1975 WFL Team Pages
San Antonio Wings
In 1974, the Florida Blazers were the runner-up champions in the World Football League's first season. The team posted a 14-6 won-lost record, went unpaid for three months, and nearly stole the league championship from the mighty Birmingham Americans. At the close of the WFL season, the Blazers were broke and unwanted. A proposed sale to an investment group headed by Cocoa Beach financier Robert Prentice had fallen through when a check for $1.5 million, proudly displayed at half time of the World Bowl on national television, bounced due to "insufficient funds", and in the end, the investment group was under investigation and had only put about $100,000 into the Blazers.
When it was announced that the WFL would continue in 1975 none of the invitations to perspective ownership groups included San Antonio, Texas. The Houston Texans had failed miserably a year earlier, and the prevailing thought around the WFL front office was that an expansion team would only go 0-20 and cost the league, and its owners, money, embarrassment and bad press. San Antonio banker Norman Bevan felt otherwise. Bevan, a financier and investor, had an interest in bringing the WFL to the Texas city. He had business experience with Money masters, Inc. (a corporation he founded) and Financial Management Inc. Bevan was also the vice president and board member of the North San Antonio chamber of commerce. He had roots and a family in the city. The citizens of San Antonio had supported the minor league football Toros faithfully, and 20,000-seat Alamo Stadium was available for use. In a complicated deal, Bevan secured the franchise rights to the Florida Blazers, (paying an undisclosed amount to the league), retained some of the player's contracts and gained league approval to transfer the franchise to San Antonio, Texas. In early March, the pages of the local San Antonio Light, the local newspaper, announced the birth of the San Antonio Wings.
Norman Bevan had his football franchise and San Antonio had the Wings.
The team hired head coach Perry Moss. Moss had previous professional experience with the Chicago Bears, and the Orlando Panthers and Charleston Rockets of the CFL. Moss told reporters that he had put together a team that would, "move the ball, excite the fans, and play tough defense." Moss brought in Bill Blankenship (offensive backs), former Florida Blazer Larry Grantham (defensive coordinator), George Pasterchick (defensive line), Dick Pesonen (defensive backs) and former Blazer linemen Del Williams (offensive line).
On May 18, 1975, the WFL held an expansion draft for the San Antonio Wings. Each WFL club protected 25 players from the draft, San Antonio chose the following players; Dick Hart (offensive guard) and Bill Janssen (center) from the Charlotte Hornets, Earl Belgrave (offensive tackle) and Sherwin Jarmon (linebacker) from the Chicago Winds, Al Oliver (offensive tackle) and Jay Corey (offensive tackle) from Hawaii, Thomas Johnson (offensive tackle) and Jerry Davis (defensive back) from the Jacksonville Express, Cecil Bowens (running back) and Rick Cash (defensive end) from the Philadelphia Bell, Levert Carr (offensive guard) and Nate "Puddin" Jones (running back) from the he Portland Thunder, Marvel Simmons (defensive back) and Bruce Jankowski (wide receiver) from the Shreveport Steamer, Jim Ettinger (quarterback) and Paul Miles (running back) from the Memphis Southmen, Dennis Crane (defensive tackle) and Younger Klippert (running back) from Southern California and Butch Brezina (defensive tackle) and Gary Champagne (linebacker) from the WFL champion Birmingham Vulcans.
Through the purchase of the Blazers, Bevan and Moss had several talented and experienced players to build their team around; offensive lineman Tim Brannan, defensive backs Chuck Beatty and Billy Hayes, specialist Rod Foster, running backs Jim Strong, Richard James and Bill Gatti, receiver Eddie Richardson, tight end Luther Palmer and linebackers Billy Hobbs, Paul Vellano, Emery Hicks and John Ricca. The Wings lost the services of quarterback Bob Davis (who signed with the Philadelphia Bell), running back Tommy Reamon (who remained in Florida with the Jacksonville Express) receiver Hubie Bryant (who signed with the Hawaiians) and defensive end Louis Ross (who also signed with the Philadelphia Bell). Linebackers Mike McBath, Ernie Calloway, Eddie Sheats and defensive back Miller Farr retired from football or went to NFL camps and didn't join the Wings.
Moss moved quickly to shore up the Wings weaknesses. San Antonio signed quarterback Johnnie Walton, a strong-armed backup for the Chicago Fire in 1974. Running back Billy Sadler, a Texas Christian product, was brought in from the Detroit Wheels where he had 321 yards rushing and 18 receptions. Willie Frazier, a talented veteran who had 20 receptions for 232 yards and four touchdowns while playing for the Houston Texans and the Shreveport Steamer was signed at tight end. Former Cleveland Brown and Memphis Southmen Chris Morris was signed to play on the offensive line. Butch Brezina (Birmingham '74), Rick Cash (Philadelphia '74) and former Atlanta Falcon veteran Lonnie Warwick were all signed to toughen the defense, and safety Joe Womack was brought in from the Chicago Fire. The San Antonio Wings began to look like a top-caliber team in the WFL.
The Wings came into the WFL like a lightning bolt. On July 5th, in Anaheim, California, the Wings ran head-long into the talented Southern California Sun. The Wings started Johnnie Walton at quarterback, Billy Sadler and Jim Strong at running back, and Donnie Joe Morris and Eddie Richardson at wide receiver. The line was anchored by center Tom Johnson, guards Tim Brannan and Dennis Lemmons, and tackles Chris Morris and Bill Keresztury. The defense featured a defensive backfield of J.V. Stokes, Joe Womack, Billie Hayes and Chuck Beatty. The defensive line was comprised of Mark Brezina, Paul Vellano, Joe Lewallen and Rick Cash. The starting linebackers were Sherwin Jarmon, Lonnie Warwick and Billy Hobbs. As the young blue-and-silver clad Wings took the field, Perry Moss and his coaching staff felt confident in their club- Southern California was in for a fight!!!
On the field the Wings played like anything but an expansion team. Johnnie Walton hit his receivers all night against a Sun secondary that seemed helpless to stop him. The defense kept the running of Sun back Anthony Davis in check, but with San Antonio 31-29 in the fourth quarter, the defense was asked to stop the Sun. Rookie quarterback Pat Haden directed a 94-yard drive in the final three minutes to lead the Sun to a 36-31 win. Haden connected on three long passes, including 17- and 23-yarders to Keith Denson, and aided by a 31-yard pass interference penalty against Billy Hayes, moved the ball to the San Antonio 1 yard line. As the Wings and Sun played collided at the goal line, Sun running back Greg Nelson leapt over the goal line for the winning score. The Wings held their own- and for an expansion team impressed Sun coach Tom Fears with their offensive attack.
