At the time of his graduation from Cal State -Long Beach in 1989, quarterback Jeff Graham owned virtually all of the 49ers passing records with 8080 passing yards and 42 touchdown passes, along with a school single game 515 yards passing. During the 1989 draft, Jeff would be taken by the Green Bay Packers in the 4th round. He’d return in 1990 to finish his degree in criminology from his Alma Mater.
Scouring the free agent waiver wire for a quarterback to back up Todd Hammel in New York, the Knights would sign Jeff with just 10 days for him to prepare for the regular season. Graham, much like Stan Gelbaugh in London would come off the bench in game one and not relinquish the starting job for the remainder of the season. What was more amazing was the fact that Graham did this while constantly under fire suffering 62 sacks in only 10 games. (Prorated over an entire 16 game schedule, that would have been roughly 90 sacks.) In the end, Graham still posted an impressive season with 2407 yards and 8 touchdowns, while setting a league record with 414 passing yards against Montreal. Jeff’s gaudy 15.3 YPC and 8.9 YPA would also lead the WLAF while he rushed for 6 touchdowns. He would not return to the Knights for 1992, with Reggie Slack and Brent Pease in camp.
Graham signed with the Chargers in 1991, Seahawks 1992-1994, and Oakland in 1995, as an emergency quarterback. He would see no regular season playing time for any of the franchises and retire after his stint with the Raiders. Since that time Jeff returned to college earning his masters at Colorado State. In 2006, Graham was inducted into the California State Long Beach Hall of Fame and is currently practicing law in the LA area. Below are his WLAF statistics.
G 9/10 Att 272 Comp 157 Yds 2407 Pct 57.7 Td 8 Int 8 Rat 84.6 |
Rush 46 Yds 140 Avg 3.0 Td 6 Lg 24
So you have to hand it to the WLAF, they were nothing short of innovative especially with the uniforms. Case in point: the New York/ New Jersey Knights with their silver black and gold, to go along with that amazing looking knight logo that is straight off of a chess set. It’s a nice blend of stylish and classy that would have been right at home in the NFL.
Playing in the North American East Division with Montreal and Orlando, Robert Sillerman was the owner of the franchise that he purchased for a cool 11 million dollars. A businessman at heart, Sillerman started SFX Radio Broadcasting, -the largest concert and tour promoter and one of the largest radio station companies in the United States. He’d hire former Cincinatti linebacker Reggie Williams to run his front office, and at that time Williams would pave the way being one of the first minority general managers in professional football history.
The team’s first move was at head coach, where they selected offensive guru and run and shoot proponent Darrell “Mouse” Davis, who had recently guided the Detroit Lions ‘Silver Stretch’ offense. He’d hire Larry Zierlein to run the offensive line and be co-offensive coordinator. The team made its home at the Meadowlands, and posted surprisingly decent attendance numbers with a high of 41,000 plus showing up for a week 8 contest against the London Monarchs. The Knights would also make the first overall selection in league history during the league’s positional draft, selecting offensive lineman Ceasar Rentie.
The Knights offense was nothing short of prolific, scoring over 40 points in 3 contests, however their gambling defense gave up almost as many points. Saying that New York New Jersey’s season started off slowly was an understatement. After 3 straight losses to begin the season, the Knights finally erupted in a 44-0 trashing of the Montreal Machine at the Meadowlands. This would be the Knights modus operandi for the rest of the season, as when they won games, they frequently did so by a margin greater than 10 points. Streaky NY-NJ would crank out 4 wins in a row, and then win its final two games to enter the playoffs, where they were quickly ousted by the Monarchs 42-26. They’d finish 1991 5-5.
During the season, Jeff Graham quickly replaced Todd Hammel at quarterback with his receivers being Lonnie Turner, Cornell Burbage, Kip Lewis, and Monty Gilbreath, with Turner, Burbage, and Gilbreath boasting vast NFL and USFL experience on their resumes.
At runningback, Eric Wilkerson (717 yards, 6.1 YPC) led the league in rushing and tied for the WLAF lead in touchdowns (11). The defensive line was loaded with sack masters. Tony Woods and Joseph Campbell led the way (with 7.5 sacks a piece) along Craig Schlichting (6.5), and Ron Sancho positioned at linebacker with 6. In the secondary All World cornerback Anthony Parker would haul down a league record 11 interceptions along with former TCU grad and safety Falanda Newton who pulled in 8.
Texas Longhorn Bobby Lilljedahl punted for the team, averaging 42.3 yards per kick as the team would struggle at kicker after injuries befell Kendall John Trainor. Despite the defense’s poor showing in losses, they were the highest scoring defense in the league.
In perhaps one of the more comical moments of WLAF history, the New York New Jersey Knights during the 1991 season, set the league record for most faked punts and field goals in a game against the Monarchs with some astounding amount- like 8.
