-game, 18-day road trip. Toss in the jet lag, time change and body re-adjustment, plus 12,000 miles in 40 hours in an airplane, and Coach Mike Giddings felt good about his teamsí 1-1 regular season record. A leaping, diving, touchdown catch by Tim Delaney in Philadelphia that was called back was all that stood between Hawaii and a perfect record.
Coach Mike Giddings was happy to see the crashing surf, green mountains and black sand of his tropical home, "This was the longest and the toughest road trip of the season and Iím sure glad itsí over. The game was a wipe out as far as a personnel evaluation standpoint, and thus we werenít enough along when we went into Philadelphia. Still, we should have won the game. Both Philadelphia ad Portland were real cliffhangers and our team showed poise right down to the wire. We matured a great deal."
The Hawaiians maturity would be tested to the limit in a game that would change their 1975 campaign for the entire season.
15,862 fans filled Honolulu Stadium for the first regular season home game of the Hawaiians 1975 season. The game was billed as "Hill versus Davis", the battle between NFL veteran Calvin Hill and Sun rookie running back Anthony Davis. But on a first quarter running play, the Hawaiians sun sank deep into the Pacific blue.
The Hawaiians came out of the huddle. The team was marching against a Sun defense that couldnít stop it. With the ball on the Sun 13, Wayne Estabrook broke the huddle and came to the line. Taking the snap, he looked left, then right, then threw a screen pass out to the flat to running back Calvin Hill. Hill, following the blocking of the Hawaii offensive line, ran around the end where he was cut down by Southern California cornerback Jack Conner and mauled by a host of Sun defenders. As the players rose to their feet and climbed off the pile, Hill remained on the ground, in pain, and holding his right knee.
An eerie silence fell over the hometown fans in Honolulu Stadium. With a concerned offense and coach Mike Giddings surrounding Hill, team trainer George Kamau and physician Dr. Jack Morris rushed to Hillís side. It was definitely the knee, and it wasnít good.
Calvin Hill laid on the ground holding his knee and everyone knew he was done. Hill was taken off the field to an ambulance and transported to Queenís Medical Center where it was reporter that he would undergo surgery.
Dr. Jack Morris, talking to reporters after the game, told the media, "Calvin Hill has sustained a complete tear of the left medial collateral ligament and a tear of the posterior capsule of the knee joint. Calvin Hill will play football again."
Without Hill the Hawaiians played an inspired game. They fought their way to a 19-14 third quarter lead before the pressure became too great. The Southern California Sun erupted, like an island volcano, for 23 fourth quarter points to doom the Hawaiians 37-19.
Sun quarterback Pat Haden threw two long touchdown passes to Terry Lindsey and Dave Williams, and the Sun added another late score to overcome the Hawaiians.
"Itís frustrating to have so many passes dropped," said Giddings after the home opener. He added, "We hung in there. Pat Haden played a good game and its tough when you see your best player (Calvin Hill) being carried off the field like that. It affects a team."
The Honolulu Advertiser, the local paper, ran in bold print the following morning, "SUN BEATS THE HILL OUT OF HAWAIIANS"ÖÖ.the team had its headlines, and the Hawaiians and the WFL had suffered an incredible blow. Calvin Hill, the $500,000 running back, would never play another game for the Hawaiians or the WFL.
The mood of the practices for the team was strangely upbeat after the loss of Hill. As if the injury had, in some way, brought the team closer together. The team was 1-2, and prepared for the visiting Chicago Winds and former NFL star receiver, John Gilliam.
The contest also marked the last home game for the Hawaiians in Honolulu Stadium, formerly nicknamed the "Termite Palace", due to its wooden construction. The Hawaiians would move to the new state-of-the-art, 60,000 seat, Aloha Stadium after the game with Chicago.
