Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tony Adams Interview, WFL Tri-MVP

Courtesy of Richie Franklin/Jim Cusano WFL Photo Collection
Tony Adams was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 14th round of the 1973 NFL draft.  However, after a season playing behind several quarterbacks including future Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Johnny Unitas he decided to join the World Football League.  In 1974 Adams signed with the Southern California Sun and took advantage of his playing time passing for 3,905 yards, 23 touchdowns and rushed for 8 more en route to becoming one of the leagues three MVP’s.

Tony Adams spoke with WFL Nation about his experience in the World Football League shortly after attending Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.

WFL Nation: How was the Super Bowl?
Tony Adams: Crowded.  Cause it’s right downtown.  I think they really did a good job and they really were fortunate with the weather but you know traffic was a little tough getting around but most people parked outside the area and took a bus in or walked and went to all the activities and stuff.  But it was pretty good and they really did a nice job I think.

WFLN: How many Super Bowls have you been to?
TA: About 14.

WFLN: What were you doing prior to trying out for the World Football League in 1974?
TA: Well, I was drafted by the [San Diego] Chargers the year before and I had played there my rookie year and being placed on, at the time they called it the taxi squad, they call it the developmental squad now.  And I was ready to re-sign with the Chargers and one of the coaches has been with the Chargers was a position coach for the Southern California Sun and he knew that I was kind of a free agent and so they approached me about coming to play for them and I thought it was a great opportunity to get a chance to play.  Cause normally if you sit out, you don’t play and you back up you never really get the chance to do what you’re capable of doing and so I had made the decision to go ahead and sign with the Sun and it ended up being a really great decision.

WFLN: What were your first impressions of the league?
TA: You know football’s football.  You know I really wasn’t overly concerned about anything other than learning the position at quarterback and playing and I figured if the league started it had at least enough capital to keep things going early on.  I really didn’t have much of an opinion about you know anything related to the structure of the league or the finances of the league or anything like that.  Especially where we were in Anaheim.  We had tremendous support, the whole area around there, the Orange County area.  And that’s a big drawing community based on the fact that the NFL was on strike.  So we had a lot of people come and support the team.

WFLN: So it was well received in Anaheim.  When you told people you played in the World Football League and playing for the Southern California Sun how was the league perceived at the time?
TA: I think relatively well.  Because like I said, what they didn’t do is they didn’t capitalize on the fact that the NFL was on strike.  And because of that we were the only game in town and I think that’s why early on we had such great support.  And they really needed to do a better job I think once we got started to really take advantage of the fact that they were on strike, we were playing, we had a lot of NFL type prospects draft choices that were playing in the league.  And you know I think at that point in time marketing becomes a really relevant part of a new league or a concept.  I’m not really sure they capitalized on that but virtually in our area, you know I grew up in Riverside, California which is 30 some odd miles from Anaheim.  So we had a lot of support from that area, I think we had a lot of guys on our team who played on UCLA or USC or in the Pac-8 at the time so there was a lot of support in the surrounding communities for it so I think the perception was if the NFL’s not going to play we’re going to support this league.
(Ed. note- The Southern California Sun played 2 home games during the 1974 NFL strike and the reported attendance average for those 2 games was 30,096)

WFLN: Now you played in both the NFL and the WFL.  How would you describe the difference in things like the training camps, the amenities, team travel, things like that?
TA: You know honestly at the time there wasn’t a lot of difference.  I mean we had camp in Cal State Fullerton I think and when I was with the Chargers we were at UC Irvine and when I was with the Chiefs we were at Liberty at William Jewell College and I can tell you that the facilities at Cal State Fullerton were a heck of a lot better than they were here at Liberty at William Jewell College.  You know everything else was pretty much the same.  We ate well, we traveled fine so there really wasn’t a marginable difference in regards to what we did.  I mean we went over to Hawaii and stayed I think four or five days.  You don’t do that in the NFL.  I mean you travel no more than two days before the game and you leave right after the game was over.  So, at least from that perspective it seemed to be very similar and procedures and everything else.

