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50 Years Ago Today: The WFL Played Its First Games

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Good morning Uni Watchers, and a Happy Humpday to one and all.

I have a very special and fun lede for you today, as we celebrate a very special anniversary — on July 10, 1974, exactly 50 years ago to the day — the World Football League (WFL) played the new league’s very first games. And Uni Watch contributor/pal/stalwart Jimmy Corcoran was there to witness the first game in person. Jimmy undoubtedly knows more about the history and uniforms of the WFL better than anyone. Jimmy has shared some really fun stories with us previously.

I’m sure most readers are familiar with Jimmy — his dad, “King” Corcoran played quarterback for the Philadelphia Bell, one of the teams to open the inaugural (and as it turned out, penultimate) season of the new upstart league. He’ll be regaling us with his memories from that day 50 years ago momentarily.

From the excellent World Football League website, here’s how they described the anticipation of the debut games for the WFL:

July 10, 1974

WFL openers attract thousands; Davidson claims, “WFL Is Here To Stay”

The World Football League kicked off its inaugural season on July 10, 1974 in five cities across the United States. The response was incredible. The following night in Jacksonville, Florida over 59,000 fans packed into the Gator Bowl, surprising even WFL Commissioner Gary Davidson who was in attendance. Davidson had attended the Americans-Sun game in Birmingham, Alabama, the night before. The WFL drew over 250,000 fans to its games and Davidson was quoted as telling reporters, “I’m really awed… the crowds have been better than I expected.” Despite the numbers, a few troubling headlines were reported. In Philadelphia, a monumental traffic jam occurred when 55,000 Bell fans and 32,000 Phillies fans tried to get home after the game. In Jacksonville and Memphis power failures delayed play, and in Chicago and Philadelphia officials questioned the reported “paid” attendance, while newspapers in Orlando, Florida reported the lack of attendance. Despite the few miscues the WFL had arrived with a welcoming that was fit for a king.

And here’s how the media of the day described the Philadelphia Bell game:

Bell Routs Storm 33-8 Before 55,000 at JFK

“King” Corcoran leads team with two touchdowns

philadelphia, pa; The Bell scored four 7-point touchdowns and crushed the Portland Storm 33-8 before 55,534 fans. The Bell were sparked by quarterback Jim “King” Corcoran who completed 21 of 38 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. In the first quarter, Philadelphia broke a scoreless tie with a 28-yard field goal by Richie Szaro and then opened up the offense to lead 25-0 by halftime as Corcoran executed three touchdown drives, capping two with scoring passes. WFL officials were impressed with the turnout- the Bell outdrew the Philadelphia Phillies on the same night. (Claude Watts, pictured above). This game was televised by HBO Sports.

Let me now turn the rest of this over to Jimmy as he brings you…

• • • • •

The Uni Watch Time Machine: July 10, 1974 — Let’s Go Back to the WFL
by Jimmy Corcoran

Has it been fifty years already? Phil and I discussed a couple of different ways to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the WFL today and this is what we came up with. There are a lot of Uni Watch readers who weren’t even born when the WFL was around, so today I am going to take you back to July 10, 1974, and you will go through the whole day and game of the Philadelphia Bell vs the Portland Storm. I even brought out the heavy guns for this article, my mother. At first, she wanted nothing to do with a King Corcoran story, but when she found out it was for Uni Watch she agreed because she said “Phil is a straight shooter” and she loves the nickname “The Jimmer!” So, I have added stories from her to this article.

We drove up to Philadelpha that morning and would be staying there for a couple of days. If the Bell lost, we would be going back to Maryland the next morning because my father would sulk for two days after a loss and mom didn’t want to be in a hotel room with him in that mood. About halfway there we stopped for food, and he was on the cover of all the newspapers at the newsstand at the rest stop. My mother said, “This sure isn’t Pottstown tonight, I hope he is ready.”

We got to the Warwick Hotel in the afternoon, a lot of the Bell players lived there and so did my father. He really was treated like a King in that place, room service would call him in the morning and ask him if he is ready for his scrambled eggs.

When we got to my father’s room, he was studying the plays with Frank Dimaggio (his backup). Frank would give him a down and yardage situation and my father would say what plays were available and what formations they could run the play out of. The Philadelphia Bell had the most sophisticated offense in the WFL and my father would be calling his own plays this night, so he needed Frank to test him.