"We surprised a lot of people. We have the potential of having a solid team, “claimed Wings coach Perry Moss. He added, "Johnnie (Wings quarterback Johnnie Walton) had a great game. He hit 16 out of 30 passes for 250 yards, and if it wasn’t for their (the Sun) late rally we would’ve come up with the win".
Back in San Antonio, 14,337 fans in Alamo Stadium laid down $7.00 and watched as the Wings defeated the Csonka, Kiick and Warfield-led Memphis Southmen 7-0. San Antonio slugged it out with the Memphis club as both teams defenses’ took control. Wings linemen Rick Cash, Nate Dorsey, Paul Vellano and Butch Brezina held the Southmen to limited rushing yardage. In the third quarter, as the Alamo lights shined down on the field, the Southmen came out for the opening second half kickoff. Memphis kicker Ricky Townsend raised his hand, his eyes locked on the ball, ran forward, and with a might kick sent the WFL ball into the Texas night. At the Wings’ 12-yard line stood J.V. Stokes. Stokes caught the ball, shifted to his left, and then burst up the middle through the sea of orange Southmen defenders. He avoided a diving Memphis tackler, spun to his right and swept out toward the sideline in front of the exploding Wings bench. As the San Antonio players ran down the sideline with him, Stokes returned the kickoff into the end zone for a Wings touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Wings fans went wild. The upstart expansion team, supposed to go 0-20, had a lead on the mighty Csonka-led Memphis Southmen. They went on to win be the same score. Stokes return would embody the type of season the roughshod Wings would have in the WFL in 1975.
San Antonio ended the WFL exhibition season at 1-1, and with much optimism. 12,325 fans filled Alamo Stadium on a beautiful Texas day as the Wings and the Charlotte Hornets met for their first official game of the 1975 season. Underneath the Texas skies the visiting Hornets built a 10-8 half time lead before the hometown Wings roared back on the fury of its defense.
The Wings defense ran over the Hornets, causing seven turnovers, four of which led to San Antonio scores. On the first series of the second half the Hornets drove down the field to the Wing 10. Hornet quarterback Brian Dowling handed off to running back Lewis Jolley who fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Wing defender Joe Womack.
"No doubt about it, I think the turning point was on that fumble. If they score, they lead by 18-8 and we have to score twice. That was the turning point of the game," said Moss in the locker room.
The Wings went on to take control of the game. Running back Billy Sadler scored on two short runs and rushed for 65 yards on 17 carries to lead the running attack. Walton completed passes to Richardson and Morris all game long as the Wings won 27-10.
In San Antonio, the city was excited about their new team, but that excitement didn’t increase ticket sales at the stadium. Norman Bevan continued to work with the chamber of commerce, and local agencies to promote the team in hopes of improving on the 13,000 fans that had attended the teams’ first two games. He and his investment group knew that they needed 20,000 to meet operating expenses, and not the 14,000 projected by the "Hemmeter Plan". The initial investment in bringing the team to San Antonio, and purchasing the player contracts of the Florida Blazers, caused an increase in attendance projections. Now that the WFL regular season was in full swing, Bevan, his investors, and the fans were optimistic things would improve.
On August 2, 1975 the Wings hosted the Shreveport Steamer. A crowd of 10,411 fans filled Alamo Stadium on another great South Texas day. The weather and the performance of the Wings proved to be impeccable, as San Antonio rolled up on the Steamer 19-3. The game was actually more one-sided than the score would indicate, with a Wings fumble on the goal line and a fourth quarter penalty nullifying another San Antonio touchdown.
The Steamer went up 3-0 in the first quarter, and then Johnnie Walton threw a 69-yard touchdown bomb to Donnie Joe Morris, who had left Steamer defenders Richmond Flowers and Daryl Johnson in the dust, for a 8-3 Wing lead. Then on a third-and-ten play, he hit Willie Frazier with a 63-yard pass, Frazier shrugged off John Mallory and galloped into the end zone to put the Wings up 16-3 at the half. San Antonio got a late field goal from Luther Palmer to clinch the 19-3 win.
The Wings defense held Shreveport to 50 yards rushing, while Billy Sadler and Jim Strong countered for 165 for San Antonio. Johnnie Walton finished the game 17 of 34 for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Lonnie Warwick keyed the Wings’ defense with 12 tackles as San Antonio held Shreveport to 247 total yards to 418 for the Wings. The Wings were now 2-0.
San Antonio played its third game at home against their arch-rival Southern California Sun. 21,000 fans jammed into Alamo Stadium to cheer for the Wings. In the first quarter, Billy Sadler pierced the Sun line for an 8-0 Wing lead as the crowd exploded. It would be an omen for the Sun to answer to. After a second quarter that saw both teams trade scores, the Sun on a Pat Haden to Chuck Bradley touchdown pass, and the Wings on a Steve Conley 2-yard run, the Wings erupted.
The third quarter was all San Antonio as the Wings scored 31 un-answered points to stun the Californians.
The game became a rout when a Johnnie Walton-to-Donnie Joe Morris-to- David Yaege flea-flicker pass resulted in a 35-yard score on the first play following a Terry Lindsey fumble. The Wings then geared up a 46-7 score on touchdown runs by Jim Strong and Billy Sadler as the San Antonio fans danced in the isles. The Wings’ defense dominated the entire game, limiting USC star Anthony Davis to 54 yards on 13 carries, and intercepting three Pat Haden passes. Lonnie Warwick, J.V. Stokes and Hugo Hollas all recorded interceptions - Hollas returning his for a 55-yard touchdown and a 54-22 lead. Wings’ quarterback Johnnie Walton ended the day completing 10 of 20 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Wings went on to defeat Southern California 54-22.
"We executed well. The defense came up with some big plays, and Johnnie threw the ball well all day," said Perry Moss after the game, "We proved to the league that we’re more than an expansion team."
