WFL's Tony Adams: Two key mistakes cost merger with NFL

Tony Adams was one of three MVPs in the only complete season of the World Football League. And while the league barely made a ripple, Adams is convinced it could have merged with the NFL had it corrected a couple of costly mistakes.

Tony Adams

Talk of Fame Network

You can’t talk about the World Football League without talking about quarterback Tony Adams, and if you don’t remember his name you weren’t paying attention in 1974. That’s when Adams, then the quarterback of the Southern California Sun, was named one of the league’s three MVPs.

Unique? You bet. But that was the WFL, a league that played 20 regular-season games, went to far flung locations like Honolulu and was out of business after a year-and-a-half. But before it folded, it signed up NFL stars like Ken Stabler, L.C. Greenwood, Danny White, Calvin Hill, Jethro Pugh, Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield and could have – no, should have – been such a considerable force that it would’ve merged with the NFL.

At least that’s the opinion of Adams, who went on to play with the Kansas City Chiefs and who stopped by the Talk of Fame Network for its latest broadcast.

“It was extremely competitive,” Adams said of the WFL. “There were a lot of NFL guys already in the league that first year. I mean, we had several on our team that had played, seven, eight, nine years in the NFL and still could play; (were) very competitive. And I tell you that league would’ve survived and would’ve merged with the NFL at some point and time if they had done a couple of things: Limit it to about eight, solid financial teams and play 14 regular-season games, two playoffs and the World Bowl.

“With 20 regular-season games guys were beat up, and they were having to bring guys in because the season was so long. And they were having to fly all over the place, and that’s where the big expense is. If they had limited the teams and limited the games that league would’ve succeeded. It’s just too bad.”

If nothing else, the WFL made the Storybook Hall of Fame, with tales of teams that couldn’t pay bills or players -- including Adams’ Southern California franchise, which hosted a playoff game where three of its starters failed to show up. Reason: They were owed money. Result: The Sun lost, 32-14.

“I have a feeling,” said Adams, “they were somewhere watching the game, saying, ‘See what I mean? You guys needed us.”

But he also tells of his 1974 MVP award, one he shared with Tommy Reamon and J.J. Jennings, and how he was given it at halftime of the World Bowl – the league’s championship game. It was, shall we say, a unique ceremony that Adams never forgot.

“I was actually driving from Utah back to southern California, where my family was from, and I get a call saying, ‘Hey, guess what? You’re one of the three MVP's,’ “he said. “And I said ‘Three?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, there are three MVP's, and we want you to come to the World Bowl.’

“Well, I had to drive back to Salt Lake City, catch a plane and fly down to Birmingham (Alabama, site of the World Bowl). And he told me what was going to happen, saying, ‘At halftime they’re going to take you on the field because the other two players were actually in the game. And they’re going to bring out a Brink’s truck and hand you $10,000 cash. And I said, ‘Really? What am I supposed to do?” And he said, ‘Well, we just want everybody to see that this league is fluid, there’s money and we’re going to pay you in cash.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s interesting. Let’s go ahead.’

“And sure enough (it’s) halftime, I go out to the center of the field and here comes the Brink’s truck and they pull out this big bag of cash … and the World League MVP trophy, (which) was about six-feet tall and on a big platform. They really wanted to showcase the fact that the World Football League was here and we’re going to acknowledge our top players and here’s this money and here’s this trophy -- which I’m not sure where it is now, but I think somebody knows.

“That was the ceremony, and when you look back on it … it was neat at the time, and they televised it and I understand what they did and the reason behind the cash. But when I got back to Anaheim, a lot of the players said, ‘OK, how do we split this?’ And I said, ‘Well, there are 35 of us. I’m not sure how that’s going to break down.’ That was a unique moment in the World Football League for sure.”

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