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THE DAY THE MONEY RAN OUT
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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In 1974 the Birmingham Americans won the World Bowl (the WFL's Super Bowl) and led the league in attendance with a 43,000 per game average, but Owner Bill Putnam ran out of money because he was paying such ridiculously huge bonuses to NFL players who promised to jump to his team. (He gave Ken Stabler $110,000.) He owed everyone money, including the Internal Revenue Service, which tried to take over the player contracts and sell them to the highest bidder in order to get some of the money Putnam owed. The players were not paid for the last five weeks of the season. Before the championship game, which Birmingham won 22-21 over the Florida Blazers, Coach Jack Gotta paid for the team's pregame meal out of his own pocket. After the game, sheriff's deputies moved right into the locker room to repossess the uniforms as soon as the champions took them off.

The Chicago Fire was an amazing team. It drew 27,000 spectators per game during WFL I in spite of a 12-game losing streak. In WFL II the Fire was reorganized and renamed the Wind. The Wind's vice-president in charge of football operations, Frank Mariani, boasted at the time about "how beautifully organized" Wind was compared to Fire. After five games, however, the league front office ordered the Wind expelled, because two of its major investors had pulled out, and when Mariani was asked who these two were, he replied, "It was George and Rich from California. I don't know their last names, but one's an Arab and the other's a Greek."

Larry Grantham, formerly of the New York Jets and Florida Blazers, who was a coaching assistant for the San Antonio Wings, has this favorite anecdote from WFL I: "We hadn't been paid for some time and we were out on the field getting ready to play a game. We flipped the coin, won the toss and elected to keep the coin."

When the Chicago Wind was trying to sign Joe Namath, the team owner, Gene Pullano, and Namath's attorney, Jimmy Walsh, were hammering away at the deal. We can imagine this exchange taking place:

Pullano: O.K., four million.

Walsh: Five million. And the uniforms have to be green and white.

Pullano: You got it.

Walsh: And a blonde chauffeur for Joe, who's going to wear a tuxedo.

Pullano: You got it.

Walsh: And the car has to be a Rolls-Royce. A Silver Cloud.

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