The Charlotte Hornets Football Network recently held a conversation with former New York Stars/Charlotte Hornets wide receiver, Kreg "Kap" Kapitan. Kreg played his college football at Mankato State in Minnesota. During his freshman and sophomore years he played defensive back. Due to injuries he was inserted in the final game of his sophomore year and caught seven passes. Kap played wide receiver his final two seasons and graduated holding all of the schools receiving records. After tryouts in both the National Football League and Canadian Football League, Kap signed with the New York Stars of the World Football League. Kap holds the all-time Stars/Hornets record for receptions and touchdowns. Today he owns a company that handles insurance claims for insured's needing assistance, and is an avid golfer and fisherman. Kap and his wife, Kathy resides in Minnesota, and enjoys spending time watching their grandsons, Konnor and Kristian, on the many teams they play on. We want to thank Kreg for his generosity in sharing his memories from his playing days in the WFL with the New York Stars and Charlotte Hornets.
CHFN: When did you first hear about the World Football League, and who first contacted you from the New York Stars?
Kap: I first heard about the New York Stars when I was training in the off season at the Bierman Athletic Building at the University of Minnesota. Many of the guys that ended up playing for the Stars had been working out together.
We would have a noon basketball game at Bierman followed by individual training sessions for lineman...wide receivers and defensive backs. I imagine there was about ten or so guys every day. Matt Herkenhoff, Darrel Bunge, Tom Chandler...those three were a site to see on the basketball court. Keith Fahnhorst who later played in the NFL for years, and another University of Minnesota guy, Ray Parson, a tackle...tight end from Minnesota...and a stud, Mike Perfetti...a guy that lead the Big Ten in punting at Minnesota and could have made the WFL Stars, but he wanted to play the game and not just be a punter. Steve Setzler...was another Minnesota guy, a defensive end from St. John University, Collegeville, and also a guy named, Rick Upchurch...who was currently playing for the Gophers and a couple years later went onto to star for the Broncos in the NFL. I always seemed to get the short straw and got the assignment of trying to stay with and guard Upchurch. If you looked the wrong way, Rick was off and down the court...and I mean on a fast break.
Coach Tom Moore was also going to join Coach Parilli's coaching staff as our offensive coordinator. So another Minnesotan.
I am not sure how Tom Beer, the director of player personnel got my name or a hold of me. Maybe through Jerry Reichow, Director of Player Personnel for the Vikings...I am not sure. But I talked with Tom Beer and he signed me to a contract to come out to New York and join the Stars for training camp. He would end up being our Tight end and Wide Receivers coach. Excitement and energy were overflowing. The more I heard of the players signing with the Stars...(John) Elliott...(Gerry) Philbin...(Bob) Gladieux, and especially George Sauer Jr...I couldn't wait.
CHFN: The Stars held the training camp at La Salle Military Academy on Long Island. What are your memories from the summer of '74, and how tough was that camp?
Kap: First of all, you couldn't have a better setting to have a training camp than right on the water. We literally looked right out on the bay...staying at LaSalle Academy. The field lacked a little grooming and I believe they must have had some horses that grazed out there in the early spring...summer before we came to camp in July. I was a little spoiled, after spending two training camps with the Minnesota Vikings in Mankato, Minnesota. Our dorms on Long Island were not air conditioned. With the Vikes they obviously were. The meals at the Vikings training camp were unbelievable. Steak or steaks and eggs in the morning for breakfast. The training table had a few less choices at LaSalle Academy .But, fact of the matter...many of the players trying to make the squad would have survived on bread and water...just for the opportunity to make it with the team and play football at this level.
Camp was two- a- day practices with over 100 players trying out. Morning and afternoon work outs with evening meetings with the Coordinators...both offense and defense. I think they knew to keep us busy in the evenings just so there was not a lot of time to go socialize. Our meetings would wrap up around 7:30...8:00 pm with our curfew for bed being 10:00 pm in our rooms. I believe maybe a couple guys were close on making that curfew time a couple of times, and I found out later that some of the veterans had relaxed curfew hours...not the rookies.
CHFN: Do you have any good stories from training camp?
Kap: One of my favorite stories...memories was this story and God Bless Coach Leachman as he has passed. Let me set it up for you. As you know John Elliott and Gerry Philbin were two of our team leaders...along with Greg Lens...the three of them would all chew Redman chewing tobacco. Well, during practice, obviously, the three would leave their pouch of Redman in their lockers as they left the locker room and went out on the field for calisthenics. We had a defensive line coach that coached all three of these guys, named Lamar Leachman. Just a great guy...coach. I believe Lamar was from South Carolina or some place in the South, because he always talked with that Southern drawl. His favorite saying to his defensive lineman...Elliott, Philbin and Lens was...Ready, Ready, Ready, Ready Elliott...etc. Well the three guys were talking one morning about how their pouches of Redman always seemed to be a bit lighter or not have as much Redman Tobacco in them, when they came in from practice each day. Well, their Coach...Coach Leachman also chewed Redman chewing tobacco too. But it seems like Coach Leachman never bought his own, but just went into Elliott, Philbin and Lens lockers after they had gone onto the field, and grabbed a chew and put it in his mouth before he would come on the field for practice. Lamar would walk on the field as we were stretching and say...Ready-Ready Elliott...Ready Ready Loukie...and so on.