10,313 fans- well under expectations- filled Honolulu Stadium on August 23, 1975 for the game between the hometown Hawaiians and the visiting Chicago Winds. Prior to the start of the 1975 season, the Winds were famous for offering Memphis Southmen owner John Basset a deal for Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield- he refused. Then, Winds owner Gene Pullano met with Jimmy Walsh and NFL quarterback Joe Namath. Pullano offered "Broadway Joe" a $5 million dollar contract to play for the team- he refused. Desperate for a draw at the gate, Pullano negotiated an undisclosed cash settlement to bring former Minnesota Viking John Gilliam to Chicago, from Hawaii. Reports circulated that Pullano sent Edward Sultan Jr., owner of the Hawaiians, $100,000 for the services of Gilliam. Under the lights of Honolulu Stadium, Gilliam, sporting the green-and-white, New York Jet-style uniform of the Winds, readied himself for a big game against his former team.
Off the field, the week leading up to the Chicago game was hectic in the Hawaiian front office. Hawaiian owner Edward Sultan Jr. and Player Personnel Director George Najarian made a bold move. In an effort to shore up the running game after the loss of Calvin Hill and create a draw at the gate for brand new Aloha Stadium, the Hawaiians signed former NFL running back Duane Thomas. Thomas, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, had a reputation for spurning fans, alienating teammates and had been out of the NFL- many reports claimed due to his attitude and work ethic. The signing of Thomas to a Hawaiian contract sent a shock wave through the WFL and straight to the Philadelphia Bell.
Thomasí appearance against the Chicago Winds was under a one game agreement between the Hawaiians and league commissioner Chris Hemmeter. The Philadelphia Bell, lead by general manager Richard Iannarella, claimed that Thomas was property of the Bell due to a league by-law that stated any players released from the Washington Redskins, whoís territorial rights are owned by Philadelphia, are property of the Bell. While the lawyers and team managers drew their battle lines, the Honolulu Advertiser ran the headline, "HAWAIIANS GET THOMAS, BELL PROTESTS!"
Outside Honolulu Stadium, Duane Thomas talked to the media, signed autographs, and carried himself in nothing short of a professional manner. He laughed with local sports casters, talked about his NFL days and his new hope for the WFL and the Hawaiians.
On the field, Hawaii, trailing Chicago 17-13, rallied on the arm of Sonny Sixkiller, who threw three touchdown passes, two in the fourth quarter, as the Hawaiians defeated the Chicago Winds 28-17. The Winds took a 17-3 lead after running back Mark Kellar scored on a 3-yard run, and quarterback Pete Bethard hit wide receiver Margene Atkinson with a 5-yard touchdown pass.
In the fourth quarter, Hawaiian quarterback Sonny Sixkiller went to work throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Tim Boyer for a 20-17 lead, and then hit Tim Delaney with a 31-yard touchdown pass to finish off Chicago. Delaney running a "fly" pattern had badly beaten Winds cornerback Ralph Anderson, when Sixkiller threw a perfect spiral into his hands for the winning score. The Hawaiians were 2-2.
Duane Thomas rushed for 17 yards on five carries.
Mike Giddings and his crew boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Los Angeles where the team then switched to a Pan Am flight to Memphis. The Grizzlies, one of the WFLís premier teams with Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield, came into the game at 3-1 and would be a tough opponent.
Under the southern skies, by the shoulders of the might Mississippi River, the Southmen showed the visiting Ďislandersí why they were one of the leagueís premier teams. Although Larry Csonka didnít play, Willie Spencer did. Spencer tore through the Hawaii defense for 142 yards to lead the Southmen to a 37-17 rout of Hawaii. Former Miami Dolphin, Jim Kiick ran for 105 yards as the Hawaiian defense couldnít stop the roughshod rushing attack of Memphis.
"Give credit to their offense line. They killed us up front," said Mike Giddings. "The place they were running was where Levi Stanley normally plays," added Giddings, referring to the injured defensive tackle who was left in Hawaii due to a sore shoulder. "We only brought 34 players, just 15 from the defense." Three defensive players were injured during the game- safety Chuck Detwiler, offensive guard Cornelius Johnson and defensive lineman Karl Lorch.
