Forty Years Ago, the World Football League (temporarily) Challenged the NFL: Read About The Cleveland Connections


Image

In October 1973, Gary Davidson announced the formation of the World Football League (WFL). It wasn’t Davidson’s first foray into forming a pro sports league. In 1967 he helped form the American Basketball Association to challenge the established NBA. Five years later he ushered in the World Hockey Association as a rival to the National Hockey League. A football league was the next logical step. Davidson phoned up his friends, including Cleveland’s Nick Mileti, who eagerly took a spot in the new league for a meager $250K. Mileti didn’t stay long though. He knew that he would never be able to compete with the Browns and wasn’t interested in owning a team in another city, so he sold his paper franchise to Chicago businessman Tom Origer for $400K. The team was christened the Fire.

The World Football League opened for business on July 10, 1974 and to the surprise of many, huge crowds turned up for games in Philadelphia (55,000), Memphis (30,000), Chicago (36,000), and Birmingham (53,000). The crowd in Orlando, Florida was less impressive as just over 11,000 fans filed into the Tangerine Bowl to watch the Florida Blazers take on The Hawaiians.  The next night, however, nearly 60,000 fans packed the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville as the hometown Sharks defeated the New York Stars 14 to 8.

Days later, it was revealed that the attendance in some cities was vastly inflated by free tickets, particularly in Philadelphia and Jacksonville. The WFL faced an immediate credibility problem that would soon be followed by severe financial issues. Teams folded and moved. Some played on, but without paying players. The first season ended with World Bowl I (and only). In that game the Birmingham Americans defeated the Florida Blazers 22 to 21 before a crowd 32,176 at Legion Field in Birmingham. After the game, sheriff’s deputies confiscated the Americans’ uniforms to pay the team’s creditors.

Early in the 1974 season, before it became apparent that the WFL was taking on water, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis saw an opportunity. In the 1986 book The League: The Rise and Fall of the National Football League (an inaccurate title in retrospect), author David Harris elaborates. Browns owner Art Modell told Harris of a meeting in 1974 at which Davis suggested that the NFL gobble up the more attractive chunks of the WFL thereby cementing the established league’s monopoly. However, Modell noted, no one took the idea very seriously.

Beaten and bruised, the WFL returned in 1975. Davidson was out as commissioner, replaced by Hawaiians owner Chris Hemmeter. The “New” WFL had a different financial structure, but in the end it didn’t help. Even before the season started Memphis Southmen owner John Bassett told Sports Illustrated: “”It’s like a brand-new car. Once you’ve wrecked it, no matter how well it’s fixed up it’s never the same.” Bassett’s team had actually done fairly well, drawing around 30,000 fans a game. After the league collapsed, Bassett along with the owners of the Birmingham Vulcans (formerly the Americans) applied for expansion status in the NFL, but were denied consideration. Bassett asked NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to at least put it up for a vote among the owners, which surprisingly he did. The Southmen and the Vulcans were unanimously rejected.

Bassett would return in 1983 in the United States Football League as owner of the very successful Tampa Bay Bandits. Unfortunately that league would be ruined by Donald Trump who, despite Bassett’s strong objections, led a suicide mission against the NFL.

As for the World Football League, many remember it as a humorous hic-up on the sports landscape, but several great players suited up for that ill-fated league, including many connected to the Browns.

Notable former Browns that played in the World Football League:

Gary Collins played wide receiver and coached that position for the Florida Blazers in 1974 after playing for the Browns from 1961 to 1972.

The great running back Leroy Kelly played his last professional season for the Chicago Fire in 1974 after 10 seasons with the Browns. Kelly amassed 315 yards and a 1 TD in his final campaign. Below, Kelly pushes a head for a few yards against Charlotte (formerly the New York Stars).

Image

Players who played in the WFL and went on to play for the Browns:

Gary Danielson. He didn’t see much action at quarterback for the New York Stars (later the Charlotte Hornets) or the Chicago Winds, who replaced the Fire in 1975. However, he managed to keep his football skills sharp enough to have respectable career with the Lions and Browns. Below, as a member of the New York Stars (who became the Charlotte Hornets) Danielson holds for kicker Moses Lajterman.