So the three of these guys got together and put this plot in action. As I mentioned before, they must have had horses that grazed on our field because there were horse dropping around the field. For the most part, these horse pies had dried out from the sun. The three of them scrapped up some of the dried horse dung and placed it in all three of their Redman bags and placed it in their lockers for the next day's morning practice knowing well that their bags would be visited prior to their next practice. Well as you can imagine these three told everyone on the team about their plan and we were all out on the field stretching again when Coach Leachman walked out on the field, chewing away on what he thought was Redman. I believe the mixture may have been 2/3 Redman...1/3 dried Horse manure. Somehow, somewhere as Coach Leachman walked onto the field, the conversation got to the point where Coach Leachman said "Damn Elliott...This Redman taste like Horseshit" Elliot said..."It is" Lamar started spitting that chew out of his mouth as fast as he could and expounding many four letter words directly at the three. I thought we would die laughing and I am still laughing as I tell you this story. Great memory.
One additional memory that I have from training camp. Although this guy was not an NFL player trying out, he certainly had a past where you would recognize his name...John Carlos. John was part of the Olympic 400 meter team that won their race and then protested the National Anthem...with their Black Power fist salute...along with Tommie Smith and two others. John was trying out as a wide receiver. The same as I was, so I was close to this situation. I have never seen a guy run so fast as John Carlos...Unbelievable. Most defensive backs, when covering a receiver back in the 70's would be anywhere from 5-7 yards off the line of scrimmage when the play started. This would give them a cushion as to not get beat deep by the receiver. Our defensive backs; as we were running one-on-one passing drills...would line up 10 yards deep, when trying to cover Carlos. In a matter of no time...20 yards or so...Carlos was by them and wide open. You could hear the ooh's and awe's from the spectators watching training camp. Unfortunately, for the Stars, God blessed John with totally everything to his feet and left nothing when it came to his hands. As our line of receivers stood and watched as he would fly by the defensive backs by 10-15 yards...only to drop the pass or have it hit him in the helmet or shoulder pads...we could only wish we had been blessed with that speed. I would have liked to have seen him and Bob Hayes of the Dallas Cowboys in a foot race. My money would be on Carlos. Lastly, although this was a year later after the team had moved to Charlotte, but we had our training camp in a place...appropriately named Boiling Springs,, North Carolina. Home of Gardner-Webb University. You can't imagine how hot it was on that field in July. Now back 40 years ago, this was a time when the coaches told everyone to stay away from the water at the water break. You only got one Dixie cup full of water. Well, that was crazy. We had one of our equipment guys that almost died when he went out to practice wearing a rubber wrestling weight lost suit. He got heat stroke and they laid him on the floor of the shower room and hosed him done to cool down his core temperature I am telling you...it was hot.
CHFN: The Stars scrimmaged the Philadelphia Bell twice during training camp. What are your memories of those two games, and did the Stars scrimmage any of the other WFL teams during camp?
Kap: I knew, right from the get go that there was no love lost between the two cities of New York and Philadelphia. The Bell defensive backs played an in your face bump and run defense with their Defensive backs. Their goal was to not let you off the line of scrimmage and they were very physical and didn't always...play by the rules. I can specifically recall playing the Philadelphia Bell in a game and when I came off the line of scrimmage, I got a handful of dirt in my face. I thought to myself...Hmmm, this is the way it is going to be...we'll get our shots downfield with some good blocks in the secondary. We had a good group of receivers that would pride ourselves on getting downfield for some blocks. Ray Parson, our tight end, would occupy the safeties attention and Al Young, myself, and others would come in from the side and clock them pretty good. We'd come back to the huddle...and viewing the game films...and give each other a high five on the hit.
CHFN: What was your impression of head coach, Babe Parilli and the New York Stars coaching staff?
Kap: Great...the best. Leadership starts at the top and we had a great staff. Obviously you could see after the league dismantled, many of our coaches from both seasons went on to great careers. Coach (Tom) Moore...Indianapolis, Lindy Infante...Packers, etc.
Coach Tom Beers was my position coach and the Director of Player Personnel. He originally contacted me and offered me the opportunity to come tryout with the Stars...Good guy and former player. He added enthusiasm and some fun...humor to our workouts, which after 20 games, was always welcome. We had a QB from Texas in our camp, Scooter Longmire. Long blonde hair coming out of his helmet and white shoes. Pretty good QB, but with (Tom) Sherman, (Brian) Dowling and (Gary) Danielson, he didn't make the team out of camp. But during camp, Coach Beers started awarding a football each week to the guy that performed the best and had the best week of camp. Scooter won it the first week and it became the Scooter Longmire award. Each time the ball was awarded, the players name was put on it. It was for the wide receivers and tight ends. Winners were (Ray) Parsons, (George) Sauer, (Al) Young, (Bob) Hermanni, (Tommy) Spinks, myself and a few others. We kept the award until camp broke and then Coach Beers gave it to me for the season. I think I still have it in one of the boxes somewhere.
