The New York Daily News

July 12, 1974

By Bill Verigan

Jax Better Than Stars for Openers, 14-7

Jacksonville, Fla., July 11 - O. Z. White, a 245-pound guard who couldn't make the cut in the National Football League, pounced on his teammate's fumble in the end zone tonight to provide the Jacksonville Sharks with a 14-7 victory over the New York Stars with 2:02 left in the opening game for both World Football League teams.

The touchdown was set up when Ike Lassiter blocked a punt by Robby Reynolds and Richard Thomann scooped up the ball and ran it back to the Stars' 7. Tommy Durrance bulled to the one on the next play, but when he tried to take it over on second down, the ball squirted away and White got his touchdown, a weird conclusion to a game that almost ended in a blackout at halftime.

Alvin Wyatt had threaded his way along the right sideline 87 yards on a punt return, and ex-Jet George Sauer, who came off a three-year retirement to become the offensive star of New York, snatched an eight-yard pass away from two defenders during the second period for a 7-7 tie, a deadlock that lasted until the final minutes.

This also was the night the lights went out in Dixie. This was the night the World Football League came to town. The Stars came out and were engulfed in darkness.

With the score 7-7, after the parade of flags, a symphony, an 800-voice choir and fireworks the crowd waited for the lights to come back on for the start of the second half. And waited and waited.

The players were on the field, the Sharkettes were dancing like insane windup kewpie dolls to distract the crowd. One by one the lights popped back on. As a television announcer weakly tried to explain as the half dragged on, the problem was a short in the line for the WFL's first nationally televised game.

Finally the power came on again and so did the lights. The WFL was back in business.

The first half had turned out to be one glorious burst for the Sharks, yard gobbling frustration for the Stars. Late in the second period, the Stars began a drive on their 24. Tom Sherman returning to the scene of his '67 Gator Bowl humiliation to pass his team down to the Sharks two-yard line.

But there the drive ended. Sherman, who watched a 17-0 Penn State lead evaporate into a tie against Florida State because of a bungled call in that '67 Gator Bowl tried again on first down, a pass to Dave Richards that went off the fingertips. And then three charges into the center of the Jacksonville line by Richards fell short.

This league was supposed to take the game away from the placekickers and give it to the offense. Only somehow, the message hadn't come across. In the first period, New York made it to Jacksonville's 33, Jacksonville got to its 46. No further. And now the opportunity had been blown in four tries from the two. Then Jacksonville got its chance. But the offense was not responsible this time. It was a one-man effort, that 87-yard punt return by Alvin Wyatt, who had four seasons in the NFL with Oakland and Buffalo.

In the other league, he might have called for a fair catch, but in the WFL fair catches aren't allowed. Wyatt, a 5-10, 185-pound Jacksonville native took the ball a yard from the right sideline and headed for trouble. Suddenly, the defense broke apart and Wyatt was away. Finally, only one man remained. Jim Sims attempted a desperate diving tackle that barely missed at the five yard line. Jacksonville had a 7-0 lead.

After 15 futile applications for an NFL franchise, the 59,112 who showed up in 90 degree weather at the Gator Bowl for the next best thing went crazy. But that soon ended the next time the Stars got the ball.

Sherman, who spent his last four seasons with the Hartford Knights in the Atlantic Coast Football League, hit Ray Parson with a 24-yard pass to give New York the ball on its 47. then Wyatt made two mistakes to keep alive the drive. Twice wide receiver Al Young went out, and both times he was pushed away by Wyatt. The interference calls amounted to a pair of first downs, putting the ball on Jacksonville's 29.