A patriotic soccer double-header at the Meadowlands on this July evening in 1983. A Pan American Games qualifier between the United States and Canada opened the show at 6:30 PM, followed by a North American Soccer League match between the New York Cosmos and Team America. Team America was a new side in the NASL, the so-called “National Team in Training” of the United States, which was disastrously inserted as a privately-owned club team into the league’s 1983 schedule.
The amateurs took the field first with the sun still lingering over Giants Stadium. This two-leg series against Canada was the final Pan-Am Games qualifier for Manfred Schellscheidt’s United States team. Only one of the two CONCACAF members would advance to the Games in Venezuela at the end of August. They fought to a draw on this night, with each side tallying early in the first half and then holding on for a 1-1 tie. The U.S. would best Canada four nights later at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario to earn the qualification.
In the nightcap, the Cosmos ran roughshod over Alkis Panagoulias’ ramshackle collection of young American pros and Green Card recipients. Paraguayan midfield magician Julio Cesar Romero ran the show, scoring one goal and setting up three others. The Cosmos won 4-0, despite losing the NASL’s all-time leading scorer, Giorgio Chinaglia, to a severe hamstring pull early in the 2nd half.
An interesting moment occurred late in the match when Team America’s 21-year old captain Jeff Durgan knocked down New York’s Rick Davis, drawing a yellow card. Durgan was one of three players under contract to the Cosmos who were selected to play for Team America in 1983, along with Boris Bandov and Chico Borja. Davis was also chosen for Team America, but refused the assignment, opting to remain with the Cosmos. Team America’s demoralizing performance in the NASL was partially blamed on the refusal of a handful of the league’s young American stars, including Davis and Mark Peterson of the Seattle Sounders, to leave their clubs and join Team America.
The failure to procure the actual best American players to play for Team America ultimately helped to doom the team After a grim 10-20 record and big financial losses playing out of a home base at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., the Team American experiment was euthanized a few days after the NASL regular season ended in September 1983.
2014: Matt Shaner, Lynn Swann and Trib Total Media (Ralph Martin, et al.)
The now-defunct Pittsburgh Power were the second attempt to establish an Arena Football League franchise in the Steel City. The Power followed in the footsteps of the Pittsburgh Gladiators (1987-1990). Both teams lasted for four seasons before departing the Pittsburgh scene.
The Power started out relatively strong. Ex-Steelers legend Lynn Swann was a minority owner in the team and made numerous community and press appearances as the face of the franchise. The Power debuted in Pittsburgh on March 11, 2011 against the Philadelphia Soul. The Soul rivalry seemed to have great promise. Like the Power, the Soul were fronted by a local NFL hero, Ron Jaworski. The Philadelphia franchise was founded in 2004 by Jon Bon Jovi (though he was no longer involved by 2011) and had enjoyed a large and passionate following for many years. 13,904 fans showed up in Pittsburgh for the home opener and were rewarded with a high-scoring overtime thriller. The Soul escaped with a 58-52 win.
Attendance – at least the announced figures – stayed relatively strong in Pittsburgh during the 2011 season. The Power veraged 9,802 fans for nine dates, although the team would never again top the crowd for the franchise’s first game. The Power finished 9-9 and narrowly missed the playoffs.
Whatever good feeling carried over from the debut season, it all evaporated at the dawn of the 2012 season. The AFL was embroiled in a clumsy struggle with its nascent player union over player pay and benefits. At the time, most non-quarterback AFL players earned $400 per game – the same paltry paychecks that players got a quarter century earlier when the league formed in the late 1980’s. Just hours before the Power’s 2012 season opener on the road in Orlando, Florida, team owner Matt Shaner fired the entire team of 24 players during the team’s pre-game meal at a central Florida Olive Garden. A handful of players who agreed to renounce the union were re-signed right before game time. The rest of the roster was filled out with local scabs that were secretly working out in Florida for both the Power and the Predators during the week.
Busting labor unions with scab workers might not be the best look in a city like Pittsburgh, where the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was born in 1881. Whether because of the Olive Garden fallout or simply the novelty of a new team wearing off, attendance plummeted 44% in 2012 to just over 5,000 fans per game. The team was also terrible finishing in last place with a 5-13 record.
2013 was another grim season for the Power, with a 4-14 record and attendance again languishing near the bottom of the league.
2014 seemed to bring a reinvigoration of the Power franchise. Trib Total Media, owner of The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and other papers, acquired a “multi-million dollar” ownership stake in the team, with Shaner and Swann staying on as well. A lease extension with CONSOL Energy Center was announced. The Power turned over virtually the entire roster, acquiring a group of talented league veterans led by 2012 AFL Most Valuable Player Tommy Grady at quarterback. The team had a fantastic turnaround on the field, going 15-3 and earning a first ever postseason berth. The Power were upset by the Orlando Predators in the first round of the playoffs.
The circumstances around the demise of the team are murky. In October 2014, the main news outlet still covering the AFL, the well-sourced fan site ArenaFan.com, reported that new league Commissioner Scott Buterafined the Power $100,000 for salary cap violations. The league later sort-of denied the report. One month later, on November 17, 2014, team owner Matt Shaner abruptly announced that the team was disbanding after four seasons. No reason was given for the closure.
