The Charlotte News
CHARLOTTE PLAYERS SHAKEN BY WFL COLLAPSE
"Hello . . . unemployment agency."
It was Randy Rhino's way of making the best of a bad situation as he answered the telephone. Less than three hours earlier, he and the other Charlotte Hornets were told of the World Football League's collapse at a practice at the Gus Purcell Day Camp on Kuykendall Rd.
But Rhino soon turned serious and said the announcement of the end of the league came as a shock.
"It really shakes you up," said the safety who was a star athlete at Olympic and South Mecklenburg high schools. "You never really thought it would come to this.
"We (Rhino and his wife) are not hurting (financially). We've saved some money. But it's really got to be bad on the family guys, the guys like Tom Sherman and Marty Huff.
"We were out at practice," Rhino said, "and (Coach Bob) Gibson was called off the field to answer the telephone.
"When he came back, he called the guys over. Then he said, 'Go ahead and sit down. This is going to be a long break.' We all knew what had happened."
But Rhino said the end of his WFL career was not the end of his football.
"I'm gonna play football again," he said firmly. "I'm not worried about that. This is just a little block."
Other Hornets players had similar reactions when contacted by The News.
"We didn't really suspect this," said linebacker Dana Carpenter. "We weren't positive the league was going to make it but we didn't feel Charlotte was having problems.
"Everybody was really down. This was our life," he said
Cornerback Larry Shears, who was with the Hornet team last year, said he was "unhappy but not bitter."
"The people I met on the team were basically good people. But the team itself didn't have control over what happened," Shears said.
"It's tough but what can you do?" said linebacker Marty Huff, "I'll just have to get ahold of another team," perhaps in the NFL.
"I'm disappointed in the people of Charlotte and why they didn't go to the games," Huff said. "I'm not going to worry tonight anyway. Maybe tomorrow."
The end of the Hornets came at an especially unfortunate time for safety Jeff Woodcock, an all-pro last year in the WFL. Out of action for several weeks with a shoulder separation. Woodcock suited up yesterday for the first time, equipment manager Bob Lambert said.
For Gibson, the end came in a 3:10 p.m. telephone call from Upton Bell as the team readied itself for Saturday's game against Hawaii.
"I just knew there was conference call about the financing of the league (scheduled yesterday afternoon) but I did not personally think it (folding) was coming," Gibson said.
Gibson said he was thinking about two possibilities as he walked off the field.
"One was good and one was bad," he said. "But there was a little man down inside of me that thought the worst.
"I honestly did not think that it would come. I felt that the big money people in the league had too much at stake to let it happen," he said.
Bell, Gibson said, relayed "just the basic facts. That that was it. He just told me that the league was finished and they'd decide to fold the league and that we weren't one that was in favor of folding."
"We voted to continue," Gibson said he was told by Bell.
"We were very desirous to continue the league and had the financial backing to do so," Gibson said.
Bell, he said, plans to address the players today at noon at the day camp.
Gibson said he didn't know whose fault it was that the league collapsed but cited several factors that could have made the difference.
"We just didn't get the kind of attendance to make it go," he said.
"When I was (first) afraid we were in trouble was when we got 7,000 for the Jacksonville game (on Oct. 12). We did no get that support."
The league's lack of credibility stemming from last year's mistakes, the general slumping economy and the negative news stories also had an effect on the league and the Hornets, Gibson said.
"I fell that unfair press certainly contributed," Gibson said as he sipped beer with the other coachers sat Purcell's cabin on the day camp grounds.
"I think some of the media stories that were taken as gospel . . . helped the demise of the league," he said.
Gibson said he felt sorry for the players who wanted a chance to play in Charlotte but now won't be able to and don't have the money coming in.
The players, Gibson said, will work though the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to try to get jobs but Gibson said he isn't sure what he will do immediately.
"I'm not hurting (financially) because my family's grown," Gibson said. "I'll be some place in professional football. I'm not sorry one single bit. I'm not getting out of it (football)."
"I'm too good a coach," Gibson said with a laugh. "I can't play cards and I'm not a lover."
As Gibson spoke, the empty locker room in a nearby building reflected the suddenness of the league's collapse.
Near the day camp's kitchen, shoulder pads, helmets, cleated shoes and wads of used adhesive tape were strewn about on the concrete floor near wooden and wire lockers. An odor of perspiration hung in the air, hours after the players had left.
Mounds of dirty practice uniforms were piled in laundry baskets. Wooden benches, used for seats to view films or to change into uniforms, were scattered in a haphazard manner in the room.
A film screen hung on one wall and old newspapers were taped over windows to give the players privacy.
In a clothing cage bearing linebackers Marty Huff's name, a deck of playing cards was spread among some papers. In place-kickers Pete Rajecki's locker there was a kicking tee.
For equipment manager Bob Lambert and assistant trainer Tom Wilkinson, it was the second time their team had folded. Last year both worked for the Florida Blazers when that team fell apart.
"Two in a row for me. Not as bad as the first time," Lambert said. "I've got to find a job tomorrow. That's all there is to it."
Wilkinson and Lambert bantered back and forth about the World Series and Wilkinson said he would probably go to his apartment and drink some Coors beer and Scotch.
And on a nearby door was attached a Birmingham newspaper clipping that dated last Thursday. The headline that streamed across the top of the page said, "Yes, Virginia, The WFL Plays Good Football."
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