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The Charlotte Hornets were a football team in the short-lived World Football League. They were actually relocated to Charlotte, North Carolinamarker from New York Citymarker in the middle of their inaugural 1974 season.


In New York

The Hornets franchise began in 1973 in Bostonmarker as the Boston Bulldogs. The name was shortened at the 11th hour in October to Bulls. They were owned by Howard Baldwin, who was president and minority owner of the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association. Unlike most of the other WFL owners, he didn't have to pay a franchise fee because of his close ties to WFL founder Gary Davidson—who also happened to be commissioner of the WFL. He also hired Babe Parilli as head coach.

However, Baldwin was unable to attract more investors. More seriously, he couldn't find a suitable place to play. Realizing he had no hope of putting together a viable product in Boston, Baldwin opted to merge with the WFL's as-yet-unnamed New York franchise on January 26 1974. That team was owned by Whalers majority owner Robert Schmertz and three of his New York based limited business partners; Henry Fujawski, John Lander and Steven Cohen who together made up the core of the Stars ownership and who like Baldwin hadn't had to pay a franchise fee. The two teams had already worked together very closely in the draft. The merged team took the name New York Stars.

Finding a home field for the fledgling team proved just as difficult as finding a name. Yankee Stadiummarker was closed for renovation right after the Yankees finished the 1973 season in October; it would not reopen until 1976. Shea Stadiummarker became full to capacity as the "Bronx Bombers" shared the park with the hometown Mets and the NFL's Jets. The Stars had to settle for decrepit Downing Stadiummarker, a 22,000-seat facility built during the Depression as a WPA Project, located on Randall's Islandmarker near the East Rivermarker.

Parilli signed a number of former Super Bowl III Jets including wide receiver George Sauer, who was coming out of retirement after three years, and former All-Pro defensive men Gerry Philbin, as well as John Elliott.

The WFL needed New York in order to have a presence in the largest U.S. media market. The Stars sold between 5,500 and 8,000 season tickets. After losing 14-7 at Jacksonville in front of a league high crowd of 59,112 at the Gator Bowlmarker, the Stars' first home game against the Birmingham Americans attracted 17,943 New Yorkers. After leading 29-3 at halftime, the Stars were toppled by the efforts of Americans quarterback George Mira, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as Birmingham pulled out a 32-29 comeback win. The Stars finally won their first game as kicker Moses Lajterman put the winning field goal through for a razor-thin 17-15 win at Philadelphia. The Stars and Bell performed in front of the largest WFL crowd, with 64,179 on hand. It later came out that most of the tickets were sold at large discounts or were given away to make the league appear more successful than it was.

New York then went on a tear, winning five in a row. Among the victims were the Jacksonville Sharks, Southern California Sun, Portland Storm, and Houston Texans. Coincidentally, the team's winning streak was stopped by those same Texans a week later, with a surprise addition to the Houston roster: John Matuszak. Matuszak had been AWOL from the NFL's Houston Oilers just 48 hours earlier. The Stars had mixed results in the next few weeks, winning over Portland again, but losing to Florida in the rain and The Hawaiians in the sun. To improve the roster, New York picked up several NFL players from the waiver wire. Among them were cornerback John Dockery, who played for Parilli with the New York Jets, and Don Highsmith, a running back released by Oakland who turned out to be a great addition to the Stars running attack. The Stars performed better on the field and were a nice alternative to the more expensive, yet losing Giants and Jets.

For all their on-field success, the Stars were dragged down by serious off-field financial problems. Like most WFL teams, they were badly undercapitalized. Their fiscal structure began to founder when Schmertz's construction company ran into trouble. He was also involved in a nasty divorce.

The Stars played in a stadium that was completely inadequate for a team aspiring to be part of a major sports organization. It was nearly inaccessible from most parts of the city, and it had not been well maintained in at least 20 years. Amenities for fans, players and the press were virtually nonexistent. The toilets in the locker room frequently overflowed. During the home opener, the Stars' radio announcers had to sit on orange crates because there were no chairs in the press box; their Birmingham counterparts had to stand. Parking was inadequate It soon became obvious that Schmertz and Baldwin wouldn't have enough money to finish the season. Unable to find a local buyer, the WFL resigned itself to abandoning the nation's biggest market.

September 24, 1974 was their final game at New York (the game was moved from Wednesday because of Yom Kippur). Ironically, that same day, the Detroit Wheels' 33 owners filed forbankruptcy. Called the "Bankrupt Bowl," the Stars blew out the destitute Wheels, 37-7.

In Charlotte

While they were packing up for the next night's game against the Chicago Fire, Parilli announced the team was moving to Charlotte for the rest of the season as the Charlotte Stars. The league had found a buyer in former New England Patriots executive Upton Bell after Charlotte mayor John M. Belk helped engineer a deal that made the move feasible. Forced to find a new logo literally at the last minute, the equipment man simply stuck the Chicago Bears' "C" logo over the old New York logo. The Stars routed the Fire, 41-30. A few days later, they were renamed the Hornets. Shortly after they arrived in Charlotte, however, they had their uniforms impounded due to an unpaid laundry bill from their New York days.

The team's first home game at Charlotte was a rousing success. In the league's brief history, the Hornets sold out all 25,133 tickets, leaving some 5,000 out of luck. Unfortunately, the visiting Memphis Southmen ruined their debut, winning 27-23. In spite of the loss, the new Charlotte club - which played at American Legion Memorial Stadiummarker-did far better in tickets sales than as the old New York Stars. In four games at Charlotte, the Hornets sold over 80,000 compared to just 75,000 in seven games at Downing Stadium. Toward the end of the season, the Hornets struggled on the field, losing their last four games. Although Charlotte finished second place with a 10-10 record, they couldn't afford to attend the playoff game at Orlandomarker, against the first place Eastern Division winning Florida Blazers. The Philadelphia Bell, who finished third with a 9-11 record, took the Hornets' place.

The team returned for the abbreviated 1975 campaign and lasted until the league ceased operations in midseason. The Hornets finished at 6-5.

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