I didn’t notice anything different about my father, he always seemed ultra cool to me, but my mother had known him since he was seventeen years old, and asked him what was wrong. He said nothing. She said “You look nervous,” and he said “The King doesn’t get nervous.” He got up to go to the bathroom and my mother asked “Dimag” (as my father would call him) “Is he nervous?” And Frank said, “No, the King will eat them up tonight.”

I didn’t like the vibe my mother was giving off and said “Why are you saying he is nervous?” She said “Did you see how the flair pen was shaking in his hands; he never does that.” When my father came out of the bathroom she asked him again what was wrong, and he said “I haven’t played in front of a crowd like this since I was at Maryland, I don’t have any game film of the Portland Storm, I just want to give the fans a good show tonight.”

Frank Dimaggio tried to calm him down by saying, “Their defense will be very basic, and you can read a blitz with your eyes shut.” He said “You’re right Dimag, plus I have a few tricks up my sleeve for them tonight.” What he meant by that was, the Bell had a whole playbook of plays that they didn’t use in the scrimmages, so the Storm would have a hard time defending, since they wouldn’t recognize the formations and multiple shifts the Bell would use.

Frank and my father went downstairs, as they had to go to a meeting that would take about forty-five minutes. When we all got to the lobby, there was a news camera crew there who wanted to do a piece on him for the news that night — if there was one thing the King loved, it was a camera crew. He told them to wait, he would be back soon, and he left. The camera guy asked my mother did she want to go down the street and walk in the park with us and do an interview, she said “Sure.” We walked by my mother as she walked around the park and told what it was like being married to the King. I never said anything, at ten years old, most of the stories I told in those NFL Films movies hadn’t happened yet. The interview went so well that they said we have enough footage and left. We never even saw it on the news that night because we were at a team party.

_____

We waited for my father in the lobby and when he got back, he said “Where is my camera crew?” My mother said “They left. They interviewed me and said they had enough.” He went crazy! “What do you mean they left, how can they leave without the King? You’re stealing my thunder Marylou.” As we got in the elevator, he mumbled to himself, “How can you do a King story without the King?”

He took a short nap and then we all went to the stadium, we got there early and there was no crowd there yet. My Mother and sister went to the seats, there were a lot of my parents’ friends from Maryland there to hang out with. I went to the locker room with my father. At the time, I lived in Maryland and had been to the scrimmages, but the season had yet to start, and I didn’t know everybody yet as well as I would when I started to hang out there. I knew Claude Watts, John Land, Ron Holiday, and Brian Marshall from the Pottstown Firebirds but that was about it at this point. A lot of the guys I met earlier in the summer didn’t make the team. I was so new to the WFL I didn’t know that the home team wore white jerseys at home! The first thing I saw was the white jerseys hanging in the lockers and was disappointed that they would not be wearing the blue jerseys.

I walked over to the equipment room; I didn’t have access to it yet like I would when I did work for Bob Colonna. I looked in and saw all the blue Bell game jerseys hanging on a rack, I asked my father, “Aren’t you wearing the blue jerseys at home.” He replied, “I don’t know Jimbo, don’t bother me with that shit now”.

I had been in the Pottstown Firebirds locker room with him but was too young to notice his demeanor. In 1972 I had been in the Chambersburg Cardinals locker room, and he was loose and telling King stories as he got dressed, but tonight he was a serious as a heart attack. I looked at his jersey hanging up and it was a size medium, I also noticed Frank Dimaggio’s jersey was a size medium, they looked really small to me, my father was a weightlifter and Dimaggio was bigger than my father. I guess I asked another dumb question when I asked him why his jersey was only a medium, he said “Jimbo what did I just tell you about this?”

We went outside for the warm ups, people were taking pictures of him and Bell players were coming up to him and saying have a good game King, and he was now back to his old self and joking around again, just a few minutes earlier he was pretty tense getting dressed. There was a large group of Storm players with their hands on their hips watching my father throw. I asked my father why are all those Storm players watching you? He said “They want to see if the King’s arm is as good as advertised Jimbo, I am going to light these fuckers up tonight”.

