Arena Football League (1996)
Born: November 1995 – AFL expansion franchise.
Died: November 1996 – The Fighting Pike cease operations.
Arena: The Target Center
Owner: Tom Scallen
“This isn’t just about high-speed, in-your-face football action, it’s about saving an entire generation of Minnesota’s game fish from becoming shore lunch.” – Minnesota Fighting Pike President Tom Scallen describing – obliquely – his Arena Football team’s offbeat nickname in November 1995.
I love this name and logo, but not nearly as much as I love Tom Scallen’s nonsensical explanation for it. As far as I know, Scallen did not contribute any of the proceeds of his Arena Football club to bolster the Minnesota’s fragile freshwater ecosystem. Far from it – the team’s creditors were reportedly stiffed to the tune of $200,000 when the team tanked after a single season. But anyway…
The Pike were a 1996 expansion franchise in the Arena Football League. Scallen was/is a colorful Minneapolis attorney and businessman, the one-time owner of the Ice Follies, the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters. Scallen also was the man who brought the NHL to Vancouver as the first owner of the Vancouver Canucks in 1970. Scallen conducted a controversial public sale of Canucks stock during their first season of play. Canadian authorities investigated and eventually sent Scallen to prison for nine months and later deported him, bringing his tenure as an NHL owner to a swift end. (Scallen’s view – recounted to the Toronto Globe & Mail three decades later – is that the charges were politically motivated, designed to drive out American ownership).
Scallen’s Fighting Pike debuted in Minneapolis on May 4th, 1996 at the Target Center. Their opponents were the Iowa Barnstormers, whose starting quarterback was future Super Bowl hero Kurt Warner. But the better known quarterback at the time for the reported 14,840 Minnesotans on hand was Fighting Pike starter Rickey Foggie, pictured on the evening’s game program (left). Foggie was a former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher star (’88) who enjoyed a long career in the Canadian Football League before returning to Minnesota with the Pike.
The Barnstormers got the best of it on this night, defeating the Fighting Pike 59-43. It was the start of a downhill slide, as the team dropped eight in a row under former CFL and USFL coach Ray Jauch. A late season rebound saw Minnesota finish its only season at 4-10.
The bigger problem was that the curiosity seekers who turned out on opening night failed to return. Attendance never again topped 9,000. Scallen shut down the team right after the season and the franchise was formally dropped from the Arena Football League in November 1996, one year to the month after it was awarded. A 2006 retrospective by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune pegged Scallen’s financial loss at $400,000 and noted that creditors were left holding the bag for $200,000 in unpaid bills when the franchise was liquidated.
If the Fighting Pike had any real legacy, it was the the now forgotten club gave an opportunity to an unheralded kicker from the University of West Virginia named Mike Vanderjagt who had been released four times in the Canadian Football League. Vanderjagt only lasted a few games with the Pike, before he was replaced by the immortal Ty Stewart. But in 1998 Vanderjagt hooked on with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and enjoyed a nine-year NFL career, that included an All-Pro selection in 2003. He retired as one of the most accurate placekickers in NFL history.
==1996 Fighting Pike Results==
|4/27/1996||@ Texas Terror||W 36-24|
|5/4/1996||vs. Iowa Barnstormers||L 53-49||Program|
|5/10/1996||vs. St. Louis Stampede||L 59-22|
|5/18/1996||@ Albany Firebirds||L 85-30|
|5/24/1996||vs. Tampa Bay Storm||L 41-16|
|5/31/1996||vs. Anaheim Piranhas||L 49-23|
|6/7/1996||vs. Arizona Rattlers||L 59-27|
|6/15/1996||@ Florida Bobcats||L 63-28|
|6/28/1996||vs. Milwaukee Mustangs||L 61-49|
|7/5/1996||@ Connecticut Coyotes||W 44-40|
|7/12/1996||@ Orlando Predators||L 56-12|
|7/19/1996||vs. Texas Terror||L 54-51|
|7/26/1996||@ San Jose Sabercats||W 40-31|
|8/3/1996||@ Memphis Pharaohs||W 50-25|
- Mike Vanderjagt