North American Soccer League (1978)
Born: 1977 – NASL expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1978 – The Caribous relocate to Atlanta, GA.
Stadium: Mile High Stadium
The Caribous of Colorado were a One-Year Wonder in the North American Soccer League during the summer of 1978. The expansion Caribous were the NASL’s second effort at gaining a foothold in the Mile High City, after the two-year run of the Denver Dynamos (1974-1975) ended with that club’s relocation to Minneapolis in 1976. Like the Dynamos, the Caribous played out of Mile High Stadium, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos.
The Caribous fared even worse than the Dynamos in Denver. Owners Booth Gardner (the future Governor of Washington State) and James Guercio plunked down $1 million for the expansion rights in late 1977 according to Sports Illustrated. But the pair seemed to lose interest in their last place team even before the Caribous’ debut season ended and sold the club to Atlanta interests in August 1978. The franchise became the Atlanta Chiefs in 1979 and played three seasons in the deep South before folding in September 1981.
It’s worth digressing here for a moment on Caribous co-owner Jim Guercio, who I suspect may have been the inspiration for Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man In The World advertising campaign.
The Caribous took their named from Guercio’s Caribou Ranch recording studio in the Rocky Mountains, near the ghost town of Caribou. Guercio produced the early albums of the bands Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears and won an Album of the Year grammy award with the latter group. Artists from Elton John to Billy Joel to Rod Stewart recorded at Caribou Ranch and the classic rock standards “Rocky Mountain Way” (Joe Walsh) and “Rock n’ Roll Hootchie Koo” (Rick Derringer) were recorded at Guercio’s studio.
In 1973, Guercio tried his hand at film and directed the cult classic motorcycle cop movie “Electra Glide In Blue” starring Robert Blake. After a fire destroyed his studio in 1985, Guercio moved on from the music industry and became a successful rancher and oil & gas developer in Colorado. Guercio also owned, and later sold, the Country Music Television cable channel.
As far as the soccer itself went, the Caribous were not good. Player-coach Dave Clements was fired in June with the club mired in last place. The club finished in the same position under Clements’ replacement Dan Wood. The Caribous’ 8-22 record was tied for worst in the 24-team NASL. Attendance was hardly better, ranked at 18th in the NASL with 7,418 per game in 74,000-seat Mile High Stadium.
One player of note was 21-year old rookie fullback Matt Bahr. Bahr was an All-American placekicker for Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions (American) football team at Penn State in 1978. After two years of pro soccer, Bahr joined the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1979 and enjoyed a 17-year career in the NFL. As a member of the New York Giants in 1991, he kicked what proved to be the decisive field goal in the team’s 20-19 Super Bowl XXV victory over the Buffalo Bills.
If the Caribous are remembered for anything by American soccer fans, it is for their garish and much maligned uniforms, which – in a nod to country & western culture – featured a horizontal strip of tan leather fringe across the lower rib cage. Check out this link at the excellent NASLJerseys.com website for a full color money shot of the Caribous kits in all their demented glory.
The Caribous host the Chicago Sting at Mile High, June 25, 1978.