Davidson wasn't sure the Golden Jet could play in Winnipeg because the NHL had filed suit to retain Hull and all the other players who had signed with the WHA. The WHA, in turn, filed an antitrust suit against the NHL and was granted an injunction to play its games while the court cases were pending. In the mid-'70s the NHL abandoned its reserve clause—the legal absurdity that bound players to a team perpetually after their contracts expired—and in 1979 agreed to absorb four teams from the WHA. The lawsuits were dropped, but the WHA was rendered extinct.
By this time Davidson had already resigned from the WHA and turned his attention to his dream of a world football league. He was going to do nothing less than conquer the globe. Says Regan, "We were young enough and naive enough that we didn't know there were limits, that the world has finite boundaries."
These men were feeling immortal, the success of the WHA standing as a monument to themselves. Of course, there were other, smaller monuments: In the WHA's first season of existence, Andre Lacroix won the W.D. (Wild Bill) Hunter award as scoring champion, J.C. Tremblay was honored with the Dennis A. Murphy award as best defenseman, and Bobby Hull was the Most Valuable Player and proud recipient of the Gary L. Davidson trophy.
As Davidson prepared to breathe life into the WFL beginning in 1974, athletes' eyes were on a bigger prize. The prize would be won in baseball, the one major sport that Davidson had not challenged. In '73 a former steel-union boss named Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, had secured salary-arbitration rights for his constituents. Two years later an arbitrator's decision would grant "free agency" to pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally.
In the year between those two milestones, egregiously ill-timed plans were revealed for a new rebel baseball league, an opera buffa that would have nothing to do with the Davidson clique. Emboldened by the impact of the WHA and by the gaudy promises of the proposed new football league, a man named Sean Downey announced in April 1974 the imminent formation of the 32-team World Baseball Association, to play in the U.S., Latin America and Asia. "Baseball as presently played and structured," said Downey, one of several original owners of the New Orleans franchise in the ABA, "is a bore." He would have known: Sean Downey was himself an insufferable gasbag with an ego like a detonated self-inflating raft. In the 1980s he would create his own abrasive, right-wing television talk show with himself, using his middle name, as the host. Morton Downey Jr. presumably figured that the show was the next best thing to owning a baseball team—and not all that different, as Marge Schott would one day demonstrate.
There is a remarkable photograph in the May 1, 1974, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. Gary Davidson is shown "discussing matters," according to the caption, with tight end Ted Kwalick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers but newly signed by the Honolulu Hawaiians of the World Football League. Kwalick is indoors, but he is wearing Foster Grant sunglasses. His spectacular dress shirt bears stripes so wide that there is room for only two of them. Two stripes. His shirt collar resembles a pair of pterodactyl wings. The knot in his tie is slightly larger than a baby's head. As for the tie itself, it is simply enormous, as if Kwalick were still wearing the napkin he had tucked into his collar at lunch.
The WFL's promotional literature boasted that this was a "now" league, which may explain why the league now looks so "then." Nineteen seventy-four turned out to be the WFL's only full season, but that season somehow began with bold promise in that summer of the Watergate denouement. Play began on Wednesday nights in July, as striking NFL players were printing T-shirts emblazoned with a fist and the slogan NO FREEDOM, NO FOOTBALL. The new league had the look of a high-salaried land of milk and money, flush with the wealth of men like Hawaii owner Sam Battistone, the czar of Sambo's Racially Insensitive Family Restaurants. The future was a grand boulevard, as wide as a Kwalickian lapel, and the King himself blessed the new endeavor: Elvis sat in a skybox on opening night in Memphis. The Philadelphia Bell drew a reported 120,000 fans to its first two home games.
Tax records, however, would show that only some 20,000 tickets in Philly had been sold at full price. John F. Kennedy Stadium was a paper house, filled with fans in free seats. In fact, the entire league was a heavily mortgaged paper house, losing $20 million in its first 20-week season. Members of the Florida Blazers were not paid for the final ten weeks of the season. Paper house? Coach Jack Pardee personally bought toilet paper for the Blazers' home locker room. "You've heard of hungry football teams?" his wife, Phyllis, once told a reporter. "The Blazers really were hungry."
Somehow the Blazers still managed to make it to the optimistically named World Bowl I, which historians have since renamed World Bowl I-and-Only. Their opponents in that game, on Dec. 5, 1974, were the Birmingham Americans, whose uniforms were confiscated on behalf of a creditor by sheriff's deputies the day after their 22-21 triumph. As for the losers, well, at least they didn't go home empty-handed: Legend has it that following the opening coin flip, a Blazer captain put the silver dollar in his sock.
Gary Davidson exhumes his past from a sad little grocery sack. "I didn't want to lose all this," he says while dipping his hand into a paper bag full of brittle press clippings. "I don't think too much of this stuff is preserved in people's memories."