This conversation with Jere Brown took place on August 8, 1999. Jere, who now lives in Pennsylvania with his family, spoke about his experience in the World Football League as a rookie with the New York Stars and then as a veteran leader on the Charlotte Hornets. Jere joined the WFL fresh out of college after playing with the Villanova Wildcats. He was a leader on the defense, and spoke candidly about the Stars and the transfer to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then the rebirth of the WFL in 1975. Jere is now a business executive and enjoys watching his sons (Matt and Tyler) play basketball with his wife Kim.
CHFN: When did you first hear of the WFL?
JB: I was a senior in college at Villanova, and was looking to sign as a free agent with Dallas. I played linebacker throughout college, when I was moved to tailback. I realized that if I wanted to play I would have to play at linebacker. Then I was contacted by an agent who was representing a couple of the other guys I played college football with, one of which was Frank Polito who played for the Philadelphia Bell, and another named John Gibbons who was cut by them. This agent told me there was this new football league, the World Football League, and they had this team in New York named the Stars, and one thing led to another and a couple of weeks later I signed the contract.
CHFN: Were you first contacted by Babe Parilli?
JB: Tom Beers. After I signed I had a conversation with the infamous Dusty Rhodes, the PR agent of the Stars. I was pretty excited, as most guys are to sign a contract. I went out and celebrated on the Villanova campus that night. After I graduated, I joined the Stars in training camp. That's one of the most vivid memories I have of my whole career. We started in the beginning of June, we trained at a military school, La Salle Military School, in Oakdale, New York on Long Island-it was right on the water and it was beautiful. I think they (the Stars) told me they would bring eight to twelve linebackers to camp-I showed up and there were 100 players in camp-16 linebackers. Needless to say, it was very competitive, two-a-day practices, and slowly we began to whittle down through the linebackers. We went through eight weeks of two-a-day practices with a couple of scrimmages in between against the Philadelphia Bell. We played them at Hempstead High School and then again in Glassboro, at Glassboro State. There were players getting cut, dropping out, leaving, until we got down to a roster of players that would stay on the team. I just remember that camp being one of the longest, most difficult challenges I ever had. I was a borderline player, moving back into a new position- linebacker, and moving into a very competitive position. Every day scrimmaging-your on the line every day. I remember my coach George Boutselis he was from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and was an assistant at Arizona State, and eventually coached with the Baltimore Colts before he died of cancer. I still remember, and Art Reynolds, my team mate and friend, who joke that George's favorite comment to me when I screwed up was, "I'll send your ass back to Villanova!" When we came out of camp the linebackers were all good friends. Gary Champagne, who was cut after a few games, Art Reynolds (who was "Hacksaw" Reynolds' brother) he played for Tennessee, as his brother "Hacksaw"-Art was a middle linebacker. He and Tom Chandler and I became close friends. Dana Carpenter, who was out of South Carolina, became a close friend as well.
NOTE: Actually, the New York Stars traded linebacker Gary Champagne defensive end Larry Estes to the Birmingham Americans on August 3, 1974 for future considerations.
CHFN: Since the WFL didn't have a standard exhibition season, was it harder to prepare for the season?
JB: The veterans absolutely hated the fact that we had two-a-day sessions for eight weeks. I remember a couple of evenings, after meetings, that some of the older guys-Philbin, Elliott, Lloyd Voss and Greg Lens, would head out to the local drinking establishment. Gerry Philbin, who was a famous Jet-many of the guys on the team, and the equipment manager, were famous New York Jets and they knew their way around. Some of the older guys took us younger guys under their wing and made sure we didn't get into too much trouble. The practice sessions were long, and the weather was hot-it was the toughest challenge I've ever had in life.
CHFN: Were Gerry Philbin and John Elliott leaders on the defense?