Image

Calvin Hill played for the Dallas Cowboys before jumping to the WFL in 1975. He played for Washington after his stint with The Hawaiians before joining the Browns in 1978. Below, Hill sweeps outside for The Hawaiians.

Image

Long before legal troubles consumed him, quarterback Dave Mays began his pro football career calling the signals for the Houston Texans (no, not those Texans). He continued to do so after the team became the Shreveport Steamer in the middle of the 1974 season. He joined the Browns in 1976, playing 2 seasons in Cleveland.

Wide receiver Paul Warfield jumped to the WFL along with fellow Dolphins Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. Warfield inked a contract for $900,000 over three years, but only played one abbreviated season in Memphis before the WFL collapsed. He played for the Browns in 1976 and 1977.He’s pictured below with Memphis teammates Csonka and Kiick in the Liberty Bowl.

Image

Coach Marty Schottenheimer was a player/coach for the Portland Storm in 1974, several years before he coached the Browns to 2 AFC championship games.

Browns players Bill Craven (DB ’75), Brian Duncan (KR/RB ’76,’77), Ron East (DE ’75), and Ernie Richardson (LB ’74) also spent time in the World Football League. Richardson, in fact, went from the WFL to the Browns in 1974 and then back to the WFL in 1975 ending his career with the San Antonio Wings. – By  PF Wilson

Here PF Wilson discuss defunct football leagues, including the WFL, on The Dork Forest podcast. You can also listen to PF’s podcast at Podbean or subscribe in iTunes.

Advertisements

Grading The Browns Free Agency


Now that things have calmed down a bit in the Cleveland Browns free agency period, lets take a look back at what they’ve done so far and give out some grades on the signings.

The New Additions

1. Donte Whitner, Safety

image

The Deal: 4 years, $28 million

The Grade: A-

I like Donte Whitner a lot. I think the Browns did well to upgrade on TJ Ward’s suspect pass defense, and Whitner should be an immediate boost there. They did so intelligently however, by replacing the hard hitting Ward with the harder hitting Whitner. Well done.

2. Karlos Dansby, Inside LInebacker

image

The Deal: 4 years, $24 million. Heavily front-loaded.

The Grade: B+

I think Dansby is a definite upgrade over D’Qwell Jackson. He’s as good a tackler, better pass rusher, better pass defender, and as good of a leader. I like the way the deal the Browns gave Dansby is structured, but I do have to question both the length and the massive dollar value. Dansby is 32, and his deal last year was 1 year, 2.25 million from the Cardinals. He was certainly worth more than that, but I think the Browns overpaid a bit. Still, solid addition, solid grade.

3. Isaiah Trufant, Cornerback

image

The Deal: 2 years, $1.54 million.

The Grade: D+

The deal is small, but Trufant isn’t very good. He’s 31, so really past the point of redemption, and hasn’t played much anytime recently. He did play under Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine in New York, but the idea of bringing in players you’re familiar with is vastly overrated in cases like this. The Browns needed a good CB2, and the only guy they’ve signed is Trufant.

4. Ben Tate, Running Back

image

The Deal: 2 years, $7 million. Incentive based around game activity.

The Grade: A

I love this signing. I love the contract the Browns worked out. Tate has had some injury issues, but when healthy he’s been an incredibly versatile runner who could easily shoulder the bulk of carries in an offense. The deal the Browns gave Tate will motivate him to stay healthy, as he gets paid a bonus of $46,875 per game he plays. I think Tate will be a great upgrade and play well for the Browns.

5. Andrew Hawkins, Wide Receiver

image

The Deal: 4 years, $13.6 million.

The Grade: B-

My lower grade on the Hawkins signing is primarly because I think the Browns overpaid on a receiver who has yet to be proven, is a little jittery and badly undersized. That said, I love Hawkins speed and explosive ability to turn plays into monster gains. I like the idea of signing Hawkins very much, just worry about the amount of guaranteed money and length of deal we gave him. I do think if properly used in the Browns offense, he’ll be a contributor and playmaker.