NOTE: Lance "Scooter" Longmire was a 16th round draft pick, and the 416th overall pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1972 NFL College Draft. He attended the University of Utah.
CHFN: Are you surprised at the success that Tom Moore has had as an offensive coordinator in the National Football League?
Kap: Great players make great coaches and vice versa...not surprised at all...and he is still going.
CHFN: Stars owner, Robert Schmertz, invested a lot of money to improve Downing Stadium. What was it like to play there, and did playing in Downing Stadium give the Stars an advantage on the field?
Kap: Having never seen Downing Stadium prior to Mr. Schmertz investing money into the stadium to update it, it was hard for me to know how much it had improved from the previous state of condition. Honestly, I was so happy for the opportunity to play football, that I never let it become an issue for me. As long as it had 100 yards of field and two end zones...let's play football.
Thank you, Mr. Schmertz, for the opportunity to pursue my lifelong dream of playing professional football. Now that being said...the lighting for the passing game was a little extra challenge, especially on those long down field passes that got up above the lights for a little while. I don't know if it was an advantage for the Stars or not...you still had to line up and play football.
CHFN: Think back to July 11, 1974. The New York Stars are playing in their inaugural game against the Sharks in Jacksonville. The game is the WFL Game of the Week on the TVS Network. What are your memories from that opening night?
Kap: Excited for the opening Night. A lot of hope for the team...season. Full Stadium...although later we found out that many tickets were given away to fill it.
NOTE: Jacksonville defeated the Stars 14-7 on a blocked punt by Ike Lassiter, and scored two plays later when O.Z. White recovered a Tommy Durrance fumble in the end zone. It was later reported that out of the 59,112 fans in attendance, 30,000 tickets were given away for free.
CHFN: As a player, were you able to watch any of the televised WFL on TVS Network Game of the Week in 1974, and what was your opinion of the level of play in the World Football League for both 1974 and 1975?
Kap: At times we were able to view some games, especially if you were to be playing them in the next few games. We had hours upon hours of film on the games and the teams we were playing and preparing for, so it was not as if you didn't get to see them play.
The teams all had their stars and the level of play was very good. The quality was getting better by the day. Each new NFL player signing with the new league got us a little more publicity and more credibility. So much, as to make the NFL become concerned about this new league being formed. John Bassett, owner of the Memphis Southmen, had enough money to own the league himself. As it was, he had Csonka, Kick and Warfield on personal service contracts, and paid them very good money. He also subsidized a couple of the teams in the league that were fledging. It is my understanding, although not confirmed by anyone substantial, that the NFL contacted John Bassett and told him if he took his money out of the WFL...and then the league would fold...that the NFL would grant Memphis a new franchise in 1976, when they were going to add two more cities. He did take his money out and the NFL granted Tampa Bay and Seattle the two new franchises in 1976 when the NFL expanded.
CHFN: What were your impressions of the 1974 World Football League rule changes...Dickerod...Action Point...WFL Referees colorful uniforms...WFL Spalding football...Wednesday and Thursday night games? Did you feel like it was a gimmick?
Kap: The changes were definitely done to create media discussions about the rules...league. The action point and the weekday games were ahead of themselves. Look at today...Thursday night football and even Sunday evening games
CHFN: Tell us about some of the characters on that 1974 New York Stars team?
Kap: I am not sure I have enough time or space to even begin to scratch the surface with this great group of guys...characters...I can think of easily 10 right off the start.
Biggest character and greatest guy...Bob Gladieux from Notre Dame. He played with (Terry) Hanratty and (Jim) Seymour at Notre Dame. Identical look alike to Harpo Marx. White guy with a big Afro haircut style. One of the funniest guys you would ever meet. His favorite saying was...even in the huddle...and he would say with a high voice, when he made a great run or play...THE BEST, THE BEST. He would also say when he got stuffed at the line, as he came back to the huddle...in a low voice...THE WORST, THE WORST. Funny, funny guy. But played with a huge heart.
Greg Lens...John Elliott and Gerry Philbin. These three guys all played on the defensive line. Much of the mischievous stuff that went on centered around these three amigos. I already documented the change-a-roo the three did with Coach Leachman's Redman chewing tobacco. Funny. I am still laughing as I recall the story. Great, great teammates that were the heart of our defense. Dana Carpenter...The Eggman...one of linebackers. Strong as a bull and tough as nails. One of the nicest gentleman you could ever meet...off the field. I think he played at South Carolina. Earned his name in the late evenings, by his order...2 dozen eggs and a loaf of bread...served on the tin top of a lard can. Tom Chandler...another one of the Minnesota delegation. Chanimal...had a motor that ran at around 180 miles an hour, when he played. Perfect for a linebacker. Great Guy, great family and his wife Barb, is a Saint.
