Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-1982)
Born: 1978 – MISL founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1982 – The Fever cease operations.
Arena: The Spectrum (16,698)
Team Colors: Purple, Red & White
Philadelphia is just one of those cities. During the Golden Age of sports start-ups in the 1970’s, it seemed like the city got a new franchise every six months, promoting some unfamiliar sport that momentarily grabbed a few headlines as The Sport of the Future. Box lacrosse? Check. World Team Tennis? Yep. Professional women’s basketball? For about six weeks. The North American Soccer League? Twice! Every preposterous new league had to be in Philly and just about every neophyte owner insisted upon alliteration. Between 1974 and 1979 the City of Brotherly Love became (briefly) acquainted with the Freedoms, the Firebirds, the Fox and the Fury to name just a few.
Or perhaps it was just that Philly had the buildings. Lots of buildings. For the well-heeled speculators, Philadelphia offered the world class Spectrum for indoor sports and multi-purpose Veterans Stadium for outdoor events. And for the rogues gallery of flim flam men and drug traffickers who launched sports franchises in the city in that era, there was no shortage of decrepit fire traps like the Philadelphia Arena, Philadelphia Civic Center and JFK Stadium available for short money.
The Philadelphia Fever joined the start-up Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) as one of six founding members in 1978. The club set up shop at The Spectrum, competing with the 76ers and the Flyers for winter-time game dates and fan dollars. The sport of indoor soccer was new on the national scene, but had a minor history in Philadelphia, where the defunct Philadelphia Atoms of the North American Soccer League had taken part in several well-attended indoor exhibitions at the Spectrum between 1974 and 1976. In particular, a February 1974 Atoms match against a touring Soviet Red Army club had attracted nearly 12,000 fans and whetted the interest of the NASL in the indoor game. But the NASL moved slowly and other entrepreneurs had taken notice as well, including Ed Tepper, owner of the Philadelphia Wings box lacrosse team that played at the Spectrum in 1974 and 1975 and Earl Foreman, a former minority shareholder in the Philadelphia Eagles and former owner of the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association. Foreman and Tepper launched the MISL in 1978, announcing the league’s formation in October, just two months before kickoff of the first matches in December.
All six MISL clubs had to scramble to put together rosters during the short ramp up to the league’s debut. The New York Arrows and Houston Summit opted to lease rosters outright from nearby North American Soccer League clubs and finished with the best records in the league. The Fever stocked their roster primarily with local semi-pro players, augmented by a handful of NASL veterans such as Joey Fink and Fred Grgurev.
The Fever squeaked into the final playoff spot with an 11-13 record, but found themselves in the best-of-three 1979 MISL Championship Series after upsetting the 18-6 regular season champion Houston Summit on the road. The Fever lost the title to the New York Arrows in a two-game sweep. Grgurev led the league in scoring with 46 goals in 24 games and was named to the All-MISL Team.
The Fever proved popular at the box office during the 1978-79 season, leading the MISL with an announced attendance average of 7,737 for twelve home matches.
During the 1979-80 season, the Fever posted a franchise-best 17-15 record, but missed the playoffs by one game after losing a tie-breaker formula to the Buffalo Stallions. 17 wins was not enough to save the job of Head Coach George O’Neill who was fired by Fever owner Ben Alexander in August 1980. Thus began a coaching carousel that continued for the remaining two years of the Fever’s existence. Alexander hired former MISL Coach-of-the-Year Len Bilous to replace O’Neill – then fired him in March 1981 with several games remaining in an 18-22 campaign. Former Fever player Skip Roderick finished out the 1981-82 season for Bilous, then handed the coaching reigns to former U.S. National Team chief Walt Chyzowych, who signed a three-year contract beginning with the 1981-82 season. Like O’Neill, Chyzowych fell out of favor and lost his job before the end of his first season after posting a 7-18 record. Roderick stepped back in temporarily before giving way to Mannfred Schellscheidt, another former U.S. National Team coach, who had previously worked for new Fever owner Joseph Raymond in the American Soccer League. The 1981-82 Fever finished with a league-worst 11-33 record under Chyzowych/Roderick/Schellscheidt.
The ownership of the Fever changed hands once, when paper manufactuer Ben Alexander sold controlling interest in the Fever to New Jersey businessman Joe Raymond in November 1981. Raymond had been through the investment ringer with pro soccer once before, as owner of the semi-obscure New Jersey Americans in the American Soccer League during the late 1970’s.
The Fever’s popularity had declined precipitously, with attendance falling from best in the six-team MISL in the 1978-79 debut season to worst in the expanded 13-club league during the Fever’s final season in 1981-82. In an April 1982 Philadelphia Inquirer article, various Fever executives and players defended the club’s marketing and pointed to the club’s losing ways as the culprit for waning interest in the club. But this is a common excuse of faltering clubs and the record does not bear it out. Although the Fever qualified for the playoffs in only one season – their first – the team was at or near .500 in each of their five seasons with the exception of the last. More likely, the Fever simply could not compete in the winter with both NBA and NHL competition. The MISL’s best draws in cities like St. Louis, Kansas City and Baltimore competed with no more than one winter-time rival for media attention and the disposable income of local sports fans.
Joseph Raymond would own the Fever for less than one year after buying the club in November 1981. The club reportedly lost in excess of $1 million during the 1981-82 season. In the early summer, Raymond requested a one-year moratorium from the league to re-organize the club’s finances. There was a precedent for such a move in the MISL, as the Fever’s in-state rival the Pittsburgh Spirit had gone dark for the 1980-81 season before returning under new ownership for 1981-82. Raymond’s request was granted at the MISL league meetings in August 1982 and the club’s best players departed for greener pastures. In January 1983, the MISL announced the Raymond had given up his efforts to re-organize the club and handed his membership back to the league, effectively folding the club.
In the years since the Fever passed into oblivion, various reports have erroneously stated that Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the club in 1982 and relocated it to The Forum as the Los Angeles Lazers. This is not correct. Buss obtained an MISL expansion team in June of 1982. Fever owner Joseph Raymond was granted a one-year leave of absence from the league around the same time Buss entered, which may account for the confusion. But Raymond folded his club by returning it to the league in late 1982. The Fever and the Lazers are two different franchises.
==Philadelphia Fever Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
|1978-79||3/23/1979||@ New York Arrows||L 14-7||Video|
|1979-80||1/25/1980||@ Cleveland Force||??||Program|
|1979-80||1/29/1980||vs. New York Arrows||??||Program|
|1980-81||11/29/1980||@ Baltimore Blast||L 10-7||Program|
|1980-81||12/22/1980||@ Hartford Hellions||W 4-3||Program|
|1980-81||1/18/1981||@ Hartford Hellions||W 4-3||Program|
One-time Fever head coach Walt Chyzowych passed away in 1994. He was inducted into the United States Soccer Hall-of-Fame three years later in 1997.
The Philadelphia Fever at the New York Arrows in Game 1 of the 1979 MISL Championship Series via Kenn.com