He is 30 now, and the road map of David Archer's pro football travels is beginning to show in his face. "My wife tells me that too," he says with an easy laugh, his weather-beaten skin marked by some wrinkles and lines. "Funny, because people always told me I had a baby face."
But it wears you down when the Atlanta Falcons judge Scott Campbell to be a better quarterback than you are, and the Miami Dolphins prefer to stick with a 37-year-old Ron Jaworski, and the Washington Redskins discard you once Doug Williams recovers from appendicitis, and the San Diego Chargers decide to go with Mark Vlasic, and the Philadelphia Eagles favor Pat Ryan to you and two others in a four-man tryout, and the Detroit Lions reacquire Chuck Long instead of giving you a shot—all in four years.
Losing out to Ryan...that one cut deep. After Randall Cunningham, the Eagles' starting quarterback, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the 1991 opener, Philly invited Archer, Campbell, Ryan and Turk Schonert to try out as Jim McMahon's backup. Ryan, who had last played in the NFL in December 1989 and had entered the construction business, hadn't thrown a pass for six months until he played catch with his wife right after the Eagles called. On the other hand Archer had been working with a personal trainer, trying to stay game-ready in case just such an opportunity arose. Philadelphia signed Ryan. "All the blood ran out of my body," Archer says. "That's how it feels every time you get thrown on the scrap heap."
But now, in a bizarre twist of his football fortunes, Archer is on top of the World. With last Saturday's 21-7 victory over the Ohio Glory, in which he threw for 360 yards and three touchdowns, Archer has led the Sacramento Surge to a 7-2 record and a berth in the playoffs with one week left in the regular season. A week earlier, in front of the Surge's largest crowd of the year (22,720, including the usual 800 Surge-on Generals in their surgical scrubs), Archer responded with 352 passing yards and three touchdowns to lead Sacramento on a 51-7 romp over the Frankfurt Galaxy. He is the highest-rated quarterback in the league, with a 60.2% completion rate, 2,640 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. As a result, like a handful of other World warriors, Archer has moved a step closer to getting another chance in the NFL.
"Remember the story about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?" says Archer. "We're like the Island of Misfit Toys. I think practically all of us can make it with some NFL team. We've just got to find the right fit."
But while Archer's story is uplifting, it doesn't bode well for the World League in the long run. The two-year-old league remains in a fight for its life, and for it to gain widespread popularity both in the U.S. and abroad, the stars can't be 30-year-old quarterbacks who have been spurned by six NFL teams in four years. The main attractions in this 10-team league have to be up-and-comers with NFL futures, such as quarterback Andre Ware and wideout Herman Moore, both of the Lions, Seattle Seahawk quarterback Dan McGwire and Dallas Cowboy wideout Alexander Wright.
Saddled with an identity crisis and plummeting TV ratings, the World League once again has its hand out to the NFL owners, who chipped in $1 million apiece last year to get the league started and another $500,000 each to bankroll the start of this season. The World League was supposed to survive this year on the $14 million subsidy from the 28 NFL owners plus $14.5 million in American and foreign TV rights fees. However, at an NFL meeting this week in Pasadena, the World League's board of directors was expected to ask each NFL franchise for an additional $100,000 to $200,000 so the spring league could meet this year's expenses.
"If the NFL will just focus on where the league will be in 1996 and continue its support, the owners will all be looked at as geniuses in sports history," says World League CEO Joe Bailey. "Look at Ted Turner with TBS. Look at Fred Smith with Federal Express. We've got to look at the long haul."
But in the present economy, and with the mother of all lawsuits looming over the NFL in June, when the players will go to court seeking unrestricted free agency, the long haul may be obliterated by developments in the short term. The woes of this World:
•Lack of quality players. In an attempt to improve the caliber of play, the NFL lent the World League 110 players for this season. But most of the loaners were bottom-of-the-roster remnants with dim—if any—NFL futures: Only 63 of the allocated players opened the season on World League rosters, including just 30 in the starting lineups. Instead of sending Ware, the exciting but underachieving quarterback who was their first-round draft pick in 1990, the Lions sent free agent Greg Jones, who's no better than a practice quarterback for the London Monarchs. Big deal. "We wanted Andre to work with our new offensive coordinator, Dan Henning," says Detroit executive vice-president Chuck Schmidt. "Plus, frankly, we were concerned about injuries, and we weren't sure he would have gone." Valid concerns, but what about the advantages to the little-used Ware, like much-needed playing time and the chance to boost his confidence?
