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1992-1994 Cleveland Thunderbolts

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Cleveland ThunderboltsArena Football League (1992-1994)

Born: 1992 – The Columbus Thunderbolts relocate to Cleveland, OH.
Died: 1994 – The Thunderbolts cease operations.

Arena: Richfield Coliseum (17,606)

Team Colors: Black, Silver & Purple

Owners:

  • 1992-1993: John Kuczek
  • 1994: Robert H. Crane, Kuczek family trust

 

The Cleveland Thunderbolts were a bottom-dwelling Arena Football League franchise that played for three seasons at the suburban Richfield Coliseum from 1992 to 1994.  The Thunderbolts originated an expansion team in Columbus, Ohio in 1991.  After a winless (0-10) campaign playing in small agriculture fairgrounds arena in Columbus, the team was sold to Ohio insurance salesman John Kuczek in late 1991 and he moved the T-Bolts to Cleveland.

Cleveland ThunderboltsThe T-Bolts were one of the weakest entries in the Arena League in the mid-1990′s, posting an 8-26 record during their three seasons in Cleveland, including back-to-back 2-10 campaigns in 1993 and 1993.  During their brief run, the team signed two big names from the world of college football.  Quarterback Major Harris, a holdover from the 1991 Columbus team, played for the T-Bolts in 1992 and 1994.  Harris was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist (1988 & 1989) at West Virginia.   He never played in the NFL and his Arena Football career was not ultimately that distinguished.  He was one of the league’s premier rushers as a scrambling QB, but the ground attack was not a major factor in the indoor game.

The other big name, at least locally, was head coach Earle Bruce, formerly of Ohio State University.  Bruce was hired to turn around the team in 1994, but ultimately produced an identical 2-10 last place finished as his predecessor Dave Whinham did in 1993.  Bruce resigned shortly after the 1994 season.

The Thunderbolts were run as a family business. Team owner John Kuczek was an insurance broker from Boardman, Ohio.  His son Jeff was the team’s General Manager.  Early in the T-Bolts short existence in Cleveland, John Kuczek was implicated in a federal securities fraud case in Florida.  Prior to the team’s second season in 1993, the elder Kuczek divested himself of ownership in the club and placed it in a trust for his grandchildren.  Son Jeff continued as the front office leader of the organization.  Kuczek was ultimately convicted on one count of the indictment.  The day before he was due to begin serving his sentence in February 1995, he committed suicide in a Salem, Ohio hotel room.

The Cleveland Thunderbolts did not return for the 1995 season.  Arena Football returned to Cleveland in 2008 with the arrival of the Cleveland Gladiators, a transplanted franchise from Las Vegas.  The Gladiators continue to play today under the ownership of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

 

==Cleveland Thunderbolts Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1994 6/25/1994 vs. Las Vegas Sting  W 46-20  Program
1994 7/22/1994 @ Milwaukee Mustangs  W 42-41   Video

 

==YouTube==

One of the final Thunderbolts games – on the road against the Milwaukee Mustangs on July 22, 1994.

 

 

==Downloads==

1992 Cleveland Thunderbolts Season Ticket Brochure

1993 Cleveland Thunderbolts Season Ticket Brochure

 

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

May 4th, 2014 at 12:01 am

1994-2001 Milwaukee Mustangs

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Milwaukee MustangsArena Football League (1994-2001)

Born: August 9, 1993 -  Arena Football expansion franchise.
Died: 2001 – The Mustangs cease operations.

Arena: TheBradley Center (17,819)

Team Colors: Purple, Teal & Black

Owner: Andrew Vallozzi

 

The Milwaukee Mustangs were a popular indoor football attraction in Wisconsin’s largest city during the mid-to-late 1990′s.  Although rarely in serious contention for the Arena Bowl championship – the Mustangs had only two winning seasons out of eight and never advanced beyond the playoff quarterfinals – they regularly ranked among Arena Football League attendance leaders.

