Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Chicago Sting vs. St. Louis Steamers. April 16, 1988

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Ernie Buriano Chicago StingChicago Sting vs. St. Louis Steamers
April 16, 1988
Rosemont Horizon
Attendance: 4,604

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs
52 Pages

 

A quiet, downbeat ending to two proud American soccer clubs on a spring Saturday night in suburban Chicago.  The St. Louis Steamers hung a 4-3 overtime defeat on the host Chicago Sting in what would prove to be the final game for both franchises.  As the Sting’s Chicago Tribune beat writer, the late John Leptich, put it the next morning “The term sudden death never had more applications.”

The Sting, at the time, were longest continuously operating pro soccer club in the United States.  Founded on Halloween 1974 by commodities trader Lee Stern, the Sting won two outdoor soccer championships in the North American Soccer League in the early 1980’s before moving permanently indoors in 1984.  The team drew huge crowds to Chicago Stadium for indoor soccer early in the decade.  But a 1986 move to the suburban Rosemont Horizon coincided with a loss of form on the field, and attendance cratered from over 10,000 per match in 1984-85 to less than 6,000 two years later.  By the spring of 1988, even a stalwart backer like Stern was exhausted and a possible sale and move to Denver or Milwaukee was rumored.

If the Major Indoor Soccer League itself survived, that is.  As this final weekend of the 1987-88 regular season calendar approached, the MISL was at loggerheads with its Players’ Association over a new collective bargaining agreement.  League owners wanted to slash the salary cap from the existing $1.25M to $898,000 per season.  The owners held all the leverage. On April 5th, 1988, league officials threatened to cancel the 1988 MISL playoffs and fold the league if the players didn’t capitulate.  The union signed off on the new deal just before midnight on April 14th, 1988.  The playoffs were saved, but that mattered little to Chicago or St. Louis, who had clinched last place in their respective divisions.

The St. Louis Steamers, founded in 1979, were in worse shape than the Sting in April 1988.  Once the MISL’s flagship franchise, the Steamers outdrew the NHL’s St. Louis Blues every winter from 1980 through 1984.  Their 1981-82 season average of 17,107 fans per game remains the largest in the history of indoor soccer.  But ownership turnover and questionable trades eroded the club competitively and at the box office in the mid-80’s.  The day before this match, the Steamers missed payroll and the team arrived in Chicago with IOUs.

Poli Garcia St. Louis SteamersOn “Fan Appreciation Night” at the Horizon, many of the Sting’s fan favorites were in street clothes.  Pato Margetic, Frank Klopas, Frantz Mathieu, Heinz Wirtz and Chris Vaccaro watched from the Chicago bench.  Nevertheless, the hosts carried a 3-2 lead into the final quarter.  With eight minutes to go, St. Louis’ Boki Bandovic beat Chicago’s reserve goalkeeper Jay McCutcheon to send the game to overtime.

Four minutes in, Poli Garcia of the Steamers struck for his 50th goal of the year to give the Steamers a 4-3 sudden death victory.

“I guess the way to win games is not to pay the players,” Lee Stern remarked to The Tribune afterwards, noting the Steamers’ two-game winning streak after their final paychecks bounced.

Poli Garcia’s golden goal ended not just the game, but the season and the existence of both clubs.  The Steamers were booted from the league two months later and the Chicago Sting closed up shop in early July 1988.  Indoor soccer would soon return to both cities, with the Chicago Power of the lower-budget AISA (1988-1996) and the St. Louis Storm (1989-1992) expansion club in the MISL, but neither would recapture  the following of the Sting or the Steamers in their early ’80s prime.

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Chicago soccer trivia from the Sting’s final match that only Peter Wilt may care about:

  • Match referee Bill Maxwell also called the Sting’s final outdoor match, the club’s NASL Soccer Bowl victory on October 4, 1984.
  • Pato Margetic was the only player on both the Sting’s final outdoor roster in 1984 and final indoor roster in 1988.
  • Brazilian forward Batata, a four-time MISL All-Star, scored the final goal in Sting history.
  • Ernie Buriano (Sting ’86-’88) appeared on the cover of the Sting’s last game program (top right).

 

==Links==

Chicago Sting Home Page

 

==Additional Sources==

“Sting finale another OT defeat”, John Leptich, The Chicago Tribune, April 17, 1988

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Written by andycrossley

March 2nd, 2015 at 1:14 am

2000-2002 Roanoke Steam

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Roanoke Steam ProgramArena Football 2 (2000-2002)

Born: 1999 – AF2 founding franchise.
Died: 2002 – The Steam cease operations.