With the defense short handed and roughed up, the Memphis squad ran straight at them. Despite taking the opening kickoff and marching to the Memphis 28, the Hawaiians missed an opportunity to set the tone of the game when A.A. Coppedge missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. The Hawaii defense managed to come up with a big play when Hal Stringert intercepted a Danny White pass that led to a Coppedge field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Memphis quarterback Danny White rallied the Southmen for a 62-yard drive that was capped by Jim Kiickís first WFL touchdown, but the Hawaiians came right back when Clayton Heath returned the ensuing kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and a 10-8 Hawaii lead. The celebration was short-lived.
Memphis then geared up and ran all over the Hawaiians. The optimism of the first two quarters faded as Gerry Shirk hauled in a Danny White pass to make it Memphis 16, Hawaii 10 at halftime.
Sonny Sixkiller replaced Wayne Estabrook, who was 2 of 7 in the first half, and still the Hawaiians couldnít move the ball against the tough Memphis defense. Paul Warfield hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass to make it a 23-10 game. Sixkiller wasnít up to the task of pulling off an upset against the blitzing Southmen defense. The Memphis Southmen harassed Hawaii all afternoon, sacking each Hawaii quarterback three times.
Hawaiiís suffering ended momentarily when Vince Clements recovered a fumbled punt at the Southmen 13 to set up a Clayton Heath three yard run and cut the score to 23-17- Memphis never looked back.
The Southmen defense suffocated Hawaii, the offense exploded for 14 fourth-quarter points on a two-yard Jim Kiick touchdown run and a 18-yard John Harvey TD gallop- the final score; Memphis 37, Hawaii 17.
"We just couldnít do anything offensively," said a dejected Sonny Sixkiller in the Hawaii locker room. Sixkiller finished the day 6 of 18 for 68 yards, Estabrook was 5 of 13 for 68 yards as Memphis slammed shut the Hawaii passing game.
"They couldnít pick up our blitzes," said Memphis linebacker Bob Lally. "The inexperienced quarterbacks were a little rattled by it, so we kept doing it."
"The turning point was when it was 23-17 in the third quarter and they converted a couple of big third downs," said Giddings, "if we could have stopped them from scoring then, it might have been different." "They just didnít have any holes," added Giddings commenting on the lackluster running game that produced 54 yards on 22 carries. "To win we had to control the ball more than Memphis and we didnít."
Duane Thomas, who officially signed a contract before the game, rushed for 20 yards on 12 carries- "Iím in good shape and was happy I carried as much as I did," claimed the former NFLer after the loss. Hawaii fell to 2-3, Ĺ a game ahead of the Shreveport Steamer in the WFL Western Division, and two games behind the San Antonio Wings who were 4-2.
With the Hawaiians reeling from the massacre at Memphis, Mike Giddings and his staff tried to get the team prepared for the game against the Jacksonville Express.
The contest would be the first football game ever at the state-of-the-art Aloha Stadium- with 60,000 seats and a retractable seating section that allowed the facility to host the WFL Hawaiians and the Pacific Baseball Leagueís Hawaii Islanders. The front office of the Hawaiians, Edward Sultan Jr. and George Najarian, were excited to have one of the best facilities in the WFL and counted on the fans to turn out in response. The Hawaiians had averaged 13,000 for their two home games and hoped to double that amount with the Express coming to town.
Sunday, September 14, 1975, Aloha Stadium was christened. Outside the facility there was a festival setting. Native dancers, Hawaiian music, and entertainment star Don Ho, all mingled through the crowd. Inside the arena, the Hawaiians and the Express went through their pre-game warm-ups. The setting was tropical, tranquil, and the trade winds blew easy and in from the East.
Injuries continued to plague the Hawaiians. Free safety Chuck Detwiler suffered a fractured right shoulder, and linebacker Frank Johnson hurt his knee. Both players would be out for three weeks. Safety Chris Pane and Karl Lorch got banged up against Memphis and were questionable starters against Jacksonville. Despite the loss of these players, Mike Giddings celebrated the return of linebacker Levi Stanley after a three week absence.