"The offense is beginning to come together," claimed Walton. "Billy and Jim ran hard all day, and I was able to hit Donnie Joe (Morris) and Eddie (Richardson) on a couple of big plays. David Yaege’s touchdown pass on the flea-flicker was a big play for us," he added.
Wings owner Norman Bevan was overwhelmed by the stunning victory over Southern California and praised his young team. Not only did the Wings de-throne the Western Division favorites but they dominated them with a tenacious defense that created turnovers, and an offense the capitalized with big scoring plays. As the final seconds ticked off the San Antonio’s Alamo Stadium scoreboard………:05, :04, :03, :02, :01, Wings fans moved out of the stands and into the track that surrounded the field cheering wildly for their hometown heroes. Bevan looked on with admiration as the full house- 21,000 fans celebrated the Wings most important victory of the young WFL season. San Antonio was 3-0 and in first place in the WFL’s Western Division.
Through the first three weeks of the regular season, the WFL had shared an optimistic view of their chances for success. Outposts from around the league were reporting fairly good numbers at the turnstiles as the league tried to win back the 1974-jaded fans. In Birmingham, a WFL stronghold, the Vulcans had drawn 50,000 fans to its first two contests. In Memphis, the Csonka-Kiick-and Warfield led Southmen had drawn 45,000 fans. While these reports were encouraging, some WFL cities struggled. The Philadelphia Bell drew only 2,732 fans for its first home game, and the Portland Thunder attracted a mere 7,500. Despite the contrast between the teams of the WFL the Wings were drawing a respectable 14,000 and headed for Charlotte, North Carolina to play the Hornets.
The Wings brought the finest defensive unit in the WFL to Charlotte. San Antonio had averaged only 11.7 points a game, second to Birmingham, and had caused an amazing 19 turnovers in three games. Joe Womack and Lonnie Warwick both had recovered two. The Wings defensive secondary, although allowing 250 yards a game, had intercepted 11 passes. San Antonio had also sacked opposing quarterbacks six times for forty yards- Rick Cash and Butch Brezina both led the team with two each. No WFL team had scored more than one touchdown in any quarter against the Wings. No team had scored a third quarter point, and only 15 points have been scored in the three seconds halves the team has played.
"Their defense is certainly one of the better ones in the league," Bob Gibson told reporters. "They held us scoreless when we played them in San Antonio in our opener, but we didn’t help ourselves either. We made a lot of mistakes and it was easy for them. I feel that if we can move the ball on them, we’ll be successful. We’ve seen them before and we know what to expect. Besides that, we moved the ball well on them out in Texas and every time we seemed to be in scoring position we coughed the ball up," he added.
The San Antonio offense was almost as potent. Quarterback Johnnie Walton had performed well, completing 36 of 75 passes for 526 yards and two touchdowns. The Wings running game was led by Bill Sadler (from TCU) who had rushed for 177 yards and four touchdowns, and Jim Strong who had picked up 126 yards on 29 carries. Walton’s big receiver was Eddie Richardson who had 10 receptions for 112 yards. Head Coach Perry Moss added nothing new to the game plan- the Wings were standing pat with their steady plan of a ball-hawking defense and aerial offense.
On a balmy Carolina night, 8,447 fans sat in the stands of Charlotte Memorial Stadium as the Hornets and Wings prepared for a game that would provide as much heat as the weather.
The script was followed line by line. The Wings defense came up with a big interception when Billy Hayes stepped in front of a Tom Sherman pass to give San Antonio the ball. The Wings then marched downfield and sent Bill Sadler through the line for a 7-0 lead. Charlotte answered back in the second quarter with a drive that went 68-yards in 12 plays and ended with Don Highsmith crashing over from 5-yards out for a 7-7 tie. Veteran quarterback Tom Sherman then hit Kreg Kapitan for the action point and a 8-7 lead. The Wings added a Luther Palmer 34-yard field goal for a 10-8 lead, and then struck again as Johnnie Walton found Eddie Richardson behind coverage for a 13-yard touchdown that seemingly broke the backs of the Charlotte Hornet team. The Wings led 17-8 at half time. That set the stage for a wild, wide-open, all-out second half.
San Antonio continued to dominate in the third quarter. The defense was relentless, and the Hornets couldn’t sustain a drive. Luther Palmer added a 37-yard field goal as the Wings carried a 20-8 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Wings stood confident on the sidelines, but their house of cards was about to fall in from the weight of a strong-armed quarterback from Virginia- Tom Sherman.
Sherman came to the line as the third quarter ended, took the snap and found a streaking Lewis Jolley over the middle for a 51-yard gain to the Wings’ 11 yard line. On the next play, under the thundering sound of 8,447 Hornet fans, Jolley ripped around right end for an 11-yard touchdown run to cut the San Antonio lead to 20-16.
"Right there is where the game turned," claimed Wing coach Perry Moss after the game. He was right. On the following play, Charlotte kicked off to the Wings and Larry Crowe bobbled the kick and Charlotte’s Tom Embrey recovered at the 24. Three plays later, Pete Rajecki added a field goal and it was 20-19 San Antonio.
Tom Sherman was finished. With the Hornet crowd sounding like 100,000 and the ninety degree heat wearing down the visiting Wings, Sherman directed the defiant Hornets on the game winning drive. Charlotte, in three plays, erupted when Sherman hit rookie tight-end Danny Whyte with a 57-yard touchdown bomb to upset the Wings 27-20. Perry Moss sat stunned on the sidelines, his team now 3-1.
During the week the Wings went back to basics as the team prepared for their contest with the Jacksonville Express. The Express, 1-1, was coming off a big victory over the Birmingham Vulcans 22-11, and had experienced World Bowl veteran George Mira at quarterback and former WFL-MVP Tommy Reamon at running back. Charlie Tate’s squad was not to be taken lightly.
16,133 fans sat in the stands of the Gator Bowl as the Express and Wings lined up for the opening kickoff. Most of those fans would spend their time on their feet cheering on their hometown heroes.
The Express made it two wins in a row with a overtime win against San Antonio. Kicker Charlie Durkee kicked four field goals, the last one tying the game with: 32 remaining and forcing it into overtime. With: 05 remaining, Express safety Abb Ansley intercepted a Johnnie Walton pass to thwart a last second Wing attempt for a win. San Antonio won the coin toss and was suddenly stopped in three consecutive plays by the roughshod Express defense.