Arena: Roanoke Civic Center (8,674)

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Roanoke Steam were a minor league Arena Football team that competed in Arena Football 2 for three seasons in the early 2000’s.  The team shared ownership and resources with the Roanoke Express hockey team of the East Coast Hockey League.

Indoor football never caught on in Roanoke.  The Steam finished last in the league in attendance in 2000 (3,374 per game) and again in 2001 (2,575 avg.).  Midway through the Steam’s third and final season in 2002, the ownership group declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May 2002.  The Steam muddled through the rest of the season under league stewardship and then was quietly euthanized in July 2002.

The team was never a factor on the field either, failing to make the AF2 playoffs in all three seasons of operation.

 

==Roanoke Steam Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
2000 5/20/2000  @ Norfolk Nighthawks  L 59-39 Program Game Notes
2000 5/27/2002 vs. Charleston Swamp Foxes W 71-61 Program

 

==Links==

Arena Football 2 Media Guides

Arena Football 2 Programs

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1961 San Juan Marlins / Charleston Marlins

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Charleston MarlinsInternational League (1961)

Born: November 28, 1960 – The Miami Marlins relocate to San Juan, PR.
Died: October 8, 1961 – The Charleston Marlins relocate to Atlanta, GA.

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owner: Bill MacDonald

 

So how, exactly, did the capital of West Virginia end up with a minor league baseball team named for a tropical saltwater sport fish for a few short months in the summer of 1961?

At the dawn of the 1960’s, a colorful, corpulent South Florida multi-millionaire named Bill MacDonald bought the forlorn Miami Marlins of the Class AAA International League.  The Marlins were the top farm club of the Baltimore Orioles at the time.  MacDonald was a sportsman – he owned a stud farm, a share of the Tropical Park race track and he would later promote the first Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay fight in Miami.  The Marlins were rather unloved in Miami.  A particular sore point for MacDonald was the team’s lack of a profitable local radio deal.

After one summer at the helm in Miami, Bill MacDonald announce a scheme to move the Marlins to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where a lucrative radio contract beckoned.  The International League approved the shift in late November 1960.  It was a decision that MacDonald’s fellow I.L. owners would soon come to regret.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles transferred their Class AAA farm club to Rochester, New York and the Marlins became an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals stocked San Juan with several top prospects, including 19-year old catcher Tim McCarver, slick fielding shortstop Dal Maxvill and pitching ace Ray Washburn (16-9, 2.34).  All three would go on to spend most of the next decade in St. Louis.

The San Juan Marlins opened on April 17, 1961 against the Toronto Maple Leafs before 6,627 fans at Sixto Escobar Stadium.  Mark Tomasik at the St. Louis Cardinals blog Retrosimba notes that it was also opening night of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  Not the most auspicious start to the I.L.’s latest Caribbean adventure.

Rival I.L. clubs immediately began complaining about high travel costs to San Juan.  Barely two weeks into the season, the league reversed course and demanded that Bill MacDonald return his team to the mainland.  The promoter balked at first, though Marlins attendance in San Juan plummeted following the promising opening night gate.  After 15 home dates, Marlins attendance in San Juan totaled only 25,759 fans.  MacDonald finally capitulated on May 17, 1961 after just one month in Puerto Rico.  But rather than try to make peace with Miami, MacDonald took his ball club all the way to Charleston, West Virginia.

Charleston’s long-running Class AAA team, the Charleston Senators, went under five months earlier.  The city was eager to get pro baseball back and offered MacDonald a $1.00 lease on Watt Powell Park.  The Charleston Marlins debuted in West Virginia on May 18, 1961, beating the Jersey City Jerseys (yes, their real name) in front of 3,608 locals.

The Marlins were strong ball club under field manager Joe Schultz, finishing 88-66.  But Charleston was still one of the smallest AAA cities in the country.  MacDonald wasted little time leaving town following the season.  On October 8, 1961, MacDonald moved his team to Atlanta, where the franchise became the Atlanta Crackers (1962-1965).

The International League has never returned to the Caribbean.

 

==Links==

The Many Faces of Mr. Mac“, Gilbert Rogin, Sports Illustrated, February 17, 1964

International League Media Guides

International League Programs

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1974 Florida Blazers

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Florida Blazers Media GuideWorld Football League (1974)

Born: May 1974 – The Virginia Ambassadors relocate to Orlando.
Died: Postseason 1974 – The Blazers cease operations.

