New York  WFL

Stars  - 1974

Parilli’s coaching staff was top notch. Tom Moore, who most recently has received his long overdue recognition as the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts high-powered attack and the development of Peyton Manning, joined the Stars as his first pro assignment but he had been very effective as an offensive backfield coach at a number of major colleges. Five-time All Pro offensive tackle Stew Barber of the Buffalo Bills took over the offensive line. Two highly respected college assistants/coordinators, George Boutselis (with the University Of Cincinnati being one of his stops) and Lamar Leachman were hired to coach the defensive backs and line respectively. Leachman remained a lifetime assistant coach for decades and was widely respected but had more notoriety as an early “Mr. Irrelevant” being the Cleveland Browns last draft choice in the 30th (yes, the 30th!) round of the 1955 player draft, the 360th and final choice of that entire draft, after his career as a center at the University Of Tennessee. The team they assembled could have been referred to as The Jets West as many members of the New York Jets glory year team peppered the squad. That most were a bit past their prime playing days mattered less than the fact that Baldwin and the front office staff believed they would be a natural draw anywhere in the New York City area and a few of the fellows could still play well enough to be named to the All WFL squad at the end of the 1974 season. Among these ex-Jets were George Sauer who first signed with the Boston team, wishing to give up his life of writing a novel, reading poetry, and walking the beaches of California for another shot at pro football. Sauer had retired at the peak of a very successful career as a receiver with the Jets, one of Namath’s prime targets and many agreed that he had Hall Of Fame potential. Gerry Philbin spent his Jets career being called an “undersized defensive end” but at 6’2” and a lifetime of bodybuilding 245 pounds, “undersized” was not truly accurate. He was fast, strong, and nasty on the field, a true warrior. He had been traded in 1973 to the KC Chiefs for running back Mike Adamle but elected to stay closer to home, playing out his NFL career with the Eagles and felt he had more to prove to his nay sayers. He had been named to the All Time All AFL team by the Pro Football Hall Of Fame and was All Pro in 1969 thus, there really was little left to prove. John Elliott, Philbin’s linemate with the Jets was penciled in at tackle where he had been a Jets mainstay for seven years. Both Philbin and Elliott would be All WFL by the season’s end. Safety Randy Beverly had been great in the Jets Super Bowl win over the Colts with two interceptions and offensive tackle Sam Walton who finished his career with the Oilers in 1971, had also been a part of the Jets teams of the late 1960s. With Parilli, who served as Namath’s backup during that Super Bowl year as head coach the Stars truly had Jets-fest in progress.


Some of the other Stars had significant college and NFL experience but offensive guard Dick Hart had taken another route to football fortune. One of the all time greatest football and track athletes in Pennsylvania high school ranks, Hart parlayed a lengthy background in weight training into a pro career. He was a multi-record holder in the shotput in Morrisville, PA and worked his way into the Philadelphia Eagles camp in 1967 and played, often as a starting guard, through 1970. He finished his NFL career in 1971 with the Bills and thought he was retired until the bug to play bit him again and he became a Stars’ starter. So did former Saints offensive lineman Bob Kuziel who played well enough next to Hart to be named as the All WFL center. Kuziel was a third-round choice of New Orleans in 1972 and only appeared in one game. He was a full-fledged NFL lineman by the time he completed his one-year stint with the Stars because he returned to the NFL in 1975 and appeared in every game through the 1980 season with the Redskins. Running back Bob “Harpo” Gladiuex who first found fame in the 1966 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State “Game Of The Century” was a four-year NFL vet with the Patriots and Bills and immediately captured one running back spot while the other was taken by unheralded Dave Richards of Miami Of Ohio. Richards was one of those “scouting secrets”, having failed a try out with the Browns but running a legitimate 4.4/40 and with a solid track background. He was later replaced by former Michigan State and Raiders back Don Highsmith who packed a bit more power. Highsmith too had a successful track background, originally attending Michigan State on a track scholarship. Running back was one position with depth for the Stars.  Directing the attack almost from the start of camp, was former Penn State star Tom Sherman who had only two AFL seasons (although he did in that time complete the second longest pass in Patriot history, an 87 yard bomb to Jim Whalen) but who was a very successful minor league QB with the Hartford Knights of the Atlantic Coast Football League for four years. The back up was expected to be Don Gault who was well known in the New York City area. Gault had what amounted to a one game career with the Browns after three years as a taxi squad player, filling in for Bill Nelson on a horribly raining night and catching the blame for a dismal overall offensive performance. After a camp with the Chargers and some time with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos, he was cut in the Jets camp. However he had been a star at John Adams H.S. in Queens and to that point in time, the best quarterback in Hofstra’s history so the Stars were hoping he could step forward and bring fans in as a regular. Unfortunately, Gault was gone after a few games, displaced by relatively unknown Gary Danielson out of Purdue who had played the year before with the Calgary Stampeders. Danielson of course, parlayed his two years of WFL experience into a thirteen year NFL career with the Lions and Browns, most of it as a full time starter. Later in the season, the team picked up former Yale star Brian Dowling. An eleventh round pick of the Vikings in 1969, he did not have the tools to be a full time NFL quarterback and played with the Bridgeport Jets of the Atlantic Coast Football League later that season. He managed to hang on with the Patriots during the 1972 and ’73 seasons but his real claim to fame is that Garry Trudeau’s famous comic strip DOONESBURY featured Dowling as “BD”, the super football star and at Yale, Dowling was the just-as-famous teammate of Calvin Hill.




