The North American Soccer League (1968-1984) is best known as the league that brought Pele to the United States and for its flagship New York Cosmos franchise, the team for which Pele played from 1975 to 1977. The NASL’s core business was outdoor soccer played on a spring-summer schedule, but the league also dabbled with the emerging sport of indoor soccer with several one-off exhibitions and short tournaments during the mid-1970’s.
In the winter of 1979-80 the NASL launched its own indoor league, partly due to pressure from the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League which debuted the previous year. The NASL’s indoor league was something less than full-fledged – participation that first winter was optional and only 10 of the league’s 24 franchises took part. Notably absent were the Cosmos, who generally looked down their noses at the indoor game and held out until the league’s third indoor season in the winter of 1981-82.
The absence of some of the league’s best teams and stars left an opening for comparatively anonymous clubs like the Memphis Rogues to shine in that first indoor season. The Rogues had one of the league’s lowest payrolls and fared poorly on the field and at the Liberty Bowl box office for outdoor soccer, but all of that changed when the team shifted indoors for six home dates in the winter of 1979.
“We played at the Mid-South Coliseum. We played indoor soccer there when no one knew anything about it and we had sold out every game,” recalled Rogues General Manager Rudi Schiffer in 2012. “We won the Western Division championship and we had a heckuva team. We did that with a lot of promotions and it was wild and exciting and everybody loved it. We sold every ticket in the house.”
The Rogues advanced all the way to the NASL Indoor championship series in late February 1980. There they met the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a club whose popularity and success in the outdoor game carried over indoors. The Rowdies were runners up in Soccer Bowl 1979, the championship of the NASL’s outdoor season. At the gate, they average 27,650 fans for outdoor soccer that summer, second only to the Cosmos.
The Rowdies played indoor soccer at the tiny 5,500-seat Bayfront Center in St. Peterburgr. The Rowdies were nearly unbeatable at home, going 5-1 and playing to standing room only crowds all winter (5,905 announced average).
The Rogues and the Rowdies met in a two-game championship series which began in Memphis on February 29, 1980. 9,081 fans packed the Mid-South Coliseum to see the Rogues take Game One by a score of 5-4. This rare game program was published for the deciding match at Bayfront Center two days later on March 2nd. If the Rogues won the game, the series was over. If the Rowdies won Game Two, the title would be decided by sudden-death “mini-game” immediately following the match. Another sell-out crowd of 5,545 was on hand.
The Rowdies dominated Game Two, winning the match 10-4. After a short intermission, the mini-game began. The Rogues dominated the run of play, outshooting the Rowdies 28-9 in the extra period. But it was the Rowdies who came out on top, when English midfielder Peter Anderson buried a shot behind Rogues goalkeeper John Houska to hand Tampa the first NASL indoor title.
Bayfront Arena was demolished in 2004. Today the former site on the St. Petersburg waterfront hosts the Salvador Dali museum.
The Rogues moved to Calgary in 1980 and the franchise went bankrupt in 1981. The Rowdies survived the demise of the NASL in 1984 and played in various leagues until the early 1990’s. They played their final game of indoor soccer at Bayfront Arena in 1987 as a member of the American Indoor Soccer Association.
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