WFLN: I’ve heard stories about teams not being able to get their laundry back because of team financial difficulties.
TA: Yeah, I’m sure that happened.  As a matter of fact I know that happened.  And a couple teams because we had to delay the start of a game I think in Detroit because they were waiting to get their uniforms from the cleaners.  But you know we didn’t have that problem in regards to stuff related to operations and stuff.  We had occasionally a problem with the fact that they didn’t meet payroll on time.  They always met payroll but they didn’t meet it on time.

WFLN: You’re talking about the Sun?
TA: Yes.

WFLN: Did you talk to the players who played with Detroit when that was happening with the laundry issue?
TA: No.  I think we were still at that point in time focused on playing really well cause we were probably the best team in the west.   So for us it was just a matter of keeping focus on what we had to do.  Everybody’s always concerned about well why was there an owner allowed to be in this league that didn’t have the finances to you know, at least take care of operations and pay the players and keep things going so I think that was always a question that some people had.  What were the parameters around letting these guys in as owners?

WFLN: Who was the most interesting person on the Sun?
TA: We had a lot of characters.  I mean one of the guys to me that was the most interesting was Dave Parks.  And Dave Parks had played with the 49ers for years and you know just the history of him playing with the guys he played with in San Francisco was some added value.  He had a lot of experience.  He taught me a lot about things related to, you know, playing the game.  Other than that we had a good group of guys.  We all got along really well.  We did a lot of things together outside of football so it was just like most of your football relationships that you had in high school, college and professionally.  You all pay the same price, you all get respect for what each other does and you end up getting really close to those guys because you’re all making the same sacrifices.  So we did a lot together.  There were quite a few guys that did a lot of different things.  There was a guy that played quarterback with me Gary Valbuena was a character and we did a lot together he and I.  But he was one of those guys that had, you know, let’s practice a little, let’s get out of here and go do something.

Courtesy of Richie Franklin/Jim Cusano WFL Photo Collection
WFLN: You guys had a pretty successful year that year [in 1974].  What memories do you have of your playoff game against the Hawaiians?
TA: Well, as I remember some of our key players didn’t play in the game.  I think [Sun leading rusher] Kermit Johnson, [FB James] McAlister and [OT] Booker Brown didn’t play because they didn’t get their paycheck.  So we were short three key players in that game and once you lose three starters like those guys it was tough to be competitive.  Especially those guys.  But other than that I can’t remember much about the game.  Again, that’s been a day or two ago and I just remember we lost that game at home.  Which we didn’t lose many games at home.  I think that was only 1 of 2 games we lost all year at home.

WFLN: Did you consider not playing because of what was going on financially?
TA: No.  No.

WFLN: Why?
TA: My confidence was eventually yes we were going to get paid and it didn’t do anybody any good not to play.  And you know that wasn’t going to make a difference one way or another.  So I think it was more their agent than it was them.  It’s, if you’re not going to get paid don’t play.  And the rest of us played.  I mean I think they were the only three guys that did not play.  So I can’t speak for them whether or not they regret that or not regret it but you know we all stepped up and did what you did to win the game.

WFLN: You went on to be 1 of 3 players to win the MVP award.  What does that mean to you?
TA: Well, there’s not a lot of people that are the most valuable player of a league, period.  Especially the fact that there wasn’t a second year where somebody was named the MVP so you know basically the three of shared the title as the only three MVP’s of the World Football League.  And you know anytime when you’re acknowledged by the rest of the league that means that teams, coaches and the general managers and whoever else make the selection it’s a pretty unique honor and so you know I wasn’t playing for that but it happened.  It was really a unique honor, it was a great honor.  You know when you don’t expect something and something happens it’s even a greater surprise and acknowledgement of what you did. 

WFLN: Do you have a trophy?
TA: I don’t have a trophy.  I take that back.  I do have a little trophy yes I do now that I think about it.  They had a huge trophy.  I mean it was probably almost six feet tall and I have no idea where that trophy is.  And the other two guys Tommy Reamon and J.J. Jennings were both playing in the game in the championship game and so I was the only one that got to walk out on the field at the game to receive the acknowledgement and the award and they gave us cash. (ed. note- only Reamon was playing in the game)  You know there was a $10,000 cash deal for the MVP so you know they made a big deal of that.  And I don’t know if anybody remembers but they had a gal there that presented the award to me and then kissed me and it was Delta Burke.  And she was at the time Miss Florida I think.