By contrast, the Dolphins are delighted with the progress of Dan Marino's backup, Scott Mitchell, whom they lent to the Orlando Thunder. The fifth-rated quarterback in the league this season, Mitchell has guided 7-2 Orlando into the playoffs, learned to throw short and deep equally well and proved to be a commanding presence on the field. Likewise, the stock of the Houston Oilers' third-string signal-caller, Reggie Slack, has shot up with his 65.2% completion rate in the New York/ New Jersey Knights' run-and-shoot offense. "This league would be vastly improved in TV ratings and attendance if it got the top prospects," says Herb Welch, a reserve safety for the Lions who played seven games with Sacramento before being released. "Andre Ware's a green Randall Cunningham, and the best way for him to improve is to play in this league."
•Disappointing attendance and TV ratings. Oddly enough, of the four teams that will participate in the playoffs, only one, the Barcelona Dragons (5-4), is ranked among the top six in attendance. Orlando, for instance, has been received about as well as Ishtar was by moviegoers. An average of 17,598 have rattled around in the 70,000-seat Florida Citrus Bowl for the Thunder's four home games. Only 8,310 showed up for an April 19 game against the Montreal Machine.
High ticket prices are a factor for the two teams that are the poorest draws. While it costs a New York Giants fan $28 for a 50-yard line seat at Giants Stadium, World League patrons must shell out $30 for a seat at midfield to watch the Birmingham Fire (average attendance: 13,472) and the San Antonio Riders (11,816). League-wide attendance is off 1,800 a game, despite getting a boost from the Glory franchise in Columbus (32,859 average), which replaced Raleigh-Durham (12,066 in 1991).
As for the TV audience, ABC projected a 2.2 average rating (the percentage of total TV households tuned to the World League Game of the Week) for this season, but the league has scored no higher than the 2.1 it got on opening week. The average rating for the season has dropped below 1.6, thanks to alltime lows of 1.1 in Weeks 7 and 8. USA Network projected a 1.2 rating for this year; it is averaging 1.0. But here's a positive note: When Mitchell's Orlando games are televised in Miami, ABC gets a 2.2 in that city, and when Slack's Knights games are beamed into Houston, the local ABC rating is 3.5.
•A tenuous NFL commitment. The World League didn't get the go-ahead for a second season until October and only then by the minimum 21 votes of approval from the NFL owners. How well is the NFL's support for the World League holding up? "I haven't heard of any movement to kill the league," says Eagle owner Norman Braman.
"We have to come out of the World Bowl [the league championship game, on June 6 in Montreal] and say we're committed," says Bailey. "Last year we kept putting the decision off, and I think that put a lot of people off."
One reason NFL owners have for keeping the World League alive is that they are achieving one of their primary goals by expanding the NFL's interests on foreign soil. Overall, the three European franchises—London, Frankfurt and Barcelona—remain a World League hotbed both at the gate and at the souvenir counter. The Dragons, who have a nightclub and a fan magazine named after them, plus featured appearances in two of Spain's most popular music videos, have attracted the World League's best crowd of the season—49,657 for an April 26 date with Ohio. The game outdrew all 10 first-division soccer matches in Spain that weekend. A bad Frankfurt team (2-7) still leads the league in attendance (34,495 fans per game) and is even outdrawing one of the top teams in German soccer's first division, Eintracht Frankfurt, which also plays at Waldstadion.
"We're losing, and the soccer team is winning—but they're drooling over our crowds," says Frankfurt general manager Oliver Luck. And why is the Galaxy the better draw? "Mundpropaganda," Luck says. Word of mouth.
Surprisingly, the Monarchs have been woeful on the field and at the gate. After going 9-1 and winning the first World Bowl, they have plummeted to 2-6-1, and their average attendance has followed suit (from a league-high 40,481 to 21,901). However, scheduling conflicts at Wembley Stadium forced London to play all five of its '92 home games in the first six weeks of the season.
•An inferiority complex. Neither the NFL nor the World League has a grip on the spring league's purpose in life. Says player agent Frank Murtha, who has six clients playing in the World League this season, is it a developmental league? Is it a graveyard? Is it a place to fan unreasonable dreams? I think it's a league searching for an identity."
The sooner everyone admits the World League is, in fact, a developmental league—a tag the league's founding fathers abhor—the sooner everyone can get on the same page in setting its future course. Obviously no one has been fooled into thinking it's a second major football league. "Even here in Frankfurt, nobody thinks we're the NFL," says Luck, a former Houston Oiler quarterback, whose mother was from Karlsruhe, Germany. "It wouldn't hurt us to say we're a Triple A league."
So here's one way for NFL owners to look at the World League. Every NFL team has a backup player making between $500,000 and $700,000 a year. So what is another $500,000 to $700,000 annually for the fledgling league if the money hastens the development of potential starters and opens new markets for NFL Properties to sell its wares and get back some of the cash? The NFL could stress the importance of playing in the World League to its young prospects and write incentives into their contracts as inducements to do so (the Dolphins guaranteed Mitchell's 1992 salary of $325,000 against injury in the World League). Finally, the World League could help its own cause by slashing its ticket prices.
There's a place for David Archer and his renaissance, but there's a need for Andre Ware and his future.