Arena Football League (1994)
Born: 1994 – The Detroit Drive relocate to Worcester, MA
Folded: February 1995
Arena: The Worcester Centrum (12,227)
Team Colors: Cardinal, Silver, Rubine Red & Black
Owner: Joseph O’Hara
Arena Bowl Championships: None
The Massachusetts Marauders played a single season of Arena Football at the Worcester Centrum in the summer of 1994. The franchise had a previous history as the terrifically successful and popular Detroit Drive, a team which appeared in the Arena Bowl title game in all six season of its existence from 1988 to 1993, winning four of them. The Drive packed crowds as high as 18,000 into Detroit’s enormous Joe Louis Arena. After Drive owner Mike Ilitch, founder of the Little Caesar’s pizza chain, purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992, he lost interest in the Drive and sold the team to Arena Football League Commissioner Joseph O’Hara for an undisclosed sum in early 1994.
I was home from college in the summer of ’94 when the Marauders set up shop in Worcester, a small city about 45 minutes west of Boston. My father and I made the trip one night to see the Marauders play the Las Vegas Sting at the half-full Worcester Centrum. The team had a few familiar names – Head Coach Don Strock had been the long-time back-up quarterback to Bob Griese and Dan Marino at the Miami Dolphins. Marauders QB Mike Pagel was also a long-time NFL journeyman, most notably with the Indianapolis Colts. The Marauders also had local legend Gordie Lockbaum, the former Holy Cross star who finished third in the 1987 Heisman Trophy balloting. But Lockbaum rarely saw the field for the Marauders and never played Arena Football – or any brand of pro football – again.
The Marauders finished the 1994 season with an 8-4 record, good enough for a trip to the Arena Football playoffs. A home playoff game, on August 20th, 1994 would prove to be the Marauders final appearance in Worcester, not that the locals seem to care much. A modest announced crowd of 6,858 – second smallest of the season – turned out at the Worcester Centrum for the playoff game. The following week the Marauders travelled to Florida and were eliminated by the Orlando Predators 51-42 in the playoff semi-finals. For the season, the Marauders averaged 7,474 which ranked 8th among the league’s 11 teams.
O’Hara began to feud with his Jim Drucker, his successor as Arena Football League Commissioner, about the direction of the league. At Arena Bowl XIII in Orlando in early September 1994, the two came to blows in a Disney World hotel lounge. O’Hara later threatened to sit out the season if Drucker was not removed from his post. He wasn’t and in February 1995, just a year after purchasing the club, O’Hara declined to post the six-figure letter of credit required of all clubs planning to take part in the 1995 season.
The Marauders were no more, but O’Hara was allowed to maintain ownership rights to the shuttered franchise. A couple of years later he sold off the carcass to the DeVos family of Grand Rapids, who were essentially buying just the league membership by that point. The players had long since scattered to the winds. The former Drive/Marauders franchise resumed play as the Grand Rapids Rampage in 1998 and continued in business until the original Arena Football League closed down after the 2008 season.