WFLN: You’ve been to roughly 14 Super Bowls and you’ve also attended the one and only World Bowl.  What was that experience like for you?
TA: It was good.  I mean it was a huge crowd.  When you walk into the stadium, it’s a stadium.  And they made a big deal out of it.  You would have never guessed that the league wouldn’t survive after they survived the first year.  And the biggest mistake in my opinion that the league made is they played way too many games.  I think we had 20 regular season games.  You know at the time when they developed that league if they’d have played no more than 14 games and if they’d have had, you know, the team with the best record the bye and then the two next teams and the divisions would playoff and then play the championship game that league would have eventually, some of the cities would have merged with the NFL I think.  Because they had good players, they had good locations and they had great support in certain areas but man when you play 20 regular season games and 2 preseason games that’s 22 games without the playoffs.  Then you incur all those expenses.  Travel expenses, payroll, due dates.  There’s a number of things that take place when you play that long.  Plus when you play 22 games you are very well beat up.  And I think at the end of the year you lose some of the quality of play because everybody’s in that condition.  But if you play 14 games and then basically the playoffs and then a championship game you’re done with the season, it’s successful I think it’s time then you can probably get a good TV contract.  I think they would have been able to negotiate a pretty good TV contract if they got through that first season without a bunch of financial issues related to the owners and from the teams and all that stuff.  But every time something happened negatively it got exposed and you know I don’t think that potential TV partners had a lot of confidence in the fact that the league was going to make it or not make it.

WFLN: Now I think there were people taking the uniforms and other gear after the championship game [to pay off debts].  Did you think the league would come back for the 1975 season?
TA: As far as I knew I thought it would.  I had no indication that it wasn’t going to.  And in my circumstances I had negotiated basically my own contract.  And I had a lot of provisions in there and I had a lot of incentives which I ended up collecting all of them and one of them was that I became a free agent at the end of the season and I didn’t have a second year on my contract.  So, you know once the season ended and I knew they owed me a bunch of money from my contract they wanted to try to and resign me really badly because I was the MVP of the league.  But at that time I did hire a couple young attorneys out of southern California that had just graduated from law school that wanted to become sports agents and they said we’re not going to sign anything until we get all the money collected from the contract.  So basically we had to file a lawsuit and the long and short of it is we collected all the money and I ended up signing with the [Kansas City] Chiefs.

WFLN: How much did your experience in the World Football League help you get to the NFL and play with the Chiefs?
TA: Well, I think quite a bit.  I mean anytime you can play and then you lead a league in passing and you’re a league MVP I think I think the exposure of playing and then having some success lends itself to reaffirming that I was drafted by the Chargers and coincidently the offensive coordinator of the Chargers became the new offensive coordinator for the Chiefs so he knew me and you know from that perspective it was really good as far as having somebody that I had already worked with.  I had a little bit of working knowledge of the offense period.  You know the play calling, the expectations, the terminology and everything else.  For me when I signed with the Chiefs as far as getting in and playing with the league.

WFLN: Did you stay in contact with any of your former teammates during the ’75 season when everything was kind of starting to fall apart?
TA: I was so busy trying to, you know, play in the NFL.  You know, I’d hear about it and there wasn’t a lot of coverage- as far as I can tell- in the ’75 season  but we were so caught up in playing here [in Kansas City] and playing in the NFL.  But I kept track of it a little bit and then all of a sudden, I don’t know how far along they got into the ’75 season, and they just canceled the rest of the games in the league.  But you know I wasn’t surprised based on the fact that when they reorganized that they kept some of the same owners and some of those owners didn’t have the assets to have a team going the first year so I didn’t see how they were going to have any success with the next year.  And again, the prolonged season and all the other things they were doing just didn’t equal up to, I think, a successful run.  I think that’s too bad because I think they could have got through the first season with very limited negative publicity.  I really think they would have had a great opportunity for some financial success the second year and again, keeping the number of games down.  But I think what they felt like is they had to play that many games to get that many more people and generate that much more revenue but the ones with the revenue, you know it wasn’t any of that they should have been concerned with.  It was getting through the season without a lot of negative publicity and then getting to a television contract cause eventually the television was going to pay enough to keep the league going but they never got there.