Wing punter David Yaege punted to the Express’ Willie Jackson. Jackson found a hole and rumbled 28 yards- nearly breaking the return for a touchdown. On the San Antonio 31 yard line, facing a third-and-ten, Express quarterback George Mira broke out of the pocket from the grasp of Wing Lonnie Warwick, and scrambled down the sidelines for a 11-yard gain to the Wings’ 20. Alfred Haywood pounded his way to the 16, and then following a savage block from Tommy Reamon, Haywood ran through the defense and into the end zone for a 26-19 Jacksonville win. San Antonio had fallen to 3-2.
"We need to play better defense," claimed a dejected Perry Moss after the game, "to lose two games like this in the final minutes is tough. We need to get back to the basics and not give up these big plays. Last week against Charlotte it was Tom Sherman, and this week Willie Jackson. It’s tough to see the team lose, especially when we’ve worked so hard on stopping plays like those."
On board the chartered plane that flew the Wings from Jacksonville, Florida back home to Texas, the team was uncommonly quiet. The brash confidence that was the Wings’ trademark in their early games had suffered a severe blow- two big plays, two very big losses. San Antonio knew that to win the Western Division they would have to overcome mental lapses like the ones suffered in Charlotte and Jacksonville, the Southern California Sun was very talented team and breathing hard down their backs.
Under the giant skies of Texas, the Wings played "back to basics" football and scored an easy 22-0 win over the Portland Thunder. Johnnie Walton completed 14 of 23 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, and Jim Strong (106 yards on 16 carries) and Billy Sadler (104 yards on 19 carries) hammered the Thunder defense non-stop. The defense rocked Portland, giving up only 23 rushing yards on 21 carries, and limiting the Thunder to 252 total yards and only nine first downs. When the game was over 12,197 fans went home very satisfied- the Wings were back in command.
Despite the play on the field, owner Norman Bevan was concerned over the fan support in San Antonio. The team had drawn 12,197 fans to the Portland game, giving the team an average attendance of 13,750- far short of the 20,000 the team had budgeted for. With no money coming in from television, the Wings stood to lose about $50,000 a week unless the crowds improved. Bevan was optimistic, the Wings were 4-2 and the powerful Southern California Sun, 4-1, was coming to town in what looked to be like a mighty rivalry.
A disappointing crowd of 10,547 filled Alamo Stadium- the game was billed as a showdown for first place in the WFL Western Division that would include Sun star running back Anthony Davis and quarterback Pat Haden- on a perfect Texas night for football.
The Wings, fearless, scrapped to a scoreless first quarter with the Sun. Then opened the scoring in the second quarter when Johnnie Walton hit Donnie Joe Morris with a 63-yard touchdown pass for an 8-0 lead. The Wings made it 16-0 on their first possession of the second quarter when they drove 53 yards in nine plays- Walton hitting tight end Willie Frazier with a 17-yard touchdown pass. The drive was set up when the Wings’ defense recovered a Southern California fumble.
The Sun, aided by the passing of Pat Haden and the running of Anthony Davis, marched 75 yards in 15 plays to cut the Wings lead to 16-8 as Greg Herd ran up the middle for the touchdown. Despite the score, the Wings defense would shut down the Sun for the rest of the game. Carefully and methodically, the Wings drove into Sun territory and scored another touchdown early in the fourth quarter when Johnnie Walton scrambled away from Dave Roller and hit Willie Frazier for a touchdown pass and a 23-8 San Antonio lead. The Wings again shut down the Sun, stopping Davis on a third-and-four attempt, and Walton and the Wing offense again went to work. Jim Strong, the former NFL and Florida Blazer veteran slammed into the Sun line again and again on his way to 73 yard performance, and Billy Sadler, the former Texas Christian and Detroit Wheel, carried the ball for 49 more- the Wings drove down the field eating up the clock and sending the 10,000 fans to their feet.
The Wings broke their huddle as the crowd rose into a mighty cheer- the stadium rocked, and the sound filled the Texas night. Johnnie Walton stood over center, took the snap, turned, and handed off to Richard James, who bulled his way through the Sun defense behind Jim Strong for a 5-yard touchdown and a 30-8 San Antonio lead. As James stood in the end zone celebrating, a dejected Sun defensive squad walked off the field- the Wings were sole owners of first place in the WFL Western Division with a 5-2 record.
While football ruled in San Antonio, in New York Christopher Hemmeter was on the phone with the league’s board of governors. One of the participants in the call, Gene Pullano, was very subdued and quiet- this phone call was the death knoll for his Chicago Winds.
Pullano was informed that two major stockholders in the Winds franchise has withdrawn their $175,000 investment in the team, leaving Chicago under capitalized by the league’s by-laws. Pullano negotiated for more time but one-by-one the voices over the conference call sounded their vote, "Out". The WFL has its first victim of the 1975 season- the Chicago Winds.
San Antonio coach Perry Moss was informed of the WFL’s decision to revoke the Winds and schedule his Wings to play in Birmingham against the Vulcans instead of their regularly scheduled game in Chicago. The WFL also held a dispersal draft of the Winds players- Perry Moss and his staff selected running back Mark Kellar, wide receiver Margene Atkins, defensive tackle Chuck Bailey, defensive end Larry Jameson, defensive linemen Bill Line and defensive back Hal Phillips. The former Winds’ players would travel to Texas to join the team for the Birmingham game.
The sights and sounds of northern Alabama surrounded the Wings as they traveled to Legion Field to play the mighty Birmingham Vulcans. The Vulcans entered the game with a 4-2 record claiming wins over Philadelphia, Portland, Shreveport and Chicago. Led by quarterback Matthew Reed, the Vulcans were one of the premier teams in the WFL Eastern Division and in a dogfight for first place with the Memphis Southmen. Perry Moss and his staff had prepared their defensive game plan around Winds’ wide receiver John Gilliam and quarterback Pete Bethard, now they would be facing Matthew Reed, Johnny Musso and one of the toughest teams in the WFL.
Perry Moss’ "Cinderella" team had raised eye-brows around the WFL by blanking Memphis 7-0, and defeating the Southern California Sun 54-22 and 30-8. Throughout the six weeks of the WFL regular season the Wings had been led by quarterback Johnnie Walton. Walton, known for showing up for team meetings in a shirt and tie, and displayed his Namath-like throwing style- a quick step back and high, over-the-head delivery. Walton’s heroics had led the Wings to 171 points in six games, and had produced many aerial touchdown bombs to Eddie Richardson, Donnie Joe Morris and Willie Frazier.