6. Jim Dray, Tight End

image

The Deal: 3 years, $5.625 million.

The Grade: C-

I don’t dislike this signing, that’s not the reason for my weak grade. Dray is a good blocking tight end. He’s big and strong and can even catch. I just don’t get signing another Tight End. We have more tight ends than any other position on our current roster. We have so many more urgent needs, I just caught fall in love with depth signings.

Players the Browns Released Or Did Not Re-Sign

1. TJ Ward

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

The Grade: C

I don’t love the idea that we let a young talented player walk away in free agency. Good teams don’t let players they drafted walk away after their rookie deals. That said, the reason I don’t entirely hate the move is because we signed a suitable replacement (Donte Whitner) and because of the flaws in Ward’s game (weakness in pass coverage), I’m willing to give it an average grade.

2. D’Qwell Jackson

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade: B

It was hard to watch the Browns cut ties with a player that so many of us have come to respect and like. That said, it made a lot of sense from a financial perspective (cap number) and on the field perspective (weakness in coverage, slow speed, inability to rush the passer). DQ gave the Browns and Browns fans his prime years, and now wasn’t a bad time to part ways.

3. Brandon Weeden

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade: A+++

I don’t care if it caused a small cap hit. I don’t care. Brandon Weeden was a tragic draft day mistake, and a tragic failure every single time he was on the field for the Browns. Sometimes, you have to pay up for mistakes.

4. Jason Campbell

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade A-

I don’t have anything against Jason Campbell. I thought he looked really good at times, but age and injuries led to some wildly inconsistent play down the stretch last year. I thank Jason for his efforts and am fine with moving on.

5. Oniel Cousins

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

Grade: A+

Oniel Cousins was dreadfully bad when he played last year. His performance against Miami last year was bad enough to warrant an immediate removal from the roster. In any case, the Browns pulled an addition by subtraction move by getting better simply by getting rid of Cousins.

6. Shawn Lauvao

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

Grade: A

Lauvao is another player the Browns did well in not bringing back. He struggled over his entire tenure with the Browns, and has reached a point in his career where a major improvement is unlikely.

7. Davone Bess

Mode of Departure: Released

Grade: A+

Davone Bess needed to go, and the Browns had the foresight to put in language in his contract making it possible for them to void it if he screwed up, which he did. Good riddance.

Overall Grade

Pro’s

The Browns replaced the players on defense that they chose not to return or were released, and in both cases upgraded. They retained Alex Mack via the Transition Tag, which should help give their line some continuity moving forward. They added a replacement for Davone Bess and playmaker in Hawkins. They significantly upgraded at Running Back, and cut a significant portion of the dead weight on the team overall.

Con’s

The Browns did not upgrade at areas of concern, especially at the Guard positions an Cornerback position. The need in these areas is so important that they would have been wise to sign at least one free agent as well as drafting a player for those areas.

Final Grade: B

The Browns have had a solid free agency period at this point, but have missed out on reasonably price talent at areas of major need for them. Overall, they have done a good, not great, job.

Space Browns


I saw this on r/browns, and I found it hilarious and confusing. Basically, the Space Browns come from outer space to help the Earth Browns.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

Shawn’s Mock Draft 6.0


This is my 6th Mock Draft, and the 2nd in which I’ve taken Sammy Watkins at 4. I still think he’s the best player on the board at that point, and I would like to see the Browns draft him. I changed things up quite a bit after that, so enjoy!

With the Fourth Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson.

image

Good teams do the right thing in the first round. They take the talent, the best available. In my opinion, the best player available at 4 was Sammy Watkins. We’ve written a lot about Watkins here at DPN, so I’m not going to beat it to death. He’s a special talent. Special talents don’t come around often. Coupled with Josh Gordon, as well as on the field with Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin, the Browns will be able to overwhelm a lot of defenses just based on pure speed.