During the Mustangs’ debut season in 1994, the team went winless in 12 games with former NFL signal callerJohn Fourcadeat quarterback.  But the expansion team still averaged 14,231 fans for six home dates, which was third best in the 11-team league.  During the 1996 season – the franchise’s high water mark with a 10-4 record – the Mustangs tied for the league lead in attendance with 15,567 fans on average for seven openings.

The Milwaukee Mustangs were owned throughout their existence by the Vallozzi family.  During the Mustangs’ final season in 2001 the Vallozzi’s feuded publicly with management of the Bradley Center over date conflicts and planned renovation projects.  The Mustangs closed their doors in August 2001 and blamed the closure of the team on the intractable arena disputes.

Arena football returned to Milwaukee in 2009 with the formation of the Milwaukee Iron of Arena Football 2, which was initially owned by the Vallozzi’s as well.  The new franchise was unable to rekindle Milwaukee’s earlier enthusiasm for the sport, despite reclaiming the Mustangs brand name in 2011.  The Vallozzi’s bailed out after the 2010 season and the Iron/Mustangs franchise shut down for good after the 2012 season.

 

==Milwaukee Mustangs Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1994 5/23/1994 @ Fort Worth Cavalry L 65-28 Video
1994 7/22/1994 vs. Cleveland Thunderbolts L 42-41   Video
1995 7/28/1995 vs. Memphis Pharaohs W 53-37 Program
1997 7/5/1997 @ Iowa Barnstormers L 47-29 Program
2000 6/29/2000 Los Angeles Avengers  W 64-52 Program

 

==YouTube==

Mustangs host the Cleveland Thunderbolts at the Bradley Center on July 22, 1994.

 

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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1988-1993 Detroit Drive

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Detroit DriveArena Football League (1988-1993)

Born: 1988 – Arena Football expansion franchise.
Died: March 1994 – The Drive relocate to Worcester, Massachusetts.

Arena: Joe Louis Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Mike Ilitch

 

The Detroit Drive were a championship dynasty during the early years of the Arena Football League.  Formed as an expansion franchise for the AFL’s second season, the Drive went on to play six years.  Incredibly, the Drive appeared in the Arena Bowl title game in all six seasons they competed.  They won the Arena Bowl four times (1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992) and compiled an overall regular season & playoff record of 58-12 in six seasons – an astounding 83% winning percentage.

Detroit DriveThe Drive’s most famous player was former Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter.  Schlichter, the #4 overall pick in the 1982 NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts, was a degenerate gambler and con artist.  During his rookie season in 1982, he gambled away his entire $350,000 signing bonus.  He was suspended from the NFL for gambling twice and never played an NFL down again after 1985.  Schlichter mounted a comeback with the Drive in 1990 at age 30 and promptly led the club to a third consecutive Arena Bowl title and was named the Arena league’s 1990 Most Valuable Player.

After leading the Drive to a fourth straight title appearance in 1991, the team traded him to the expansion Cincinnati Rockers prior to the 1992 season.  Although Schlichter would have his best statistical season with Cincinnati in 1992, the trade proved a shrewd deal for Detroit as the quarterback’s gambling addiction roared back to life in Ohio.  He passed at least two bad checks during the 1992 season and was arrested two weeks before the end of the season.  Schlichter never played another down of professional football after 1992 and spent much of the next decade in prison on various fraud charges.

The owner of the Detroit Drive was Little Caesar’s pizza mogul Mike Ilitch, who also owned the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.  The team was a popular attraction in Detroit, averaging over 14,000 fans per game at Joe Louis Arena over six seasons.  But Ilitch purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1993 and reportedly came to view the Drive as competition for the Tigers during the spring and summer months.  Ilitch sold the Drive to Joseph O’Hara in February 1994.  O’Hara moved the franchise to Worcester, Massachusetts where it played one undistinguished season as the Massachusetts Maraudersin 1994 and then went out of business.

