- Wiffle: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League by Mark Speck
Mark Speck, a seasoned professional football researcher, contributor to The Coffin Corner, and author of two previous books about the World Football League, has penned another book about this turbulent, badly timed, ill-conceived, underfunded, and poorly planned venture. Expropriating the copyrighted name of a perforated, light-weight plastic baseball designed for use in confined areas, Mark Speck relabeled the World Football League, the “Wiffle” and used this term no less than 133 times in this book.
The World Football League began with the promise of football teams scattered across the world in such places as Tokyo, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Rome, and Dusseldorf (Germany), and ended up with franchises in Charlotte, Portland, Shreveport, Honolulu, Anaheim, Memphis, Birmingham (Alabama), Jacksonville, San Antonio, and Orlando. None of these cities had a large enough fan base to support major league talent for a major league football team. Moreover, as the author documents, most of these cities did not have a stadium with enough seats, and many lacked parking, enough lighting for night games, or media support to survive. When home fields are nicknamed “the Termite Palace,” “the Pig Pen,” and “the Rock Pile,” trouble in drawing fans seems inevitable. Invariably, the WFL teams were under capitalized and ran out of money quickly. Examples of unpaid bills, player hardships, lack of proper medical care, and lawsuits abounded. All these problems are adequately reported in this book.
The World Football League introduced a variety of innovations. Some were good, some not so good. Several rules changes were later adopted by the National Football League, pay [End Page 455] to players improved, and Thursday night games were initiated. Overpromising the quality and scope of the league, pants color-coded by the position played, free tickets for most of the fans attending several games, and musical chair franchises were not helpful.
The WFL provided career-changing opportunities for pioneer black quarterback Eddie McAshan, linebacker Bob Schmit, coach Marty Schottenheimer, black head coach Willie Wood, and broadcaster Larry King, among others.
Wiffle is a solid book about a poorly planned sports enterprise that even “Nickel Beer Night” at the Astrodome could not salvage.