Geography made me a fan of the World Football League’s Birmingham Americans and Vulcans. After all, they played at Legion Field, which was a mere 14 miles from my house.
But if I’d based my allegience on sartorial splendor, I would’ve cheered for the Southern California Sun. Not only was I mesemerized by the Anaheim-based team’s magenta jerseys and orange pants, I even got to see them up close when they came to Birmingham on July 10, 1974, to play the Americans.
I was forever smitten.
The Sun (along with The Hawaiians) hold the distinction of playing the final game in WFL history – a 26-7 Southern California victory on October 19, 1975, in Honolulu.
Yet while the league officially folded on October 22, 32 Sun players were back on the field less than three months later, with head coach Tom Fears stalking the sidelines and running back Anthony Davis toting the freight.
Too bad none of it was real.
The demise of the alternative football league left hundreds of athletes out of work, but Sun players found temp jobs as actors during filming of the movie “Two-Minute Warning,” a football-themed thriller starring Charleton Heston, John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands and Jack Klugman.
Football scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and Fears served as the film’s technical director. He told the Los Angeles Times it was a “unique” coaching assignment.
“It’s difficult getting 22 guys to play authentic football for movie cameras,” Fears said. “When they know they’re likely to shoot the same scene several times, they have a tendency to ease up. I can get ‘em up for one play, but if we have to do it over and over, it’s a problem.”
Like many WFL players across the league, some members of the Sun found themselves still waiting on paychecks from management. The movie was paying each player $125 per day, and Fears took a shot at the defunct league by joking that that money was “in escrow.”
At that point he Times reported that Sun punter Al White pretended to walk out and said, “So long – I’ve heard that before.”
Fears played one of the coaches in the thinly-disguised Super Bowl, while the other was portrayed by former Suns director of player personnel Gerry Okuneff (who was also an experienced Hollywood stuntman who had appeared in several movies). Fears told the Times he made a pitch to the moviemakers that using actual football people would make the scenes much more realistic.
“I sold the studio on the idea of hiring the whole team,” Fears said. “They were going to suit up extras and I told them my guys could do it more realistically and more quickly.”
Former NFL and Canadian Football League player Joe Kapp was the “star” among the fotball-trained actors, playing Baltimore quarterback Charlie Tyler. (The Times story listed the name of the teams as the Baltimore Stars and L.A. Cougars, but when the movie came out there were no references to nicknames).
Davis, the former USC Trojan star and one of the Sun’s premiere signings for the 1975 season, was originally hired only as a football player but caught the attention of the director and wound up playing a member of the SWAT team as well.
According to Associated Press, other former Sun players getting screen time included Terry Lindsay, Keith Denson. Dave Williams, Chuck Bradley, Ed Kezerian, Art Kuhn, Joe Carollo, Benny Ricardo, Mike Ernst, West Grant and Dave Roller.
When the movie came out I rememeber seeing it at the theater because anything relating to the gridiron was going to get my attention (and money).
I recognized Fears and Davis, and it was kinda cool knowing that I’d seen them both in person a little over a year ealier (the Sun beat the Vulcans, 35-25, at Legion Field on August 23, 1975).
As for the uniforms, they were modeled after those of USC and Stanford. Footage of a game between the teams played at the Coliseum earlier in the 1976 season was spliced into the action staged by the Sun players.
That meant no magenta and orange, and therefore no feast for my eyes.
“Two-Minute Warning” was savaged by critics and flopped at the box office in 1976 (although it was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Film Editing category), then later massively re-edited for a 1979 network television re-release. If I saw the TV version, I can’t recall.
But it served a purpose by giving football jobs to football players. So even after the sun set on the WFL, Sun players still got one last chance to shine.