The running game was led by Billy Sadler, who had played for the Birmingham Americans and the Detroit Wheels in 1974. Sadler, who opened a tropical fish store with his wife after the Wheels folded, was contacted by Moss in early ’75 to join the club. Former alumni of Texas Christian, Sadler had proven to be a valuable part of the Wings’ offense.
On defense, Lonnie Warwick was the undisputed leader. A twelve-year veteran, Warwick was notorious for chewing light bulbs in the locker room- to the sheer amazement of his team mates. During the Wings training camp, Warwick and team mate Billy Hobbs would pile into Warwick’s yellow pickup truck named "Old Yeller" and head for a nearby fishing hole. Warwick tenacious style and savage tackles were becoming legendary around the WFL. Safety Joe Womack was also performing well for the Wings. Womack, who started for the Chicago Fire in 1974, was familiar to San Antonio fans due to his tenure with the minor league San Antonio Toros. Womack was an excellent cover man with quick feet and plenty of range.
Perry Moss had confidence in his team and their talent, whether they were playing the Chicago Winds or the Birmingham Vulcans. Moss would see that confidence tested on the turf of Legion Field.
12,500 fans- a paltry crowd for Birmingham- rattled around vacant Legion Field as Vulcan quarterback Matthew Reed passed for two touchdowns and ran for another to lead Birmingham to a 33-24 victory over the Wings. After San Antonio opened up the scoring on a 1-yard Billy Sadler run, Reed connected with Robert Evans on a 72-yard bomb, and Nate Ferguson for a 46-yard touchdown to put Birmingham on top 19-14 at half time. The Wings crept closer on a 43-yard Luther Palmer field goal in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 19-17 and setting the stage for a wild fourth quarter.
The Legion Field fans rose to their feet when Matthew Reed, on a quarterback option, turned the corner and sprinted 32-yards through the Wings defense, evading tackles, and dragging one Wing defender into the end zone for a 26-17 lead. Reed then put another nail in San Antonio’s coffin by hitting Robert Evans for a action point and a 27-17 lead. The Vulcans added a Ron Slovensky field goal for a 30-17 lead. As the fourth quarter was ticking down, Wing quarterback Johnnie Walton drove San Antonio deep into Birmingham territory. Using a combination of short passes and running plays, the Wings drove to the Vulcan six yard line where Walton scrambled to his left and hit Luther Palmer for a six yard touchdown- the score was Birmingham 30, San Antonio 24.
The Wings celebration would be short lived. The Vulcan defense shut down San Antonio on successive drives- pressuring Walton into hurried passes and stopping the rushing of Billy Sadler and Jim Strong. Birmingham’s front four of Larry Estes, Jesse Wolfe, Bob Taterak and Harry Goodman crashed the Wings line of scrimmage and stopped the WFL’s most potent offense play after play. As the frustration mounted on the Wings bench, Perry Moss watched San Antonio’s chances of a comeback dashed as Vulcan Ron Slovensky added a field goal to end the game and give Birmingham a 33-24 win.
"We simply didn’t stop the big plays. Reed (quarterback Matthew Reed) killed us. He hit those two long passes- we just weren’t mentally prepared for it," claimed Moss after the game. He added, "Birmingham’s a tough club. When he (Reed) turned the corner on the long run (the 32-yard touchdown scramble in the fourth quarter) he caught us by surprise. I thought we played good enough to win, but you can’t give up the big plays like we did tonight."
"That guy (Reed) killed us," added a dejected Lonnie Warwick, "he’s big and tough, and when he’s back there anything can happen."
The Wings were 5-3 and leading the Southern California Sun (4-3, after a win over Charlotte) by half a game in the WFL Western Division, and glad to be heading home to southern Texas. San Antonio looked forward to two home games against the Hawaiians and the Memphis Southmen.
The offices of the Wings, located in downtown San Antonio, buzzed with the typical mid-day chatter of phone calls, meetings, discussions on promotional deals and sponsorships. Wings owner Norman Bevan, no stranger to business, pondered the financial outlook for his team. The Wings had averaged around 14,000 a game- far short of the needed and budgeted 20,000- but had played well. They were atop the WFL’s Western Division with two consecutive home games approaching against the Hawaiians and the heralded Memphis Southmen with Csonka, Kiick and Warfield. The possible impact of the "Big Three" on the gate at Alamo Stadium gave Bevan a cause for optimism.
The Hawaiians came to Texas a much different team than the playoff contending squad of 1974. The team’s star player, Calvin Hill, had been lost for the season to a knee injury and the team had struggled for an identity for the remaining games. Hawaii had scored victories over Portland, Chicago and Jacksonville. Quarterback Sonny Sixkiller was leading the offense, along with running backs Clayton Heath and Vin Clements and wide receiver Tim Delaney (the leading WFL receiver coming into San Antonio that week). The defense, allowing 25.6 points a game, would have its work cut out for it against a Wings team that was averaging 34 points a game- Hawaii entered the contest a 3-3.
At game time, 10,871 fans sat in the stands of Alamo Stadium to watch the blue-and-silver Wings go through their opening warm-ups. Johnnie Walton limbered up on the sidelines, throwing passes to backup quarterback Gary Valbuena, and Perry Moss paced the sidelines and mingled with his players. Above the field, in the Alamo Stadium press box, amid the hum of conversation between newspaper reporters from the San Antonio Light and telegraph machines, Wings owner Norman Bevan quietly said to himself, "I had hoped for a better turnout for the game." He and his investors would have to restructure their budget projections if things didn’t improve, the $750,000 on deposit with the WFL, a by-law of the Hemmeter Plan would dwindle down to spending cash.
On the field, both teams were chilled by the effects of a Texas northern that blew through and dropped the temperature from the pleasant 60’s to a chilly 50 degrees by halftime. The Wings played like champions. In the first quarter, Johnnie Walton threw a 56-yard touchdown strike to a streaking Donnie Joe Morris, who had badly beaten Chuck Detwiler and Hal Stringert, to give the Wings a 7-0 lead with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
"That play didn’t surprise us at all", claimed a despondent Mike Giddings after the game, "Nothing San Antonio did today surprised us at all."
