Gary Davidson has been found, alive and well, enjoying the good life in Newport Beach, Calif., and not ruling out starting another professional football league "if I get a telephone call from a rich Arab."
At age 45 -- "I'm just a kid" -- he was looking back on starting the American Basketball Association, which forced a merger with the National; creating the World Hockey Association, which forced a merger with the National Hockey League, and the World Football League, which folded in the second year of operation, 1975, a recession casualty.
"People have talked about a new league," Davidson said on the telephone. "I could start one successfully if I had about $5 million up front, to put stadium rents in escrow. There are enough good locations for 10 or 12 teams. This will cause some National Football League club owners to lose a night's sleep.
"Los Angeles is a giant market not to have an NFL team (with the Rams moving to Anaheim); that's a big problem." He noted that Yankee Stadium does not have a pro football tenant, despite New York City's population.
"Football is hot with the last two Super Bowls. There is a new sports television network forming that will need programs. I could get 10 teams to play 14-game seasons; that would fill a lot of air time. We had good ratings with our WFL games . . . if we had just had more capital."
Davidson is only too aware that a new league could go on to some form of pay television right away, and the highly imaginative Ted Turner has a cable television network and the financial resources to bankroll a new league. He has read that the NFL has just gotten a record $12 million from CBS for the radio rights to its games.
Davidson, of course, also has taken note that the NFL had a record paid attendance of 13,182,039 in 1979, and without competition. Since the WFL folded, the value of franchises has soared with a four-year contract from the three major television networks worth $4 million to each club over that span.
Because of the expanse of territory he would take in with a new lineup of cities, he likes the sound of "Galactica Football League," or, as he puts it, "the league of the '80s."
In view of the NFL discovering that Honolulu was a smash hit for the Pro Bowl, and has decided already to stage it there again, Davidson was asked if the WFL was not years ahead of the NFL in putting a franchise there.
"I am not sure Honolulu is that feasible yet for regular-season games." he said. "To make a go of it there a team would have to draw one out of four residents. That's a lot. More tourism would have to be promoted. Maybe cold-weather teams in the NFL, say, Minnesota or Cleveland, could organized annual visits by, say, 5,000 of their fans for trips with the teams there."
He thinks Chicago could support a second team. He would extend options to teams such as Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa of the Canadian Football League to join a new circuit.
In connection with that thought, Davidson said the Canadian government had taken steps to keep the WFL out of the country.
His reach of imagination included a possible franchise in San Juan, P.R., almost certainly one in Mexico City, which the Dallas Cowboys have developed with broadcasts there in Spanish over 18 Mutual stations. They also are heard in seven states in this country with large Spanish-speanking populations. The next radio testing will be in Miami and Lower California. p
Some telecasts of Cowboys' exhibitions and some regular-season network games are shown in Mexico. The Cowboy 1979 games against Washington and Pittsburgh were.
Davidson cited as viable franchise cities Phoenix, Birmingham, Memphis, Jacksonville, Fla., Portland, Ore., and Indianapolis, which are on the NFL's prospective expansion list.
Inadvertently, the creator of leagues left sorts of monuments to himself.
He remarked that the Los Angeles Times termed him "The $500 Million Man," crediting him with bringing about that much in construction of stadiums and indoor arenas, because of his new leagues.
"I never checked the amount," Davidson said, "or I would have wanted my cut."
He said he didn't know how many WFL club owners still might be paying off on contracts or how many athletes were collecting on them. "I know a lot of players made a lot of money, and a lot lawyers," he said. "I (Davidson is an attorney) didn't make much."
He explained, "The 1974 recession ruined the WFL. Actually, we were better capitalized than the ABA or WHL. When the stock markets is high, a guy doesn't mind risking $2 million or $3 million if, say, he has just made about $15 million. But when the market goes down, a guy isn't as willing to gamble on more losses; that hurt us.
"We figured on an 'ante' of $3 million by each franchise in the WFL, meaning a club should have had at least that much to lose at first.
"This time I would make the amount $6 million or $7 million. Because player salaries have risen so much, payrolls would have to be limited by agreement with the players to a certain percentage of the gross revenue of each club.
"When I turned over the league to Chris Hemmeter of Hawaii in 1975 he was thinking along those lines and he could have made a go of it if he had had the time.
"But he had a $60 million construction project going in Hawaii and it was costing him $50,000 a day for all the time he was kept away from meeting his deadline. He had to get rid of the WFL to protect his project with fulltime attention."
Davidson said that among the athletes coming out of the colleges annually, free agents, and those in the NFL and Canadian League receptive to offers, "There are a lot of good players to be had, but you have to go for the big names and if you pay them too much you blow your profits for the first two or three years."
Surely, Davidson, who pushed for the three-point field goal in his ABA, the two-point conversion and other novel rules in his WFL, would insist on using instant television replays to improve officiating?
"I did all those things to emphasize the offensive aspect in the WFL," he said. "I don't know about the instant replay. Pete Rozelle (NFL commissioner) is a very smart man. If he hasn't jumped into instant replay he must have a good reason. I think I would have a 'super referee' who would sit in the television control room, with the power to overrule all the other officials.
"I would not let the fans in the stadium be involved by making their feelings known from what was seen on the game telecasts because there might be trouble, with half of them favoring one version of what they saw and the other half another version."
Davidson says he is not quite "antsy" about living in hotel rooms again, preferring to play tennis, recreation basketball and to put together real estate deals in Newport Beach.
He still projects the image of the tanned little tiger who suddenly burst on the promotional scene, but his blond hair is graying at the temples. You know, making me look distinguished."
He speculated that former American Football League Commissioner Al Davis "may have to start a league of his own" if he doesn't get permission from the NFL to move his Raiders to Los Angeles and he becomes "persona non grateful" in the view of the Oakland citizenry.
"You'll know I'm back myself if I start planting 'leaks.'" he said.
And if he doesn't have a feasible formula to make some investors instant millionaires with high profiles, why aren't NFL club owners laughing?