Lively Tales About Dead Teams

July 17, 1974 – New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans


New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans
July 17, 1974
Downing Stadium
Attendance: 17,943

World Football League Programs
40 pages


The upstart World Football League (1974-1975) made its debut in the Big Apple in Week 2 of the league’s inaugural season of 1974.  WFL founder and Commissioner Gary Davidson, pictured on the program cover with an early blue & yellow prototype of a WFL football, hoped that his league would become a formidable rival to the NFL, much as the AFL was in the 1960’s.  Another model was the World Hockey Association (1972-1979), co-founded by Davidson in 1971, which had already become a thorn in the side of the National Hockey League by challenging the established circuit for top free agents and expansion markets.

To be relevant, Davidson needed the WFL to work in major media markets like New York City.  But the New York Stars, a franchise given away for free by Davidson to one of his World Hockey Association connections, Robert Schmertz, turned out to be one of the WFL’s biggest misfires.

For starters, the team played in dumpy Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island, with its horrid lighting, disgusting locker rooms, chewed up field (also used for soccer that summer by the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League), and inaccessible location.  Then there was the roster, which was largely anonymous, save for the presence of defensive end Gerry Philbin and wide receiver George Sauer, who were beloved New York Jets stars of the AFL era and veterans of that team’s historic Super Bowl III victory over the Baltimore Colts.  That wasn’t enough to sizzle to sell out the Stars’ home opener though, as fewer than 20,000 curiosity seekers turned out.

The game turned out to be a dark foreshadowing of the Stars’ cursed existence in New York.  The Stars racked up a 29-3 halftime lead on the strength of three rushing touchdowns.  Then they managed to blow said 26-point lead in the second half, allowing Birmingham Americans quarterback George Mira to throw for three touchdowns and run for a fourth.  Still, the Stars had a chance to tie in the waning seconds, but German-born placekicker Pete Rajecki – the “Bootin’ Teuton” – blew a 35-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining.

The Stars lost the game and dropped to 0-2.  They would play only five more games in New York City before Robert Schmertz ran out of money and dumped the team two months later.  The Stars played their final game at Downing Stadium on September 24, 1974 and then were abruptly shifted to North Carolina to finish out the 1974 schedule as the Charlotte Hornets.  The World Football league itself folded one year later in October 1975.



July 17, 1974 New York Stars Roster

July 17, 1974 New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans Official Stats Sheets

July 17, 1974 New York Stars Pre-Game Ceremonies Timing Sheet


Written by AC

October 22nd, 2013 at 2:09 pm

2 Responses to 'July 17, 1974 – New York Stars vs. Birmingham Americans'

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  1. A great book about the NY Stars to read is “While The Gettin’s Good” by Herb Gluck (who wrote “The Mick” and “Even Big Guys Cry” with Alex Karras). I have two copies of the book, but are a rare find and I don’t think has ever been republished since 1975. It’s an honest and sad tale that goes from Boston, to New York, to finally Charlotte, NC. It’s hard to believe that some great AFL/NFL player’s ended their professional careers with the disastrous World Football League. If you can get your hands on a copy, you will thoroughly enjoy it. Hail to the Dickerod!

    David Ziegenfuss

    22 Oct 13 at 6:45 pm

  2. I remember taking my now wife to the home opener and pretty much recall the shock of a small crowd. That of course was replaced at how bad the stadium was and all I remember was the darkness and not much else about the game. I also recall looking for Gerry Philbin all the time because of his Jets career. I honestly cant recall much at all other than getting no merchandise and not even knowing what if any were being sold there. It was an ugly trip from where we lived in Rockland County but also recall feeling excited about finally getting to see the mysterious stadium below the Triborough that my parents took frequent trips over with me a s a child always wondering what that was below? Well ughhhhh I found out. It was dark times in 74 in NYC to begin with and that place mirrored those times and I am sure we couldnt wait to run out of the place. Truth is though I love all the WPA project ruins like Downing and Roosevelt in Jersey City and War Memorial in Buffalo. But Downing left no impression and the lack of interest told me this league was already done. Hey it was something new and I loved football. But the date was so bad my girlfriend- to be wife in 81 wouldnt even let me go “parking” off the Palisades Parkway on the way home! You KNOW thats never a good sign. Well that is my memory of that day in sports history nobody remembers. Oh yeah one last thrill was also going to our local Bambergers and getting those cool ticketron tickets too- wish I had saved them!

    Gary Boyce

    31 May 15 at 2:38 pm

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