Friday Flashback: World Football League

WFL1
Southern California playing Philadelphia

 

In the summer of 1974 a new football league kicked off to compete for the attention of football fans.  It was the first pro football league to compete with the National Football League (NFL) since the American Football League (AFL) had before the leagues merged.

Although the league had plans to play in cities outside of the United States, they never could get the “world” part going before the league failed midway through the 1975 season.  They did start with a team in Toronto but the franchise was rejected by the Canadian government and moved south to Memphis, Tennessee.

The reason this flashback article is being posted now is because the league kicked off in July 1974 with a 20-game schedule.   The WFL played their games during the week instead of weekends so as not to compete directly with college and NFL.  Games were played on Wednesday nights with a nationally televised game on Thursday nights.  It wasn’t a major network deal but with an independent network with the TVS Television Network.

The 1974 season was played with teams in Birmingham, Chicago, Detroit, Orlando, Hawaii, Shreveport, Jacksonville, Memphis, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Portland and Anaheim.   The Birmingham Americans won the first “World Bowl” at Legion Field with a thrilling 22-21 win over the Florida Blazers.  The celebration was short-lived as the Internal Revenue Service seized most of the American’s assets to pay back taxes.  Several WFL teams faced financial problems.

wfl2The league returned in 1975 with teams in some of the same cities at the previous season.  Birmingham was renamed the Vulcans, Chicago Fire to the Chicago Winds, Florida Blazers moved to San Antonio to become the Wings, Jacksonville Sharks to Express, Memphis Southmen was renamed to Grizzlies and the Portland Storm changed to the Portland Thunder.  The teams attempted to play a split season format with the summer champion to play the fall champion; however, the league folded after week 12 of the season.

The WFL actively raided the NFL for players.  The most notable players to defect to the WFL were Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to Memphis and Calvin Hill to the Hawaiians.  Had the league not folded, Oakland Raiders Quarterback Ken Stabler would have played for Birmingham in 1976.

The league also introduced some unique rules to professional football such as:

  • Touchdowns were worth 7 points.  Teams attempted to convert an “Action Point” by run or pass instead of kicking.  (This is an ideal that the NFL should consider.)
  • Kickoffs were from the 30-yard line
  • A player was allowed to go in motion toward the line before the snap.
  • Punt returners were not allowed to make a fair catch.
  • A device called the “Dickerod” was used to measure first downs instead of chains.  This was a single stick, 90 inches long, mounted on a base which allowed it to pivot from side to side.

1974 WFL Standings

Eastern Division

  • Florida Blazers (14-6)
  • Charlotte Hornets (10-10) – was replaced by Philadelphia in playoffs due to low ticket sales.
  • Philadelphia Bell (9-11)
  • Jacksonville Sharks (4-10) – folded after week 14

Central Division

  • Memphis Southmen (17-3)
  • Birmingham Americans (15-5)
  • Chicago Fire (7-13)
  • Detroit Wheels (1-13) – folded after week 14

Western Division

  • Southern California Sun (13-7)
  • Hawaiians (9-11)
  • Portland Storm (7-12-1)
  • Shreveport Steamer (7-12-1)

Quarterfinals:  Hawaiians 32, Southern California 14; Florida 18, Philadelphia 3

Semifinals:  Birmingham 22, Hawaiians 19; Florida 18, Memphis 15

World Bowl I – Birmingham 22, Florida 21

1975 WFL Standings

Eastern Division

  • Birmingham Vulcans (9-3)
  • Memphis Grizzlies (7-4) – first half champion
  • Charlotte Hornets (6-5)
  • Jacksonville Express (6-5)
  • Philadelphia Bell (4-7)

Western Division

  • Southern California Sun (7-5)
  • San Antonio Wings (7-6) – first half champion
  • Shreveport Steamer (5-7)
  • Hawaiians (4-7)
  • Portland Thunder (4-7)
  • Chicago Winds (1-4)

The Chicago Winds were booted from the league after five weeks into the season.  They attempted to sign Joe Namath but their attempt failed and doomed the franchise.  The rest of the league folded after 12 weeks.

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