As the 1992 season approached, the Knights’ optimism was riding high. With the NFL making talent pools available to the WLAF, they’d grab Houston Oilers Run ‘N Shoot 3rd string quarterback, Reggie Slack and trade for Birmingham Fire quarterback Brent Pease. They’d also snatch up future NFL journeyman Doug Pederson who saw significant playing time on the team that season. The receiving corps remained intact, but young Kip Lewis would step up to lead the receivers in receptions with 46. The Knights pulled the trigger on a trade for Byron Williams from Orlando, but he did not see much playing time after the CFL season ended. Wilkerson again led the Knights in rushing, however quarterback Reggie Slack and Chris McLemore would cut into his numbers, effectively halving them.
With the departure of Anthony Parker to the NFL, the team had large shoes to fill at defensive back. The team’s turnover numbers dropped off severely from 1991, going from 19 between two players, down to just 13 for the whole team. Falanda Newton again returned to safety making 5 more picks, while Tony Jones and Richard Carey made 3 and 2 a piece. There was also a drop in defensive pressure and sacks with David Edeen leading the team from defensive end at 5 sacks.
Davis Smith and Cornell Burbage were dangerous punt returners and kick returners. Smith returned 3 punts for touchdowns while Burbage took a kickoff 101 yards for a score, and lead the WLAF in kick return average.
Once again the Knights would get off to a horrendous start, dropping a heartbreaker to Monarchs 26-20 in overtime to begin the season. They’d continue to spiral losing the next 3 games, but credit Mouse Davis for righting his ship, as the team rallied and won 6 straight games to finish the season 6-4. In week 7 the team finally exacted its long awaited revenge over the reeling Monarchs 41-13, and in week 9 slaughtered the Dragons 47-0. Unfortunately, like the Riders, (at 7-3) the Knights (6-4) were left looking in on the playoffs, while the Barcelona Dragons finished 5-5 and in, because the Dragons were the European Division Champion.
Offensive Tackle Chris Dyko was named to the All-WLAF team in 1992 along with Cornell Burbage at kick returner. Reggie Slack finished second to Sacramento quarterback David Archer with a 98.2 rating, and first among quarterbacks in rushing along with a gaudy 7.7 YPC. All 4 receivers finished roughly within the top 20 in catches.
The Knights biggest rival was probably the Monarchs, who in 1991, they had a woeful 0-3 record against, losing 22-18, 22-7, and in the playoffs 42-26, before finally earning their long awaited revenge in week 7 of 1992.
I’ve spoken to players over the years who felt that one of the major reasons that the WLAF folded was because the NFL felt as though they were competing for merchandising dollars with their North American teams, and for many of them it wasn’t more apparent than the affordable game they could get from the Knights and the great uniforms they had.
NY-NJ has been challenging to collect in the sense that there are so many different players included by the different sets of the team. NY-NJ only played at SA early in 1991, so all the players I have collected from the team have been TTM. The Knights also have had the only players who have reacted negatively to my requests. Joe Campbell after a long conversation back and forth through Facebook asked me for $100.00 while Tony Jones responded to me with a thumbs down to my initial request.
The Knights unfortunately folded up shop along with the rest of the WLAF after the 1992 season and was never heard from again.
While New York/ New Jersey has strongly supported the Jets and Giants through the Meadowlands and MetLife Stadium, this would be the last time that the area would be able to accommodate (even marginally) 3 professional football franchises.
In 2001, the XFL’s New York-New Jersey Hitmen lasted a year before the league folded. Afterwards, the UFL would plant the New York-New Jersey Sentinels in the area in 2009, but due to abysmal attendance numbers, the team eventually uprooted for Hartford in 2010. There were some Arena teams in here including the Dragons and as of 2019 an NAL team called the Streets. The FXFL also set up shop in Brooklyn briefly before folding as well.
In 2020 the XFL will again take another shot at the Spring market with a new league and team.
Mouse Davis shrewdly selected Kip Lewis in the WLAF supplemental draft from run oriented Arizona, (where Kip made 20 catches in his career,) and slapped him into the Run ‘N Shoot offense of the New York New Jersey Knights. Fighting off nagging injuries in 1991, Kip still notched a 64 yard score against the Riders and 29 catches on the season. In 1992, Kip benefited from a full season under the offense and the quarterback play of Reggie Slack, to rank 1st on the team, and 7th in the WLAF with 46 receptions. Kip continued to be involved in football after the reorganization of the WLAF when the league finished the 1992 season, signing briefly with the Detroit Lions. Afterwards, Lewis jumped into a career in broadcasting, where he’s been ever since, working with the fledgling XFL as a sideline reporter for TNN, the Indianapolis Colts, and also as a sports reporter. I was able to locate Kip at Comcast Sportsnet where he is currently at. Kip signed all 3 cards and attached a nice thank you apologizing for the wait because it had been in his coat pocket the whole time. 🙂
Games 20 Rec 75 Yds 1006 Avg 13.4 TD 5 lg 64T
Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.