Hornets Helmet Awards And Reviews World Football League

July 22, 2002
By David Trinko

The World Football League died an un-commemorated death back in the 1970's. But the league lives on with Richie Franklin.

"Every once in a while, I'll pop a film of an old game in," says Franklin, a Stephens City resident. "It's interesting to watch all these old films. It takes me back."

The memories linger for Franklin. He recalls listening to those crackly radio broadcasts on school nights growing up in the Shenandoah Valley. Gravelly voices reported on the Charlotte Hornets, painting a pictures of Kreg Kapitan's catches from quarterback Tom Sherman or describing a sprint up the middle for Bob "Harpo" Gladieux.

These pleasant memories for the 41-year-old Franklin, who works second shift at Lear Corporations factory in Strasburg.

"The WFL got a bad rap in the 70's," Franklin says. "These guys were playing for the love of the game. Some got paid no money at all for a while there. You'll talk to these guys, and they'll tell you real stories."

Convincing them someone still cares might be the hardest part for Franklin.

After all, these players just played a few years in the World Football League, long ago ruled a failed excitement after lasting just the 1974 and 1975 seasons.

Franklin does care - passionately - about the league and its players. He cares enough he helped organize of reunion of the old Charlotte Hornets over the weekend at the South Park Suite Hotel.

"When you call them, some are like, 'Yeah, I remember playing for them," Franklin says. "Others are like, 'Who is this? What do you want? Why do you care?'

"It usually convinces them that I'm for real when I tell them about the Web site."

Franklin channels his enthusiasm for the Hornets into his web site. The site shares information about the former franchise, which spent a year as the New York Stars before its short stint in Charlotte.

He also works with fellow WFL aficionado Jim Cusano, a memorabilia collector in Maine, to maintain a fan site for the league as a whole.

The players' reunion gives Franklin a chance to talk to and meet his former heroes. For each of the 40 players he located, he finds players, armed with media guides and Internet search engines. About 20 formers Hornets planned to attend the reunion.

Time helps him realize they're just men, much like he is now.

"I started to realize I'm not that far behind most of these guys," Franklin says. "I was just a kid, sitting there on a school night listening on the radio. But if you think about it, they weren't that much older than I was. I'm actually only about 10 years younger than most of these guys."

Franklin talks and e-mails with many of the players regularly. He gets to know them more and more each day. Most of them went on to live fairly anonymous lives as coaches or professionals.

But until this weekend Franklin hadn't met them in person.

"It should be kind of neat," he said before he left for Charlotte.

His real contribution to the defunct league, though, might be his collection of memorabilia.

Franklin owns one of the world's most thorough collections of game films from the league.

Shortly after the league folder, workers accidentally wipe clean tapes of television broadcasts. All the remains are the first half of the first broadcast and some game films used for evaluating players.

"It's 16-millimeter film," he says. "It's just grainy, black-and-white film. I have about 10 hours worth of it."

But it is rare, and is valuable to NFL Films.

Last November, the production arm of professional football borrowed the footage from Franklin, re-mastering it and including it in "Lost treasures of NFL Films No. 15: The WFL."

The closing credits noted Franklin's contribution.

"I'd put everything away for a while and worried about adult things," he says. "But I got interested in it again. It's really unique, and I enjoy reliving my childhood like that."

Contact Sports Editor David Trinko at dtrinko@nvdaily.com. His column appears every Monday in Northern Virginia Daily Sports.