JB: Oh, Yeah. One of other guys was Lloyd Voss. He played with the Steelers and a couple of other teams in the NFL. These guys were veterans, and would do anything. One thing they would do before a game, one of those nervous habits, is light up a cigarette to relax. Then they'd come in at halftime and light up a cigarette, and I'd look at them, and think, "what the... " They were crazy. John Elliott was a Texas boy, and he became a sheriff after his football career. One of the general impressions I had was the real odd mix of people in the league. There were people from all walks of life on our team. Guys were from all types of schools and some from no school at all. One of the funniest stories was when we went down to Houston to play the Texans in the Astrodome, we had a offensive lineman named Dick Hart and before the game they were introducing the players... "at tight end, number 86, from Minnesota, Ray Parsons; at left tackle, number 70, from Minnesota, Matt Herkenhoff; at left guard, number 64, no college, Dick Hart". The guys cracked up-all of 'em laughing. Dick Hart played in the NFL, but not in college. Well, you can guess what his nickname was from then on... "no college." He took so much crap for that-it was great! We had all types of guys on the Stars-the grizzled veterans; Elliott, Philbin, Len St.Jean-guys in their late thirties, at the end of their careers, hanging on or trying to get back to the NFL. Then we had other folks, guys like myself trying to catch on, right out of college, some of which graduated-some didn't. Some of us were married, some not.
CHFN: What was it like for a young football player fresh out of Villanova and in the WFL?
JB: We were young guys, sharing an apartment; there was a lot of disposable income then. When you have some extra money and a lot of free time, you can get into a lot of trouble. We had some interesting people on the team. We had a backup quarterback named Brian Dowling-he was from Yale. He was married. His wife was from a socialite family in the New England area. His college roommate was Gary Trudeau and Brian Dowling was also very famous cause if you read the comic strip "Doonesbury" guess who B.D. is? Brian Dowling. Then we had a group of guys... we had a lot of folks from Minnesota, Darrel Bunge, Tom Chandler, Ray Parsons, Kreg Kapitan- there's four guys from Minnesota. Kapitan went to Mankato State, and tried out for the Vikings. Greg Lens, played at Trinity College, and spent four years with the Atlanta Falcons. In the off-season he went back to Minnesota where he was a professional wrestler, and his name was the "Marshall Mauler".
CHFN: What was your first impression of the WFL football?
JB: Ah... I called it calf-shit brown with orange stripes. It was ugly. It wasn't like the ABA ball-flashy, with the stripes. My biggest regret was that I had one but over the years I lost it. It looked funny. The kickers didn't like it cause it kicked funny. It was very unusual. Kickers were superstitious of it. I knew it would be a collector's item. I have one from the '75 season. Most of us were creatures of habit; we were used to the old style of football. I don't think I've ever seen any league with colors like that. The WFL had a lot of crazy colors-take a look at Southern California, Portland, and the Hawaiians.
CHFN: What was it like for you, when the Stars traveled to Jacksonville, Florida to play the Sharks, in your first professional game?
JB: We played our games on Wednesday nights, but this game was on a Thursday. There was a TVS Network crew there-and a good crowd, 60,000 or so. We were all excited. I didn't play; I was on the taxi squad for that game. I didn't get into the lineup till' later in the year.
CHFN: What was the first game you started?
JB: That was the Philadelphia Bell game. The third week of the season, in Philadelphia. Of course, going to college in Philadelphia and growing up not too far from the city made that game a big thrill for me. The other thing that was interesting about that game was that I played in JFK Stadium. I had been there before to see the Army-Navy game, and it was a cavernous 100,000 seat stadium, and there were about 60,000 fans there that night. The irony of it was that only like 10,000 tickets sold, they were giving away tickets at the local supermarkets as part of a promotion-they wanted a full house for national television. At the end of the game, the fans got out-of-hand and rioted, the Philadelphia mayor had mounted policemen on horseback surround the field to keep the crowd under control. We were on the field, looking at each other, saying, "let's get the hell out of here!", and ran off the field towards the locker rooms. Moses Lajterman kicked the winning field goal. Moses was another story. We had two field goal kickers... Moses Lajterman, and then we picked up Pete Rajecki. Rajecki roomed with Art Reynolds, Gary Champagne and I and Pete, who was from Germany. He spoke in a very heavy accent. Moses Lajterman was Jewish. The Stars had two kickers competing for one position, one German and one Jewish. It was an ecliptic mix of people. There was a bunch of guys, myself included, that weren't big enough or strong enough to play in the NFL. We had a guys like Art Reynolds, and a 5' 7" wide receiver from New Jersey named Bob Hermanni. Kreg Kapitan and Darrel Bunge were like that. Then there was the other group of guys trying to head back to the NFL.
