SO LONG, GARY...
Now that others are trying to revive the World Football League, one has to strain to catch even a passing mention of Gary Davidson, the fast-talking lawyer who founded the WFL and was instrumental in launching the WHA and ABA. The league offices, previously located in Davidson's hometown of Newport Beach, Calif., have been moved to New York, and the new operatives seem anxious to disassociate themselves from their predecessor, who has come to symbolize the spectacular failure of the WFL's first year.
A similar purge may be going on in the WHA, which also has been based in Newport Beach. On June 1 the 3-year-old hockey league will transfer its headquarters to Toronto and league officials are said to be considering possible new names for their MVP award, which is now called the Gary Davidson Trophy. At the Manhattan offices of the 7-year-old ABA—one venture that was never based in Newport Beach—Executive Director Thurlo McCrady says of the league's first president: "Gary's been gone a long time. Few of our present owners would recognize him if they saw him on the street."
For better or worse, Gary Davidson has been one of the most influential figures in the history of professional sport. We wanted to get that in before he fades from memory entirely. Or before he tries to start another league.
...AND HELLO, JOE?
A key to the WFL's hopes for survival is its $4 million offer to Joe Namath, a gambit that raises the question of how one brittle-kneed quarterback could possibly be worth so much money. Well, Namath isn't worth it—to the NFL, that is. The NFL enjoys sold-out stadiums and a plump TV package and would be foolish to pay so hugely for something it already has. When Namath's contract expires May 1 the New York Jets will probably refuse to go much beyond his present $250,000-plus salary.
But the WFL is up against empty seats, no TV contract and low credibility. This is roughly what the upstart American Football League faced in 1965 when the Jets signed Namath out of college for a then-astonishing $400,000. The Jets believed, correctly, that Namath would help bring respectability, and the WFL's bosses are confident—10 times as confident, to be exact—that he can do it again. Hence their offer: a $500,000 bonus, a $500,000 salary for each of the next three years and an annuity paying $100,000 annually for 20 years after retirement.
The WFL's reasoning is that Namath will pay for himself. He would play for the WFL's Chicago franchise, which would pay the bonus plus half his salary. The club eventually would cover this through a public stock offering and the sale of 3,500 extra season tickets, Joe's presence presumably assuring that Chicagoans would snap up both the stock and the tickets. The remaining $250,000 in yearly salary would be split among the league's other teams, each of which would pick up the requisite cash in added receipts when Namath-led Chicago comes to town. Namath's presence would also be counted on to seal a network TV deal, the proceeds of which would more than cover the cost of his annuity.
Even should Namath be injured, the WFL might be able to recoup most of its money. Television's heavy thinkers have long felt that Namath would be worth as much in the broadcasting booth as he is on the field. It is conceivable that TV would grab his contract for the chance to use Broadway Joe—or is it Midway Joe?—as a telecaster.