This July marks the 40th anniversary of the debut of the short-lived World Football League and four collectors and historians of the brash organization that took on the NFL are continuing their quest to make sure it isn’t forgotten. They’ve just released the second of three series of WFL football cards.
Greg Allred, Bill Jones, Willie O’Burke and Richie Franklin collaborated on the project and in just two years, their efforts have produced two full color series featuring player cards, leaders as well as cards commemorating the playoffs and ‘World Bowl’, the league’s championship game. There is also a card of Commissioner Gary Davidson in Series One.
“I read in a July, 1974 Sports Illustrated magazine that Topps was putting together a football card set for the World Football League. After reading this, I would check the local stores every day to see if there were packs of WFL football cards for sale,” Virginia resident Franklin recalled. “With all of the league financial issues, the cards never materialized. We know that there are a lot of fans of the league that would appreciate football cards from the WFL. We not only did this for the old fans of the WFL, but we did it for ourselves.”
Their website, WFLFootballCards.com, went live last year and Series 1, commemorating the 1974 season, was made available for sale. Each series contains 70 standard sized cards. The fronts feature team logos and colors while players’ names and positions are highlighted in a throwback-styled layout. The backs contain statistics and player biographies.
The league’s battle with the NFL turned out to be an expensive one and as a whole, the league was in financial trouble from the start but managed to last two seasons. Only two ownership groups remained once the league kicked off again in ’75 and several franchises either shut down or changed names and/or owners.
Both well-known players who signed with WFL teams and those who never played pro ball again are included in the card sets, which includes a few players from each of the teams such as the Chicago Fire/Winds, Birmingham Americans/Vulcans, Philadelphia Bell and Detroit Wheels.
After the successful launch of the Series One cards, purchased by collectors and fans who recalled following the exploits of the brash, young league as kids or young adults, the group began development of Series 2, based on the 1975 (and final) season of the WFL. That series includes the trio of Miami Dolphins who famously bolted the NFL for what they thought would be more money in the new league. Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield all have cards in the set along with former college stars like Anthony Davis and Pat Haden, USC grads who played for the Southern California Sun.
Series 2 is now available for ordering while a third series is already in development and should be available for the 2014 holiday season. Each set is $75 plus shipping and handling which covers production costs and other expenses associated with producing them.
While the four know their football history, the venture put them in touch with former players, media and others associated with the league, which only made it more fun and rewarding.
“I have wanted to share my enjoyment of this league with others for years,” Jones stated. “I started by collecting items such as pennants and smaller things. Willie O’Burke and I had been talking about making a WFL card set for some time. When the opportunity came up to work with two of the best known WFL historians in the country in Richie and Greg, I had to jump at it.”
While the foursome had no trouble finding others who had fond memories of the league, locating images to use on the fronts of the cards was a bigger challenge.
“Good quality photos from the World Football League are sometimes difficult to locate,” Franklin explained. “Black and white photos are just as rare as color photos are. We have had a lot of success working with former WFL players, coaches and team photographers, and obtained photos from their private collections. We also worked with Chris Gmyrek and Jim Cusano, who both shared photos from their WFL collections.”
The WFL Cards website also features a number of reviews from publications, fellow collectors and former players in the WFL.
Jones says the project has been a labor of love.
“Creating these cards to commemorate this league has been very satisfying.”