CHFN: What was it like playing in the "infamous" Downing Stadium?
JB: You couldn't get to Downing Stadium easily. You had to drive past or through Harlem. Take the East River Drive. A couple of my buddies came up from Villanova to see a game and got terribly lost in New York City for hours. The stadium had fallen into disrepair and hadn't been used in years. They got the field in pretty good shape, and did some work on the lights. It was dark, real dark-hard to see the ball. I've been to high school stadiums that were in better shape. It was an old concrete stadium and the locker rooms were concrete and they slapped some lockers and paint in there to brighten it up. There wasn't much of a press box.
CHFN: New York Star running back Bob Gladieux is quoted as saying, "It has too be depressing for other teams to come to Downing. To drive through the bright lights of Manhattan to come here to play- this definitely gives us an advantage."
JB: In that respect it really did. During one game against the Florida Blazers, it rained so hard that the locker room was just quagmire-mud and water everywhere. It was a mess. One great story about Gladieux was when he was playing for the New England Patriots and he was not starting. He decided to watch the game from the stands with a couple of friends that he had invited to the game. So these guys are up there, having a good time, having some hotdogs and a couple of beers, and Gladieux is sitting there with his buddies. Well, one of his friends gets up to go get a couple more beers and as he's gone one of the running backs pulls a muscle during warm-ups. The coach comes up to the stands and yells up to Gladieux. He goes into the game. When his buddy comes back, there is Gladieux, in uniform, on the kickoff team, running down the field with a couple of beers in him and his buddies screaming from the stands.
CHFN: When did you first hear that the team was heading to Charlotte, North Carolina?
JB: I think we were the first team to move-there were rumors of others. We had pretty much had it with New York. When the fans showed up, they supported us and the stadium was so hard to get to that if they were showing up a second or third time it was out of loyalty and not curiosity. We had a good team, but Carolina appealed to some of the southern players on the team and it sounded like a good idea, good business sense.
NOTE: The Houston Texans moved to Shreveport on September 18th. The New York Stars announced their move to Charlotte on September 24, 1974.
CHFN: It was reported that Bob Schmertz had financial troubles and had to sell the club.
JB: Attendance was low, but we were a good team. And it's always easier to sell a good team than a bad one. I remember Upton Bell coming into the picture, and he had quite a football background. We were ready to get out of New York-as a team. We knew we'd always be second to the Giants and the Jets. We had a big party at one of the guys' houses. I remember packing the next day and driving down to Charlotte.
CHFN: Wasn't it true that the team was actually called the Charlotte Stars before it became the Charlotte Hornets?
JB: Our first game was in Chicago, against the Fire. We were called the "Stars" and management didn't want us playing on national television with the wrong logo on our helmets. At the time we had an equipment manager named Tiger Ferraro, and he had a friend who worked for the Bears, so he ends up getting a bunch of Chicago "C's" to put on our helmets... it was the funniest thing ever. I wish I had a picture of that. So we played the game with those new helmets and later changed to a plain "C" before the Hornet logo in 1975.
CHFN: What was the reception like from the fans in Charlotte?
JB: It was great. They came out and bought tickets-we sold out our first game. In fact, when we arrived in Charlotte they had a big parade for us in the center of the city. We had these trolley cars that we rode around on-the players and their wives. The fans in Charlotte were always strong supporters of the team. I remember signing autographs at the local K-Mart and getting paid for it. Charlotte was a lot better than New York. In New York we felt like a number.
CHFN: What were some of the craziest things you remember about your team mates?
JB: After the Portland game, Dana Carpenter, who was pound-for-pound one of the biggest eaters I'd ever seen; he'd go out and have a dozen eggs for breakfast. So we began to have these contests. One morning, after a night of heavy drinking, he ordered 24 eggs, half a loaf of bread, and washed it down with a couple of quarts of milk. Marty Huff was crazy-a tough competitor. He had this "far away" look... he could hit a guy hard, real hard. He always wore this crazy cowboy hat and carried a gun.
CHFN: Do you recall your last WFL game in Philadelphia against the Bell?
