|Based in||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Home field||JFK Stadium (1974)|
Franklin Field (1975)
|Head coach||Ron Waller (1974)|
Willie Wood (1975)
|Owner(s)||John B. Kelly Jr.|
|League||World Football League|
|Colours||Blue & Gold|
The Philadelphia Bell was a franchise in the World Football League, which operated in 1974 and a portion of a season in 1975. The Bell played their home games in 1974 at JFK Stadium in South Philadelphia. The team logo was a representation of the Liberty Bell. In 1975 the team decided to stop playing at JFK and moved its games to Franklin Field.
The Bell was one of just two WFL teams that maintained the same ownership in both 1974 and 1975 (the other being Canadian millionaire John Bassett's Memphis Southmen). The group was headed by John B. Kelly Jr., a respected business and sportsman in Philadelphia and part of the well-known Kelly family, which included his sister Grace Kelly, movie star-turned-Princess of Monaco. The major money contributor behind the ownership group was John Bosacco, who came forward during the first season and took over the operations of the franchise. Bosacco believed that the WFL could survive and was instrumental in the removal of Gary Davidson as commissioner following the 1974 season.
Led by head coach Ron Waller, the Bell appeared to be the most popular team in the fledgling league, announcing a crowd of 55,534 for the home opener, followed by a whopping 64,719 for the second home game (for comparison's sake, the NFL Eagles averaged 60,030 fans for seven home dates that year).
However, when the Bell paid city taxes on the attendance figures two weeks later, it emerged that they had inflated the gate on a scale unprecedented in professional sports. In an apparent attempt to pique interest, the Bell sold block tickets to several area businesses at a discount, and did not report the tax revenue. In turn, many of these businesses gave away the tickets for free. The actual paid attendance for the home opener was only 13,855, and for the second game just 6,200—and many of those tickets were sold well below face value. The "Papergate" scandal, as it was dubbed by the press, made the Bell and the WFL look foolish, and proved to be a humiliation from which neither recovered. Attendance continued to drop, as Philadelphia drew only 62,126 fans (less than the supposed crowd for their second home game) for their last seven home games combined, or less than 9,000 per contest. The club hit rock bottom on October 16, when only 750 fans found their way to JFK for a Wednesday night game in a torrential downpour.
On the field, the Bell were mediocre. They were led by flashy quarterback King Corcoran, who had spent most of his career in the minor leagues due to his refusal to accept a backup QB slot (Corcoran had even played under Coach Waller with the Pottstown Firebirds of the recently closed Atlantic Coast Football League). Philadelphia managed only a 9–11 mark in 1974, one game behind the Charlotte Hornets for the final playoff spot. (The Bell were actually 8–11 on the field, but were awarded a win by forfeit when the dissolving Chicago Fire refused to fly to Philadelphia for the season finale.) However, at the request of WFL officials, they advanced to the playoffs anyway in place of Charlotte; the Florida Blazers could sell only 1,000 advance tickets for the first round matchup in Orlando, nowhere near enough for the financially troubled Hornets (who had moved from New York City in mid-season) to meet their travel expenses. The Bell, in contrast, were somewhat better financed, and could cover their own expenses. They traveled to Orlando, where lost to the Blazers, 18-3, in front of less than 10,000 fans.