Stadium: The Tangerine Bowl

Team Colors:

Owner: David Williams, Rommie Loudd, Will Gieger, Howard Palmer, et al.

 

The 1974 Florida Blazers enjoy a something of a cult following among pro football history buffs.  Fearsome on the field, the franchise was a train wreck in the front office.  The Blazers were put together by Rommie Loudd, a 41-year old former AFL linebacker and New England Patriots executive.  Loudd is occasionally cited as the first African-American owner of a “major league” American sports franchise for his time with the Blazers, but the team’s main money man was a Central Florida Holiday Inn franchisee named David Williams.  By December 1974, the Blazers were in the “World Bowl” championship game, the team’s best player had played the entire season without a paycheck, and Rommie Loudd was in jail.

But let’s back up a bit.  The franchise originated in late 1973 as the “Washington Ambassadors”, part of the startup World Football League that would challenge the NFL starting in the summer of 1974.  Original owner Joseph Wheeler couldn’t secure a lease or put together financing in Washington, so the team became the “Virginia Ambassadors” in the spring of 1974.  But Wheeler couldn’t get things off the ground in Norfolk, VA either, so in May 1974 the team was sold to Loudd’s Orlando-based syndicate.  Less than 60 days remained before the WFL’s scheduled opening day on July 10th, 1974.  Head Coach Jack Pardee had already opened training camp in Virginia, but the team loaded onto a train and decamped for Orlando.

Pardee had a solid veteran squad on both sides of the ball.  Bob Davis, a former back-up to Joe Namath on the New York Jets, earned the starting quarterback job. Linebackers Larry Grantham, a perennial AFL All-Star with the Jets in the 1960’s, and Billy Hobbs anchored a stout defense.

Florida BlazersThe Blazers’ breakout find was diminutive rookie running back Tommy Reamon, a 23rd round draft pick from the University of Missouri. Reamon scored 14 touchdowns and led the WFL with 1,576 yards rushing in 1974. At the end of the season, he was named one of the league’s “Tri-MVPs”, along with Southern California Sun quarterback Tony Adams and Memphis Southmen tailback J.J. Jennings. Reamon split a $10,000 prize with his co-MVPs. Decades later, Reamon revealed that his $3,333 MVP share was the only payment he received for the entire 1974 season.

The rest of Reamon’s teammates faired somewhat better, receiving paychecks during the league’s first couple of months. But things went poorly for the Blazers immediately in Orlando. Crowds failed to materialize at the Tangerine Bowl, which barely met pro standards back in the mid 1970’s, with 14,000 permanent seats supplemented by temporary bleachers. By late August, just six weeks into the season, Rommie Loudd was talking publicly of a midseason move to Atlanta. The move never occured, but paychecks stopped arriving not long afterwards. Promises and rumors of new investors or payroll support from the league office never came through, but Pardee kept the team together through three months without pay.

The Blazers overcame a 15-0 deficit on the road to upset the Memphis Southmen, the league’s best regular season team at 17-3, in the playoff semi-final to earn a trip to the World Bowl I championship game. Trailing 22-0 in the second half to the Birmingham Americans at Legion Field in Alabama, the Blazers mounted a furious late rally, only to fall short 22-21. In the WFL, touchdowns counted for seven points and an eighth point (or “action point”) could be earned by scoring from the two-and-a-half yard line. The Blazers failed to convert all three Action Points in the title game, and that was the difference in the outcome. That and a controversial call on the Blazers’ opening possession. Television replays on the TVS Network appeared to show Tommy Reamon break the plane in the first quarter, but officials on the field ruled that Florida’s star rookie fumbled the ball through the end zone for a touchback. Reamon, who had a strong game overall with 83 yards on the ground and a touchdown, also failed to convert the decisive action point in the 4th quarter that would have tied the game at 22-22.

The Blazers’ franchise was revoked by the league a few days after the World Bowl loss due to financial insolvency. Within three weeks, Loudd was in jail on charges of embezzling sales taxes collected on Blazers’ ticket sales. A few months later, narcotics trafficking charges were added to Loudd’s legal woes. He was convicted in late 1975 and sentenced to two fourteen-year sentences. Loudd ultimately served three years before being paroled. Loudd later became a minister and passed away in 1998.

Many of the Blazers players ended up playing for a new WFL expansion team in 1975 known as the San Antonio Wings. The Wings were better organized, certainly, than the Blazers. But the league itself went under in October 1975, failing to finish out its second season of operation.

