Mike Lynn, who gave up his position as general manager of the Minnesota Vikings to become president of the WLAF last October, has grand plans. He sees the league having divisions in the Far East, Australia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and North America by the year 2001. He sees the Tokyo Tidal Wave, the Beijing Wall, the Canberra Kangaroos, the Moscow Muskrats, the Brussels Sprouts. And he is excited. "I can see," says Lynn, "500 million Chinese buying World League merchandise and watching their own team on TV."
Lynn has good reason to believe the WLAF will have a healthy future, because club owners are paying peanuts to the players—quarterbacks receive a base salary of $25,000, punters and kickers get $15,000 and everybody else earns $20,000—and because the league has the support and seed money of the NFL owners. But what about the present? Well, the league does have a few headaches. The Frankfurt Galaxy can no longer count on attracting 10,000 U.S. troops based in Germany to each home game because the threat of terrorism has confined the soldiers to their bases. By late last week, with only a month to go before the start of the 10-game WLAF season, the Orlando Thunder had sold just 3,000 season tickets to the 70,000-seat Florida Citrus Bowl. Worse, the London Monarchs had sold only 300 season tickets, which was 300 more than the Barcelona Dragons had sold. Sports officials in Spain told the WLAF they had never heard of season tickets and, in fact, that Spaniards knew of just one pro football player: Joe Montana.
Imagine starting a pro football league. New leagues are oh-for-two since 1975.
Now imagine starting an international league in the midst of a recession and a war, with no marquee players to boot. "Pick any year since the end of World War II that you wouldn't want to start a sports league, and we're in it," says Lynn.
Finally, imagine trying to pull all of this off with the help of a good many people who don't know beans about the game. During an indoctrination for club executives one afternoon in Orlando, Barcelona owner Josep Maria Figueras yawned, leaned toward Lynn and whispered, "When do we take the siesta?"
This league has no shot, right? Not so fast. The concept is workable, unless attendance is horrific. Every player is paid according to the salary scale, plus an incentive plan that is based on playing time as well as on individual and team performance. The league figures the 10 teams will average $1.1 million in player salaries. Thirty-four NFL players each earned more than that in 1990. Further, neither the World Football League (1974-75) nor the U.S. Football League (1983-85) had the backing of the NFL.
Over the 17 days in Orlando during which the WLAF took shape, ownership groups heard how the league would be run, coaching staffs scouted 710 American players, drafting 650 of them, and the indoctrination of the Operation Discovery athletes began. Weiss's experiences typify those of the foreign athletes who are being integrated into the WLAF. Here is what this brave new world is about for some other people who have signed on with the league.
The conference table in the hotel suite was covered with bags of pistachio nuts, peanuts, pizza chips, potato chips, tortilla chips, jalapeño chips, Chex mix, Cheez Doodles, pretzels, Vanilla Cremes, Nutter Butters, a tin of smokeless tobacco, 14 soda cans, six yellow legal pads and, occasionally, some feet. And something else was on the way. "Could you please send up three large pots of coffee and 10 cups?" San Antonio Riders defensive coordinator Greg Newhouse asked room service at 11:05 p.m.
"You get a chance to eat dinner?" Rider coach Mike Riley asked Tom Landry.
"This is my dinner," Landry said, popping a jalapeño chip into his mouth.