Minnesota Delegation...I should mention this group as there were many characters in here and I felt they were a strong building block for our team. Coach Tom Moore, myself, Matt Herkenhoff, Darrel Bunge, Steve Setzler, Ray Parson, Mike Perfetti, and Greg Lens and probably a couple others I may have missed...sorry.
CHFN: Your first start came in week 7 in New York against the Houston Texans after George Sauer was unable to play. Tell us about that night?
Kap: I believe it was against the Portland Storm that George Sauer was hurt and was going to be unable to play. I got the nod to start. Obviously a tough spot to try and fill George Sauer's shoes, as I believe he was one of the purest, hardworking receivers, I had ever played with. As a matter of fact, the New York Times ran an article which headlined...Kreg Who? It went on to say that this Rookie from Montego Bay...my college was Mankato State.
Pretty denigrating column. I was pumped for the opportunity. Tom Sherman had a great game throwing the ball and I ended up with quite a few receptions and a TD in the dark corner of the end zone in Downing Stadium. I ran a post flag route and I believe I was the only one that saw the pass coming, although it be only seconds before I caught it and it came out of the darkness...above the 8 candle power lighting...and back below the lights where I spotted it. I never did see the article that The Times wrote after I received many congratulations from my roommates...Minnesota guys...got down to my locker before I did and had taken black magic marker and written all over my underwear...Congrats...Great Game...Yeah Felix, etc...and I received the Carling Black Label Trophy for Most Valuable Player of the Game.
You need to know that the passing game isn't successful unless the running game is a threat. Obviously, the offensive line was the key to both of these being successful.
CHFN: You mentioned catching your first touchdown pass in the darkness. A lot of the New York fans didn't come out to see the Stars play at Downing because of the lighting, traffic issues and other concerns. Do you think the Stars would have been successful in New York if they had been able to play at Shea Stadium in 1974?
Kap: I believe that obviously...had we played in Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium, our crowds and fan base would have been larger. The WFL was the new game in town and gained a lot of traction with the NFL stars it was able to sign.
Having many of the name Jets on our roster, I believe the fan base would have grown, especially with the team...coaches we had and the successes we experienced. Wednesday and Thursday games...gave the avid football fan another option for satisfying their football desires, which didn't conflict with the Sunday afternoon NFL schedule. No doubt a different venue would have been better for the fans, especially for parking, traffic, security and viewing.
CHFN: So your breakout game was week 7 against the Houston Texans at Downing Stadium. You caught four passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in your first start. What was your role with the Stars' prior to week 7?
Kap: Anything to help the squad. I mainly was the backup third receiver to Young and Sauer, but I was on the punt coverage, kickoff coverage and kick off receiving teams...onside and regular, etc. I normally approached our team and the challenges ahead with each opponent as an opportunity to energize our guys. Lots of positive chatter and attitude about the next game. It was awesome once I got the opportunity to produce results that helped the team. We all played for each other.
CHFN: After the Stars hosted the Texans at Downing Stadium in week 7. The Stars traveled to Houston for a rematch with the Texans in the Astro Dome for week 8. What are your memories of the game at Houston in 1974 when John Matuszak was served a restraining order for playing in the WFL, while he was still under contract with the NFL's Houston Oilers?
Kap: I remember playing in the Astro Dome. I know Coach was quoted as saying ‘we were handling Matuszak" in the first half. I can tell you that this was not the case. I can remember running three or four pass routes and turned to receive the timing pass from Sherman, and Sherman was being sacked by Matuszak. I came back to the huddle to hear the offensive line giving each other an ear full...give me some help...you block him...give me some time guys...etc. It seemed a little chaotic. Then, starting the second half, we were standing in the huddle, when a stop in the game play and action occurred. We looked over to the Houston bench and saw four Texas Sheriff's deputies arresting John Matuszak and basically telling him "Boy, you are under contract with the Houston Oilers" as they walked him off the field.
Well, I thought our offensive line had died and gone to heaven. It was like the Wizard of Oz celebration...ding dong the witch is dead. Our line was excited to say the least. I can only imagine what the Oakland Raiders, under John Madden, were like with John Matuszak, Lyle Alzado and Ben Davidson were like on the defensive line. Ben Davidson went on to play for the Portland Storm in the WFL. On a personal note, I also recall during warm up, that with the weather outside that day...pouring rain that the roof at the Astrodome had some leaks and there were spots on the field...astro turf...that were wet...dark spots...you could see them. Very slippery when wet. As a receiver we would try and set up patterns and routes that lead the defensive backs to the dark, wet spots, to make our breaks on our routes. Hopefully, have the DB's slip and fall as they were trying to cover us.