My father did ask me what I thought of the Portland Storm uniforms. I said I didn’t like them, he said I wasn’t digging them either. I have seen the Storm uniforms described as neon green on the internet, but they weren’t, they were more of a dull green and as it became night outside you couldn’t see the numbers very well.

We went back into the locker room and I went over to John Land and wished him good luck. I had known him since I was five years old and he gave me a hug. I then had to stand outside with some other kids because Ron Waller’s speech was full of F bombs. The game had finally started, and guess who caught my father’s first pass in the WFL, Mr. Invincible himself Vince Papale, I don’t know the yardage, but it was a short pass in the middle.

Since the crowd was so loud and there was a full stadium, I couldn’t hear the players on the field like I could when the crowd was almost empty later in the season, but I could see the Portland DB’s arguing with each other over who was supposed to cover the wide-open Bell WR’s. Since I didn’t have any ball boy duties, this first game and a kid can’t really see things from the sidelines so well, I went up to the stands and hung out with my mother and sister. My Mother asked how Dad was doing, I said, “I don’t know he won’t talk to me during the game.”

He ended up throwing two TD’s in the game and they won 33-8.

After the game, the locker room was like a party, with the King leading the way. He was the very last guy to take off his uniform, he stood on the long bench in front of his locker and pumped his fist as he led the players with “33-8, 33-8!” chants. He literally gave an interview to every reporter in that locker room, and as I said in a previous story, I went outside and told my mother he was still in his uniform, and she said “Tell him to get dressed or we’re leaving.”

We drove back to the hotel and there was a team party in the restaurant in the hotel. We went up to the room and he put on one of his wild outfits with his blue sunglasses. We went downstairs and when we went into the party he got a standing ovation, and let me tell you, nobody liked applause like the King, he just ate it up. One of the owners was John Kelly, the brother of Grace Kelly and he had some old movie star friends there who wanted to meet my father. That is another thing the King loved, Hollywood and movie stars, I don’t think I ever saw him in such a good mood.

The next day we were at Dewy’s, a restaurant across the street, he had his own booth there that had a “Reserved for King Corcoran” sign on it. While the King had his usual rare burger and black and white shake, there was a color picture of him on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer, people were asking him to sign it for them and he was eating it up. We all drove back to Maryland the next day and my poor mother had to listen to every play he called against the Storm.

_____

Well, I would like to thank the Uni Watch readers for taking this journey with me today and going back to that day and reliving that first game in the WFL 50 years ago today.

• • • • •

Thanks, Jimmy! And thanks for regaling us with a really fun story of what it was like to be so close to the action on the day the WFL started.

 

 
  
 

Reminder: Big Uni Design Competition -- Deadline Approaching

In case you missed it, the University of Hawai’i and Uni Watch are partnering on a Women’s Basketball uniform design competition.

All the details are here.

Submissions will be accepted through Wednesday, July 17.

The Grand Prize winner will receive a cash prize of $1,500, roundtrip airfare for one to Honolulu, and accommodations, for the basketball game slated for January 25, where the winning design will be worn and showcased to hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.

 

 

Reminder: Olympic Correspondents Wanted!

Yesterday I put out a call for Olympic Correspondents (click here).

There was a very good response, but I’d love a few more. Below is a listing of the sports that will be covered by UWers, but there are many sports/disciplines still not taken.

Here are the sports “Taken” so far:

1. Field Hockey
2. Wrestling
3. Men’s Soccer
4. Basketball (Historical uniforms from past Olympics)
5. Marathon
6. Handball (Men’s and Women’s)
7. EU Opening Ceremony Outfits
8. Swimming (Historical suits from the past)
9. Rugby (Men’s and Women’s)
10. Skateboarding
11. Track & Field (Historical unis)
12. Women’s Football

Anything else is open — if you click the article linked above, it contains a list of all sports at the Olympics, so there are still many to choose from.

Thanks, and hope to hear from a few more of you interested in covering other Olympic events.

 

 

Guess the Game from the Uniform


Based on the suggestion of long-time reader/contributor Jimmy Corcoran, we’ve introduced a new “game” on Uni Watch, which is similar to the popular “Guess the Game from the Scoreboard” (GTGFTS), only this one asked readers to identify the game based on the uniforms worn by teams.

