The World Football League lasted just one and a half seasons, but that was plenty of time for it to become one of the most entertaining dumpster fires in professional sports.
Entrepreneur Gary Davidson founded the WFL in 1973 as an antidote to the NFL, which was under criticism from players for poor pay. Backed by investors with ostensibly deep pockets, the WFL poached some of the NFL’s best players, offering the then-largest contracts in pro football history. In the winter of 1974, four of its 12 teams attempted to draft five Stanford players. Only Bill Reid, ’77, signed on, joining the Southern California Sun.
The WFL team owners, it turned out, weren’t wealthy enough to weather the recession of 1974–75. Players grappling with bounced checks began begging fans for food and lodging. The Birmingham Americans celebrated their Super Bowl–like “World Bowl I” win while watching debt collectors seize their helmets, uniforms, and trophy. A mobster turned FBI informant tried to buy the Charlotte Hornets. By the middle of the second season, the league had folded, its central accomplishment being that it catalyzed conversation about player compensation.
As for Reid, he escaped with his dignity intact. The next season, he played for the San Francisco 49ers.
Kali Shiloh is a staff writer at Stanford. Email her at email@example.com.
Vintage 1973 Collection
Stanford is 50! It turns out we’re not the only one. Walk with us down memory lane as we sample some of the wonders and horrors of the 1973–74 academic year on the Farm, and in the world around.