NOTE Houston rallied as the Texans John Matuszak, watched on the sideline in the second half, to beat the New York Stars, 14-11, snapping a Stars five game win streak.
CHFN: Some wide receivers in the WFL didn't care for the 1974 Spalding WFL football. What were your first thoughts when the WFL unveiled their old gold and orange striped football, and did you find it difficult to catch?
Kap: I thought that the yellow...orange colors would be easier to see in the evenings and with the lights. The colors didn't bother me at all. I loved catching any football and I didn't find the WFL ball any different to catch than the old NFL or CFL balls I had caught in the past. But, funny story...when we first started practices at the training facility on Long Island, we would practice a couple of times in the down pouring rain. After the practices, all the wide receivers and those handling the football a lot, all had hands that were yellow, as the yellow die on the balls would come off on our hands.
CHFN: You mentioned you caught footballs in the NFL and CFL. Were you in training camps for both of those two leagues?
Kap: Yes, Two camps with the Vikings. One camp with the Atlanta Falcons and one camp with the Calgary Stampeders.
CHFN: Tell us about your fellow wide receivers on the New York Stars in 1974?
Kap: Number one and best of all of them, George Sauer. Very, very, interesting man. Introspective is the word I would use to describe George. Somewhat of an introvert. But he taught me discipline in running my pass routes and showed me how hard work paid off. He would stay after practice every day, when others left the field, to practice more on his precise routes. I have a close up picture of us both somewhere and we look like twins in it. Great Guy. Al Young, a class gentleman. I believe Al was pretty religious guy. He always carried himself in a class manner. Al was the only guy each year that I couldn't beat when it came to running the mile test for everyone. Good receiver who came to us from the Steelers. Ray Parson. Tight end and tackle. One of the Minnesota delegation. Ray was amazing...at tackle or tight end; he could fold a whole side of a defensive line with his blocking power. A big strong guy at 6'5" and at least 280 or so. Great target. Big and could catch the ball. Trouble was, he was so valuable at tackle, and we used another guy, Bert Askson, at tight end, so Ray could play tackle. Danny Whyte. Smaller version of a tight end. Quick and fast. Could beat linebackers on most of his routes. Spread the secondary with his ability to get deep. Played with Hornets in 1975. Tommy Spinks. Really great guy. Southern Gentleman. I think Tom played at LSU or maybe some other southern college. Had some connection with Terry Bradshaw, if I remember correctly. Maybe even played with him in college. Had an unfortunate injury that pretty much ended his career. He got hit on the side of his helmet and it broke his jaw. Bob Hermanni. Little guy that played with a big heart. Bob was the local guy trying to make good. I think he played at some nearby college in the northeast. I bet he was about 5'9" and quick. Ran good quick routes but got caught up in the numbers game. Al Barnes from the Detroit Lions that helped out filling in our depth. John Carlos. Olympic 440 relay runner. Famous for their Black Power fist in the air moment in the Olympics. He ran like the wind. I had never seen anyone so fast. Defensive backs would start at a 10 yard depth to begin with and he would still run by them like they were standing still. Back then, Bob Hayes from the Dallas Cowboys was the speed benchmark. I can't believe that Carlos would not have beat Hayes in a race. Trouble with John was his hands were on backwards. He just hadn't played any football presage and could not catch the ball. He sure brought out the crowds at LaSalle Academy for our practices though. Many ooh's and awe's. There were a few others, but too many to mention.
NOTE: Bob Hermanni was a 5'7" wide receiver out of Montclair State in Montclair, New Jersey.
CHFN: Who were some of the tougher defensive backs you faced in the WFL?
Kap: Overall Best Defensive Back...John Outlaw, New England Patriots, All Pro. Memorable play...set him up a couple plays earlier on out moves. Then went to the out move and broke to the post and caught a 25 yarder against him. Felt pretty good.
The defensive back core from the Philadelphia Bell. Maybe it was because this was our big rival...New York versus Philadelphia. I can recall the corners playing bump and run up in your face defense. Playing on natural grass, the defensive backs from Philly would have handfuls of dirt, sand, etc., and when we came off the line, they would throw it in your face. Good old, old time football.
CHFN: Were there any defenses in the WFL you hated playing against?
Kap: No. I just loved playing.
CHFN: It's September 24, 1974 and the New York Stars are hosting the Detroit Wheels at Downing Stadium. The Stars are actually playing their final home game in New York as they defeat the Wheels 37-7. Were the players aware that this was their final game at Downing Stadium, and when did you find out the team was sold to Upton Bell and was relocating to Charlotte?
Kap: The players did not know of any specific move toward Charlotte. At least I did not know. I believe we were told the next day at practice that we had three days to pack up everything and drive to Charlotte. We played the Fire the next game and there certainly wasn't much time to prepare for that game. At the time, I was living with Matt Herkenhoff, Darrell Bunge, Steve Setzler and Tom Chandler...four other Minnesota guys. We were told to pair up and get to Charlotte as soon as possible with a date we had to be there by. Matt and I loaded up his car, got a map and were off to Charlotte.
