September 11, 2014

1974: Wheels Defeat Blazers for Only Win

The Detroit Wheels of the World Football League were limping along at 0-11 as they traveled to Orlando to meet the Florida Blazers on September 11, 1974. With the Blazers on top of the Eastern Division at 7-3, it did not seem likely that the Wheels might finally break into the win column.

The Wheels, coached by Dan Boisture, were typically competitive in their games, but unlucky in close contests as well as largely ignored by the Detroit area fans. They were not helped by playing home games in Ypsilanti, some 30 miles away from the city, and were in bad financial condition from the start. The Wheels drew heavily from ex-CFL players, including QB Bubba Wyche (pictured above), who performed ably.

Florida had more wins, if not a better financial situation. The Blazers were coached by former NFL linebacker Jack Pardee and featured ex-Jet QB Bob Davis, rookie RB Tommy Reamon, and TE Greg Latta on offense and DT Mike McBath and CB Miller Farr on defense. They had beaten the Wheels earlier in the season in Ypsilanti.

There were 9003 fans in attendance at the Tangerine Bowl. In the second quarter, the Blazers drove 61 yards in 13 plays, culminating in Bob Davis throwing a swing pass to RB Jim Strong for a 16-yard touchdown. The pass attempt for the action point failed but the home team carried a 7-0 lead into halftime (in the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and were followed by an “action point”, that could not be kicked).

That was it until the Wheels started their third series of the third quarter with good field position at midfield and Bubba Wyche threw to WR Jon Henderson at the sideline, who went the distance for a 49-yard TD. Detroit also failed to complete a pass for the action point and the score remained tied at 7-7.

The Blazers weren’t able to get beyond their 25 on the next series and Detroit again had good starting field position at its 45 following the punt. This time the Wheels needed ten plays to score, although they lined up to punt at one point but Eric Guthrie, a backup quarterback as well as punter, passed instead of kicking and safety Terry Hoeppner caught it for a 22-yard gain. RB Billy Sadler ran six yards for a touchdown and then caught the pass for the action point that made it a 15-7 game with less than two minutes to play in the period.

With 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Blazers began to move on offense, going 80 yards in six plays. Davis threw to Tommy Reamon for 16 yards and WR Eddie Richardson for 25 on a throw down the middle of the field. A pass to WR Matt Maslowski picked up another 25 yards and another toss to Maslowski for 17 yards moved the ball to the Detroit two. Reamon ran the final yard for a TD but Detroit LB Dick Blanchard broke up a pass intended for Greg Latta on the attempt for the action point. The Wheels remained in front by one, and it was enough as Detroit held on to win by a final score of 15-14, setting off a wild celebration by the players.

The Blazers outgained Detroit (381 yards to 248) and had more first downs (20 to 12). However, Florida also turned the ball over three times, to none by the Wheels. There were a total of 15 punts (8 by Detroit, 7 by the Blazers).

Bubba Wyche completed 7 of 14 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, but he was also sacked seven times. Billy Sadler had 55 rushing yards on 10 carries that included a TD. Thanks to the long scoring catch, Jon Henderson (pictured at left) gained 61 yards on three pass receptions.

For the Blazers, Bob Davis was successful on 16 of 33 throws for 245 yards and was intercepted twice. Tommy Reamon ran for 65 yards on 17 carries and Greg Latta caught three passes for 84 yards.

“We just took the night off,” said a frustrated Coach Jack Pardee. “It was a team loss.”

The loss dropped the Blazers into a tie for first in the Eastern Division with the New York Stars at 7-4. They managed to win their next four games and ultimately topped the division with a 14-6 record, advancing to the WFL Championship game (or “World Bowl”) before falling to the Birmingham Americans and barely staying ahead of their creditors. Detroit was 1-10 and would not win again – nor would the Wheels finish out the schedule as the franchise folded three weeks later.

Bubba Wyche was one of sixteen players that were picked by the remaining WFL franchises after the Wheels folded. He joined the Chicago Fire for the remaining four games. Overall, he completed 50.9 percent of his passes for 2342 yards and 11 touchdowns with 21 interceptions. He also rushed for 287 yards and scored 11 TDs on his own.