After stopping Hawaii dead in their tracks, Walton led the San Antonio club on a 11-play, 64-yard drive capped by Richard James’ one yard touchdown leap- San Antonio lead 15-0. With San Antonio punishing the Hawaii offense, limiting the islanders to only 76 yards rushing the entire game and 177 passing, San Antonio marched down the field. Poised to take a 22-0 lead, Walton threw a pass out to flat to Donnie Joe Morris. Hawaiian Hal Stringert jumped in front of the pass and ran the interception back 48 yards for a Hawaii touchdown. Clayton Heath, who led Hawaii rushers with 62 yards added the action point.
On the ensuing kickoff, San Antonio’s J.V. Stokes gathered in the ball at the 10. He ran straight at the Hawaii defenders, looking for a wedge, where he was tackled by Serous Williams and fumbled the ball- Hawaii recovered at the 20 and was at the doorstep of another score. The Wings defense stopped Hawaii and Mike Giddings sent out the kicking team. Holder Rick Cassata fumbled the snap and was buried at the 23, stopping the drive. Hawaii would watch another attempt- a 53-yarder- sail wide right, and after another Hal Stringert interception the islanders were foiled on a scoring attempt when Wing Billy Hayes intercepted a Sonny Sixkiller pass at the San Antonio 34. Three plays later San Antonio coughed up the ball and Hawaiian Lem Burnham recovered. A.A. Coppedge added a field goal, and at half time of a up-and-down game, Hawaii trailed 15-11.
The Wings opened the second half marching 50 yards in seven plays, as Richard James scampered into the end zone and then scored the action point for a 23-11 lead. Mid way through the fourth quarter, San Antonio quarterback Johnnie Walton, who completed 13 of 28 passes for 250 yards, hit a streaking Eddie Richardson with a 45-yard touchdown pass to put the game away. The Wings defeated Hawaii 30-11.
In the locker room, coach Perry Moss had plenty to celebrate. His team now had a 1 ½- game lead in the Western Division, and his offense and defense had played a superb match. Jim Strong had rushed for 82 yards on 18 carries, Richard James scored two touchdowns, Eddie Richardson had four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown and Donnie Joe Morris had four receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. The defense, playing tough all game, was led by safety Billy Hayes, linebacker Lonnie Warwick and the defensive line of Rich Amman, Larry Jameson, Andy Rice and John Ricca. The victory placed the Wings at 6-3 and one game from clinching the first-half title in the Western Division.
The landscape of the World Football League, although battered with the loss of the Chicago franchise, seemed to be a wide open range of possibility and optimism. In April, many of the WFL founders snickered when San Antonio was mentioned as a possible expansion site.
"Who wants to go to San Antonio?", "Where is San Antonio?", were some of the comments by top WFL brass.
"This is a major league and we want major league cities, not tamale towns," another laughed.
That was the case a few months before the season, now the Wings had the league on the run. A red hot offense led by Johnnie Walton, and a tough gang tackling defense led by Lonnie Warwick, Billy Hobbs and Rick Cash was taking apart the WFL and sending the critics scrambling in its wake.
"They (the WFL) were afraid that San Antonio couldn’t support a team. They were worried about the stadium, the parking problems, our concession (no beer) problems……they were leery about everything. Most of them thought we would go 0-20," claimed Wings owners Norman Bevan, William Harris, Ray Schneider and Stanley Blend.
"San Antonio is considered by the rest of the league as one of the guiding lights of the WFL. We are considered to be one of the strongest franchises," Bevan told reporters.
"We hope to make the Wings a regional team. We hope to gain the support of San Antonio fans and also fans from the surrounding area. We want to give people something to be proud of. Our goal is to win a championship," added Bevan.
The 6-3 Wings, poised to fight the Memphis Southmen, were ready to take on the world and the World Football League.
In San Antonio, the Wings prepared for the arrival of the Memphis Southmen. Outside Alamo Stadium vendors hocked t-shirts, pennants, buttons and hats featuring the "Big Three". The carnival-like atmosphere filled the air as southern Texas football fans awaited the kickoff. Along the sidelines TV crews set up cameras and interviews with Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield, and Wings’ quarterback Johnnie Walton and coach Perry Moss. Memphis entered the game with a 6-1 won-lost record.
16,283 Wings fans sat in the stands of Alamo Stadium as Luther Palmer’s opening kickoff sailed into the hands of Southmen David Thomas, who was hit immediately by a crowd of San Antonio players- the stage was set.
The Wings defense played up on the Southmen stopping the rushing of Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. When the Memphis squad tried to go to the air, Billy Hayes and Chuck Beatty double-teamed Southmen receiver Ed Marshall- cutting off the air attack. The Wings got on the board when they drove into Memphis territory and Billy Sadler ran 5 yards for a touchdown to give the hometown team a 7-0 lead. As Sadler stood in the end zone, the San Antonio fans stood screaming, and the Wings were on the board.
With the Wings defense thwarting the Memphis offense, San Antonio erupted for 18 second-quarter points as David Yaege caught a 15-yard pass from a scrambling Johnnie Walton, and Billy Sadler added his second touchdown on a 6-yard run. The Wings led 25-3 at halftime.
In the third quarter the rout continued. San Antonio’s defense continued to punish Csonka and Kiick whenever they touched the ball. The gang-tackling of linebackers Emery Hicks, Lonnie Warwick and Billy Hobbs knocked the Southmen runners off the turf. The defensive backfield of Billy Hayes, Chuck Beatty, Hugo Hollas and Jerry Davis shut down Ed Marshall and company- leaving Memphis quarterback Danny White to the mercy of the Wings front line of Nate Dorsey, Andy Rice, John Ricca and Joe Critchlow.
When the final seconds ticked down, :03, :02, :01, the San Antonio Wings rushed on to the field, surrounding coach Perry Moss and carrying him off the field- the Wings had won their World Bowl, or the closest game to it in the ’75 season 25-17 over Memphis.
In the locker room, Perry Moss summed up the team’s victory for the media. "We played sound offense and defense. It was a true team effort out there. Larry (Crowe) set up two big scores with his kick returns (Crowe returned two kicks for 35 and 57 yards), and the defense was tough on Memphis all day. It was a great win, a big win," claimed Moss.