Tommy Reamon played briefly in the NFL in 1976. He later became an actor, most notably playing the wide receiver Delma Huddle in the 1979 Nick Nolte football drama North Dallas Forty.  

 

==1974 Florida Blazers Results==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
7/10/1974 vs. The Hawaiians W 8-7 Program
7/17/1974 @ Detroit Wheels W 18-14 Program
7/24/1974 vs. Houston Texans W 15-3
7/31/1974 @ Houston Texans L 7-6
8/7/1974 @ Chicago Fire W 46-21
8/14/1974 vs. Jacksonville Sharks W 33-26 Program
8/21/1974 vs. Portland Storm W 11-7
8/28/1974 vs. Memphis Southmen L 26-18
9/2/1974 @ Birmingham Americans  L 8-7 Program
9/6/1974 @ New York Stars W 17-15
9/11/1974 vs. Detroit Wheels L 15-14
9/18/1974 vs. Philadelphia Bell W 24-21  Program
9/26/1974 vs. Chicago Fire W 29-0
10/2/1974 @ Philadelphia Bell W 30-7
10/9/1974 @ Chicago Fire W 45-17
10/16/1974 @ Memphis Southmen L 25-15 Program
10/23/1974 @ Charlotte Hornets W 15-11 Program
10/30/1974 @ Birmingham Americans  L 26-18 Program
11/7/1974 vs. Portland Storm W 23-0 Program
11/14/1974 @ Southern California Sun W 27-24 Ticket
11/21/1974 vs. Philadelphia Bell W 18-3
11/29/1974 @ Memphis Southmen W 18-15
12/5/1974 @ Birmingham Americans  L 22-21 Program

 

==Key Figures==

  • Bob Davis
  • Rommie Loudd
  • Jack Pardee
  • Tommy Reamon

 

==In Memoriam==

Blazers tight end Greg Latta passed away of a heart attack at age 41 on September 28, 1994.

Blazers GM Rommie Loudd died of complications from diabetes on May 9, 1998 at age 64.  New York Times obit.

Blazers linebacker Billy Hobbs died when his moped was struck by a car on August 21, 2004. Hobbs was 57.

Former Blazers head coach Jack Pardee died of cancer on April 1, 2013 at age 76.

 

==Links==

Florida Blazers Fans, Friends & Former Players Facebook Page

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

February 20th, 2015 at 3:19 pm

World Football League Trading Cards Series II & III Released

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WFL Trading CardsBack in June 2013, I reviewed a set of World Football League trading cards produced by a quartet of fans and historians who grew up following the WFL during its brief and wacky run in 1974-1975.  The WFL came and went just before the trading card boom of the early 1980’s, so no contemporary card sets were issued during the league’s short existence.

So Greg Allred, Richie Franklin, Bill Jones and Willie O’Burke decided to rectify that with a lovingly curated 70-card series of cards, featuring players from the WFL’s first (and only) full season of 1974.  After an enthusiastic reception by football collectors, the group is back with three new WFL issues, including a Series II devoted to the WFL’s abbreviated 1975 season and a unique “Die-Cut” helmet & logo sub-set, which pays tribute to the Sunbeam Bread grocery store inserts of the mid-1970’s that featured NFL helmets of the era.

Order Your Set Here

Fun While It Lasted caught up Bill Jones & co. for a look at the latest issues in their World Football League retro series.

 

Gerry Philbin New York StarsFWIL:

So give me the lowdown on the current state of your WFL Card Series.  How many series are there now, covering how many cards?

Bill Jones:

We currently have 3 series of 70 cards each and the Die-Cut helmet set. The Series I and III sets feature the 1974 WFL season, while the Series II set features the 1975 season.  We would love to print a card of every player who played in the World Football League, but we know that is not possible.

With our new WFL Die-Cut cards we have paid a great tribute to the WFL and it’s unique style. Our cards have been a way of keeping the spirit of the World Football League alive.

 

FWIL:

Florida BlazersTalk more more about the Die-Cut series.  It features helmets and logos of all the WFL franchises, along with one which never took the field, the Washington Ambassadors.  What was the inspiration there?

Bill Jones:

That credit goes to Willie O’Burke. They were influenced by the Sunbeam Bread NFL cards from 1976. Sunbeam Bread came out with a series of die-cut helmets cards for the NFL. It was one of the best football card sets every produced. The WFL folded before Sunbeam ever had a chance to produce a set for the league, so we’re just trying to capture the same excitement and design of that NFL die-cut series with a version of WFL die-cut cards. Gene Sanny did the artwork for the set and did a fantastic job.  We all wanted to produce something that would give a nod to the early to mid 1970’s while using today’s higher quality technology and materials.