Sonny Sixkiller was given his first start by the coaching staff.
"He has proven he can come off the bench and rally the team," claimed Giddings. "He deserves a chance to start. Weíve been bringing him along slowly till now, and tonight we hope to generate some momentum early in the game."
Jacksonville brought Tommy Reamon (the WFLís leading rusher in 1974) and quarterback George Mira, who lead the Birmingham Americans to the World Bowl. Dennis Hughes, a tight end, was considered to have great hands, and Ron Coppenbarger, one of the finest strong safeties in the WFL. The Hawaiians lost to Jacksonville 19-7 in the preseason in a game that was played in a hurricane- five inches of rain fell that night in the Gator Bowl, and many of the Hawaii coaches and players felt that game was not an example of what awaited the fans at Aloha Stadium.
18,479 fans attended the grand opening of Aloha Stadium on a beautiful Hawaii night. Hawaii, led by quarterback Sonny Sixkiller, rolled over the Express 33-15. Sixkiller threw for two touchdowns, and the fans were witness to a crushing Hawaiians defense led by Lem Burnham, Karl Lorch, Levi Stanley and Skip Williams, that kept the Express running attack in check. Jacksonville backs Alfred Haywood and Tommy Reamon gained minimal yardage, and former World Bowl MVP quarterback George Mira was harassed throughout the game as Hawaii opened up a 26-7 lead at half time lead.
Although the Hawaiians dropped both games on their 12-day road trip to San Antonio and Shreveport, Coach Mike Giddings felt good about his team, even in defeat.
"I really worked them hard after our loss to the Wings. Against the Steamer, we showed fight, character and it was a shame we didnít win. The most important thing was we didnít lose our poise. We only had to punt once in the second half which proves we moved the football well." Giddings told the Honolulu Advertiser.
The Hawaiians had to cram a lot of work into four days before the Birmingham game. After the game in Shreveport, the team lost an entire day due to travel, and then only had three days to heal for the Vulcans.
Off the field, quarterback Wayne Estabrook was traded to the Southern California Sun for future considerations. With Pat Haden departing for England to continue his Rhodes Scholar studies and Daryle Lamonica retiring, Estabrook would see plenty of action for the Sun. In another move, wide receiver Dave Atkinson retired prior to the Shreveport game.
"Dave was unhappy playing offense although he was the teams second leading receiver,Ē remarked Mike Giddings. "He is an excellent athlete and Iím sorry to see him go." The game with the Vulcans also marked the end of the WFLís Summer Season, meaning the Fall Season was approaching and the Hawaiians were still alive for the playoffs in November.
Hawaii management, pleased with the facilities of Aloha Stadium had hoped the attendance would continue to improve. Through three home games, the Hawaiians had averaged 14,500 fans a game- with over 18,000 to the grand opening of Aloha Stadium in the game versus the Express. Owner Edward Sultan Jr. privately hoped for crowds over 20,000 to ease the financial drain on the teamsí resources. The Hawaiians were paying over $10,000 a game for rent at Aloha, over $500,000 to injured running back Calvin Hill, and needed a average of about 18-20,000 to break even and keep the team in the "black".
On the road, the Hawaiians suffered a 30-11 loss to the San Antonio Wings and then rebounded against the Shreveport Steamer.
Rick Cassata, replacing starter Sonny Sixkiller, commanded the Hawaiians back from a 25-11 deficit with pinpoint throws. Clayton Heath added a three-yard touchdown run as the third quarter ended with Shreveport leading 32-18. Cassata hit Steve Haggerty with a touchdown pass to pull Hawaii within 32-25 with 4:17 remaining in the game, setting the stage for a wild finish.