The Wings were now 7-3, winners of the WFL’s Summer season title, clinchers of a playoff berth, and held a full two game lead on the Southern California Sun in the WFL’s Western Division. San Antonio took their glory tour on the road for three games in Philadelphia, Portland and Shreveport- they would never return home.
The road trip began in Philadelphia’s Franklin Field- the graveyard of the WFL. Under the yellowish glow of the lights, 2,357 fans sat scattered around the stadium. The sounds of the game echoed through the stands and under the rafters as down on the field the hometown Bell played like the NFL champion Miami Dolphins.
Unimpressed with San Antonio’s 7-3 record, and their mighty offense, the 2-6 Bell unleashed a fireworks show that rivaled the patriots’ battle for independence against the British. Bell running back Claude Watts, almost forced into retirement by Bell management, erupted for 111 yards and three touchdowns and kicker Bob Cooper kicked four field goals (39, 39, 43 and 47) as the Bell scored 25 second quarter points, highlighted by Rod Strickland’s 82-yard kickoff return, and overtook the Wings 42-38.
Philadelphia led 28-15 at halftime, setting the Wings back on their heels, and forcing Elizabeth City, New Jersey native Johnnie Walton into a game plan that focused on the passing attack. The Bell added a John Land touchdown for a 36-15 lead before the Wings countered. Johnnie Walton, playing before some of his hometown fans, completed two passes for scores- a 8-yard pass to Luther Palmer and a 4-yard pass to Richard James. Suddenly, the Wings were trailing 36-30 and Bell coach Willie Wood began to pace the sidelines.
The Bell cushioned their lead to 39-30 on a 43-yard Bob Cooper field goal in the fourth quarter and then relied on their defense to win the game. The Wings moved the ball into Bell territory with Walton (who threw four touchdown passes in the game) leading the charge. San Antonio drove to the Bell 3, where the speedy Richard James ran between the crashing offensive lineman, Tim Brannan and Chris Morris for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 39-38 and sending the Wings’ bench into a uproar.
Over on the opposing sideline, Bell coach Willie Wood sent out his return team. Veteran, and former Jacksonville Shark, Alvin Wyatt pulled in the San Antonio kickoff, and sped up the sidelines to the Philadelphia 32 with 3:22 remaining in the game. Bell quarterback Bob Davis, a veteran of the World Bowl with the Florida Blazers had seen this type of pressure before and his experience allowed him to lead his team on a potential game winning drive, time consuming drive.
The 2,000 or so fans who remained in the seats watched as Davis consistently handed off to Claude Watts and John Land, and the Bell drove up the field. The Wings, desperate for a big play, stacked the line to stop the run and were then victimized by a short pass to Ben Hawkins, Ron Holiday or Ted Kwalick. With no timeouts remaining, Davis hit Ron Holliday for a 18-yard completion over the middle to put the Bell into Wing territory. Three plays later, Claude Watts rumbled to the San Antonio 47. The Wings’ defense then held Philadelphia with 1:18 remaining in the game.
From his perch on the Philadelphia bench, Bob Copper grabbed his helmet, brought it down over his head, snapped the chin strap, and quietly and methodically, ran out onto the Franklin Field turf. San Antonio coach Perry Moss stood calmly on the sidelines, starring straight out at the mark on the field, the game hanging in the balance. Ron Holliday marked the spot and called the signals. Ralph Perretta hunched over, snapped the ball, and the Wings and Bell crashed together. Cooper’s kick sailed over the outstretched hands of the San Antonio defenders into the Philadelphia night- seconds later referee Ray Chapman signaled that the kick was "good". Philadelphia lead 42-38, with only 1:12 left in the game.
Desperation set into the Wings, but three plays later, the Bell had backed San Antonio to their own 18 as time counted down. Philadelphia had their miracle, San Antonio was upset 42-38, and fell to 7-4 on the season.
The Wings traveled to Portland, Oregon to play the Thunder. Norman Bevan, the Wings owner traveled to New York City for an emergency meeting of the WFL’s board of governors. In New York, the league’s ten owners reportedly debated a number of possibilities: disband the troubled league, fold the weak-drawing Portland and Philadelphia franchises, or deal with the plight of Norman Bevan and his investors.
The Wings, plagued by low attendance, was in need of a $450,000 transfusion of money to complete the season. New players signed to the team were making $200-$250 a game, and many other players were asked to take as much as a 25% pay cut. The Wings had averaged about 12,000 a game and had lost a reported $350,000 through eleven weeks of the season. The WFL seemed to be in dire straights, and the Wings seemed to be falling from the very skies that only weeks ago seemed limitless.
On the field, Wing quarterback Johnnie Walton ranked third in the WFL with a 49.4 completion percentage for 1,903 yards. He went into the Portland game with 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His leading targets were Willie Frazier, Eddie Richardson and Donnie Joe Morris. Richardson was second in the WFL with 39 receptions for 533 yards, Morris was fourth with 18 receptions for 444 yards. The Wings rushing game was led by Billy Sadler, the third best rusher in the WFL, who rushed for 536 yards and veteran Jim Strong had 521 yards. The Wings were confident they could get back on track against the Portland Thunder.
In Portland, under the grayish northwestern skies, a handful of fans (3,818) mingled throughout Civic Stadium. The Wings, shocked by the loss to Philadelphia, and the sudden financial plight of the team, seemed to be rattled, uneasy and focused on survival- not football.
The Wings ran straight into a charged Portland Thunder team. The game, marred by physical play featured three WFL penalty records- including a record 19 penalties against Portland for 191 yards, and 10 against San Antonio for 74 yards. While the fists were flying, both teams played an evenly matched game.
Trailing 18-11 in the third quarter, San Antonio quarterback Johnnie Walton eluded Dave Costa and threw a picture-perfect pass to Luther Palmer for a 32-yard touchdown and a 18-18 tie. Walton, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 262 yards, had brought back his team from the dead before- Portland stood in the way.
San Antonio then drove the length of the field, pushing the Thunder back on their heels, and sent the tough Billy Sadler over from seven yards out for a 25-18 fourth quarter lead. Perry Moss was elated, his team seemed to back on track, and fighting mad, but the Thunder would answer back.
