New York Daily News

July 18, 1974

By Bill Verigan

Mira-Homan TD Bomb Stumps Stars, 32-29

The Stars came out last night amid the dim lights and crumbling concrete of Downing Stadium. Fun City discovered another loser in the best tradition of the Titans and Mets. This was the night that Alabama fell on the Stars, overcoming a 29-3 halftime deficit to win, 32-29.

If the game holds any memory, it will be of George Mira hitting Dennis Homan with a 73-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 remaining. And while the 15 cheerleaders in their gold and black uniforms continued their insane dance, the 17,943 fans, who filled the place to what is called near-capacity, filed silently into the night.

New York came back with a desperation bid to tie and send it into overtime. The Stars moved to Birmingham's 18 and then came the final blow as Pete Rajecki's field goal try from the 25 went wide to the left with 36 seconds remaining.

Afterwards, Rajecki lay on a table, his leg taped tightly because of a groin pull. The pain was so great he couldn't speak. But the crowd didn't know. It even booed a man who had been hurt in the first half, who had tried to come back and failed.

A sad parting for a comedy of errors.

"What beat us?" asked coach Babe Parilli. "The interception, the bomb, the dropped pass. We beat ourselves."

It wasn't easy.

"Ridiculous," said Gerry Philbin. "I've never lost a game with a lead like that. We came out with the 29-3 lead and played like fat cats."

The game had seemed so easy. At the end of a half, the Stars had 315 yards and 18 first downs. The Americans had 10 yards, no first downs.

When the cheerleaders cheered, the crowd cheered. Even the pea green ball seemed to be working for the Stars. "I couldn't find the ball at all in the lights," said a Birmingham player. "It looked like a clump of grass."

"I've played in worse stadiums in front of littler crowds," said George Sauer.

"I think the people were really interested. I think I enjoyed it more than I did with the Jets. Maybe. For the most part. Maybe it's because I'm three years older. That makes it sound like I'm three years wiser."

Birmingham had scored first, less than two minutes into the game, a 35-yard field goal by Earl Sark that followed a recovery by Clarence Washington of a fumble by Stars' quarterback Tom Sherman on the New York 14.

Those were the only points the Americans got the first half.

Little Bob Hermanni started the Stars' first drive with a 22-yard kickoff return to the New York 40. Six plays later, Sherman sent everybody over the middle, then sneaked around left end for a one-yard touchdown. He had hit Dave Richards with a 22-yarder and Sauer with a 25-yarder for big gains in the drive.

When Bob Gladieux barged over on the action point, the Stars led 8-3 with only 4:30 gone.

Less than four minutes later, the Stars made it 15-3. On Birmingham's first play from scrimmage, Mira handed to Denny Duron, who was supposed to pass. Duron never got the chance. Philbin barreled in, grabbed him by the shirt and swiped the ball only 23 yards from the goal. Gladieux moved to the 17. Sherman ran to the 13; then Gladieux took it over in two more plays, climaxed by a two-yard dive.

On the action play, Ray Parson snatched the ball away from a defender to make it 16-3.

Before the first quarter was over, before many cars had even worked their way through the jam at the foot of the Triborough Bridge, New York got another drive started on its 20. Fourteen plays later, Andy Huff made it over from the eight, and the score was 26-3.

Sherman had accounted for yards on that drive too, passes of 25 yards to Bert Askson and 13 yards on a fourth-and-one at Birmingham's 49.

And to wrap up the half, there were two field goals by Rajecki, one 20 yards, the second 38 yards one second left from intermission. Even on those two field goals, he was hurt, but it didn't show.

No one said an unnecessary word in the Birmingham dressing room. The Americans had been stunned by it all.

"Not me," said Mira. "If the time ever comes when I don't think we can come back, I'll get out of the game. When I was with San Francisco, we led Minnesota 41-0 once, and Fran Tarkenton brought them back to beat us 42-41."

It was the same last night. The Stars didn't score another point, Birmingham scored 32.

And it was all Mira, a man who was one-for-six and minus two yards in the first half. He came back in the second half to hit 13 of 22 for 215 yards and three touchdowns and one action point. He ran for the other TD.

"Was the defense tired?" Parilli was asked.

"It shouldn't have been," he said. "It was only in for 13 plays in the first half, and our offense was in for 50."

A 33-yard punt return by Al Jenkins to New York's 17 set up the first TD. Mira passed three times. The first two went incomplete, the third was good for minus three yards to the 20. Then his streak started with a TD pitch to Ted Powell. And the score was 26-10.

On the Stars' next drive, Rajecki missed on a 42-yard attempt. That's when New York got its break of the second half.

Gary Champagne charged in and knocked down a punt by Sark at the 31, and Ernie Richardson jumped on it at the Birmingham 15. New York didn't get any farther.

Dicky Lyons intercepted on the 11 and returned it to the 49. From there, Mira led another drive, climaxed by a four-yard TD to Jenkins with 1:45 left in the third period.

And then it was 29-18, following an identical pass to Jenkins on the right side of the end zone on the action point.

The momentum was all with Birmingham.

The Americans wound up another 80-yard drive with Mira's one-yard sneak, and the Birmingham defense stiffened.

Late in the period on first down, Mira cranked up the pass to Homan. He took it on the 30 all alone, and went over. "The Lord must have been with me," Homan said.

New York got one more chance by Rajecki, and it failed.