Philadelphia Bell

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Philadelphia Bell
Philadelphia Bell Helmet Logo 1975.svg
WFL Philadelphia Bell Logo.svg
Established1974
FoldedOctober 1975
Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Home field JFK Stadium (1974)
Franklin Field (1975)
Head coach Ron Waller (1974)
Willie Wood (1975)
Owner(s) John B. Kelly Jr.
John Bosacco
League World Football League
DivisionEastern
ColoursBlue & Gold   

The Philadelphia Bell was a franchise in the World Football League, which operated in 1974 and a portion of a season in 1975. The Bell played their home games in 1974 at JFK Stadium in South Philadelphia. The team logo was a representation of the Liberty Bell. In 1975 the team decided to stop playing at JFK and moved its games to Franklin Field. [1]

Contents

Formation

The Bell was one of just two WFL teams that maintained the same ownership in both 1974 and 1975 (the other being Canadian millionaire John Bassett's Memphis Southmen). The group was headed by John B. Kelly Jr., a respected business and sportsman in Philadelphia and part of the well-known Kelly family, which included his sister Grace Kelly, movie star-turned-Princess of Monaco. The major money contributor behind the ownership group was John Bosacco, who came forward during the first season and took over the operations of the franchise. Bosacco believed that the WFL could survive and was instrumental in the removal of Gary Davidson as commissioner following the 1974 season.

1974 season

Led by head coach Ron Waller, the Bell appeared to be the most popular team in the fledgling league, announcing a crowd of 55,534 for the home opener, followed by a whopping 64,719 for the second home game (for comparison's sake, the NFL Eagles averaged 60,030 fans for seven home dates that year).

However, when the Bell paid city taxes on the attendance figures two weeks later, it emerged that they had inflated the gate on a scale unprecedented in professional sports. In an apparent attempt to pique interest, the Bell sold block tickets to several area businesses at a discount, and did not report the tax revenue. In turn, many of these businesses gave away the tickets for free. The actual paid attendance for the home opener was only 13,855, and for the second game just 6,200—and many of those tickets were sold well below face value. The "Papergate" scandal, as it was dubbed by the press, made the Bell and the WFL look foolish, and proved to be a humiliation from which neither recovered. Attendance continued to drop, as Philadelphia drew only 62,126 fans (less than the supposed crowd for their second home game) for their last seven home games combined, or less than 9,000 per contest. The club hit rock bottom on October 16, when only 750 fans found their way to JFK for a Wednesday night game in a torrential downpour.

On the field, the Bell were mediocre. They were led by flashy quarterback King Corcoran, who had spent most of his career in the minor leagues due to his refusal to accept a backup QB slot (Corcoran had even played under Coach Waller with the Pottstown Firebirds of the recently closed Atlantic Coast Football League). Philadelphia managed only a 911 mark in 1974, one game behind the Charlotte Hornets for the final playoff spot. (The Bell were actually 811 on the field, but were awarded a win by forfeit when the dissolving Chicago Fire refused to fly to Philadelphia for the season finale.) However, at the request of WFL officials, they advanced to the playoffs anyway in place of Charlotte; the Florida Blazers could sell only 1,000 advance tickets for the first round matchup in Orlando, nowhere near enough for the financially troubled Hornets (who had moved from New York City in mid-season) to meet their travel expenses. The Bell, in contrast, were somewhat better financed, and could cover their own expenses. They traveled to Orlando, where lost to the Blazers, 18-3, in front of less than 10,000 fans.

Season results [2]

WeekDayDateOpponentResultAttendance
1WednesdayJuly 10, 1974 Portland Storm W 33–855,534
2WednesdayJuly 17, 1974at Houston Texans L 0–1126,227
3ThursdayJuly 25, 1974 New York Stars L 15–1764,719
4WednesdayJuly 31, 1974at Portland Storm W 25–713,757
5WednesdayAugust 7, 1974 Memphis Southmen W 46–1512,396
6WednesdayAugust 14, 1974at Chicago Fire L 29–3227,607
7WednesdayAugust 21, 1974 Southern California Sun L 28–3114,600
8WednesdayAugust 28, 1974 Detroit Wheels W 27–2315,100
9MondaySeptember 2, 1974at New York Stars L 16–246,132
10ThursdaySeptember 5, 1974at Jacksonville Sharks L 30–3417,851
11WednesdaySeptember 11, 1974 Jacksonville Sharks W 41–22 (OT)7,230
12WednesdaySeptember 18, 1974at Florida Blazers L 21–2410,417
13WednesdaySeptember 25, 1974at Hawaiians W 21–1614,497
14WednesdayOctober 2, 1974 Florida Blazers L 7–307,150
15WednesdayOctober 9, 1974 Hawaiians L 22–254,900
16WednesdayOctober 16, 1974 Shreveport Steamer L 25–30750
17WednesdayOctober 23, 1974at Southern California Sun W 45–7N/A
18WednesdayOctober 30, 1974 Chicago Fire W 37–3112,500
19WednesdayNovember 6, 1974at Birmingham Americans L 23–2622,963
20WednesdayNovember 13, 1974 Chicago Fire W 2–0 (forfeit)cancelled

