New York Newsday

August 1, 1974

Editorial By Ed Comerford

Stars Lose Twinkle On Randalls Island

The World Football League, that robust infant, has been remarkably lucky so far. If the National Football League player strike drags on it will be even luckier. But in one key area it has been unlucky.

In New York, the media capital and the traditional big apple of professional sports, it is stuck in a desolate ball park. Downing Stadium on Randalls Island, where the Stars come out at night but do not twinkle very brightly, would not be considered worthy of a good Texas high school football team. The WFL must suffer this embarrassment, just as the American Basketball Association had to suffer its New York representative in an ice rink in Commack and a Quonset hut in West Hempstead before the promised land of the Nassau Coliseum was reached.

The ABA survived. It appears the WFL will too until the Stars reach rebuilt Yankee Stadium in 1976. But it will be an exasperating wait.

Suppose the Stars had played the Jacksonville Sharks last night in Yankee Stadium. Given the remarkable acceptance of the new league elsewhere, the apparently insatiable American appetite for pro football in any season, and the curiosity factor, the crowd might have been 50,000

Instead 15,648 - the count seemed honest - found their way to the ancient concrete horseshoe under the Triboro Bridge. They saw a pretty good football game, insofar as they could see anything. It seemed that while the NFL is hit by a strike of players, the WFL must be hit by a strike of electricians.

The illumination came from a full moon and eight light stanchions originally erected at Ebbets Field long before most of the Stars and Sharks were born. They appear to have the original bulbs, those that are still in working order.

Though it is a creating gap for them, the Stars say they are not to blame. Vince Casey, their spokesman, said that not only can you not beat City Hall, you cannot hurry it either. "We said we'd have new lights up for the first game," he admitted, "and for the second game. Now we're saying for the third game [against Portland August 14]. But everything had to be approved by the city, and it's incredible the way they do these things."

Even after the city decrees, "Let there be light," the stadium will be the worst in pro football. It is not the decaying slum it was a few years ago; the Cosmos soccer team and the Stars have cleaned it up as best as they could. But no amount of cosmetics can make an old crone look like Miss America. And Randalls Island is not the easiest place to get to from here, there or anywhere.

It is a comedown for guys who have played in stately pleasure domes, like those former Jets who anchor the Stars' defensive line, Gerry Philbin and John Elliott. "It's the only place I was ever in where, when you win the coin toss, you pick the side of the field where the lights seem best," Philbin joked. "But it doesn't bother me. It would if my pay check was crumby, too. But everything else about this team is first class. It's too bad. In Jacksonville we played before 60,000, in Philadelphia before 64,000 and they went crazy, they loved it."

"I wonder what the Jacksonville players thought of it," Elliott mused. "They play in the Gator Bowl. But it's only for two years and for two years you can handle anything. I regret there weren't more fans tonight but it takes time. This is something the average working guy, who can't get tickets for the Jets and Giants, can afford, something he can identify with."

Is he getting anything comparable to the Jets and Giants? "Yes," Philbin insisted. "It's the same as the NFL, just the names are different, that's all. They hit as hard as anybody and there aren't many mistakes. It's damn good football."

Elliott was more realistic. "The offensive lines are a little slower, and the hitting is not as crisp and sharp as the NFL," he conceded. "But it takes time, and considering these teams have had only six or seven weeks, I can't believe the caliber of ball. It's as polished as some NFL teams I've played against."

As far as could be seen in that dim light, it looked like good football. The fans seemed to enjoy it. They cheered the Stars, who came from behind for a 24-16 victory, as enthusiastically as any NFL loyalist.

The verdict was not unanimous, however. In the closing minutes one fan wanted to beat the traffic jam while his companion wanted to stay and see if there was going to be overtime. "You don't even stay for the end of the Giants games," the first fan snarled, "and you're gonna stay for this  - -  ?"