October 16, 2011

1974: Steamer Defeats Bell Before 750 Fans at JFK Stadium

It was a rainy Wednesday night in Philadelphia on October 16, 1974 as the host Bell took on the Shreveport Steamer in a World Football League contest at JFK Stadium. Adding to the gloom was a miniscule estimated turnout of 750 at the 100,000-seat venue, a bitter pill for a team that had drawn big crowds in its first two home games – and created a scandal when it was later revealed that the vast majority of those fans were using free or heavily-discounted tickets.

The Bell, under Head Coach Ron Waller, was a colorful club with an exciting offense led by eccentric QB Jim “King” Corcoran. The passing game was productive, and there were good running backs in John Land and Claude Watts. Still, Philadelphia had a losing 6-9 record coming into the contest with Shreveport.

The Steamer had started the season as the Houston Texans and moved to Shreveport in late September. At the time of the relocation, they sported a 3-7-1 tally and things had not gotten better for the veteran team, which was 1-3 in its new city for a combined record of 4-10-1. There had been plenty of turmoil with the move, as many players were opposed to it and Head Coach Jim Garrett was suspended when he actively urged them to not report to Shreveport. Garrett was replaced by Marshall Taylor, and despite the misgivings, the club received a warm welcome from the fans in the new locale. FB Jim Nance (pictured above), an ex-AFL star with the Patriots, was a standout running the ball. Another former AFL player, LB Garland Boyette, was the leader of the well-seasoned defense. Veteran QB Mike Taliaferro quit the team, and two rookie quarterbacks, D.C. Nobles and Dave Mays, ran the option offense.

Philadelphia fumbled less then four minutes into the game and Nobles started off the scoring with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Eber that was followed by a successful pass for the action point. After Bell DB Ron Mabra intercepted a Nobles pass, Land and Watts proceeded to grind out a drive. Watts scored for Philadelphia, but the action point attempt failed and the Steamer held an 8-7 lead after a period of play (touchdowns counted for seven points in the WFL, followed by an action point that could not be kicked).

In the second quarter, Mays came in at quarterback for Shreveport after Nobles strained his shoulder and connected with TE Willie Frazier for a 29-yard TD. The pass attempt for the action point was unsuccessful and Shreveport took a 15-7 lead into halftime.

The Bell started off the second half scoring when Jerry Warren kicked a 32-yard field goal to cut the margin to 15-10. Nobles came back into the game for Shreveport and the Steamer responded with a drive that concluded with Nance scoring on a two-yard run. Nobles ran for the action point, making the score 23-10.

“King” Corcoran passed to WR Ron Holliday for a nine-yard touchdown, capping an eight-play, 64-yard drive by the Bell, but the action point was again missed and the score stood at 23-17. It didn’t stay that way for long. Safety Richmond Flowers returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards. On the next play, Nobles threw his second scoring pass to Eber, this time covering 39 yards, extending the Steamer lead to 30-17 as the action point attempt failed.

The Bell scored once more in the fourth quarter when Corcoran threw an eight-yard TD pass to WR Vince Papale, and Land ran for the action point. The Steamer missed a chance to extend the lead when a 20-yard field goal attempt by Charlie Durkee hit the upright and was no good. But Boyette intercepted a Corcoran pass and Shreveport was able to run out the last four minutes to win 30-25.

The statistics were very even, with Shreveport barely outgaining the Bell (323 yards to 321) and having the edge in first downs (17 to 15). Philadelphia had more rushing yards (180 to 164) while the Steamer gained more net passing yards (159 to 141). However, the Bell lost three fumbles, to none given up by Shreveport. Jim Nance ran for 104 yards for the Steamer, and John Land gained 105 yards on 13 attempts for Philadelphia.

The biggest story from the game was the paltry attendance, which was the smallest for any WFL game.

“I don’t know if it was the World Series, the weather or what, but that’s the smallest crowd that I can ever remember playing in front of,” said Land.

“Hell, I wrestled before bigger crowds than that at Indiana (Pa.) High School,” added Jim Nance.

With the win, the Steamer was now 2-2 under Coach Taylor. They went 1-2 the rest of the way and finished at 7-12-1 and tied for third in the Western Division. Philadelphia won by a surprisingly big margin of 45-7 over the Southern California Sun the next week and, with a win by forfeit to conclude the season, ended up with a 9-11 record and a playoff spot. The Bell lost to the Florida Blazers in the first round.

Jim Nance ranked third in the WFL with 1240 yards on 300 carries (4.1 avg.) and eight touchdowns. John Land wasn’t far behind as he carried the ball 243 times for 1136 yards (4.7 avg.) and eight TDs. Land was a far more productive pass receiver out of the backfield than Nance (who caught just 14 passes) with 54 catches for 621 yards and another four touchdowns.

After averaging 60,127 fans in the first two home games (inflated by the free and discounted tickets), the Bell averaged just 9328 in the remaining eight, including the 750 against the Steamer. The team survived to return for the aborted 1975 season, but moved to the less-spacious Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania.