August 28, 2011

1974: Injunction Removes Matuszak, but Texans Beat NY Stars

The Houston Texans had the oldest and most veteran-laden team in the World Football League’s 1974 season, but that did not bring them a great deal of success. By the time of their Week 8 matchup against the visiting New York Stars on August 28, the Texans were just 2-4-1. The solid defense had performed well until just the week before, against the Stars at Downing Stadium, when they were blown out by a score of 43-10. The offense had difficulty putting points on the board and had yet to score more than 15 points in a game.

Houston’s defense was to be further bolstered by the addition of 6’8”, 282-pound DE John Matuszak, who had jumped from the NFL Oilers to the Texans during the preceding week. An All-American at Tampa and the number one overall draft choice in 1973, he had played in a preseason game with the Oilers and practiced the two days before leaving camp suddenly and announcing the next day that he had joined the Texans. He indicated that he had found a loophole in his contract with the Oilers that allowed him to sign and play immediately with the Texans – a point of dispute with the NFL club that would lead to a bizarre situation during the game.

New York, in the meantime, had won five straight games, including the big win over the Texans the previous week, after losing the first two.

There were 10,126 fans in attendance for the Wednesday night contest at the Astrodome. They saw yet another ex-NFL veteran, safety Richmond Flowers, return the opening kickoff 30 yards. They also saw the home team get the first big break of the game when safety Joe Green recovered a fumble at the New York 17 yard line. Shortly thereafter, QB Mike Taliaferro threw a six-yard touchdown pass to TE Willie Frazier. The action point attempt failed, but the Texans led by 7-0 (in the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and were followed by an action point, which could not be kicked).

Early in the second quarter, Taliaferro was intercepted by New York CB Larry Shears, who returned it 48 yards. Following the defensive series by Houston, Harris County sheriff’s deputies entered the field at the Astrodome looking for Matuszak and handed him a temporary injunction ordering him not to play for the Texans. Matuszak had been escorted down the sideline by owner Steve Arnold.

“I didn't have time to read the court order and evaluate it,” the flashy owner of the Texans said, “but God, it looked real. And I didn't want to go to jail.”

Matuszak waved the papers at the stunned and silenced crowd and then received a roar of approval as he made his way to the bench and watched the remainder of the game from there (pictured at top). Moses Lajterman proceeded to kick a 34-yard field goal for New York following Matuszak’s removal from the contest and the score remained 7-3 at the half.

Early in the fourth quarter, Taliaferro threw a second scoring pass, this time to a wide-open WR Rick Eber for a 25-yard TD. Later, with just over two minutes remaining, the Stars scored when QB Tom Sherman connected with WR Kreg Kapitan for an 11-yard TD. The two again combined for the lone successful action point of the game.

New York got the ball back with less than a minute remaining but, having no time outs left, couldn’t get into field goal range before time ran out. Houston held on to win, 14-11.

The Texans outgained New York (327 yards to 205) and had more first downs (18 to 13). There were just three turnovers, with Houston giving the ball up twice, but a total of 10 penalties, with 11 committed by the Texans.

Mike Taliaferro completed 11 of 20 passes for 182 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. FB Mike Richardson led the Texans in rushing with 83 yards on 18 carries. Rick Eber caught four passes for 81 yards and a TD.

For the Stars, Tom Sherman was successful on 12 of 29 throws for 119 yards with one TD and none intercepted. RB Ed White rushed for 42 yards on 9 attempts. Kreg Kapitan and WR Tommy Spinks each caught five passes, with Kapitan gaining 54 yards to 50 for Spinks.

In all, John Matuszak appeared in five plays for Houston, and was outstanding during that brief period. The sheriff’s deputies had intended to serve the papers before the teams took the field, but Oilers owner Bud Adams said they had left too late to get to the stadium on time (at least one account indicated that the deputies got lost in the Astrodome).

In another twist, Stars GM Bob Keating protested the game afterward because Houston dressed 39 players instead of the league limit of 37.

“Terry Cole and Paul Zaeski were the extra players dressed by (Head Coach) Jim Garrett of the Texans,” said Keating. He further indicated that the problem was caused when Houston picked up DT Bill Yost and WR Billy Walik prior to the game and did not declare them active or inactive. Nothing came of the protest and the result stood.

Matuszak was left behind the following week when the team went to Hawaii, as the hearing on the court order was set for September 5. In the end, he never played again for either the Texans or the Oilers. Unappreciative of his antics, the NFL club dealt the big defensive end to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he lasted two seasons while having off-field issues with drugs and alcohol. He was traded again, this time to Washington, but never made it to the regular season after running afoul of Head Coach George Allen (when asked by reporters why Matuszak had been cut, the coach responded, “Vodka and Valium, the breakfast of champions.”). Picked up by the Oakland Raiders, the player known simply as “The Tooz” finally achieved some level of the success that had been anticipated for him and was part of the team that won the Super Bowl following the 1980 season (his next to last).

By the time the WFL season ended, neither the Texans nor Stars were in their original location (or under the same ownership). The Texans moved to Shreveport, Louisiana (and were renamed the Steamer) less than a month after hosting the Stars and finished at a disappointing 7-12-1 and tied for third place in the Western Division with the Portland Storm. Shortly thereafter, the Stars shifted to Charlotte, North Carolina and became the Charlotte Hornets. From their promising beginning, they ended up at 10-10 and second in the Eastern Division.