Like GTGFTS, readers will be asked to guess the date, location and final score of the game from the clues provided in the photo. Sometimes the game should be somewhat easy to ascertain, while in other instances, it might be quite difficult. There will usually be a visual clue (something odd or unique to one or both of the uniforms) that will make a positive identification of one and only one game possible. Other times, there may be something significant about the game in question, like the last time a particular uniform was ever worn (one of Jimmy’s original suggestions). It’s up to YOU to figure out the game and date.

Today’s GTGFTU comes from Brent Hall.

Good luck and please post your guess/answer in the comments below.

 

 

Uni Tweet of the Day

100% better. Never wear the burgundy over white again.

 

And finally...

…that’s going to do it for the early lede. Big thanks, as always, to the one and only Jimmy Corcoran for regaling us with another great WFL story. Happy Birthday, WFL!

I should have several more pieces today, plus Anthony’s Ticker, so be sure to check back early and often!

Everyone have a great Wednesday, and I’ll catch you back here in the morning.

Peace,

PH

Comments (37)

    You are welcome Mark, I hope you have been paying attention, next week there will be a quiz on the Detroit Wheels. Just kidding! I have also learned quite a bit about baseball jerseys here on Uni Watch, an area that I don’t have a lot of expertise on. This site is a great source of information.

    Depending on whether we want to let the New Orleans Jazz (also born in 1974) share the credit/blame, it appears the WFL is responsible for originating the phenomenon of singular team names (Philadelphia Bell, Portland Storm) in pro sports.

    Indeed. That’s the worst part of the league’s legacy. It’s hard to take most team names like that seriously.

    Dallas Tornado, United Soccer Association, 1967 (and then a long run in the North American Soccer League with many other teams with singular names).
    Chalk another innovation up to Lamar Hunt.

    That Portland Storm logo combines so much symbolism in one simple logo. It’s perfection. No storytelling needed.

    What a great story, Jimmy! Your tales about your dad’s exploits in the WFL are always highly entertaining, and this just might be the best of them all.

    Thank you Bvk, I wasn’t even sure Phil would go for this when I told him I wanted to relive the whole day of July 10, 1974. I can’t remember the names of my college professor’s or where my high school lockers were, but I remember the Philadelphia Bell very well, even my mother does.

    WFL Beginnings: The next night July 11, 1974, I went to the old Gator Bowl and watched the Jacksonville Sharks defeat the New York Stars 14-7. I was given a free ticket as a player in a Baseball Youth league, and before the game and on the school bus ride there I thought we were going to be one of the few teams there because, hey, this must a special thing for them to give us these expensive tickets, right? Lo and behold when we got there it was one giant Kid Party, pretty much every Youth League in Jacksonville was invited and the Duval County School bus system was entirely activated for one night to take us all there! We were at least 80% of the 59,000 crowd, free ticket, free transportation. The game itself was kinda boring Alvin Wyatt of the Sharks had a pick-six and the Power went out so there were tens of thousands of bored kids there in the dark. It was a little scary in 1974 it took about 15 min for the lights to come back on but the kids did not get rowdy! I remember my 12 yr old self thinking what a scam this crowd was and how the Sharks looked a little too much like the Raiders. I can’t remember going to another game back then, and if you look at the attendance for the season and the WFL Folding months later I realized my 12 yr old self could recognize a scam. Good Times.

    See, I’ve seen many mentions of the Sharks papering the house in that game, but no explanation of how it was done. Free tickets to over 40,000 youth ballplayers? And the owners didn’t think the media would notice? That’s something that only could happen to the WFL.

    I love the alt-universe Raiders look.

    Thanks for sharing another great memory, Jimmy. Your stories are always a welcome addition to the blog.

    Thanks always for WFL fun! That was great.

    Regarding the odd team names, I distinctly remember Woody Hayes being asked about the WFL, its “worldwide aspirations” and its funny team names. His response was something like “with all of them going out of business, the should put a team in the Philippines and call them the Manilla Folders.” It’s been a while, and I suppose you could look it up somewhere, but I always thought that was a pretty witty response.

    Thank you Christopher, one of my father’s favorite stories was he was out with a couple of the young players and some girls asked them what they do? One guy said we are with the Philadelphia Bell and the girl asked him how he liked working for the phone company. Not the same status as telling them you are with the Eagles.