JB: We played at Franklin Field, on the Penn campus where the Philadelphia Eagles used to play. Astroturf. I had a lot of family and friends down to see me play. We lost the game, but I played pretty well. An interesting note, that before that game I remember reading in the Philadelphia paper that we (the WFL) had a guy (me) leading the Charlotte Hornets in tackles and the media said, "we (the Philadelphia paper) don't even remember him having a stellar career at Villanova". There wasn't much of a crowd there-about 1,500 people. I think they had Ted Kwalick there. Of course we hated Philadelphia and they had Claude Watts and John Land in their backfield. I used to run into them years after our WFL careers, as well as Frank Polito who played defensive back. The Philadelphia games always were more important to me due to the fact that I was from Philadelphia and played at Villanova.
NOTE: Jere Brown made the final tackle in the Hornets-Bell contest on October 18, 1975. This was the team's final game as the World Football League folded four days later. This was the second time in 1975 that Jere closed the game with the Bell. On September 6, 1975, Jere Brown intercepted a pass to end a Bell drive and the game.
I remember the game against Memphis in Memphis. I had a good game and Marty Huff had a great game. We were ahead 11-0, and I had a pivotal play in that game. I can almost see it. The Southmen were driving and Kiick would come out into pass coverage and I would cover him. He'd come out for these flare patterns-just a few yards downfield and then flare to the sideline. I saw the pass from Huarte, a short quick out into the flat. I had the ball on my fingertips, nothing in front of me but the end zone, and... I dropped it. That was at midfield, and they went on to score. Memphis won that game 23-11.
CHFN: Being a young football player in the WFL it must be thrilling to have the opportunity to give Larry Csonka a "good shot".
JB: Absolutely. The only way to give him a good shot was to get him at the line of scrimmage before he got a couple of yards or he was going to get the better of you. My job was to tackle him low and tackle him hard. I remember in that game Marty Huff standing Larry Csonka straight up in the hole. I wasn't a talker on the field, so I didn't say anything to Csonka or anyone else. The type of defense we ran was a "stack" defense-so that allowed me to hit the line hard to stop the run.
CHFN: The game in the Astrodome against the Houston Texans was the infamous game when John Matuszak was escorted off the field by the police (the NFL filed an injunction against his WFL contract forcing him not to play). What do you remember from that game and the other games that you played in?
JB: We were on the sideline saying, "Well... he's (Matuszak) living up to reputation." When we played the Hawaiians they had Calvin Hill on their team. He was a tall, lanky runner. You had to be careful playing against a guy like that-he could break a game open. I remember playing against Hawaii, and the defense had a great game against Shreveport which was led by Jim Nance. Our game against the Philadelphia Bell, in Charlotte, I remember vividly because it was on the radio back home in Philly and my friends and family were listening. That game ended with me intercepting a pass.
CHFN: The Hornets played their 1975 regular season opener against the San Antonio Wings, an expansion team, what was the difference between the WFL in 1974 and 1975?
JB: The Wings were a good team. They had some players from the old Florida Blazers, and a tough quarterback-Johnnie Walton. We lost 27-10, and the Wings went on to be one of the best teams in the WFL. It seemed as though the WFL couldn't shake the problems of 1974. For a lot of people, "once stung-twice shy". It was hard to get the support of the community and the league suffered because of it.
CHFN: The Hornets started the season off balance and then caught fire when quarterback Tom Sherman came back to start. What kind of quarterback was Sherman?
JB: Tom Sherman was out of Penn State. He probably didn't get the attention that he should have. He played with the old Hartford Knights, a minor league team, before joining the WFL and the Stars. He had a lot of experience and could lead a team. He didn't get noticed by the NFL, but should have.
CHFN: As the 1975 season rolled on when did you first see signs of trouble?
JB: We changed training camps, and some teams were taking of folding. There weren't any signs of that with our team. We were practicing a long, long time and Bob Gibson, our coach, came out and said, "Guys I just got a phone call... and the league has folded."
CHFN: What was the reaction from the players?
JB: Anger. Then after that passed, we thought, "what do we do now?" There was a strange silence. No one knew what to say... we just walked off the field. Some of the guys thought that Gibson (Coach Bob Gibson) was actually taking a call regarding a NBC film story they were doing about the WFL that week against Hawaii. The guys who were around the year before were throwing their helmets and pulling off their jerseys.
