24 Apr 2013

1975 NFLPA Armwrestling Championship

Halftime breaks in major team sports have always created an opportunity for television viewers to switch channels. Ideally, networks would like to maintain their viewing audience throughout these breaks, and they have tried different things to reach this objective. For the 1975 American football season, CBS Sports decided to conduct a National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Armwrestling Championship and show these matches during Sunday game halftimes.

The idea for the competition came from Lori Saunders, a television actress most famous for her role on the TV     series Petticoat Junction. While watching an NFL game on television, she found the halftime activity to be boring. She felt it would be more interesting to watch the football players up close with their helmets off doing something like armwrestling. Through her connections at CBS (Petticoat Junction originally aired on the network), she was able to bring the idea to network executives, and they loved it.

CBS Sports already had some experience in the sport of armwrestling, having filmed the World Professional Armwrestling Association (WPAA) World Championships in December 1974. Their main contact in the sport was Steve Simons, President of the WPAA, and so they decided to give him a call. When asked if he would be interested in running armwrestling matches between NFL players for short segments during game halftimes, Steve jumped at the opportunity. He said he didn’t even want to be paid. This led to the NFLPA Armwrestling Championship being sanctioned by the WPAA and the association provided the table and referees.

The concept was simple. Each of the 26 NFL teams would select who they wanted to compete in the tournament – often the biggest, strongest guy on the team. There would be four elimination rounds with opponents selected by blind draw. All matches would be done between players in the same conference – either the American Football Conference (AFC) or the National Football Conference (NFC) – with the winners from each conference facing each other in the final. The result would be 28 matches airing during the halftimes of 22 football games.

As an incentive for the football players to take part in the competition, a total prize purse of $44,000 was up for grabs, with the winner taking $10,000.

The following players were the ones chosen to take part in the championship:

AFC Line-Up
  • Julius Adams of the New England Patriots
  • Bobby Bell of the Kansa City Chiefs
  • Curley Culp of the Houston Oilers
  • Joe DeLamielleure of the Buffalo Bills
  • Manny Fernandez of the Miami Dolphins
  • Ernie Holmes of the Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Gerald Irons of the Oakland Raiders
  • Walter Johnson of the Cleveland Browns
  • George Kunz of the Indianapolis Colts
  • Mark Lomas of the New York Jets
  • Pat Matson of the Cincinnati Bengals
  • Claudie Minor of the Denver Broncos
  • Doug Wilkerson of the San Diego Chargers

NFC Line-Up
  • Tom Banks of the St. Louis Cardinals
  • Bill Brundige of the Washington Redskins
  • Cullen Bryant of the Los Angeles Rams
  • Bill Dunstan of the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Bill Gregory of the Dallas Cowboys
  • Cedrick Hardman of the San Francisco 49ers
  • Bob Kowalkowski of the Detroit Lions
  • Derland Moore of the New Orleans Saints
  • Jim Osborne of the Chicago Bears
  • Dave Pureifory of the Green Bay Packers
  • Mike Tilleman of the Atlanta Falcons
  • Doug Van Horn of the New York Giants
  • Ed White of the Minnesota Vikings

All of the matches were hosted by former Los Angeles Ram player-turned-actor Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier. The first segment aired on September 14th, 1975.

The competitors fought hard throughout the tournament until only one remained in each conference: Joe DeLamielleure of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC and Ed White of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC (who edged out Derland Moore in the conference final – Derland would go on to win the NFL players armwrestling title in Las Vegas in both 1983 and 1984 at the AWI NFL Super Classic).

The final segment featuring the championship match aired on January 4th, 1976, during the halftime of the NFC Conference Championship. In the end, Ed White was crowned champion of the tournament and was awarded the $10,000.

Following his participation in the tournament, Ed became very interested in armwrestling. He even put on a few events: first in Minnesota when he played with the Vikings, and then in the San Diego area when he played for the Chargers. He also officiated a few AWI events in the early ‘80s.

The NFLPA Armwrestling Championship received lukewarm ratings, and CBS decided to pass on running another tournament. Though not deemed a great success, armwrestling did manage to receive weekly national television coverage over a four month span. Combined with ABC’s annual airing of the Petaluma World Wristwrestling Championships, the NFLPA Armwrestling Championship helped get armwrestling into the public eye. This was certainly a step forward in growing the sport.

NFC Line-Up:
Mike Tilleman

Bob Kowalkowski

Doug Van Horn

Cedrick Hardman

Bill Brundige

Jim Osborne

Bill Gregory

Dave Pureifory

Ed White

Derland Moore

Bill Dunstan

Tom Banks

Cullen Bryant

 AFC Line-Up:
George Kunz

Joe DeLamielleure

Walter Johnson

Curley Culp

Bobby Bell

Manny Fernandez

Julius Adams

Ernie Holmes

Doug Wilkerson

Pat Matson

Claudie Minor

Mark Lomas

Gerald Irons

Special thanks to Steve Simons for providing with some background information on this tournament.

Researched and Written by Eric Roussin

Copyright Eric Roussin, AHC, Armwrestlers ONLY - No part of this text may be reproduced without written consent from the author.

Read other articles written by Eric Roussin in section: Articles related to the history of armwrestling by Eric Roussin