The Hawaiians defense stopped Shreveport in three plays and the offense took over at the Hawaii 40. Rick Cassata drove the Hawaiians downfield with his scrambling and roll-out passes. Hawaii drove to the Shreveport 17. With: 32 remaining, Cassata rolled out and passed to veteran receiver Tim Delaney in the end zone. Delaney hauled in the pass by his fingertips, and as he came down in the end zone, Steamer safety John Mallory stole the ball. As the two players crashed to the ground, Mallory came up with the interception and Shreveport preserved the win.
The Birmingham Vulcans staged a relentless comeback in the second half to defeat Hawaii 29-16. The crowd of 18,894 saw the Hawaiians dominate the first half as Sonny Sixkiller riddled the Birmingham secondary with his passing, and the Hawaii defense held Birmingham to 39 yards rushing and 24 yards passing- the Hawaiians simply overpowered the Vulcan offensive line and quarterback Matthew Reed.
The Hawaiians opened up the scoring when linebacker Tom Poe blocked a Rusty Jackson punt, and the ball rolled through the end zone: Hawaii 2, Birmingham 0. It took the Vulcans five plays to return the favor as Matthew Reed ran a quarterback sneak for an 8-2 Vulcan lead. But Hawaii marched right back with Rick Cassata hitting Al Davis for a big 21-yard gain on third-and-seven. On the first play of the second quarter, Clayton Heath burst through right guard, was hit head-on by a tackler, and drove into the end zone. He was stopped shot on the action point, but Hawaii now had a 9-8 lead.
With Birmingham reeling, and Coach Marvin Bass trying to gather his troops, the Hawaiians, playing like a team possessed came back again. After each team had botched a field goal attempt, Hawaii quarterback Rick Cassata went to work. Cassata hit Tim Delaney for eight, Al Davis for 20, and then Delaney made another terrific catch between two Vulcan defenders for another 20 yard gain. With the Birmingham secondary scrambling into coverage, Cassata hit Tim Delaney over the middle at the Birmingham 5. On third down, Cassata, rolling right to avoid Larry Estes, hit Mitch Donahue, who was all alone in the end zone. The upstart Hawaiians had a 16-8 half time lead.
The third quarter was all Birmingham. Their first possession went for 56 yards on 11 plays with Art Cantrelle diving over for a touchdown. The action point failed and Hawaii still led 16-15. A few minutes later, Rick Cassata threw an interception to James McKinney at the Birmingham 28- to end a good Hawaii drive. The Vulcans then marched 57 yards in 12 plays, aided by a misconduct penalty, and again Art Cantrelle bulled his way over from the five yard-line, and with 14:12 left in the game Birmingham led 22-16.
With the momentum of the game resting with Birmingham, Hawaii sent in quarterback Sonny Sixkiller to rally the team. The Vulcan front line of Larry Estes, Jessie Wolf, Bob Taterak and Harry Gooden began to come crashing in around the Hawaii quarterback. With the pocket collapsing, Sixkiller ran for his life, running option plays and, on many occasions, throwing the ball away. The ferocity of the Birmingham defense smelled blood- the Hawaiians were in trouble.
The Vulcans completed their miraculous comeback with Matthew Reed patiently driving the team from the Hawaii 43, and ending with Johnny Musso diving for the score from one yard out. The dejected and solemn faces of the Hawaii defense told the story of the game- Birmingham 29, Hawaii 16. The Hawaiians had fallen to 3-6.
"The first half we played as well as we could and I thought weíd win," said Giddings, "but in the second half we did the things winners do not do. I apologize to the fans for our second-half performance. I intend to find out why things went wrong for us in the second half and correct them." Giddings then excused himself from the post-game press conference with a look of bitter disappointment.
Hawaii ended the game with some bitter statistics. Cassata completed 11 of 24 for 122 yards but threw two interceptions. Sixkiller was 2 of 5 for 22 yards and spent most of the game trying to stay alive and avoid the Vulcan pass rush. The Hawaiians only rushed for 79 yards as Walt Wingard had 41 yards on 10 carries, and Clayton Heath added 38 on 15 carries. Jim Sniadecki led the defense with eight tackles, and Levi Stanley and Adrian Young added seven each.
