This isn’t about them. This is about the brief existence of the Houston Texans of the World Football League.
The World Football League (WFL) had a very brief existence. It was only around in 1974, and 1975. To say it wasn’t a success would be an understatement. Often referred to as “the wiffle”it never really took hold.
From Tokyo to Houston
When the WFL started up in 1973 the concept was of a ‘global’ football league. Something on a scale that the NFL would not have dreamed of at that time.
The idea was to have that global league by having teams in American, European and Far Eastern cities. Of course as we know, the best laid plans can come apart at the seams.
In the early 1970’s R. Steven Arnold was involved in multiple types of sports promotions. So he was a natural fit for the WFL. The original plan was for him to become part of the league and to purchase the rights to a franchise in Tokyo.
It quickly became apparent that this wasn’t going to happen and the league looked a little more inwardly to U.S. cities. Perhaps the Tokyo team would start out in Memphis?
Finally, the team settled on and found a place in Houston. The first Houston Texans were born.
Making a splash
The Texans made big headlines when they offered NFL coach Hank Stram a reported 10-year $2 million deal to move to the Texans and coach in the WFL. Stram said no but Houston did have some headlines.
Houston later signed former Cowboys and Giants assistant Jim Garrett to coach the team instead. They weren’t done making a splash though.
25 players on the Texans roster had either had NFL or CFL careers. Feature players were ex-NFL stars Jim Nance at running back and former Jets’ receiver Don Maynard and quarterback Mike Taliaferro.
In April 1974, the team also signed Dallas Cowboys quarterback Craig Morton. The plan was for him to play out his NFL option and join the team in 1975. By then of course there was no team for him to join and he stayed in the NFL.
Perhaps the most infamous raid on the NFL happened when the Texans went after Houston Oilers Defensive End John Matuszak. Team owner Arnold and the Texan lawyers claimed they had found a loophole in Matuszaks’ contract that allowed him to sign with the rival league.
The 6-foot-8, 285 pound defender, who was the number one pick of the 1973 NFL draft, made it to the Texans’ offices on August 28th, 1974 and signed a multi-year $1 million dollar deal.
He suited up for the Texans at the Astrodome that same night and played up until the second quarter when he was served with a restraining order. He briefly stayed with the team but was back in the NFL within a month.
Arnold told the press that the Texans would have to average 30,000 to break even, and that he expected the team to lose $500,000 in its first season.
They drew 26,227 for their home opener, an uninspiring 11-0 victory over the Philadelphia Bell. Their biggest crowd would prove to be 31,227 on “Nickel Beer Night”. The Texans lost that one 18-7.
These Texans had a poor record, and worse weren’t offering much entertainment. They didn’t even score their first offensive touchdown until Week Four of the 1974 season.
By September there was a crowd of 9,061 fans on hand to watch Houston take on Hawaii. The Texans stood at 3-7-1 and had financial struggles off the field to match the poor performances on it.
On the 18th September, Arnold who had lost a bundle trying to keep the team afloat sold up. They were to move to Shreveport in Louisiana. The problems didn’t stop there. Taliaferro retired rather than follow the team and coach Garrett was suspended after reportedly urging the team not to report to Shreveport, calling the city “rinky dink”.
That was it for the franchise as the Houston Texans. On September 25, 1974, Shreveport held a parade welcoming the former Houston Texans to their city.
A local “Name the Team” contest came up with the name, “The Steamer”, after the city’s riverboats. Marshall Taylor coached the team and they went 4-5 the rest of the way in 1974.
The Steamer had a 5-7 record through 12 weeks of play when WFL owners voted to shutter the league permanently on October 22, 1975.
Houston had the Oilers from 1960-97, the WFL Texans in 1974 & the USFL franchise Gamblers in 1984-5. It was and is a city that loves football and the ‘second’ Texans were a welcome addition when the NFL placed them there.
Banner image: official WFL ball. Image from The Daily Dose.