|1||Wednesday||July 10, 1974||Portland Storm||W 33–8||55,534|
|2||Wednesday||July 17, 1974||at Houston Texans||L 0–11||26,227|
|3||Thursday||July 25, 1974||New York Stars||L 15–17||64,719|
|4||Wednesday||July 31, 1974||at Portland Storm||W 25–7||13,757|
|5||Wednesday||August 7, 1974||Memphis Southmen||W 46–15||12,396|
|6||Wednesday||August 14, 1974||at Chicago Fire||L 29–32||27,607|
|7||Wednesday||August 21, 1974||Southern California Sun||L 28–31||14,600|
|8||Wednesday||August 28, 1974||Detroit Wheels||W 27–23||15,100|
|9||Monday||September 2, 1974||at New York Stars||L 16–24||6,132|
|10||Thursday||September 5, 1974||at Jacksonville Sharks||L 30–34||17,851|
|11||Wednesday||September 11, 1974||Jacksonville Sharks||W 41–22 (OT)||7,230|
|12||Wednesday||September 18, 1974||at Florida Blazers||L 21–24||10,417|
|13||Wednesday||September 25, 1974||at Hawaiians||W 21–16||14,497|
|14||Wednesday||October 2, 1974||Florida Blazers||L 7–30||7,150|
|15||Wednesday||October 9, 1974||Hawaiians||L 22–25||4,900|
|16||Wednesday||October 16, 1974||Shreveport Steamer||L 25–30||750|
|17||Wednesday||October 23, 1974||at Southern California Sun||W 45–7||N/A|
|18||Wednesday||October 30, 1974||Chicago Fire||W 37–31||12,500|
|19||Wednesday||November 6, 1974||at Birmingham Americans||L 23–26||22,963|
|20||Wednesday||November 13, 1974||Chicago Fire||W 2–0 (forfeit)||cancelled|
|Quarter-finals||Thursday||November 21, 1974||at Florida Blazers||L 3–18||9,712|
Despite the Papergate fiasco, the Bell were reckoned as one of the WFL's stronger franchises and at least had the potential to have been successful had the league been better run. Bosacco was one of only three owners, along with the Memphis Southmen's John F. Bassett and The Hawaiians' Sam Battisone, thought to be capable of fielding a team in 1975; those three teams had been the only ones to meet payroll every week of the 1974 season.
As the 1975 season got underway, Coach Waller was replaced during training camp at Glassboro State University by future NFL Hall of Famer Willie Wood, making him the first African-American head coach of a modern pro football team.
Even on TV, the Bell couldn't get any respect. On August 29, 1975, WTAF aired a sports doubleheader, featuring a Philadelphia Wings lacrosse match followed by the Bell's game against the Southern California Sun in Anaheim. The football game was scheduled for 10:30 pm EDT, but since the Wings game ran long, viewers missed the beginning. Bell fans would miss the end of the contest, too: WTAF abruptly cut the broadcast off with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, pleading a "prior commitment". The station then signed off for the night at 1:30 am; the game (won by the Sun, 58-39) didn't end until 2:06 am. (According to a Philadelphia Daily News story, "keeping the final six minutes of the game on TV could have cost the Bell an estimated $5,000 in telephone line charges," so the broadcast, which the club was evidently paying for, was cut off at the three-hour mark.)
The Bell had a record of 4–7 in 1975 at the time of the league's dissolution. Attendance remained anemic, with the team's best-attended game at Franklin Field drawing barely 5,000 fans. After only 1,293 fans attended the Bell's October 18 contest, both the team and the WFL folded for good.
Vince Papale, the inspiration for the 2006 film Invincible, played wide receiver for the Bell for two seasons prior to his three years with the Philadelphia Eagles. Both Papale and King Corcoran had recently played in the Seaboard Football League, the minor league that was active at the time in the area.
|1||Sunday||August 2, 1975||Hawaiians||W 21–15||3,266|
|2||Sunday||August 9, 1975||at Birmingham Vulcans||L 17–23||21,000|
|3||Sunday||August 16, 1975||at Shreveport Steamer||L 3–10||12,016|
|4||Sunday||August 23, 1975||Memphis Grizzlies||W 22–18||5,051|
|5||Saturday||August 29, 1975||at Southern California Sun||L 39–58||17,811|
|6||Saturday||September 6, 1975||at Charlotte Hornets||L 0–10||10,564|
|7||Saturday||September 13, 1975||Portland Thunder||L 10–25||4,710|
|8||Saturday||September 20, 1975||at Jacksonville Express||L 10–16||10,296|
|9||Saturday||October 4, 1975||San Antonio Wings||W 42–38||2,357|
|10||Saturday||October 11, 1975||at Hawaiians||L 13–14||10,789|
|11||Saturday||October 18, 1975||Charlotte Hornets||W 18–10||1,293|
- Goodtimes, Johnny (July 23, 2015). "The Philadelphia Bell, Papergate, and Possibly the Most Disastrous Pro League Ever". Retrieved 2016-10-04.
- "1974 World Football League Game Results". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
- Marshall, Joe. World Bowl in crisis. Sports Illustrated, 1974-12-16.
- "WFL Head Coach", Football Digest, August 1974 issue
- Jasner, Phil. Wood: Bell Picture to Improve. Philadelphia Daily News, September 2, 1975, p.67
- Vince Papale website
- # 83 Vince Papale of the Bell grabs a pass
- "1975 World Football League Results". Retrieved 2015-11-11.