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William Oscar Johnson
December 01, 1975
When the ailing World Football League expired during its second season, the wake brought many memories and some good laughs
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December 01, 1975

The Day The Money Ran Out

When the ailing World Football League expired during its second season, the wake brought many memories and some good laughs

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Mike Giddings, head coach of the Honolulu Hawaiians during both seasons, recalled, "The league always seemed a little tentative to me. Last year when we got to Orlando for our first road game, we went to the stadium and found them just cementing in the goal posts." After the Hawaiians' first road game of 1975, at Jacksonville, players were showering when a storm knocked out the electricity in their locker room. The players calmly assumed this was merely a cost-saving measure by the league, and Giddings quietly ordered a bus driver to pull up to the locker room windows and shine the headlights through them so they could finish dressing.

In November 1974 the uniforms and equipment of the Charlotte Hornets were seized by sheriff's deputies after a game with the Shreveport Steamer. A cleaner claimed he was due $26,216 for debts incurred when the team was still the New York Stars. The players worked out in shorts until team owners posted a bond for the uniforms in time for the next game, but not before a spate of bad jokes had been loosed, including one that the Hornets would be reduced to a single play from now on—a naked reverse.

The Detroit Wheels lasted a total of 14 weeks in WFL I. The team had a 1-13 record, which led Detroit News columnist Jerry Green to suggest they be renamed the Hubcaps, since they are so much easier to rip off. Though it was a Detroit team in name, it played all of its home games 37 miles away in Ypsilanti. The coach of the Wheels was a decent fellow named Danny Boisture, a businessman who had previously made his living selling screwdrivers and pliers to the automotive industry. Earlier in his career, Boisture had been the football coach at Eastern Michigan University.

One of a multitude of low points for Boisture and the Wheels was recorded by Jerry Green: "There were theatrics on the night of Aug. 14, 1974 in the stadium at Ypsilanti. A guy in blue made a one-hand stab. His graceful bit of acrobatics prompted the assemblage of 14,424—officially announced—to emit a throaty roar.

" 'Hey, what was all that cheering up there?' asked Dan Boisture in the locker-room postmortem that pro football coaches always conduct. This game had been a 37-7 loss to the Memphis Southmen, and he was not quite accustomed to cheers from the grandstand. But there had been the leaping one-hand stab by the guy in blue.

" ' Frisbee,' a sympathetic individual told Boisture. 'The fans were sailing a Frisbee back and forth throughout the third quarter.'

" 'Oh, that breaks our hearts a little,' said Boisture."

Heartbreak was the name of the game for the Wheels. They dealt in tough luck and ineptitude from their inception when they failed to sign 33 of their 36 choices in the original WFL draft. Four months before the first game, the Wheels sent out a public call for people—anyone—to play on the team. No less than 665 men turned up to try out. One brought his wife in a fur coat and another handed Boisture a note that read, "I'd really like to be a football player, but if I can't make the team, I'd settle for water boy." Not one of the 665 made the team—not even as water boy.

The Bell's Executive Vice-President, Barry Leib, assured himself a place in sports history after his team's first two games of 1974 when he announced paid attendance at JFK Stadium to be 55,534 for the opener and 64,719 for the second contest. This was considered astonishing, an enormously hopeful sign for the WFL. Unfortunately, a short time later it was revealed that most of the people in the stadium were there on free tickets—the house was papered. Actual paid attendance was 13,855 and 6,200. This came to be known as the Great Papergate Scandal. Leib confessed, "What can I say? I lied. I never thought those figures would come out. I admit I lied to reporters. I never regarded a reporter as a priest."

Rick Eber, a swift wide receiver for the Shreveport Steamer, had four catches for 91 yards, including the winning touchdown, against Philadelphia one afternoon in 1974. This was all the more impressive in that it was raining and the field was a swamp. Eber was playing with tacks taped to his fingers. "They're small tacks," he said. "I can close my hand and the tacks won't even break the skin. They just drag on the ball. I knew it was illegal, but we needed a win."

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