WFLN: How would you summarize your experience with the World Football League?
TA: Great.  Wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I mean it was a great stepping stone for me playing and having the success I did with the team.  And being able to demonstrate that I had the ability to play at another level other than college and I think that was one of the things that, you know I actually negotiated with the Redskins and the Broncos and the Chiefs and I ended up signing with the Chiefs but there was a lot more interest to sign me then there was when I came out of college.  So from that perspective it was a great experience.  I got some lifelong friends, that whole deal which is always good.  Some great memories and it really gave me the opportunity to move on and play in the NFL. 

WFLN: Were you able to save any memorabilia from the league?
TA: Oh yeah.  Yeah.  Actually Carl Peterson who used to be the GM here with the Chiefs, one day a package showed up on my front door and it was a brand new WFL football.  I already had one but he sent me a brand new one.  And I got some of those tapes from the NFL Films that they had done and I think I’ve got a jacket.  Like you’d wear if it was cold weather over the shoulder pads and a few things like that.  You know they had some t-shirts that were made up with my picture on the front and I’ve got some of those.  There’s a few thing.  A lot of the trophies.  You know they had player of the week, then they had Southern California player of the week and I’ve got several of those.  So I’ve got quite a few things from the league that I still have.  I have some really nice plaques that were presented from some of the sponsors for the player of the game.  So, there were a lot more awards given there then they ever have in the NFL.

WFLN: You mentioned the football.  Was there a difference with the NFL football and the WFL football?
TA: Oh yeah, they were different manufacturers.  The NFL football was Wilson and the WFL was, I think it was Spalding and it was a very light color ball that had bright orange stripes on the end.  And then they had to take the orange stripes and do like they did in the NFL is they can partial them, not all the way around because right where you would put your thumb to throw the ball was where that stripe was and it was slick.  I know that they changed the balls after the first or second game because whatever the light colored pigmentation they used, it was coming off of there.  Everybody had discolored hands from it.  But the ball was the same ball I actually used in college.  So it wasn’t any different to throw for me but it was different than the NFL ball.

WFLN: Any other stories you’d like to share?
TA: Yeah.  You know, again it was a great experience, we had a reunion a year ago.  That was the first time that we all ever got back together as a group and it was great.  A lot of our coaches are no longer with us and a few players but the majority we had, I’m going to say 35-40 guys that came for the reunion which, that’s been quite a while ago.  So for everybody to show up, and a lot of the guys are all from the west coast anyway.  From Oregon and Washington and Southern California and a few up us weren’t located there anymore but it was still a great time to get back together and we did a lot of things.  A lot of reminiscing, a lot of videos that we saw, and they had a lot of memorabilia.  They had a lot of the programs from the games and stuff.  It was great.  It was fun to get back.  Again, overall it was an experience that I would have never traded for anything.  Especially the fact how it ended up and it allowed me to go on to play in the NFL.

WFLN: What are you doing now?
TA: I own a technology company here in Kansas City.  It’s geared toward the outdoor industry.  It’s a big information website that’s designed for the consumer to get on and get information about everything related to the outdoors.  Whether it be hunting or fishing or camping or boating or hiking so we drive a lot of traffic through people who are looking for information about that.  Then we have another site that’s a referral site for professional guides and outfitters all over North America.  So they list with us and people get online and they do searches for places to go to fish or hunt and we give them those leads so it’s essentially geared toward the outdoor industry.

WFLN: You still involved in football?
TA: Oh yeah.  I’m one of the Chiefs ambassadors.  There’s 30 of us former players that are elected to that group and we do a lot of community things and we do a lot of things for the Chiefs and with the Chiefs and we travel on road trips and they take me and another guy to the Super Bowl and we kind of went out with some of the sponsors.  So we do a lot of things here in town and then I work with high school kids whenever I get the opportunity so I pretty much stay actively involved in football.

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