The Charlotte Observer

September 7, 1975

By Bob Clary

Hard Luck On Fumbles Hurts Bell

Two fumbles or near fumbles or late fumbles, or whatever they might be called, cost the Philadelphia Bell in its 10-0 loss to the Charlotte Hornets Saturday night at Memorial Stadium – even though the Bell appeared to recover both bobbles.

Bell Coach Willie Wood saw both rulings as "lousy." Weak safety Frank Polito, who was involved in both plays, was willing to concede the first, but not the second.

Late in the third period of a game played in ankle deep mud because of hard rains 45 minutes before game time, the Hornets put together the best drive of the night, plodding 90 yards in 11 plays of the fourth period. Early in the drive, quarterback Tom Sherman scrambled from the pocket and gingerly stepped 25 yards before dropping the ball. Polito smothered it, but somehow didn't have it when players unpiled. Charlotte's Larry Butler did.

THE OTHER important bobble came just one play before the 27-yard scoring run by Don Highsmith. Lewis Jolley powered into the line, the ball popped loose and Willie Cullars appeared to come up with it. One official called the play in Philadelphia's favor; another called it in Charlotte's favor.

"That was ours," said Polito, who was moving towards the play. "The official said he blew the whistle, but it (the ball) wasn't even down. One official said it was ours. It really looked bad. I thought sure it was ours. That was the difference."

Of the Sherman fumble, Polito explained, "I thought I had it but I started getting hit and it squirmed out of my hands. The ball was a little behind me and I got hit from behind and I only had half of it cradled." He added, "It was a good call." Point was, an equally quick whistle then and the second one wouldn't have mattered.

Two other misses cost the Bell also – both on field goal tries. Bob Cooper missed on a 42-yard attempt on the first play of the second period after a 54-yard Bell drive. He missed again on a 33-yard try with 5:40 showing in the third quarter. "I don't like to make excuses," was all he said after the game, and he was referring to the rain.

QUARTERBACK Bob Davis though not criticizing his teammate, surmised, "The second missed field goal really hurt. We would have been ahead. After that we had a letdown and they started moving.

"It was impossible to throw anything but short," added Davis, who hit 10 of 15 passes for 46 yards. "It was just a pit of mud. The important thing for us was to gain three yards on first down. But we broke down in too many key situations, like third and two, third and one."

Wood, the first black coach in modern pro football, admitted that unfavorable throwing conditions hurt. And he, too, felt third down futility was a big problem.

"We've got to make plays like that and we haven't reached that point yet," he said. "I think we lost our intensity when we missed on the scoring chances."

But in all, the Bell, which scored 39 points in losing last week, had only two scoring opportunities that ended in missed field goals and one thrust to the 15 in the final seconds. The difference was that when Philadelphia appeared to stop the Hornets' drive with the fumble recoveries, its offense had to stay on the sidelines.