Here we have a terrific program that Fun While It Lasted recently acquired from the collection of women’s basketball historian John Molina. This comes from a rare college/pro doubleheader hosted by the Old Dominion University Lady Monarchs in November 1980. The front end of the double dip was a pre-season exhibition game between the Chicago Hustle and the Dallas Diamonds of the short-lived Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981).
At the time, Old Dominion was the powerhouse team in women’s college basketball. In 1980, the Lady Monarchs were two-time defending AIAW national champions. And the Norfolk, Virginia school produced the top two draft picks in the 1980 Women’s Professional Basketball League draft. Nancy Lieberman, widely considered the greatest female basketball player in the United States, went #1 overall to the Dallas Diamonds. After a three-month holdout, Lieberman signed a record-breaking $100,000 contract with the financially shaky Diamonds, double the benchmark $50K deal inked by UCLA’s Ann Meyers a year earlier. 6′ 5″ Danish center Inge Nissen went #2 overall to the Hustle. No less dominant than Lieberman, Nissen cut a much lower public (and financial) profile.
The University imported the Diamonds and the Hustle for this pre-season tune-up and then retired Lieberman and Nissen’s numbers at halftime of the ODU-James Madison contest that followed. According to The Associated Press, it was the first time a university retired the jerseys of its alumni in the (relatively short) history of women’s college basketball.
To the delight of the ODU faithful, Lieberman (20 pts. for Dallas) and Nissen (18 pts. for Chicago) led all scorers in Dallas’ 80-66 victory.
Despite losing two future Hall of Famers in Lieberman and Nissen in 1980, the cupboard was hardly bare at Old Dominion heading into the 1980-81 college basketball season. For one thing, the Lady Monarchs still had the unstoppable 6′ 8″ sophomore center Anne Donovan. Lieberman (appearing “short” at 5′ 10″), Donovan and Nissen are pictured on the cover of the evening’s game program (above right). ESPNW writer Mechelle Voepel notes that the iconic photo of the three future Hall-of-Famers hung in the ODU Field House for years.
Donovan would lead the Lady Monarchs to a third consecutive Final Four appearance in 1981. But unlike Lieberman and Nissen, she would never get the chance to play pro basketball in the United States. The Women’s Professional Basketball League folded in 1981 at the conclusion of Lieberman and Nissen’s rookie seasons. Donovan played overseas and gold medals with the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 and 1988.
Donovan and Lieberman were enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in the mid-1990’s. Both went on to coach in the WNBA and Donovan coached the U.S. women to Olympic Gold in 2008. Inge Nissen, as always, has remained in the background in comparison to her legendary ODU teammates. Nissen was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012, but still lacks that most basic credential of modern day notoriety – her own Wikipedia entry.
The Atlanta Glory was a short-lived women’s basketball team that competed in the American Basketball League for two seasons in the mid-1990’s. The team split its home games between two downtown Atlanta college campuses, playing most dates at the brand new 5,700-seat arena at Morehouse College, built for the 1996 Olympic Games.
Teresa Edwards, a Cairo, Georgia native, former UGA Bulldog, and four-time U.S. Olympic basketball medalist, was the Glory’s featured attraction. But despite Edwards’ presence, the Glory struggled to find a following in Atlanta. During the ABL’s 1996-97 inaugural season, the Glory’s average attendance of 2,780 fans was 2nd lowest in the league. The team also missed the playoffs with an 18-22 record.
Edwards took on double duty as the Glory’s player-coach for the second ABL season in the winter of 1997-98. The team went backwards to 15-29, missing the playoffs again. Announced attendance picked up 40% to 3,898 per game, but that wasn’t enough to save the Glory from the axe. All teams in the single-entity ABL were centrally owned by the league itself. With the league bleeding cash at an alarming pace, the ABL contracted the Atlanta franchise shortly after the 1997-98 season concluded.
The ABL launched a 3rd season in November 1998, but ran out of money one month later and folded on December 22, 1998.
Women’s pro hoops returned to Atlanta in 2008 with the formation of the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA.
The Schaumburg Flyers were a minor league baseball team that played in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois from 1999 until 2010. The Flyers competed in the Northern League, an “independent” circuit whose members had no affiliation with Major League Baseball parent clubs.
7,600-seat Alexian Field was constructed at a cost of approximately $20 million to lure the club from Thunder Bay, Ontario in 1999. Popular former White Sox slugger Ron Kittle was the Flyers’ field manager for the first three seasons of the team’s existence from 1999 through 2001.
Team owner Rich Ehrenreich began to fall behind on lease payments for Alexian Field in 2007. By the end of the 2010 Northern League season, the team’s accumulated debt and penalties exceeded $900,000. Efforts to sell the team to poorly vetted buyers fell through in 2010 and led to litigation. Meanwhile, the Northern League folded after the 2010 season, but the Flyers announced plans to play on in a dubious sounding enterprise known as the North American League. Before the Flyers could join the new league, they were evicted from Alexian Field in March 2011 over their unpaid bills and went out of business.
After a summer without baseball in 2011, the Flyers were replaced by the Schaumburg Boomers of the independent Frontier League in 2012.