July 28, 2010

1974: Mark Kellar Scores 36 Points as Chicago Defeats Hawaiians

The World Football League’s Chicago Fire traveled to Honolulu to take on The Hawaiians before a sparse crowd of 12,608 at Halwala Stadium on July 28, 1974. While the league played its games on Wednesday nights in its first season, with a nationally-televised Thursday night contest, The Hawaiians insisted on playing their home games on Sunday afternoons.

The Hawaiians were coming off of a win over the Detroit Wheels in their home opener the week before and thus sported a 1-2 record. Coached by Mike Giddings, the offense was directed by rookie QB Norris Weese throwing primarily to first year wide receivers Tim Boyer, Grady Richardson, and Tim Delaney and TE John Kelsey. Running backs included Ernie O’Leary, Dave Buchanan, and Pete Taggares. The defense contained more experienced talent, most notably defensive linemen Ron East, Greg Wojcik, and Karl Lorch.

Chicago had won its first three games under Head Coach Jim Spavital and had a pro veteran at quarterback in Virgil Carter as well as TE Jim Seymour, plus speed at wide receiver with James Scott and Jack Dolbin. RB Cyril Pinder had played in the NFL with the Eagles, Bears, and Cowboys, but rookie Mark Kellar from Northern Illinois had emerged as the primary running back.

Kellar, nicknamed “the Baby Bull” for his straight-ahead power-running style, had been drafted by the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in the 6th round after leading all Division 1-A rushers in ’73, but saw the WFL as a better opportunity. A classic fullback who was effective between the tackles but not particularly fast, he once told a Chicago Tribune reporter “I don’t have much speed. When I run the forty they have to use a calendar to time me.”

The tone of the contest in Honolulu was set on Chicago’s first possession as the offense rolled 69 yards down the field on four plays, capped by Kellar scoring a touchdown on a two-yard run. By halftime, the score was 30-7 and the Fire went on to win by a 53-29 margin. Kellar scored a WFL-record 36 points with five touchdowns and an action point.

Kellar led the club with 51 yards on 14 carries and three of the TDs while he also caught 3 passes for 35 yards and the other two touchdowns. RB Bob Wyatt added 47 yards on 19 runs and Cyril Pinder added 43 more on just four carries as Chicago rolled up 157 rushing yards. Virgil Carter completed 15 of 25 passes for 205 yards with three TDs against no interceptions. James Scott led the receivers with 6 catches for 68 yards and Jack Dolbin gained the most receiving yards with 78 on three receptions.

The Hawaiians, forced to go to the air early and often, gained just 21 yards rushing. Norris Weese passed for 338 yards as he completed 24 of 52 throws and tossed three TDs as well as three interceptions. Tim Delaney caught 9 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown and John Kelsey grabbed four for 67 yards, but the contest was long decided by the time the passing statistics began to add up.

The Fire failed to maintain the early momentum - after starting out at 7-2, the club lost its last 11 contests (the last by forfeit) and ended up at 7-13 and in third place in the Central Division. Injuries were a major factor as both Kellar and James Scott were lost for the season in a loss to Southern California in Week 11 and Virgil Carter went down two weeks later.

The Hawaiians recovered to go 9-11 and finish in second place in the Western Division, making it into the postseason (they also gained revenge in the rematch with the Fire in Chicago, winning 60-17). The Honolulu club won its first round playoff game against a demoralized Southern California Sun squad (the players had considered striking over missed pay and two key offensive performers refused to play and were cut from the team) before losing to the eventual WFL champions, the Birmingham Americans, in the semifinal round.

In his injury-shortened season, Mark Kellar ended up with 778 yards on 189 carries for a 4.1-yard average gain and nine touchdowns; he caught 28 passes for 342 yards and another six TDs. The Baby Bull went on to play for the Chicago Winds in the WFL’s abbreviated second season in ’75 and moved on to the NFL, where he was a backup with the Vikings for three years.