July 26, 1974
By Jim Barniak
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM facing the Philadelphia Bell during this post-natal period of the World Football League has nothing to do with coaching or lack of quality players. Even Grand Canyon East, that horrendous playing facility sometimes called John F. Kennedy Stadium, is not the culprit. The biggest problem facing our newest attempt at professional football is crowd control.
There were so many people out at JFK to see the Bell play the New York Stars last night you would have thought the Flyers were going to take bows at halftime. But, if the throng is going to be typical of future gatherings, I suggest the women and children go buy tickets to Team Tennis.
The Bell showed a fair offense, but the defense was atrocious, particularly on fourth down. For example, there was one fourth-down play in the third quarter. Back to punt was the Bell's Jack Simcsak. It was difficult picking up New York's two return men with a couple of dozen fans roaming the playing field, some of them closer to the line of scrimmage than some of the players. The WFL unveiled some new rules on punting situation, but this seemed a bit ridiculous.
There were literally hundreds of fans roaming the field during halftime and during the game's final moments, the Bell bench was overthrown by nomadic tribes of annoying kids.
In attempting to fill as many seats as possible to grant maximum exposure, the Bell management has papered a monster. To most in the house, a free ticket apparently meant free run of the facility. And last night's mob of 64,719 ran to daylight as well as any of the great Green Bay Packers.
That's right, 64,719.
Bell executive vice president Barry Leib admitted that he gave away 10,000 freebies for last night's game and there were another 19,000 ducats doled out at discount prices, which Lieb said average out to a 50 percent discount.
While a reporter was talking ticket with Leib in his executive box, a Bell underling, in a masterful bit of timing, ran up and exclaimed, "Barry we've got to open up more ticket booths. They're storming the gates out there. Must be 400 people in one line alone."
"Let them eat cake, said Leib."
The reporter hurried to the ticket booths and found no one. Inside one of the booths, one of the ticket takers was trying to dig himself out from under a pile of USO coupons. With a coupon, area military personnel were able to claim two free tickets. The ticket sellers reported a heavy coupon count, but hard cash business was light.
If we are to go by the Bell system, there were 45,719 paid admissions. This reporter took a rapid survey and out of 30 fans polled four had full price for their tickets. Two of those were Mr. and Mrs. Bill Hahn, of Lancaster, whose son-in-law, Bob Kuziel plays for New York. Kuziel was supposed to leave couple of comps, but the Hahn's never located them.
"Where I work," said Tom Wagner, who works at the Navy Yard, "I heard they had some tickets so I asked for a couple. They gave me 15. I heard they had 4,000 down there altogether."
One of the recipients was Wagner's next-door neighbor, Steve Morris, whose chief claim to fame to date is that he painted Len Tose's house.
"Next time I'm paying, no kiddin," Wagner said. It ain't great football, but its football and that's all a lot of people care about. The college teams in the area aren't worth watching. You can't get tickets to the Eagles. That leaves the Bell. And I'm telling you there's enough people in that category to support a team."
Barry and Peggy Mack, a young couple from Trenton, agreed. They paid for their eight-dollar tickets and vow to return.
"THIS IS MY FIRST pro game," said Peggy. "It's not that I'm not a fan. You just could never get a ticket. I learned the game in the living room. Now, it's fun to be here."
Maybe. Maybe not. The Bell crowd is more Kensington that Devon, purposely arranged so, explained Leib, "because we're attempting to bring football to the people. We didn't have to shell out $16 million for a franchise. We can offer tickets to the working man."
Most of the seats go for eight bucks, which is a nifty chunk out of the wallet. And for a seat that offers no back rest and is barely within range of the playing field, it is high enough indeed. It is a shame that the people who did pay were confronted also by all the roving maniacs in on freebies.
And if management's count was accurate and there was indeed 45,719 paid admissions then the Bell's next move ought to be to go out and hire some security guards.