The most serious AFL problem of all, however, is directly across the country in New York City, where Beyond the Fringe is the town's newest comedy hit, and the Titans are a little beyond Beyond. Titan Owner Harry Wismer can antagonize anyone within shrieking distance. Sportswriters, who used to knock him, now ignore him. Several AFL owners, who prefer not to be identified, would be joyous if Wismer sold out, and Bud Adams says, "Frankly, I'd like to see a change in ownership in New York. Harry Wismer is likely to lose $400,000 to $500,000 this year, and I don't know how much longer he can go on. But as long as Harry is fulfilling his obligation to the league, there's nothing we can do."
Wismer says, "If Bud Adams wants to make a statement, fine, and when he gets here we'll knock his brains out. I'll make my statement later, and it'll be very interesting. I'm going to have a lot of fun with people if statements are printed. I've got news for you—I don't lose suits."
Wismer's behavior can be extraordinary. He recently appointed his wife, Mary, president of the club and modestly thrust himself into the background as board chairman. Mrs. Wismer, he explained, was boss; from now on she was going to do the talking. A reporter asked her a question. Wismer brusquely cut her off. "Honey," he barked, "after this story you can talk all the time."
Last March, Wismer hired Murray Goodman, another in a long line of publicity men. Goodman was going to create a new Titan image, but he was shelved during the opening game. Released by the Titans, Quarterback Butch Songin exulted, "I'm happy to be out of there," and forthwith returned to the comparatively happy field of probation work. Says Songin: "Harry calls all the shots. He is ruining the Titans, and he is bad for the whole league."
As Songin tells it, Coach Bulldog Turner, successor to the fired Sammy Baugh, is "nothing more than Wismer's puppet. Before our first game with Dallas, Turner got all the players together and asked us for plays we thought might work. Can you imagine—asking us what plays we thought might work?"
Titan plays may or may not be hard to find, but Titan fans are. A recent gate, announced as 21,000, got loud guffaws in the press. "Wismer must have been counting eyes," said a writer. At the commission office in Dallas, Foss trimmed the figure to 12,000.
Wismer, meanwhile, blames his difficulties on the antique Polo Grounds. Up to last week he calculated that he had lost $1,700,000 on the team. He figures that the Titans will do much better when they play in the new city stadium in Queens next season. He is set on keeping a share of the team, though he has publicly put controlling interest of it on the market. Prospective bidders are around. As Bud Adams puts it, "We have three very substantial groups ready to step in and take over the franchise if Wismer goes down the drain."
The Titans' troubles, however, can no longer obscure the healthier look of the league as a whole. With improvement on the field, with sharply increasing attendance, with solid TV backing and with even its weakest franchises being eagerly sought by potential investors, the AFL at last has a real right to what one of its owners calls the league's new mood—"cautious optimism."