The Summer Season of the 1975 WFL season came to a close for the Hawaiians in a disappointing 29-16 defeat at the hands of the Birmingham Vulcans. The loss placed the Hawaiians at fourth place in the Western Division with an overall 3-6 record as the San Antonio Wings captured the crown. The Memphis Southmen had to come from behind to defeat the Sun to win the Eastern crown by half a game over Birmingham. San Antonio and Memphis have automatic bids for playoff berths come December.
The Hawaiians had fallen victim to a rash of injuries in the first half of the season. Calvin Hill, John Kelsey, Grady Richardson, Ernie OíLeary and Frank Johnson had to undergo surgery and were lost for the season.
"Iím boldly announcing that the Hawaiians will be in the 1975 playoffs," said coach Mike Giddings before the Philadelphia game. "First of all, six out of our remaining ten games are at Aloha Stadium. Rick Cassata will also be our starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. This should give us continuity, with Sonny Sixkiller available to come off the bench when needed."
Giddings was also praising his "Wild Irishmen" receiving corps of Tim Delaney, Steve Haggerty ad Mitch Donahue.
The Hawaii defense ranked eighth overall in the WFL, 5th in rushing defense and 8th in passing. Breakdowns in the secondary were constant in the early part of the season. The movement of Karl Lorch to defensive tackle alongside Levi Stanley had shored up the unit. Hal Stringert led the WFL in interceptions with five for a total of 119 yards and one touchdown. In 1974, the Hawaiians came alive in the second half of the season and Giddings hoped for a repeat performance.
The Hawaiians faced the Philadelphia Bell in front of a small crowd of 10,789. Those who dared to show up saw a cliff hanger finish with the hometown team prevailing. The game started scoreless in the first quarter. Then in the second, after a 35-yard Bob Cooper field goal, the Bell was driving again. Bell quarterback, Bob Davis, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 188 yards, found former NFL star tight end Ted Kwalick in the end zone for a touchdown, the action point failed, and Philadelphia had a commanding 10-0 lead at half time.
Mike Giddings had seen this before. He had let quarterback Rick Cassata call the plays for the first half- the offense stalled. In the second half, both he and Cassata would call the plays with the quarterback able to audible out depending on the defense.
The second half didnít look promising for the Hawaiians. Bob Davis and the Bell offense came out charging with Claude Watts and John Land bruising the Hawaii defense. When the Hawaiians played the run, Davis would hit Ted Kwalick, Ben Hawkins or Claude Watts out of the backfield- Philadelphia drove from their 23 yard line to the Hawaii 11. With Mike Giddings seemingly powerless against the Bell offense, Bob Davis handed off to John Land who was hit by Levi Stanley- Land fumbled, and an alert Hal Stringert dove for the ball and batted it into play where Karl Lorch recovered. Hawaii had their first break of the game.
Rick Cassata and the offense then moved the ball at will. Cassata, using his mobility, drove the Hawaiians 89 yards in 11 plays against a stunned Bell squad. Cassata then hit Mitch Donahue for a 13-yard touchdown to cut the Bell lead to 10-7. Philadelphia added a field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter to jump out 13-7.
With the Hawaiians hopes dwindling, the Bell again started to drive. Claude Watts would run right up the middle of the defense and John Land would go out on the sweep plays- Philadelphia drove into Hawaii territory against a confused defense.
The scoreboard showed 9:16 left in the fourth. Mike Giddings paced the sideline. Philadelphia Bell quarterback Bob Davis came to the line. The Hawaiians showed a "run" defense, but at the last second sent in a blitz package with Lem Burnham and Skip Williams coming to the line. As Davis took the snap, Lem Burnham came charging in. The pocket collapsed. Under pressure, Davis threw a off-balance screen pass out to Claude Watts. Hawaiian defensive tackle Karl Lorch broke on the ball, hauled it in, and ran for daylight. "Heís at the 30, the 20, nobody around him, 10, 5, TOUCHDOWN HAWAIIANS, TOUCHDOWN HAWAIIANS" screamed radio announcer Joe Moore- Hawaii led Philadelphia 14-13, but the suspense wasnít over.
