Upton Bell on WFL: "I think it was the best of all the leagues"

Former NFL executive Upton Bell lost a lot of money with the World Football League, and he wasn't alone. Nevertheless, to this day, he believes the league "was the best" of all the pro football start-ups.

upton bell

(Photos courtesy of the New England Patriots)

Talk of Fame Network

It didn’t last two years. Players sometimes weren’t paid. Laundry bills sometimes weren’t paid. And two of its 12 teams folded in its first season. Yet the World Football League might have been the best of the pro football start-ups, and don’t take it from us.

That’s former NFL and WFL general manager Upton Bell doing the talking, and what he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network is that while the WFL was little more than a blip on the pro football radar it was an idea that should have made it.

The son of former NFL commissioner Bert Bell, Upton had no shortage of WFL stories – telling the TOF that “I lost all my money, but it was the best two years I ever spent.” The reason? The league was innovative, deep in talent with players and coaches and downright fun. Where it wasn’t deep was in owners’ pockets, and, ultimately, that sabotaged the master plan.

Nevertheless …

“I think it was the best of all the leagues,” said Bell, who was GM of the New England Patriots and, later, owner of the WFL Carolina Hornets. “It wasn’t from a financial standpoint, but Lindy infante was my assistant coach and (head coach) Bob Gibson went to the Giants. John McVay was another good coach in that league, (and) there was another guy by the name of Jack Gotta of the Birmingham Stallions. The coaching was tremendous.

“And I will tell you this: Better than half of my team went right into the NFL. A lot of those players did. And today you look at 32 teams, and I don’t care how good or how much better the players have gotten … and they certainly have … but a lot of them wouldn’t have been as good as the players that played then.

“One of the things we looked at … and the coaches looked at … … was the action point. No extra point. The extra point was the action point. You ran or passed for it, (and) I think it added a tremendous dimension to the game.

“So there were a lot of good coaches, and there were a lot of good players. Gary Danielson who played for Detroit for how many years … seven or eight (he played nine)? He was our third-string quarterback. And I remember saying to Bob Gibson, who was my head coach, ‘The guy’s got everything, except I’m not sure he has the real heart to be a great quarterback.' As a result, Brian Dowling and a guy by the name of Tom Sherman who played at Penn State … beat him out. So there were a lot of good players.”

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