Now almost nobody knows anything about this page of football history. In the summer of 1974, two businessmen met with the owners of the NFL clubs in order to convince them to “lend” players for the European League of six teams. As a result, the NFL, after consulting Commissioner Pete Rosell with the US State Department, reluctantly refused to participate in the project. More about the not-so-famous episode in the relationship between the NFL and the Old World is the study of Mark Ford and Massimo Folio.
Other World Football League
Bob Cap (you can see him on the cover of the article on the left) and Adalbert Wetzel for two years had hatched plans for how to bring American football to Europe. It was Wetzel, an entrepreneur from Germany and the owner of the Munich 1860 team, who gave this idea weight in the Old World. Cap was a trainer who formerly served on the NASL Dallas Tornado team, owned by the founder of Kansas City Chiefs Lamar Hunt. A certain established reputation gave them the opportunity to speak to the owners of the NFL clubs on June 5, 1974.
An intriguing presentation began at 2:45 p.m. local time at the NFL headquarters on Park Avenue in New York. Wetzel said that interest in European football has gradually begun to decline, while American football, on the contrary, is increasing. Cap at that time created an organization called the Intercontinental Football League and sold franchise rights to six investors, one of which was Wetzel. The teams were supposed to hold their first regular season in April and May 1975, four game weeks and a playoff were planned. Their proposal was to lend NFL players to European teams in exchange for rights to broadcast games in North America.
In the early 1970s, the NFL was already interested in promoting its product abroad. During the Vietnam War, players regularly visited US military bases and hospitals. Tex Scar, general manager of Dallas Kauboys, traveled all over Europe in search of new talents. His biggest find was the Austrian Tony Fritsch, the star of the Vienna Rapid and the Austrian national team, who then made a successful career as a kicker. In Paris, on May 27, 1972, an exhibition match was held with 42 NFL players attracting 8,000 spectators. On the posters it was called "Le Rugby Americain" (American Rugby). Two years later, interest in hosting matches in other countries began to reappear.
Perhaps Cap and Wetzel would not have got a chance to meet with the NFL representatives, but in a month Gary Davidson's World Football League should start. Its ultimate goal was to have franchises all over the planet, in particular, cities such as Rome and Tokyo were named. At that moment there was still no reason to predict the failure of his venture. NFL team owners have previously voted to change their rules in response to Davidson's promised innovations. They also intended to probe foreign markets. At this moment, Cap and Wetzel appeared on the horizon, having already done their homework.
The owners of the teams positively perceived their proposal on the grounds that there was nothing to lose, but at least something could be gained. At a minimum, NFL players could spend some of their pre-season training in Europe and promote the league there. Capa's European investors had some support from large corporations, and an agreement was reached with Pan American. In case of failure of the experiment, the losses of Europeans were minimal. In each of the cities, only two games were planned. The minutes of the meeting indicate that the owner of the Buffalo Ralph Wilson was the first to support the idea, then Bad Adams from Houston joined him. The project received a green light. A commission was formed to study the possible consequences of participating in European competitions, led by Tex Schram and Al Davis from Auckland.
Difficulties in selling football in Europe
Despite the fact that football was very popular among service personnel at American military bases, most Europeans first saw it on cinema screens in the movie M * A * S * H, which became a world hit in 1970. Many expressed interest in creating teams, although in general the overseas game received the same reception as European football in the States. One Italian journalist laughed at the outfit of football players "dressed like Martians." For others, the “slowness of the game” with its constant stops and new draws became a stumbling block.
Bob Cap, whose resume was the promotion of socker in skeptical Texas, was not afraid of critics. By 1973, he had sold six franchises in his Intercontinental Football League, even before the announcement of the World League. One of his investors, Bruno Benec from Rome, played an important role in promoting baseball in Italy and was ready to do the same for football. His memoirs, voiced by historian Fausto Batella, show the extent to which the NFL was ready to start exporting football.
“I was already the father of baseball in Italy, I brought this game here in 1946, immediately after the war,” Beneck said in an interview shortly before his death. - “I headed the Italian Baseball Federation since 1969, after the 1972 Olympics I lobbied for its inclusion in the program of the Olympic Games. “I did this when Bob Cap came to me and suggested doing the same with American football.”
“At that time I was already a little familiar with this game. I was the director of Domenica Sportiva, Italy's most popular sports show at the time. Occasionally, we received videos with reviews of football matches. I was acquainted with Lamar Hunt, with whom I discussed football informally. But really, I fired up the game after meeting with Cap. In the end, I did it with baseball. There were opportunities for football. ”
“We had nothing like meeting club owners. Cap came to Rome in 1973 and presented his plan. I re-read the contract and the charter, in which the details were prescribed, paid a franchise fee in the amount of 37 thousand dollars. The idea seemed workable. Cap even spoke of her interest in Japan and Argentina. There were other investors, but I never met them. I had at my disposal a stadium, Stadio Flaminio with 30 thousand seats. If Cap did his job, then we could move to a new level. ”
So, after several years of work, traveling around the world, meeting with potential investors, Cap found himself at 410 Park Avenue in New York ...