The Bell came right back. Davis, driven to make up for the turnover, hit Ted Kwalick for 11, then Hawkins for 12, and then John Land broke a run for 8- Philadelphia was on the Hawaii 47.
The Bell continued to run straight at the Hawaii defense in defiance. Watts and Land punished any tackler coming their way as the Hawaii drive moved inside the 20. With time ticking down, Davis hit Claude Watts with a short pass to the 12. Willie Wood, Philadelphia head coach, called a time out, and signaled for kicker Bob Cooper to attempt the game winning field goal.
:12 remained on the scoreboard. Mike Giddings and his team stood silent on the sidelines. The Bell lined up for the kick. The ball was snapped, Cooper kicked, and then suddenly, Hawaii defensive end Lem Burnham broke through the line and knocked down the kick. The crowd went wild. Giddings and his team ran onto the field. Hawaii won the game 14-13.
"Our field goal block is set up where Iím supposed to penetrate the line as far as I can and jump as high as I can. I got in, and the ball hit my elbow," said a joyous Burnham in the Hawaii locker room.
Karl Lorch, recalling his interception for a touchdown, added, "I was just telling Duane Thomas (former Hawaii running back who was released from the team) this week I wanted to run with the ball one more time. I didnít think it would be so soon. I was surprised. The ball fell right into my hands."
"Iíll tell you I canít get any grayer," said Coach Mike Giddings in regard to the last second field goal attempt. "I was tempted to turn away, but then I decided to try and stare it down."
The Hawaii celebration came at a time when the WFL was planning a conference in New York City on the state of the league. Hawaii representative, Henry Shigekane, traveled to the meeting on behalf of the team. No one in the Hawaii or Philadelphia locker rooms could see the storm brewing on the horizon- Hawaiiís celebration was short lived.
In the front office, the Hawaii board of governors; Edward Sultan Jr., Alan Beall, Dick Griffith, Wallace Fujiyama, Daniel Matsukage, Henry Shigekane, David Stringer, Lionel Tokioka and David Trask pondered the financial difficulties facing the club. The Hawaiians were averaging about 14,800 fans a game, and losing $50,000 for every home game and around $20,000 for travel dates- a total of $340,000, not including monies owed for Calvin Hillís $500,000 contract, or league assessments. The future looked bleak, but the council decided to continue. The WFL was suffering the same problems in many other cities- Portland, Philadelphia, Shreveport and San Antonio.
David Stringer told the Honolulu Advertiser, "We need an adjustment here (with the Stadium) or we canít handle it. Our flat rental fee for the stadium is $10,000 plus an additional $6,000 for expenses. Thatís $16,000 a game right there. Weíd have to sell about 3,000 seats to cover the rent. It takes big crowds to handle that kind of nut and we just havenít had them. On paper, Hawaii draws more per capita than most WFL cities, so it looks good to us. My understanding is that the Stadium Authority will rent the Islander baseball team the facility for about $500 a game, compared to our $10,000."
The stadium situation was pushed to the background when four days before the game against the Southern California Sun management called a team meeting and requested a pay cut to help save the franchise. In a closed door meeting, Edward Sultan went through the financial outlook of the team, and the outlook for 1976. With the WFL going into Yankee Stadium in New York there was a lot of optimism, but the league needed to survive 1975 first. Hawaii management asked the players to agree to a 15-20% pay cut. Many of the players refused, then boycotted practice for two days, the end seemed near.
Hawaii quarterbacks Rick Cassata and Sonny Sixkiller announced they were quitting the team. Defensive end Lem Burnham, offensive linemen Jim Cadile and star receiver Tim Delaney followed suit- the Hawaiians, two games from playing the Sun were without a starting quarterback and their premier receiver and two important veteran players.