NOTE: NBC planned to televise a story on the Charlotte Hornets for their Sunday, October 26, 1975 NFL pre-game show, Grandstand. The Hornets were chosen because they were the only professional sports team to be paid strictly on percentage contracts. NBC was going to conduct interviews and show highlights from the October 25, 1975 game between the Hornets and Hawaiians from American Legion Memorial Stadium.
CHFN: Did you feel like you weren't getting a chance to finish what you started?
JB Yes. It seemed to me that they (the WFL) had made some of the changes that were required to sustain the league for some time. Obviously with no national television contract, no one with a strong financial backing, like a Paul Allen, it seemed immanent that it was done. So many of us tried to latch on in the NFL or try to get a job with some one up in Canada. I hung around for awhile, a couple of days. My wife, we had just gotten engaged, and we stayed around the city for a few days. In fact we had another party-a going away party.
CHFN: In the two years that you played in the World Football League, who were some of the toughest running backs you played against and why?
JB: One guy who I thought was the most illusive running back was Anthony Davis of the Southern California Sun. He was short, strong, fast and really accelerated-he was really difficult to tackle. Larry Csonka was just a bull. If you didn't hit him at the line of scrimmage, and he got a head of steam goin', he'd always get an extra yard or two. You weren't going to hit him and knock him back. Tommy Reamon was a great runner. He reminded me of a Walter Payton type of runner-slasher. He was a guy who would get three or four yards after you hit him. I was really surprised that he didn't make it in the NFL. Don Highsmith on our team was a good runner. Rufus Ferguson was a tough, fireplug runner. He tried not to let you get a good shot at him. He relied on his speed and was deceptively strong. Willie Spencer of Memphis was big, strong, strong physical running back. John Land always gained a lot of yards against us. He was a deceptive runner; he gained a lot of yards after the play as well. I used to run into Claude Watts years later when he worked for Xerox. We just laugh about the old times. Another highlight of my career was playing in Birmingham at Legion Field. I was really excited about playing there. I remember how crowned the field was-it was like a hill out there. When we flew into Birmingham, of course football was popular there, we had a police escort-guys on motorcycles. Birmingham had a good quarterback named Matthew Reed who was tough. Shreveport, Jacksonville-we had a lot of games in pouring rain in 1975. In Jacksonville, the cheerleaders looked like their legs were half the size due to all the rain that was coming down-it was a cloudburst. The Express had a mascot that had to take off his costume because he though he was going to drown his suit was so wet.
CHFN: What were some of the stadiums that you enjoyed playing in?
JB: The Big "A" in Anaheim was a nice stadium. Of course, half of it was a baseball field because the Angels still played there. Soldier Field... in Chicago which was Astroturf back then. I played in the Astrodome a few times which was interesting-there were only 10,000 people there. The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville was beautiful. Legion Field in Birmingham was great. I look back on it now as a time in my life when, you know, for that time in my life it was just a heck of a lot of fun, every kid growing up dreams of playing pro ball. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, didn't go to a football college, certainly guys like Art Reynolds, who went to Tennessee gave me a lot of grief about being from Villanova. You learn about life, and I got to play against some Hall of Fame players. I played against Leroy Kelly and Virgil Carter (when with the Chicago Fire). You take those seasoned veteran guys, against the defenses we ran-they just had the experience. In Charlotte we had Chris Kupec, a highly regarded quarterback out of North Carolina. When he came in there Tom Sherman had considerably less talent, not as strong an arm, but he knew where to throw the football. You could see why it takes quarterbacks years to really develop.
CHFN: Looking back now, twenty-five years later, what are your feelings towards the WFL and the time you spent playing in the league?
I remember the first game I started. I was running out into the stadium with my uniform on, my helmet in my arm, the crowd was cheering, the lights shined down onto the field... that was a great feeling... that was a great time in my life. We learned a lot about life-tasted a bit of it-and became better for having done it.
NOTE: The Jere Brown interview was conducted by Jim Cusano and Richie Franklin. This interview originally appeared on the World Football Hall of Fame Web site and is used with permission. This interview is property of the Charlotte Hornets Football Network and may not be used without the written consent of the Web site owners.