Thunder quarterback Don Horn engineered a drive that left Portland at the San Antonio one yard line. Looking around the huddle, Horn’s team mates wanted him to take it in on a quarterback sneak- three seconds later; Portland had tied the game on Horn’s run 25-25.
With 1:14 remaining in the game, Don Horn attempted an action point pass to Rufus Ferguson that was intercepted by San Antonio. With time running out and the Wings looking at their second consecutive loss, quarterback Johnnie Walton drove his team to the Portland 35 where with :04 remaining on the clock Luther Palmer came in to win the game. His attempt sailed wide right.
In overtime, the Wings, seemingly defeated, looked flat against the Thunder. Portland’s Joe Wylie returned the opening kickoff 21 yards to start the drive. Jim Krieg hauled in a third-down play for 11 yards, and Thunder running back Rufus Ferguson broke runs of 4, 11, 7 and 6 yards- driving Portland to the San Antonio 25 yard line. With silence on the San Antonio bench, Portland kicker Don Warner came out for the winning field goal attempt. Warner booted a perfect kick that gave the Thunder a 28-25 win and sent San Antonio on to Shreveport reeling from a two game losing streak.
"They (the Thunder) are a good team; they made their field goal and we didn’t," said a dejected Perry Moss in the Wings’ dressing room. The Wings had fallen to 7-5, and had lost two games that Moss and his coaching staff and counted on winning- the Southern California Sun, playing better ball every week, were 6-5.
While uncertainty surrounded the WFL, the Wings traveled down to the Bayou to face the Shreveport Steamer. Coach Perry Moss was concerned with his teams’ performance in Philadelphia and Portland, and was even more concerned with the injury to his starting quarterback Johnnie Walton. Walton would be unable to start against the Steamer due to bruised ribs suffered against the Portland Thunder, ex-NFLer Jerry Tagge would start in his place.
On a sunny Louisiana day, the San Antonio Wings saw lightning strike on five separate occasions as the Shreveport Steamer intercepted five San Antonio passes to set up scores. The Wings came crashing down to earth, landing in Three Mile Bayou. Steamer cornerback Daryl Johnson started the rout when he robbed a Tagge pass, returning it to the San Antonio 36 yard line. Five plays later, the Wings defense was watching Steamer running back Jimmy Edward run into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Lightning stuck again in the second quarter when Garland Boyette intercepted a Tagge pass that led to Jim Nance ramming his way over from two yards out for a 15-0 Shreveport lead at halftime.
Wings coach Perry Moss was beside himself in the teams’ locker room, trying to rally his players. After a Don Strock field goal, Shreveport again intercepted an errant Tagge pass- moments later Edd Hargett found Mike Burnop in the back of the end zone for a 26-0 Shreveport lead. The Wings then drove 56 yards and scoring on a one-yard run by Jerry Tagge, cutting the lead to 26-8.
Lightning struck again. Shreveport, possessed, drove 63 yards on the arm of Edd Hargett as he hit John Odom with a 13-yard scoring pass to make it 34-8. Then John Mallory intercepted a Tagge pass, the third of the day, and returned it to the San Antonio 34. Moments later, Jim Nance bulled through the Wings defense for a three yard touchdown and a 41-8 Shreveport lead.
The Wings bench was stunned and silent. Perry Moss starred at the ground, The defense, confused by the Shreveport offense seemed confused- the team was in a tail spin. Quarterback Jerry Tagge was rushed from all corners of the line, slammed to the turf, hurried, harassed and gang tackled in a fashion that was used to describe the once-proud San Antonio defense.
Down 41-8, their future in doubt, the Wings pulled together to mount one quarter of sound football. Jerry Tagge was able to calm his offense down, leading them one play at a time, finding the Shreveport coverage and throwing under it, and calling the run to off-set the ball-hawking secondary. The Wings completed a drive with Tagge, scrambling from Don Brumm, and hitting John Tuttle for a 20-yard touchdown- the Wings had a mental victory, the score was 41-16.
Refusing to die, the Wings pulled together and marched 80-yards against the Steamer and Tagge bulled his way over the line to pull the score to 41-24. Despite the last-minute heroics, time was running out. Shreveport sent in back-up quarterback Bubba Wyche to eat up the clock- and he did. Led by the battering-ram running style of Jim Nance the Steamer drove to the Wings 40. Then Jimmy Edwards broke a 12 yard run, and then swept right, dodging Billy Hayes, and ran to the Wings’ 19. Jim Nance ran straight into the San Antonio line and brought the Steamer to the 8. Edwards took it down to the 4. Then, under pressure with: 40 remaining, Bubba Wyche scrambled away from Nate Dorsey and threw to a waiting John Odom in the end zone. Former LSU standout, and San Antonio Wing cornerback, Joe Womack jumped in front of Odom and was off to the races, running 96 yards- a WFL record- for a touchdown that ended the game 41-31.
The Wings had suffered their third straight loss, and stood at 7-5. The financial problems surrounding the team had become a distraction to the players and coach Perry Moss hoped a solution was close at hand.
"There is no dissention. But we have financial troubles right now. Hopefully we can get the trouble over with by next week," claimed Moss.
"We’re a close group," added Joe Womack in the Wings’ locker room. "It’s tough on some of the players, especially the married ones, but hopefully we can work something out."
Reflecting on his record breaking interception return for a touchdown, Womack added, "He (Wyche) didn’t see me. I was hidden behind the linebacker. I was surprised they were throwing the ball, except that Bubba was in the game and needed the work- it’s pretty tough to complete a pass against the coverage we were in. I got the ball and took off." Womack’s return was the only bright spot for a Wings team that had lost it’s third game in a row and was searching for answers.
The San Antonio Wings went home to Texas for some much needed rest and to plan for their home game against the Jacksonville Express. It was a game that would never be played.
During a conference call to New York City and WFL president Chris Hemmeter, Wings owner Norman Bevan voted to keep the struggling WFL alive- he was outnumbered and out of time. With no funding in sight, and reportedly $500,000 in debt, Bevan’s back was to the wall. Over the conference call the WFL owners sounded off their votes……..San Antonio, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Southern California voting to continue- Birmingham, Memphis, Shreveport, Philadelphia, Portland and Hawaii voting to cease operations.
On October 22, 1975, the WFL announced it had ceased operations- the San Antonio Wings season had ended.
NOTE: The 1975 San Antonio Wings 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.