With the Twenty Sixth Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

image

I envision some changes coming to the Browns defense next season. At least one of the current outside linebackers is likely going to move inside. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably going to be Paul Kruger. If/when that happens, the Browns are likely to need another outside linebacker/edge rusher. Shazier would create an exciting outside tandem with last year’s #6 pick Barkevious Mingo. Like Mingo, Shazier will need to add some bulk/strength, but his flat out speed and excellent instincts should allow him to excel at the next level.

With the Thirty Fifth Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select G David Yankey, Stanford

image

As the Browns failed to address either of the massive holes in their offensive line at Guard so far this off-season, they’re almost certain to attempt to do so in the draft. I think David Yankey may be the most natural fit for a zone blocking scheme in this draft. He’s got great body control and lateral movement abilities. Additionally, I really like Yankey’s ability to square up on a target in motion, that coupled with his high intelligence make him a great candidate to operate in a Kyle Shanahan ZBS.

With the Seventy First Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

image

What I like about Jean-Baptiste is his size. He’s 6’3, 218 pounds. He isn’t as physical add you’d like for a player of his size, but he does has very good read abilities and comes across as a bit of a ball hawk. I very much like the option of a longer, bigger corner opposite Joe Haden.

With the Eighty Third Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois.

image

I can’t see any way around the Browns drafting a QB at some point in this draft. My hope is that they don’t gamble on Manziel/Bridgewater/Bortles early, but rather look to the early third round and Garoppolo, Murray or Mettenberger, in that order.

Garoppolo to me is probably the most intriguing quarterback prospect in this draft. The things I like the most about Garoppolo are his quick set up and delivery, his confidence in the pocket, and his short memory. He keeps a cool head in just about every situation, and in my experience those are the types of quarterbacks that thrive at the next level.

With the One Hundred Second Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select 102 RB Bishop Sankey, Washington

image

Don’t mistake this quote for a lack of confidence in a backfield of Ben Tate and Dion Lewis. I really do like the idea of that set. That said, it’s always wise to build depth at vital positions, and as last season proved, running back is important.

There are some facets of Bishop Sankey’s game that I legitimately love. He’s got excellent vision, sees holes and has good burst speed through them. Excellent lateral movement, he makes tacklers miss in tight spaces. He has a natural forward lean and impressive core strength to power through interior runs. Sankey has good durability, and has never missed a start at any level.

With the One Hundred Twenty Third Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select ILB Christian Jones, Florida State University.

I love Christian Jones. I honestly think he’s a second – third round talent, but he slipped to me in the third. Long term, I think Jones could easily develop into the Browns leader on defense in place of the recently released D’Qwell Jackson.

Jones is just a fantastic athlete. He’s big and lengthy, with fluid hips and motion. He can blanket tight ends and receivers, and is a solid tackler.

With the One Hundred Thirty-Third Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select DE George Uko, USC

When we get to around this point in the draft, we start looking more at talent and potential than necessarily production. George Uko fits that bill. He’s an interesting prospect from USC, who rotated through every position in every set on the USC defensive line. He’s played Nose Tackle, Defensive Tackle and Defensive End. He’s got outstanding initial burst, good hands and has more than enough athleticism to be a legitimate pass rush threat at the next level and collapse the pocket. He struggles against the run, so he has the potential to not be an every down lineman, but his upside is worth the gamble of a late fourth round pick.

image

With the One Hundred Sixty-Fourth Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select 64 WR Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley

image

Again, I’m going to try and hit on an under the radar guy with our late round picks. Jeff Janis, who you’ve never heard of, played WR for Saginaw Valley in college, which you’ve also never heard of. That means nothing to me in grading a prospect however. Janis is big ( 6’3″ tall, 219 pounds), fast (official 4.42 40 time at the combine, but he has been clocked as low as 4.30 and 4.32) and smart. More importantly, he catches anything near him. I’ve watched about an hour of film on him, including every target he got in 2013, and I’m sold. I’m convinced if he had played at a big name school, he would be a top 10 draft pick. It’s like that.