    The King always would get a huge laugh when a guy would get humiliated by a girl, but he would flip out if he didn’t get recognized by someone, a pretty fragile ego.

    The Washington Post today posted an interesting pictorial/video piece on the making of the US Olympic artistic gymnastics uniforms. Gift link: link

    I remember the launch of the WFL from the perspective of a young, uni-obsessed kid living in Hawaii. I either watched highlights or the actual game and remember being fascinated by the uniforms—and the bizarre final score of 8-7.

    I ended up attending a Hawaiians game at the old Honolulu Stadium later that season, I think against the Sun

    And the second writeup sent me down a Richie Szaro rabbit hole. I knew he kicked for the Saints but I didn’t know he went to Harvard and kicked for the Bell. Always nice to learn about a fellow Pole who kicks field goals!

    My father was good buddies with Rich Szaro, the only thing was he never had any money with him, and my father always had to give him money. One time after Rich left, my mother asked my father does Szaro get a paycheck with the Bell? Szaro once kicked a 50 yard field goal in practice, and Ron Waller was so happy he cancelled the rest of the practice.

    One of my mother’s favorite Seinfeld episodes is “The Jimmy” so she likes the nickname the Jimmer!

    I never knew there was ever a WFL, that’s pretty cool!
    My question is: What is the relation between a bell and Philadelphia and why is the bell always shown with a crack in it?

    It was interesting to see that some Bell players (including the King) wore grey facemasks, while others had blue ones. Were different colored facemasks a “thing” in the WFL?

    I tried to talk my father into wearing a Dungard like Vince Papale wore, but he said he said he couldn’t see well with it. All the Bell Dungard’s were blue, but if you wanted to wear a single bar or double bar, then you had to go with a gray one. In 1975 they spray painted them blue but they looked bad because they would start to chip the paint off.

    I love these stories (and photos!) about the WFL. I was only 4 at the time so I have no recollection of it all. It’s like living vicariously through Jimmy Corcoran!

    Thank you Patrick, that is what I tried to do this time, I wanted the Uni Watch readers to go back in time and spend July 10, 1974, with a 10 year old me. That is why I brought my mother in for this one, I wanted to get that conversation she had in the hotel room accurate. I will be honest; I didn’t pick up any worries in him and my mother saw he was very nervous.

    GTGFTU: 19 October 2009, Week 6 Monday Night Football between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers. Both wore throwback uniforms. Broncos won, 34-23

    I respect the Broncos (or the league office) getting the white-striped socks right with the white jerseys.

    As a fan of any alternative football league that comes along, I’m fascinated by how easy it was back in ’74 to get media attention and a good crowd (even if you subtract all the free tickets). I don’t know if it’s rising ticket prices or whether the NFL has established permanent living space in our heads as the only thing that could possibly be worth watching.

    Based on my study of WFL narratives and data, the league made whopping huge mistakes in vetting owners, but still had a chance to get away with it if some foresight had been applied.
    1. the bad owners were well understood to be speculators with little wealth who were expected to go out there and hustle to flip their franchises to some rich guys. The surprise week 1 success lured them into delaying that, trying to pay their way on gate receipts. Which was a time bomb, because:
    2. the WFL did not have a gate split, which is ridiculous. Teams had no incentive to travel to road games once they started running out of money so they began to forfeit or even sell their home dates to opponents, which is a bad look.
    3. today no new football league would dare to play a 20-game schedule. If the ’74 season had ended after the 10th week on Labor Day weekend, instead of that being the midpoint, none of the teams would have moved or folded yet (though Detroit was clearly doomed). The Papergate scandal badly damaged the brand but it would have been over and people would begin to forget by next year.
    4. after Labor Day, the league got slaughtered going head-to-head against the NFL and college. You can see the attendance drop badly in Birmingham once SEC play began.
    5. Chicago lost its QB Vince Carter and began a brutal tailspin after having averaged maybe 35,000 per game early on. If the season had ended earlier that might have saved the franchise with a playoff game in Chicago. The TV contract required a team in Chicago, and once that team folded the possibility of a new contract with one of the big networks required it too.
    6. in retrospect, 12 teams was too many.

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