Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1966-1970 Orlando Panthers

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1967 Orlando Panthers ProgramContinental Football League (1966-1969)
Atlantic Coast Football League (1970)

Born: 1966 – The Newark Bears relocate to Orlando, FL
Folded: Postseason 1970

Stadium: The Tangerine Bowl

Team Colors:

Owners:

Continental Football League Champions: 1967 & 1968

 

Text coming soon…

 

Orlando Panthers Memorabilia

 

Links

Recalling Orlando Panthers: Their Legend is Quite Major“, Brian Schmitz, The Orlando Sentinel, August 24, 1986

Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs

Atlantic Coast Football League Media Guides

Atlantic Coast Football League Programs

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1968-1970 Pottstown Firebirds

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Pottstown FirebirdsAtlantic Coast Football League (1968-1970)

Born: 1968
Folded: May 2, 1971 – The Firebirds merge with the Norfolk Neptunes

Stadium: Franklin Field

Team Colors: Green & White

Owner: Ed Gruber

ACFL Champions: 1969 & 1970

 

Minor league football is – and always has been – so far off the radar in this country that it’s impossible to speak of there being any iconic teams.  The sport offers nothing like the Hershey Bears hockey team or Rochester Red Wings baseball club that have entertained locals for upwards of a century. To the extent that minor and semi-pro football at least has a cult favorite team – the sport’s answer to the Durham Bulls – it’s likely the short-lived Pottstown Firebirds of the defunct Atlantic Coast Football League.

The Firebirds were a colorful and talented bunch. They played at the local high school football stadium in Pottstown, 40 miles north of Philadelphia. The team was backed by a local underwear manufacturer named Ed Gruber and took their name and team color from a loose affiliation with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Though the club lasted only three seasons, they won two minor league titles.

The team’s 15 minutes of fame came thanks to Steve Sabol’s NFL Films. The young company documented the Firebirds’ final championship season in 1970. More than a year after the team’s demise, the documentary Pro Football Pottstown PA aired prior to the national broadcast of Super Bowl VI in January 1972. The following year, the author Jay Acton published The Forgettables, a book that chronicled the Firebirds behind the scenes during that same 1970 season. (Acton later became a serial minor league baseball investor himself).

The Firebirds dominated the Atlantic Coast Football League thanks to a fine cast of characters. Carousing quarterback James “King” Corcoran was characterized by Acton (and many others) as a sort of Joe Namath of the minor leagues. Tight end Bob Tucker went on to an 11-year NFL career. Receiver Jack Dolbin took half a decade to catch on in the NFL after leaving Pottstown, but ended up spending five seasons with the Denver Broncos in the late 1970’s.

In March 1971, Ed Gruber tried to sell the Firebirds to a group of businessmen that planned to move the team to Hershey, Pennsylvania. But the deal fell through. Gruber then decided to buy the rival Norfolk (VA) Neptunes instead in May of 1971.  He merged the two clubs, shuttering the Pottstown operation and moving the team’s best players to Virginia.

The Atlantic Coast Football League folded in 1973. The following year, the World Football League launched. The WFL hoped to take on the NFL head-to-head for top talent much as the American Football League did in the 1970’s. The league’s Philadelphia Bell franchise hired former Firebirds assistant Ron Waller as Head Coach. Waller loaded the Bell with former Firebirds, including Corcoran at quarterback and starting running back John Land.

 

Pottstown Firebirds Memorabilia

 

Pottstown Firebirds Video

NFL Films ‘ Pro Football Pottstown PA chronicled the Firebirds’ third and final season in the fall of 1970. The one-hour film aired nationwide prior to the broadcast of Super Bowl VI in January 1972.

Links

Legendary football Firebirds back in Pottstown for reunion“, Rosemarie Ross, The Delaware County Daily Times, November 30, 2010

Atlantic Coast Football League Media Guides

Atlantic Coast Football League Programs

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1979-1981 Hampton Aces

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1979 Hampton Aces ProgramNortheastern Hockey League (1979)
Eastern Hockey League (1979-1981)

Born: January 1979 – The Jersey Aces relocate to Hampton, VA
Folded: Postseason 1981

Arena: Hampton Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners: Mike Schmidt and Jim Humphrey

 

The Hampton Aces were a low-level minor league hockey team in the Tidewater region of Virginia. The club started out as the Jersey Aces in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in the fall of 1978. Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt was one of the team’s financial backers. After the team flopped in the Philly suburbs, Schmidt and his partner abruptly moved the club to Virginia midway through the club’s debut season.

The Aces played for the Northeastern Hockey League championship in the spring of 1979. They were defeated by the Erie Blades.

Prior to the club’s second season, the Northeastern Hockey League re-branded itself as the Eastern Hockey League. The league struggled to stay afloat with just six members. The Aces also struggled, finishing in last place in 1980 and again in 1981.

The Aces folded along with the rest of the EHL in the summer of 1981.

 

Hampton Aces Video

 

Links

Eastern Hockey League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

May 13th, 2017 at 2:46 am

1961-1974 Grand Rapids Tackers

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1973 Grand Rapids Tackers Program

Midwest Professional Basketball League (1961-1964)
North American Basketball League (1964-1968)
Continental Basketball Association (1969-1970)

Born: 1961
Folded: 1974?

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owners: Albert S. Maine?

CBA Champions: 1973 & 1974

 

The Grand Rapids Tackers were a locally popular club that played in various semi-pro basketball leagues in the Midwest between 1961 and 1974.

Former University of Toledo star Steve Mix played for the Tackers during the winter of 1972-73 after his pro career initially sputtered with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and ABA’s Denver Rockets.  After averaging 31.1 points per game with the Tackers in 1972-73, Mix revived his career and went on to play another 10 seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Little information about the Tackers has survived into the internet age. I believe the team owner during the 1970’s was a fellow named Albert S. Maine. We would also like to know if the team played in other gyms besides the Godwin Fieldhouse. If you can share memories or info on this club, please leave it in the comments of this post.

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2004-2006 Florida Flame

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Florida FlameNational Basketball Development League (2004-2005)
NBA Development League (2005-2006)

Born: June 30, 2004 – The Charleston Lowgators relocate to Fort Myers, FL.
Folded: 2007

Arena: Germain Arena

Team Colors: 

Owners:

NBA Development League Championships: None

 

The Florida Flame were a short-lived entry in the NBA’s D-League minor league system that lasted for two seasons at Germain Arena in Estero, just outside Fort Myers.

Former Seattle Supersonics and Boston Celtics star Dennis Johnson coached the Flame during their first campaign in 2004-05. The team finished tied for last in the 6-team NBDL with a 17-31 record. Guard Smush Parker was the lone Flame player to earn a call up to the NBA during the season, earning a cup of coffee with the Phoenix Suns.

Former NBA All-Star Jeff Malone replaced Dennis Johnson as Head Coach for the 2005-06 season. The Flame fared much better on the court, finishing third with a 25-23 record. They lost a single-game playoff semi-final to the eventual champion Albuquerque Thunderbirds on April 15, 2006.  This proved to be the final game the Flame would play. The club folded following the 2005-06 season.

 

In Memoriam

Head Coach Dennis Johnson (Flame ’04-’05) died of a heart attack suffered while coaching another NBA D-League team, the Austin Toros, on February 22, 2007. He was 52. New York Times obituary.

 

Links

NBA D-League Media Guides

NBA D-League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

April 22nd, 2017 at 6:16 pm

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