Detroit Wheels of the World Football League

In 1974 a new football league made its debut: The World Football League. With high hopes, the WFL launched with team in Birmingham, Chicago, Orlando, Honolulu, Houston, Jacksonville, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Anaheim and Detroit. A few of the teams did well, and as one would expect, most didn’t including the Detroit Wheels. Yes, Detroit had a team in the WFL and it didn’t make it through the leagues’ first season. In fact, Detroit ceased operations just 14 games into a 20-game season. But what a legacy the Wheels left behind. Perhaps one of the most poorly run franchises in the history of sports, the Wheels had 33 owners and none stepped forward to be the face of the franchise. The Wheels started slowly and didn’t sign any players until after every other team in the league had already begun the process. The team was operated as a pay-as-you-go entity, had little to no budget, hired a coach who was overmatched when it came to professional football, the Wheels couldn’t find a local stadium, and once the season started, players came and went in droves. Mark Speck, who has made a hobby of learning as much as he can about each team in the WFL, has written a few books on WFL teams including, “Nothing But A Brand New Set of Flat Tires,” visits Sports’ Forgotten Heroes for an in-depth discussion about the Wheels and many of the crazy and zany situations Detroit created for itself. From considering asking players to sleep in tents during training camp to not having the money to pay for tape to tape the player’s ankles, the Wheels faced situations you would never think a professional franchise would ever face. The Wheels were actually a decent team, better than their 1-13 record would have you believe. It was a team that couldn’t figure out how to hold a late-game lead. In fact, seven of their losses came by seven points or less. But when you face the adversity the Wheels faced, like not getting paid, playing football becomes difficult. Listen to SFH now to hear more about this long forgotten professional football team.


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