After the first four games of the season, the World Football League computer was fed every statistic from the size of Larry Csonka's helmet (7�) to the gas mileage Anthony Davis gets on his Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow (about eight mpg). Then the computer was asked which is the best team in the league, all in all. The answer—prepare yourselves for this down there in San Antonio and Memphis—is the Southern California Sun. They could have asked Sun Coach Tom Fears the question six weeks ago, and he would have told them the same thing.
But not even Fears expected the Sun to rush to a 4-1 record and the top of the Western Division the way it has—to a great extent on the play of rookie Quarterback Pat Haden, who didn't even figure to be a starter, and rookie Running Back Anthony Davis, who at 5'9" and 182 pounds was judged too small to perform as a regular for the New York Jets of the NFL. The first two times Davis touched the ball last Friday night in a wild 58-39 win over the Philadelphia Bell in Anaheim, he threw a left-handed 51-yard touchdown pass and ran 84 yards for another six points on a kickoff return. Haden, the league's leading passer, threw for three Sun touchdowns before he retired in the third quarter. "Frankly, I didn't think we would use Haden much this year," Fears says. "Now I think he's the best rookie quarterback I've seen since Joe Namath."
Haden and Davis are hardly unknowns, starring as they did on television the past few seasons in such heady dramas as the Rose Bowl and the Notre Dame games. They did it a few miles up the freeway from Anaheim, at a place called the University of Southern California. They now are playing in relative obscurity, the WFL not having a network TV contract and in fact not being overloaded with paying fans thus far. But Haden and Davis are doing for the Sun what they did for USC—helping to produce a winning team with an offense that starts going for touchdowns as soon as the players run out of the tunnel.
Unfortunately, Haden will play only three more games for the Sun this year. At the end of this month, with the WFL schedule half over, Haden reports to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. (He says that next year he hopes to arrange things so he can play the whole season.) Haden's postgraduate plans were the reason that the Rams waited until the seventh round to draft him, and why Fears considered him as little more than an extra arm on the practice field in training camp. Who wants a quarterback who can play only half a season? You don't need a computer to answer that one. But without Haden, the Sun might now be sinking in the West.
What was supposed to happen, what Fears was counting on, was for Daryle Lamonica, who played on 11 division championship teams at Buffalo and Oakland, to move right in as quarterback. Lamonica lost his starting job at Oakland and played out his option last year, saying he thought the Raiders would have beaten Pittsburgh and gone to the Super Bowl if Oakland Coach John Madden had stayed in the hotel instead of showing up at the game. "We had some great game plans," Lamonica says. "First down you run to the right, second down you run to the left, third down you pass." Lamonica is known for his fondness for throwing long—he has hit 32 touchdowns from 40 or more yards. Never mind that Madden's record at Oakland is 59-18-7 as head coach, Lamonica says Madden still ought to be an assistant. Madden no doubt thought Lamonica ought to be in some town other than Oakland. Anaheim, for example.
Lamonica signed with the WFL last year and watched from a distance as the league appeared to disappear in a typhoon of debts, including unpaid salaries. When the old WFL went bankrupt and the new WFL was organized, Lamonica accepted a salary for this season that is roughly half of what he had been promised. But Lamonica thought he would eat up the WFL. Instead, he was hit so hard in a July exhibition game that he got a bilateral hernia.
That left the Sun quarterbacking to Haden and Mike Ernst, who had previously hung around with Cincinnati and Denver. Despite the handicap of wanting to continue his education, Haden became the man. An English major in college, with a grade-point average that is not ordinarily consistent with blond California athletic heroes, Haden astonished the Sun coaches by understanding what they were talking about almost at once, even if the coaches themselves weren't sure what they meant. "In the first three days of camp we gave him 70 plays and he memorized them immediately," says Babe Dimancheff, offensive coordinator of the Sun. "I gave all our quarterbacks an exam where they had to chart not only plays but defenses, too. Out of 60 questions, Haden missed one."
"I've been very lucky," Haden says. "I'm playing at home on a good team with some old friends [including Davis and Receiver John McKay, son of the USC coach, with whom Haden lived for several years] and things have fallen into place. But my priority is my education. After Oxford, I'll sit down and think what I want to do with my life. If football is still fun, I'll keep it up." Haden has been invited to join the rugby team at Oxford and was requested to attend an early rugby training camp in Australia. "But I like my body too much to do that," he says. "Rugby is the kind of punishment a guy like Anthony Davis could take. I'm not afraid to give him the ball 25 or 30 times in a game. He's not only smart and a great player, he's durable."
When people read that the Sun had signed Davis to a five-year contract for a sum reported to be as much as $2.5 million, certain creditors of last year's Sun began to arrive in General Manager Larry Hatfield's office to inquire why their bills could not be paid if there was that sort of money to hand out. "It's hard to explain that this is a different deal from last year," Hatfield says. "To be successful and eventually pay off everybody, we need quality players like Davis, whose salary is highly exaggerated, but most of our creditors understand the situation. I wondered if we would be able to get credit at all this year, and it turns out a lot of people are willing to trust us again."
The fans, though, are still somewhat dubious. At the July exhibition game against Memphis, in which Lamonica was hurt, the Sun sold 14,000 tickets at the box office in the 90 minutes before kickoff. "People were waiting to see if Csonka, Kiick and Warfield would really come to town with Memphis," says Sun Vice-President Don Andersen.