The Phoenix Giants were the long-time top farm club of the National League’s San Francisco Giants. (This edition of the Giants followed an earlier Phoenix Giants entry in the Pacific Coast League in 1958-1959).
Giants prospects roasted in the Phoenix heat during the summer months. In a 2014 retrospective on the team, catcher Bob Brenly (Phoenix ’80-’81) told Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic that he routinely lost eight to ten pounds in water weight at each home game.
The Giants won their lone Pacific Coast League crown during the 1977 season.
Following the 1985 season, the franchise was re-branded as the Phoenix Firebirds. The Firebirds remained an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants for another twelve seasons through 1997 until minor league baseball was displaced by the Arizona Diamondbacks Major League expansion team. The former Phoenix Giants/Firebirds franchise moved to Tucson in 1998.
The Albuquerque Chaparrals were a senior amateur hockey team that skated for one-and-a-half chaotic seasons during the mid-1970’s. The Chaparrals were founded by the controversial Las Vegas construction baron, casino owner and Nazi party enthusiast Ralph Englestad and his brother Richard in 1975.
The Engelstads launched the Southwest Hockey League from their headquarters in Las Vegas, where Ralph owned the Flamingo Capri Motel and Casino. The concept of the SWHL was that players would attend college or vocational school while competing in the league’s 72-game winter schedule. Since the players were amateur, they did not draw salaries. Team owners were expected to provide room and board, pay for players’ tuition and books, and a small weekly expense stipend. SWHL franchises formed in Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and Texas.
The Chaparrals finished in 2nd place in the SWHL with a 39-32-1 during their debut run in 1975-76. Following the season, the Engelstads sold the Chaparrals to E.W. McIntrye for a reported $100,000.
Financial troubles doomed the SWHL during its second season. Six teams started the season, but clubs in Bismarck and Minot swiftly went under.
Albuquerque had problems too. In December 1976, the team organized a promotion with a man named George Hartnett (identified by The Albuquerque Journal as “a hot air balloon promoter”). Hartnett would attempt to sell five thousand $1.00 tickets to a Chaps home date at the Tingley Coliseum on December 10, 1976. Gate receipts would pay for travel home for the Christmas holidays for the Chaps players, many of whom hailed from the Western provinces of Canada. The promotion flopped and General Manager Leo Zani declined to give any of the money raised to the players. Chaparrals coach Bob Gernander and 12 of his players resigned from the team in protest.
The team re-organized and soldiered on under new head coach Cal Swenson. But by the end of January 1977 the SWHL’s remaining four clubs decided to call it quits, cancelling the final 30 or so games of the 1976-77 season.
Long-running franchise in the co-ed summer World TeamTennis league. The New Jersey Stars won the league championship during their final two seasons of play.
Martina Navratilova was the team’s top attraction during the 1994 championship campaign. The Czech superstar moonlighted in TeamTennis habitually throughout her career, starting soon after her defection to the United States in 1975.
The Charlotte Heat were a co-ed professional tennis club that competed in Billie Jean King’s summertime TeamTennis promotion for five seasons between 1987 and 1991. The Heat won the league championship in each of their first two seasons of play.
Team owner Bob Benson previously owned the Carolina Lightnin’ (1981-1983), Charlotte’s first foray into professional soccer, during the early 1980’s.
The short-lived Portland Thunder franchise was the second go round for the Arena Football League in Portland, Oregon. The Thunder followed on the heels of the Portland Forest Dragons, who played in the same Rose Garden/Moda Center arena from 1997 to 1999.
Team founder Terry Emmert is a heavy hauling & transportation baron from suburban Portland. In formal terms, Emmert purchased the franchise rights to the Milwaukee Mustangs, one of the AFL’s countless dormant/failed franchises, in October 2013. Effectively, the Thunder were simply an expansion team, as the Mustangs had been dark for more than a year and no longer possessed any player contracts (though Emmert did get Milwaukee’s old turf carpet). The Thunder also did not adopt the Mustangs’ franchise history. We’ve chosen to classify the Thunder as an expansion team on FWiL.
The Thunder fared poorly in competition, posting back-to-back 5-13 records in 2014 and 2015. Despite finishing last place in their division both years, the Thunder advanced to the postseason each summer thanks to the AFL’s absurb playoff system. They were eliminated in the first round both times.
The 2015 season proved disastrous for the Arena Football League. The league was forced to take over two insolvent clubs, the Las Vegas Outlaws and New Orleans Voodoo, during the season and folded both clubs one day after the regular season ended. (The Thunder were admitted to the 2015 AFL playoffs only because the bankrupt Outlaws couldn’t afford to keep going. The league champion San Jose Sabercats and the Spokane Shock dropped out in the following months, reducing the league to eight franchises, its smallest membership since 1991.
In late December 2015, Thunder owner Terry Emmert gave a brief interview to The Portland Tribune where he indicated his team had not committed to participating in the 2016 season yet due to disagreements with the Arena Football League over player insurance and other topics. Less than a week later, the AFL stepped in and seized the Portland franchise from Emmert, kicking the recalcitrant owner out of the league.
Since Emmert owned the trademarks to the Thunder name and logo, the league was forced to re-brand the franchise as the Portland Steel. The Steel play on today as an ownerless team run on a shoestring budget by the AFL league office.
==Portland Thunder Programs on Fun While It Lasted==