CHFN: Do you think the New York management gave up on the Stars too soon?
Kap: I was never close enough to the management end of the business to know what they were thinking and what the financial X's & 0's of their business model were. I never ever felt that the coaches and front office ever felt or let on that they were ready to give up on the franchise. The decision to move came totally out of the blue and we were given 3 days to pack all our belongings and drive to Charlotte.
NOTE: It was rumored Stars owner, Robert Schmertz, had lost a legal battle for the control of the Boston Celtics, which cost him $3 million. After six home games and an average attendance of less than 10,000, Schmertz sold the franchise to Upton Bell, son of former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell for a reported $450,000.
CHFN: Can you list some of the details of the move to Charlotte, and the impact it had on the players, coaches and families?
Kap: What specifically comes to mind is that we all checked into this hotel...motel where we were supposed to live on a temporary basis. Herk (Matt Herkenhoff) and I had a room with two double beds. That was our housing. Some guys had wives with them and I am not sure how that worked out. I do remember at our first practice in Charlotte at Gardner Webb University, the red Clay soil from the practice field. Everything turned orange...your white shoes, your white practice pants, your white socks etc.
CHFN: What are your memories from the only game the team was known as the Charlotte Stars, and what was your impression of the Chicago Bears "C" logo you wore over the Stars logo on your helmet for the national TV audience that night at Soldier Field?
Kap: That week's timeframe went so quickly. It was truly a scramble to achieve everything we needed to do and then play the Chicago Fire. I can't imagine what Tiger Ferraro and his son, Mike went through, just to get all the equipment to Charlotte, let alone change the logos on the helmets etc. I believe Tiger knew the equipment guy with the Bears and he gave us some C's for our helmets, to cover up the NY inside the Star that was on our helmets already. Combined logos, we were the Charlotte Stars.
CHFN: How were the players and coaches received by the City of Charlotte after the team's arrival?
Kap: Fantastically...the Charlotte fans were awesome. They had a welcoming parade in downtown Charlotte for us. They had about 10 trolley cars that the players and coaches could sit on both side of. They were wide open and very accessible to the fans that had come to welcome us. It was literally a ticker tape parade through downtown Charlotte with the streets packed 4 to 5 people deep on each side of the street. A couple guys remarked at the time, it was like we were the astronauts coming back from a lunar trip.
CHFN: Upton Bell held a "Name the Team" contest in Charlotte. The newly named Hornets are hosting their first home game against the Memphis Southmen. What are your memories of that opening night in Charlotte on October 9, 1974?
Kap: I remember that the field was a nice upgrade from Downing Stadium. It had grass all over the field. You could actually see with the better lighting. But...being a wide receiver. The field was really close to the seating and on outside routes, the stone cement four foot wall of the seats came up rather quickly. The fans packed the stadium and even though it was one of those three to four point loses, the fans were waiting as we went off the field to give us high fives and accolades' despite the loss.
NOTE: The Charlotte Hornets hosted the Memphis Southmen at American Legion Memorial Stadium for their first home game on October 9, 1974, before a sell-out crowd of 26,133. The Memphis Southmen held off a late Hornets rally to defeat Charlotte 27-23.
CHFN: When the New York Stars transferred to Charlotte the team was 8-5. The team finished the '74 season with a record of 10-10. The Hornets qualified for the 1974 WFL Playoffs, but Upton Bell elected to bypass the playoffs. What was the reaction of the team to sit out the playoffs?
Kap: We were disappointed. We finished ahead of the Philadelphia Bell and that was one of our goals was to make it to the playoffs. With so many close losses over the long year, we wanted an opportunity to replay a couple of these teams in the playoffs and thought we had a pretty good chance at winning the second time around. If I recall correctly, I believe the reason we were told that we were not going to the playoffs was because they wanted a bigger market team...Philadelphia...playing in the playoff game for a viewing audience. As I hear the background story now being told, it was a financial decision. We certainly would have driven to Florida and played for nothing...just for the opportunity to compete.
CHFN: Herb Gluck mentions a season ending team party in his book, While the Gettins Good. What are your memories from the team party that Len St. Jean held at the end of the 1974 WFL season?
Kap: Honestly, I do not recall the party. When the league folded we had four or five parties or...get togethers before everyone went on their own ways, most of us never to see each other again...unfortunately. That is why, when the opportunity came to organize and coordinate a reunion after all those years, I was excited to be part of the group that tied it all together in Charlotte. Interestingly enough, what I remember was that the week of the league folding, my Mom and Dad had planned on flying down to Charlotte to watch and see me play for the first time. I am not sure they got to view any TV games back in Minnesota...I think we were scheduled to play back to back home games. The day before my parents were to come to Charlotte, I had to call them and tell them that the league had folded and the rest of the schedule was cancelled. Their tickets were non-refundable, so they decided to come to Charlotte anyway. Hindsight, it was a great week for them, because they got to meet Coach Gibson and all the coaches and players and got to attend five or so team parties. I know for my Dad, those five get togethers were probably a lot more fun than sitting in the stands watching from a far.