Stringer also told the Advertiser that he felt the players had made a mistake. "Especially I canít understand why Sonny Sixkiller would leave the team. It doesnít make any sense. There is going to be a WFL conference call that will decide everything. There may be some adjustments in some cities. Philadelphia drew 1,700 the other night, but last night Birmingham defeated Memphis before 35,000."
Behind a desk at the Honolulu City Hall was a young man named Milt Holt. Holt, the most prominent passer in Harvard history and a preseason casualty of the Hawaiians, received a phone call from David Stringer asking if heíd be interested in joining the team- Holt signed for $250 a game.
"Iíve been helping out at Kamehameha High School and I get to throw some passes every now and then," said the new Hawaii starting quarterback. He added, "Iím not scared at all. This is a big opportunity for me, although it could have come under better circumstances. I got to know some of the guys in training camp. Then I got the call to come down and talk to some of them. They wanted to play (the Southern California Sun) and they couldnít do it without a quarterback. They asked if I would help out and I liked the idea- I have everything to gain and nothing to lose."
Three thousand miles away from the island, a California truck driver named Jim Fassel was also about to receive a phone call. Known now as the head coach of the New York Giants, Fassel was driving a truck in 1975. He had spent time with the Hawaiians in í74, but was cut half way through the season. Fassel came to Hawaii the backup quarterback to Milt Holt.
The Southern California Sun brought running back Anthony Davis to Aloha Stadium. "A.D" was quickly becoming the premier running back in the WFL, and making most fans forget about Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick in Memphis.
15,905- A fair turnout- sat in the stands, some almost amazed that the game was played at all, and watched as the Hawaiians put forward a gallant effort. Anthony Davis burned the Hawaiians for two touchdowns in the first quarter for a 15-0 lead. Hawaii linebacker Adrian Young intercepted a Mike Ernst pass and chugged down to the Sun 21. After and incomplete pass, and a Walt Wingard run for a yard, Milt Holt found Steve Bauer in the clear at the Sun goal line for a touchdown to cut the lead to 15-7.
As the third period drew to a close, the Sun began a drive from their own 31. The big plays were Ernstís passes of 23 yards to tight end Chuck Bradley and 13 to wide receiver Keith Denson. The 69-yard drive in 10 plays was culminated when Ernst found Dave Williams from the five for a touchdown. Anthony Davis ran two yards for the action point and a 23-7 lead.
Hawaii came fighting back. Southpaw Milt Holt hit Derrick Williams on a screen pass, and Williams ripped off a 45 yard run to the Southern California 18. On the next play, Holtís "Cinderella" game came to a close. Dropping back, Holt launched a left handed throw that was intercepted by Cleveland Vann- ending the night for the Hawaiians. Southern California moved quickly down field and finally called on kicker Benny Ricardo for a 28 yard field goal to end the game 26-7.
"Iím never pleased to lose," said Mike Giddings in the surprisingly upbeat Hawaii locker room. "But we fought a pretty good fight. Weíve never worked harder in two days. I just hope the fans think they got their moneysí worth."
Quarterback Milt Holt added, "I donít think I couldíve done much better with only two days of practice. It was just a matter of getting used to things." Holt completed five of 16 passes for 91 yards, with one interception.
On October 22, 1975, the Hawaiians fears were realized. WFL commissioner, Chris Hemmeter, stood in front of the media and announced that the WFL was "suspending operations immediately" due to mounting financial troubles. When word got to the
players of the Hawaiians none were surprised, in fact, many were expecting the news.
"We worked hard," explained a sullen Mike Giddings. "These young guys played their hearts out, we just ran out of time."
Time was now on the hands of the Hawaiian players. Time to think, time to reflect, time to re-live the game, feel the emotion, celebrate the victory- and curse the defeat. Milt Holt had time now. Time far away from a desk at the Honolulu City Hall. Time to reflect on a 20-yard touchdown strike to Steve Bauer in his only professional football start. Time to celebrate the victory, and time to curse the defeat.
NOTE: The 1975 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.
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