The Waaah, he says, was Valhalla for the superstars and the burial ground of the ordinary pro. "It left a lost generation who'll never know how good they really were," Smith says. "We had a guy named Terry Caffery who was the best passer I ever saw. He came to me once and said, 'Al, if it wasn't for the WHA, I'd be nothing.' And I told him, 'No—if it wasn't for the WHA, you might be in the Hall of Fame. You'd be in the NHL; you'd have to push yourself; you'd have to try.' "
The novel that took Smith 20 years to write is called The Parade Has Passed. A star forward in the Waaah—Lonnie (Lahdee Dahdee) Daniels-hitchhikes north from Toronto to attend the funeral of his former coach, Red Eastman, who has been murdered by a pick-swinging man:
Sylvester Collins was out of breath and trembling from the amount of violence needed to cause this much devastation. He looked down at Red slumped on the ground below, but Sylvester wavered on the second floor because he was being blinded by a resplendent deflection of light that was propensitizing off the hallowed remains of Red's body. The light was blinding him and he tried to shield his eyes from it. He tried to see what was causing this blinding light and, sure enough, that's what it was. Red had put the Stanley Cup ring on to show him....
Fifty copies of The Parade Has Passed have been printed; two, including mine, have been sold. The back cover defines the work as "picaresque" and proclaims, "Faulkner faces off with Howe." Smith wrote those blurbs himself.
There was a time when Smith considered himself a rebel, a power-play flower child, the Jerry Rubin of a hidebound sport controlled by half a dozen old, old men. But now, Rubensesque and defeated, he says, "It wasn't us, it was the owners; rich young men with money who wanted to buy things. The Baldwins, the Pocklingtons—the capitalists shook up the system." And again, disbelievingly: "It was the capitalists who made the revolution."
LEWIS & WOOD LAW OFFICES, TRENTON, N.J.
The capitalist who took the Waaah into the capital of the world sits under a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte and ponders what might have been. Richard I. (Dick) Wood, owner of the New York Raiders in the first year of the WHA, wasn't the only wealthy young man to take a flier on the new league, but he might have been the only one who made a profit. The Raiders, a dreadful hockey team, went on to become the New York Golden Blades, the Jersey Knights and the San Diego Mariners before being euthanized, but by that time Wood was long gone.
In 1972 the 32-year-old Wood was commuting from Sea Girt on the Jersey shore to his office in Trenton when he read that another man had sagely let his option on the WHA rights to the New York metropolitan area expire. "It was a long trip every day," Wood recalls. "I had time to think it over and over. I was never a hockey player, just a fan—a Rangers fan. But the more I thought about it, the more I told myself, 'I could do that." "
He could, and he couldn't. For $50,000, the young lawyer bought the franchise rights and signed a lease with the vultures who ran Madison Square Garden. He hired a baseball man, Marvin Milkes, to run the operation, and the two geniuses brought in a group of fringe NHL players without a Hull or even an Al Smith in the bunch. Wood says he thought about trying to lure 43-year-old Gordie Howe out of retirement—the old man, of course, would return to play with his sons Mark and Marty in 1973, for the WHA's Houston Aeros—but the Red Wings, who controlled Howe's rights, never returned his phone calls. Hull, whose presence in New York might have changed everything, was the property of Hatskin, and no one had the nerve to ask Hatskin to relinquish his prize for the good of the league. "I wasn't going to poach," Wood says. "Even though having Bobby in New York would have been more synergistic, everybody wanted to win for himself."
The Raiders did sign the hairy Cowboy Bill Flett and the horrific Dave (the Hammer) Schultz from the Philadelphia Flyers, but the two men immediately came to their senses and jumped back to the NHL before ever wearing a Raiders uniform, a blue-and-orange creation that featured a lefthanded player in a twin-horned Viking helmet skating between skyscrapers.