CHFN: What are your memories of Herb Gluck as he traveled with the team in 1974 to write his book on the New York Stars?
Kap: Herb was a good guy. I can remember a lot of guys sucking up to him when they found out he was writing a book and they wanted to be in it.
CHFN: What was the contrast between the 1974 and 1975 WFL seasons?
Kap: The 74 season was really an experience. Think of it. Coming out of college...where you play a 10 game season, if you make the playoffs.., you play a professional season where you play a schedule of 20 games. I can't even imagine now looking back, how sore the linebackers and running backs must have been with 20 games of punishing hits. My body was beaten up, with many little wide receiver hindrance's...sprained ankles, pulled groins and jammed fingers from game after game. Sometimes we would play 3 games in a 10-12 day timeframe, because we played games during the week...game of the week was on Thursdays and then we would also be scheduled to play on a Saturday...20 games was a long duration...but, you were doing something you loved and aspired to do...all your life...and wouldn't have traded it for anything.
NOTE: The New York Stars played three games in a ten day span during weeks 8-10 of the 1974 WFL season. The Stars traveled to Houston on Wednesday, August 28. They faced the Philadelphia Bell at Downing Stadium on Labor Day Monday, September 2, and then hosted the Florida Blazers on Friday, September 6, 1974. The Stars defeated the Bell 24-16, and lost to Florida four days later, 17-15 as Florida running back, Tommy Reamon, rushed for 179 yards.
CHFN: In May of 1975, Upton Bell announced the hiring of Memphis Southmen offensive coordinator, Bob Gibson, as the Hornets new head coach. Tell us about Coach Gibson and were you surprised that Babe Parilli left the Hornets organization for the Chicago Winds?
Kap: I guess when you look back at it, it was not surprising that Coach Parilli left our squad, as all his mainstream guys that he played with and recruited had left...Sauer, Elliott and Philbin and others.
CHFN: Describe the relationship and leadership Upton Bell had with the Charlotte Hornets?
Kap: You know, as a player, my job was to play. I didn't get involved with management or any of the issues they were involved with. Control and be concerned with the things that you can control...an old wise coach told me and don't be concerned or focused your energy on things you cannot have an impact on...I do however remember...as I have been a avid golfer in my late years...that I have an invitation somewhere in my treasure box from the WFL that states..."You are cordially invited to an after game reception party as the guest of Mr. Arnold Palmer." I believe Mr. Palmer owned Arnold Palmer Cadillac in Charlotte and was a minority owner. True story...25 years later, four of us were playing a round of golf at Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando...which at the time, Mr. Palmer owned. After our round, we went into the Bay Hill Men's locker room and sat down at a table for a few beers and some popcorn and stories. As we sat down, we happened to noticed that Mr. Arnold Palmer was sitting at the table next to us, just having a Rolling Rock beer with some of his members. After about 20 minutes or so, I said, leaning over to the table where Mr. Palmer was sitting, Excuse me Mr. Palmer, I used to work for you. He looked at me inquisitively and then I explained to him that...I used to play for the Charlotte Hornets in the WFL. Mr. Palmer said with a smile and a grin..."Oh yeah, I used to own that team...didn't I?" What a class gentleman.
CHFN: George Sauer didn't return to play for the Hornets in 1975, but the Hornets brought in several young receivers to go along with the Hornets "now" veterans of Al Young and yourself. What did James Thompson, Randy Cobb, Tim George, Lee McGriff and tight end Danny Whyte bring to the team?
Kap: A couple of the guys they brought in as wide receivers to try and replace the exit of George Sauer were local guys, which created some hype. James Thompson had some speed. He returned kickoffs for us too. Danny Whyte added some good speed at tight end which helped us spread the secondary and keep the safeties honest.
CHFN: We just mentioned George Sauer. The Hornets also lost the veteran leadership of Bob Gladieux, John Elliott, Gerry Philbin, and Lloyd Voss prior to the 1975 season. How were the Hornets able to stay competitive in '75 with such a young team?
Kap: We were young, enthusiastic and focused on what we had to bring to the team to make them winners. If you stopped to look at the effect of these five guys, you would have become very depressed. Although, Sauer, Elliott, Philbin and Voss couldn't be replaced, Bob Gladieux was a guy that could be replaced, but you could never replace his leadership and spirit. I think of all the guys we missed the second year...Harpo was missed the most.
CHFN: During the 1975 season the WFL didn't have a national TV contract. The league had Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Paul Warfield, Daryle Lamonica, Calvin Hill, Ted Kwalick and John Gilliam jumping over to the WFL. Did you think the NFL superstars were enough to keep the WFL alive without a national TV contract?