With the One Hundred Ninety-Fifth Pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select 95 CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma

image

Complete First Round:

1. QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, HOUSTON TEXANS

2. OT GREG ROBINSON, ST. LOUIS RAMS

3. OT JAKE MATTHEWS, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

4. WR SAMMY WATKINS, CLEVELAND BROWNS

5. DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY, OAKLAND RAIDERS

6. OLB KHALIL MACK, ATLANTA FALCONS

7. OLB ANTHONY BARR, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

8. QB BLAKE BORTLES, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

9. ILB C.J. MOSLEY, BUFFALO BILLS

10. CB DARQUEZE DENNARD, DETROIT LIONS

11. S HA’SEAN CLINTON-DIX, TENNESSEE TITANS

12. OT TAYLOR LEWAN, NEW YORK GIANTS

13. WR JORDAN MATTHEWS, ST. LOUIS RAMS

14. DT AARON DONALD, CHICAGO BEARS

15. OT ZACK MARTIN, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

16. DE SCOTT CRICHTON, DALLAS COWBOYS

17. WR MIKE EVANS, BALTIMORE RAVENS

18. TE ERIC EBRON, NEW YORK JETS

19. CB JUSTIN GILBERT, MIAMI DOLPHINS

20. QB JOHNNY MANZIEL, ARIZONA CARDINALS

21. S JIMMIE WARD, GREEN BAY PACKERS

22. OLB DEE FORD, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

23. WR DAVANTE ADAMS, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

24. S CALVIN PRYOR, CINCINNATI BENGALS

25. DT LOUIS NIX III, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

26. OLB RYAN SHAZIER, CLEVELAND BROWNS

27. OLB KYLE VAN NOY, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

28. OT CAMERON FLEMING, CAROLINA PANTHERS

29. DT TIMMY JERNIGAN, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

30. DT RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

31. CB KYLE FULLER, DENVER BRONCOS

32. OT ANTONIO RICHARDSON, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

Don’t Be Shocked To See The Browns Pursue Mark Sanchez


Before you start throwing things at me, I’ve got to tell you why I won’t be surprised if the Browns decide to pursue free agent quarterbacks Mark Sanchez.

1. Mike Pettine Knows Him

While more often than not, I hear this as a negative, I actually think it might be a positive. Very few people know for certain what caliber quarterback Sanchez is as well as Mike Pettine. They spent decent time together in New York, and that type of familiarity is desirable in the NFL. While there are obvious questions as to Sanchez’s is serviceability, Pettine should have a general idea. He coached the defense on that New York Jets team during Mark Sanchez’s is best years. They were a part of multiple deep playoff runs, and contrary to popular belief, Sanchez did not play bad in most of those games.

2. Not landing Matt Schaub was not part of the plan.

I firmly believe ,based on the reports that I’ve gotten, that the Browns would have signed Matt Schaub if the Texans had cut him. I believe the Browns wanted be ability to restructure Schaub’s contract. And, I don’t believe the Browns thought that the Raiders would be willing to take on Matt Schaub’s 10 million dollar contract. I hear you, the Raiders have a lot of cap space, but the truth is that they are extremely cash strapped. There is a real reason why they let so many of their young, quality players walk away in free agency. Their owner is not doing well financially. Regardless, I believe that the Browns planned to sign Matt Schaub and let him compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting job. Obviously, that plan has to change.

3. There are no more viable starters left in free agency.

I still believe that the Browns wants to bring in a quarterback that can push Brian Hoyer in camp. I believe that this is why they haven’t signed Rex Grossman yet. At the end of the day, Grossman would be a player that the Browns realize can never be allowed to take a live snap in game. He would be signed to be a mentor and pseudo coach, not true backup quarterback. Based on that, who would be competing with Brian Hoyer to start? The odds of a rookie getting the nod over Brian Hoyer seem fairly long in my opinion. So if we are to believe that the Browns intend to have a legitimate competition for the role of starting quarterback, who is left to compete? The only answer last is Mark Sanchez.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.