Playoffs

GameDayDateOpponentResultAttendance
Quarter-finalsThursdayNovember 21, 1974at Florida Blazers L 3–189,712

1975 season

Despite the Papergate fiasco, the Bell were reckoned as one of the WFL's stronger franchises and at least had the potential to have been successful had the league been better run. Bosacco was one of only three owners, along with the Memphis Southmen's John F. Bassett and The Hawaiians' Sam Battisone, thought to be capable of fielding a team in 1975; those three teams had been the only ones to meet payroll every week of the 1974 season. [3]

As the 1975 season got underway, Coach Waller was replaced during training camp at Glassboro State University by future NFL Hall of Famer Willie Wood, [4] making him the first African-American head coach of a modern pro football team.

Even on TV, the Bell couldn't get any respect. On August 29, 1975, WTAF aired a sports doubleheader, featuring a Philadelphia Wings lacrosse match followed by the Bell's game against the Southern California Sun in Anaheim. The football game was scheduled for 10:30 pm EDT, but since the Wings game ran long, viewers missed the beginning. Bell fans would miss the end of the contest, too: WTAF abruptly cut the broadcast off with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, pleading a "prior commitment". The station then signed off for the night at 1:30 am; the game (won by the Sun, 58-39) didn't end until 2:06 am. (According to a Philadelphia Daily News story, "keeping the final six minutes of the game on TV could have cost the Bell an estimated $5,000 in telephone line charges," so the broadcast, which the club was evidently paying for, was cut off at the three-hour mark.) [5]

The Bell had a record of 47 in 1975 at the time of the league's dissolution. Attendance remained anemic, with the team's best-attended game at Franklin Field drawing barely 5,000 fans. After only 1,293 fans attended the Bell's October 18 contest, both the team and the WFL folded for good.

Vince Papale, the inspiration for the 2006 film Invincible , played wide receiver for the Bell for two seasons prior to his three years with the Philadelphia Eagles. [6] [7] Both Papale and King Corcoran had recently played in the Seaboard Football League, the minor league that was active at the time in the area.

Season results [8]

WeekDayDateOpponentResultAttendance
1SundayAugust 2, 1975 Hawaiians W 21–153,266
2SundayAugust 9, 1975at Birmingham Vulcans L 17–2321,000
3SundayAugust 16, 1975at Shreveport Steamer L 3–1012,016
4SundayAugust 23, 1975 Memphis Grizzlies W 22–185,051
5SaturdayAugust 29, 1975at Southern California Sun L 39–5817,811
6SaturdaySeptember 6, 1975at Charlotte Hornets L 0–1010,564
7SaturdaySeptember 13, 1975 Portland Thunder L 10–254,710
8SaturdaySeptember 20, 1975at Jacksonville Express L 10–1610,296
9SaturdayOctober 4, 1975 San Antonio Wings W 42–382,357
10SaturdayOctober 11, 1975at Hawaiians L 13–1410,789
11SaturdayOctober 18, 1975 Charlotte Hornets W 18–101,293

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References

  1. Goodtimes, Johnny (July 23, 2015). "The Philadelphia Bell, Papergate, and Possibly the Most Disastrous Pro League Ever" . Retrieved 2016-10-04.
  2. "1974 World Football League Game Results" . Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  3. Marshall, Joe. World Bowl in crisis. Sports Illustrated , 1974-12-16.
  4. "WFL Head Coach", Football Digest, August 1974 issue
  5. Jasner, Phil. Wood: Bell Picture to Improve. Philadelphia Daily News, September 2, 1975, p.67
  6. Vince Papale website
  7. # 83 Vince Papale of the Bell grabs a pass
  8. "1975 World Football League Results" . Retrieved 2015-11-11.