Kap: I never stopped to analyze the success of the league while I was playing. It went by so fast, before you knew it, it was over. The list of guys could go on a long way. There also was Pat Haden with the Southern California Sun, Rufus Ferguson, Portland Storm, Sonny Sixkiller, Honolulu Hawaiians, and George Mira, Birmingham Americans and so on.
CHFN: Being a wide receiver, what was your relationship with the quarterbacks you played with in both 1974 and 1975?
Kap: For the most part, it was business on the field and at practice. All great guys. I think (Tom) Sherman, (Brian) Dowling and (Gary) Danielson were all married with families. Chris Kupec joined our squad in 75. He was young and single. But for the most part, these guys were not Joe Namath's...I am not sure I ever saw Sherman, Danielson or any of them have a drink. All of our quarterback's were pretty low key, level attitude guys all the time. I guess that was their leadership styles.
CHFN: What did Don Highsmith bring to the Hornets offense in 1975?
Kap: Don brought a swagger to the running game. He was a breakaway threat that ran with a lot of power. Gladieux would run over you...Highsmith could run over or around you. With that threat at running back, it opens us up for play action passing. Always nice to get those linebackers thinking run and out of the underneath pass defense.
CHFN: The WFL was surrounded by a lot of bad press during both seasons. What are your thoughts looking back on how the media treated the WFL, and how much did this affect the attendance in Charlotte as the season progressed in 1975?
Kap: The people in Charlotte were wonderful. After leaving New York, where we...the Stars...were one of three professional football teams. Charlotte fans made us feel like we were their team. Very warm and welcoming.
CHFN: The Hornets just came off of a tough loss against the Philadelphia Bell, in week 12 of the 1975 WFL season. The Bell won the game 18-10. It's Wednesday, October 22, 1975. The team is preparing to play the Hawaiians on Saturday, at home. Take us back to that day that the World Football League announced they were shutting down the league?
Kap: Again, I would tell you as a player, I was not concerned about the things we had no control over. We were going about business, preparing to play the Hawaiians. Coach Gibson came out onto the field. I guess he received a phone call. I hadn't even noticed that he had left the field. He blew his whistle and the guys all came together in a circle. "The league has folded" It hit most everyone with a shock of surprise. Nobody really knew what to think or what the next step was. Some guys had agents calling NFL teams and some guys looked into other options. I was packing stuff and getting ready for the drive home to Minnesota. I do remember this though; the Blue Ridge Mountains of Kentucky were absolutely beautiful this time of year. It somewhat softened the drive back home.
CHFN: Charlotte had a record of 6-5 when the WFL announced they were folding the league. Charlotte was beginning a four-game home stand, and the Hornets were going to be featured on NBC's Sunday NFL pre-game show, Grandstand, following the October 25 game against the Hawaiians. Did you think that things were just beginning for Charlotte, and that the Queen City would embrace the Hornets and attendance would pick up for the remainder of 1975 had the WFL survived the season?
Kap: I never once questioned the folks and the fans in Charlotte. They were great. Our great group of guys would take care of turning these close loses into wins. We had all the elements to be a playoff team and were looking forward to it.
CHFN: Kap, how would you summarize your career in the World Football League, and what would you like for fans of the WFL and the Charlotte Hornets to remember about the league?
Kap: Now as I look back at it, it was awesome then, and it is still an awesome memory...experience now, in my life. As I currently have two young Grandsons, it really puts sports into perspective. It is all about the challenges you come across in life. You learn life's lessons through taking these challenges...opportunities on, whether it be by yourself or with your teammates. You experience the ups and downs, and learn how to accept them. Give it your best effort all the time and if you do, that is all you ever can ask of yourself. A lesson my father taught me and one of the lessons I pass along to my Grandsons.
Today, football across the country is getting over saturated. There are 32 NFL team with games on Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening, Monday evening and some Thursday games. The athletes are bigger, stronger and faster today, but across the board, the play has been watered down. Back in 1974...1975, I am sure there were half as many teams and the quality of the teams from top to bottom, were better. Hence, the opportunity for the growth of the World Football League. 40 years ago, we played the game for the love of the game. Players actually had second jobs in the off season. As I mentioned previously, we would have played the WFL playoffs for nothing. Just for the love of the game and the opportunity. Today, unfortunately, it has become a totally business relationship. Players, agents, unions...negotiating, fines, directives for players conduct off and on the field, Imaging and marketing the league. etc. I look back and reminisce about the guys like Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka and Ray Nitschke, who played the game because they loved it. Money wasn't the driving force. Love of the Game. I would like the fans of the WFL and our Charlotte Hornets fans to know, that we played the game for the love of the game.
NOTE: The Kreg Kapitan interview was conducted by Richie Franklin. This interview is property of the Charlotte Hornets Football Network and may not be used without the written consent of the Web site owner.