In addition to Philbin and Elliott, the two outstanding safeties, Jeff Woodcock and Ike Thomas, summed up the high points of the Stars defense. Thomas had been a second round draft choice of the Cowboys in 1971, was shuffled off to Green Bay for the 1972 and ‘73 seasons but was considered a bust. He flourished in the WFL coming in second only to the Southmen’s Tim Beamer in kickoff returns. Woodcock was a tough tackler out of Kentucky and made the All WFL team. Unfortunately, even with some talented players, the Stars were relegated to ancient, decrepit, smelly, should-have-been-condemned Randall’s Island Stadium. The structure was literally collapsing, and the locker rooms were like the belly of a dungeon; dank, dark, unheated in winter, stifling in the heat of summer, with constantly overflowing toilets. Difficult to travel to, horrible seating, almost no amenities or concessions, this relic from the Olympic games of forty years previous was also without adequate lighting. When the baseball Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for Los Angeles one of the few things they left the City Of New York were the ancient lights from their Ebbetts Field ballpark. These were installed at Randall’s Island but they were inadequate for television and barely provided enough illumination for high school night games. Birmingham American expert Greg Allred reminded HELMET HUT that when the Stars had their home opener at Randall’s Island, the radio announcers from Birmingham suffered the indignation of having to work in the dilapidated press booth that had no chairs. They did not know if they should laugh or cry when the New York staff offered them orange crates to sit on while they broadcast the contest! They opted to stand but held no malice towards the Stars’ announcers as they too were seated on orange crates. It was apparent and should have been to Schmertz and Baldwin before the season began, that no one was going to come to Randall’s Island to watch anything if it could be avoided. Combine this with mounting financial problems involving both the Stars and his construction company and a ruinous divorce proceeding and it was obvious that Schmertz was not going to have enough money to finish the season. Buyers were sought and one possibility was former Patriot GM Upton Bell. Bell was anxious to gain ownership and was negotiating for the Detroit Wheels which proved to be an unworkable project, thus on September 24, 1974, the Stars were sold to Bell as they were shipping off to Chicago to play the Fire. Notified of the change in ownership and an immediate shift to Charlotte, N.C. where the mayor and other officials of the city had offered accommodations that would make residence there feasible, equipment man Mike Ferraro ran himself ragged seeking new decals. In the end, he purchased Chicago Bear “C” decals from the same supplier as his friend who served as the Bears equipment man and for that one game, the New York/Charlotte Stars as they were known that week, had the unique helmet logo of the Chicago Bears “C” laid directly over the New York Stars star! Renaming the team the Hornets did not do much for their fortunes on the field as they went 2-7 in their new home, although off the field they doubled their New York attendance to approximately 22,000 per game and finished the season with a 10-10 record.  The enhanced attendance gave Bell hope for the 1975 season and there were enough optimistic investors in the Carolinas to insure that the Hornets would be back for an encore the following year. Despite the All WFL status of Philbin and Elliott, Charlotte entered the off-season having trimmed their roster of every one of the former New York Jets that they had hoped would bring them instant acceptance in New York City. 


To demonstrate that some owners and administrators survived and in some cases, thrived after their life with the WFL, it is noteworthy that Howard Baldwin did more than just “land on his feet.” After the demise of the WFL Baldwin remained involved in sports and helped to broker the merger of the World Hockey Association teams that joined with the NHL. He became Chairman Of The Board and owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and then established a sport’s milestone when he successfully negotiated the purchase of fifty percent of the famous CCP Red Army Hockey Team in Moscow, partnering with the Russian government. Turning to film production, as President and CEO of Baldwin Entertainment Group, Baldwin has had a hand in the production of a diverse range of movies from Jean-Claude Van Damme punch-‘em-ups to the critically acclaimed RAY which starred actor Jamie Fox as Ray Charles.


The Stars uniforms may have been good in theory, looked good on paper or mock-up, but  fell short on the field, just as the team did. The helmet was great: black with a yellow center stripe and white flanking stripes that were augmented by a “star” design in the same yellow with black “NY” outlined in white. It made for a great look that was readily identifiable on the field, although perhaps not always while playing at Randall’s Island! Unfortunately, the yellow jerseys with white trimmed black numbers always looked washed out and in night games appeared to be very muted. It was not a yellow or “gold” jersey that jumped out at the spectator, unlike the 1975 Hornets uniforms that were ultra-sharp in both appearance and design. When the Stars relocated to Charlotte, the first game of their journey was marked by the Chicago Bears “C” superimposed upon the New York marked star. This uniform faux pas was forgivable under the circumstances but ridiculous nonetheless.  The Charlotte Hornet logo to follow, a very plain looking white “C” was forgivable also, being a “rush job” but it can be said that when they finally went to a depiction of a hornet for 1975, they at least had a logo that was identifiable with the team nickname.  BACK...


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