 

FWIL:

After you issued Series I in 2013, did you have any new photo discoveries that you were especially excited about for Series II or III?

Bill Jones:

Actually, every photo we have used on these cards is a “discovery.” Photos of WFL players are very rare in general, so they are each very special. And that’s what makes these cards that much more exciting…they are like little rare photo treasures of a league that made a quick entrance & exit on the pro football landscape.  The best part has been our willingness to open our own collections to allow the best photos to be used in these sets.  The four of us together have an extensive collection of photos.  For us, we have been re-discovering WFL photos from our own collections that we forgot we had.  Together we select the very best we have on each player. We have a few contributors who have lent us photos from their private collections as well. We are very grateful to Chris Gmyrek and Jim Cusano, who both have many great photos. We have even reached out to a few former WFL players.

 

Jim Nance Shreveport SteamerFWIL:

How were sales of the 1st Series compared to your expectations?

Bill Jones:

I’m not sure we had any clear sales expectations when we started out.  The WFL was not around long enough to have a set of cards made.  Fans of the WFL have been waiting for these cards for almost 40 years, and we get to satisfy their long wait. That’s ultimately why we’re doing this: to honor the WFL…a league we loved dearly…and to bring joy to all of the WFL fans we can!

Series I has been our overall best seller. When collectors discover our Web site or read a review on our cards they usually order Series I. Most have been repeat customers, and they end up buying Series II and now Series III.  Our die-hard customers also request our Die-Cut cards too.

 

WFL Trading CardsFWIL:

I continue to be impressed with the card stock especially.  Comparing your WFL series to the recent Topps Archives issues, your cards actually have a much more authentic look and feel than Topps own in-house retro productions.  How did you work to get that authentic/vintage look & feel in the age of digital printing?

Bill Jones:

First of all, thank you for the compliment. The four of us were clearly influenced by the Topps cards we collected growing up in the 1970’s. One of our initial goals was to create a set of cards that looked like it came from the mid-70’s, both in the art design and the materials.  The grey card stock gives the WFL cards that authentic feel.  We had many prototypes that we came up with, and we worked diligently together to come up with our design. It was a total team effort that the four of us are very proud of.  It was also important to all four of us to produce a product that we would want to buy and add to our personal collections.

FWIL:

Do you each have a favorite card from the entire series?

Richie Franklin:

I love all of our cards. I don’t think I have a particular favorite, but a few do stand out for me. I love the Series II Title card with the painting from Gene Sanny. Gene did an outstanding job on that card for us. I like our Virgil Carter (Fire) and Tom Sherman (Stars) cards in Series I. The Don Horn (Thunder) and Anthony Davis (Sun) are great cards from Series II. Our new Series III cards have some great photos of Gerry Philbin (Stars) and Ron Porter (Fire), and they made excellent cards. Again, there are a lot of great cards in all of our sets with rare WFL photos.

Don Horn Portland ThunderWillie O’Burke:

Personally, I’m a fan of the quarterbacks. Even in my NFL football card collection, I mainly stick with the quarterback cards. So each of the quarterback cards in the WFL set stand out to me. I grew up in Houston so the Houston Texans cards are also special.

Bill Jones:

As a fan of the Southern California Sun, I am really excited to have cards of players from this team.  As a helmet enthusiast, I also really like the cards that feature great shots of helmets.  I am particularly happy with the Don Horn (Thunder) card, which shows a helmet stripe combination that was rarely photographed.

Greg:

I think mine would have to be Johnny Musso.  I’ve always been a big University of Alabama fan and Musso fan. He played in the CFL, WFL, & NFL, but only had CFL cards. I’ve never seen an NFL card of his (I don’t think any were ever produced of him) so I’m really grateful to actually be able to have a card of his in this series.

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WFL Trading Cards Series I, II, III and Die-Cut Helmets Cards are available at:

www.wflfootballcards.com

 

 ==Slideshow==

  • wflcards-wyatt
  • wflcards-title
  • wflcards-walton
  • wflcards-sherman
  • wflcards-reamon
  • wflcards-mira
  • wflcards-kiick
  • wflcards-hawkins
  • wflcards-haden
  • wflcards-gwilliams
  • wflcards-gilliam
  • wflcards-chill
  • Florida Blazers

==Links==

Sports Collectors’ Digest Review

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Written by andycrossley

February 18th, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Football