Detroit Wheels

1974 Dennis Kemp
(Game Worn)

The World Football League’s Detroit Wheels franchise was perhaps the most heavily burdened by ownership inexperience and subsequent difficulties ( see HELMET HUT feature ).  Like most of the WFL squads, the Wheels had some excellent players with quarterback Bubba Wyche and running back Sam Scarber known quantities, and quite a few unknowns and “not-yet-known” youngsters. The offense in particular remained weak from the start of the season until the franchise was forced to call it quits, declaring bankruptcy on September 24 and officially dissolving the team on October 7, 1974.  One of the steady starters on the Wheels offensive front was number 73, Dennis Kemp.

Though California’s Canoga Park High School can boast of graduating actors Kevin Spacey and Bryan Cranston, Kemp was no doubt as well known in the local area during his high school days. The 6’2”, 228 pound Kemp was placed at defensive tackle at Tulsa University and though overshadowed by teammates Luke Blair, Al Jenkins, and Doug Wyatt, he was a solid contributor as a starter. Working hard he built himself up to a powerful 240 pounds and played with the Fort Worth Braves of the Texas Football League in 1970 and with Calgary of the CFL in ’71.

As poor as the fortunes of the Wheels may have been both on and off the field, where the absence of paychecks forced many players and coaches to move in with each other in a “commune-like” arrangement, their uniforms remained quite attractive. As noted in the HELMET HUT feature, “The yellow helmets with the wide red stripe flanked by thinner black stripes had a great logo although even today you can engender a great deal of conversation by interpreting that wonderful logo. A tire in the middle of a lower case ‘d?’ Was it a musical note in honor of Motown and/or (part-owner) Mrs. Edwards? It was never made clear. The Wheels also had the distinction of using the great colored Dungard masks on many of their helmets, one more touch of elegance that was contradictory to their performance.”

Kemp wore a classic Riddell suspension helmet with a yellow mask. Like many of his teammates, the World Football League decal was displayed on the rear of the shell, a distinctive detail as some of the WFL teams chose to display the official league logo while others left it off of their helmets.

Dennis Kemp’s number 73 is clearly written on the inside of the game worn shell, marking this helmet as a reflection of the hard-working though lackluster team that toiled in difficult conditions in their effort to win as a cohesive unit. It is the perfect embodiment of the ultimately unsuccessful struggle of the players of the World Football League.

If interested in any of these or more WFL helmets please click on the photos below.