Arena Football Programs
Arena Bowl IV program for the 1990 championship game of the Arena Football League. 19,902 fans packed the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to watch the host Detroit Drive take on an expansion team, the Dallas Texans, for the league title.
Detroit, owned by Little Caesar’s pizza magnate and future Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, were going for a third straight Arena Bowl title. The Drive featured a pair of talented but deeply troubled NFL exiles who spurred the team on both sides of the ball.
On defense, the Drive were led by former Oklahoma State linebacker John Corker. Corker was drafted into the NFL in 1980 with the Houston Oilers and played three unremarkable seasons there before signing with the upstart United States Football League in 1983. With the USFL’s Michigan Panthers, Corker was an unstoppable force, recording a remarkable 28.5 sacks in 18 games in the spring of 1983. He helped propel Michigan to the first USFL title that season and named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Corker became one of the highest paid defenders in the USFL, earning several hundred thousand dollars per season with Michigan and later with the Memphis Showboats, but put all of his earnings up his nose. In a 2012 interview with The New York Times, Corker guessed he was smoking $1,200 a day worth of coke during his late playing career. Bad vibes followed Corker out of the USFL when that league folded in 1986, including a Sport magazine article that August which attributed his inconsistent play to drug use:
“When’s he’s straight, he’s Lawrence Taylor,” said an unnamed USFL coach in the Sport article. “When’s he not, he’s terrible.”
130 former USFL players made NFL rosters in 1986, but Corker was not among them, cut by the Miami Dolphins in training camp. By 1988, he was in the fledgling Arena Football League, playing both ways (offensive line and defensive end) on a 50-yard carpet and earning $500 a game, plus $100 for each victory. Aside from a two-game cameo with the Green Bay Packers in 1988, his outdoor football career was over. In the AFL, Corker showed flashes of his old form. He was such a disruptive pass rusher at first that the league changed its pass rushing rules, prohibiting defenders from blitzing from a stand up position outside the tackles. Corker played for the Drive from 1988 to 1993, helping the team to three Arena Bowl titles and winning the league’s Lineman-of-the-Year award in 1991. He finished his career with the league’s Miami Hooters in 1994 and 1995.
Leading the Drive offense was 30-year old cautionary tale Art Schlichter. The former Ohio State star quarterback was the #4 overall pick in the 1982 NFL draft, chosen by the Baltimore Colts. Schlichter brought a raging gambling addiction with him to the NFL and blew through his entire $350,000 signing bonus during his strike-shortened rookie season. Between January and early March 1983, Schlichter ran up an astounding $389,000 in debts to Baltimore bookmakers, finally turning to the FBI to save himself from collection efforts. Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Schlichter for the entire 1983 season, the first NFL player suspended for gambling since Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were kicked out of the league for a season each in 1963.
Schlichter gained reinstatement in 1984 and returned to the now-Indianapolis Colts, but did nothing to justify his status as the first quarterback selected in the 1982 draft. He was released a few games into the 1985 season and spent the remainder of the 1980′s in a downward spiral, arrested, banned again from the NFL for the 1987 season (not that anyone was interested), and failing in a brief stint in the Canadian Football League.
Schlichter, by then 30 years old, signed with the Detroit Drive in May 1990. During the next two seasons with the Drive, he experienced the only period of success in his professional career. During the 1990 season, he earned Arena Football League MVP honors and brought the Drive to the Arena Bowl title game for the franchise’s third straight year. In that game, Schlichter out-dueled the Dallas Texans and their quarterback Ben Bennett, passing for two touchdowns and running for three more. Schlichter was named MVP of Arena Bowl IV, which the Drive won 51-27.
The following season, 1991, he led the Drive back to Arena Bowl V, played in front of 20,357 fans at Joe Louis Arena. The Drive lost to the Tampa Bay Storm 48-42, despite four touchdown passes from Schlichter.
In 1992, Schlichter returned to his home state of Ohio to play for the expansion Cincinnati Rockers of the Arena Football League. Rockers’ management played nanny with Schlichter’s paycheck, giving his wife $300 per week and depositing the rest into an account to settle his gambling and other debts. At age 32, he was having his finest pro season, passing for a career-best 45 touchdowns in the high-scoring Arena league. But at the end of July he was arrested on bad check charges and admitted a relapse of his gambling problems.
Schlichter retired in October 1992 and attempted to become a sports talk radio host in Ohio. But he never escaped his gambling addiction and became a dedicated, if not particularly elusive, con artist to support his massive betting losses. Schlichter’s victims include many former friends and members of his own family. He spent most of the next two decades serving time in nearly four dozen different jails and prisons. He co-authored a memoir – Busted: The Rise & Fall of Art Schlichter – with fellow Ohio State alum Jeff Snook in 2011 and then immediately fell back to his old habits. Schlichter was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison in May 2012 for operating a phony ticket scheme for Super Bowl and other sports tickets.
John Corker, meanwhile, spiraled further into drug addiction after his professional football career ended in 1995. He cashed in his NFL pension and spent it on cocaine and later ended up homeless on the streets of Baltimore. Unlike Schlichter, Corker’s story seems to be on the uplift, however. A 2012 New York Times profile found the former linebacker enjoying a period of sobriety, driving a city bus and volunteering at the Salvation Army Shelter in Fort Worth, Texas where he formerly slept during his period of homelessness.