 

 

==Detroit Drive Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1988 6/10/1988 vs. Los Angeles Cobras W 39-26 Video
1988 7/1/1988 @ Pittsburgh Gladiators W 28-9 Program
1988 7/30/1988 @ Chicago Bruisers W 24-13 Program
1989 7/28/1989 Pittsburgh Gladiators W 61-34 Program
1989 8/18/1989 vs. Pittsburgh Gladiators W 39-26 Program
1990 7/14/1990 @ Dallas Texans L 33-29 Video
1990 8/3/1990 vs. Pittsburgh Gladiators W 61-30 Program
1990 8/11/1990 vs. Dallas Texans W 51-27 Program
1991 8/9/1991 vs. Albany Firebirds  W 37-35 Program
1991 8/17/1991 vs. Tampa Bay Storm L 48-42 Program

 

==YouTube==

The Drive host the Los Angeles Cobras at Joe Louis Arena, June 10th, 1988.

 

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

April 26th, 2014 at 8:43 pm

1990-2000 Albany Firebirds

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Albany FirebirdsArena Football League (1990-2000)

Born: 1990 – Arena Football expansion franchise.
Died: October 19, 2000 – The Firebirds relocate to Indianapolis, IN.

Arena:

Team Colors: Orange, Black & White

Owners:

 

 

The Albany Firebirds were a long-running Arena Football franchise that played in the Capital Region of New York for eleven seasons from 1990 to 2000.   The Firebirds arrived in 1990 as an expansion team in the then-struggling Arena Football League, which had nearly folded one year earlier.  Founding majority owner Joseph O’Hara was a minor league mogul in the area, who also owned the popular Albany Patroons basketball team and a far less popular indoor soccer team called the New York Kick.  (O’Hara would sell his controlling interest to partner Glenn Mazula in early 1992 in order to become President of the Arena Football League and avoid a conflict of interest).  O’Hara and Mazula paid a modest $125,000 expansion fee to join the league in April 1990, forming the franchise just six weeks before playing their first game.

Albany FirebirdsThe Firebirds drew a loyal audience in Albany.  After a 3-5 record during their debut season, the Firebirds emerged as a perennial contender, making the playoffs for the next six seasons.  The team got outstanding quarterback play from Mike Perez (1994-1996) and his successor Mike Pawlawski (1996-2000) and featured one of the best offensive talents in the league with wide receiver “Touchdown” Eddie Brown (1994-2000).   Brown was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1994 and Offensive Player of the Year in 1996 and 1999.

The Firebirds’ finest hour came at the end of the 1999 season when the team made its first and only Arena Bowl appearance.  The ‘Birds hosted Arena Bowl XIII at the Times Union Center and defeated the Orlando Predators 59-43.  Brown caught 12 passes for 185 yards and hauled in 4 touchdowns.  He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

In October 1990, long-time Albany Firebirds owner Glenn Mazula announced the franchise would move to Indianapolis for the 2001 season.  The Indianapolis Firebirds played four more seasons before going out of business in late 2004.

Arena Football returned to Albany in 2002 with the formation of the Albany Conquest of Arena Football 2, a small market minor league that served the original Arena Football League.  The Conquest lasted from 2002 to 2008 and then re-adopted the old Albany Firebirds moniker for a final season of play in 2009.  Arena Football 2 folded after the 2009 season, along with the “new” (and significantly less popular) Firebirds.

 

==Albany Firebirds Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1990 6/9/1990 vs. Washington Commandos W 16-12 Program
1991 6/1/1991 vs. New Orleans Night W 45-20 Video
1991 8/9/1991 @ Detroit Drive L 37-35 Program
1992 7/25/1992 vs. Cincinnati Rockers L 50-40 Video
1993 8/6/1993 @ Tampa Bay Storm L 48-34 Program
1994 8/12/1994 @ Charlotte Rage W 52-28 Video
1998 7/2/1998 @ Iowa Barnstormers L 55-48 Program

 

==YouTube==

Albany Firebirds host the Cincinnati Rockers at Knickerbocker Arena on July 25, 1992.

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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2004-2008 Austin Wranglers

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Austin WranglersArena Football League (2004-2007)
Arena Football 2 (2008)

Born: October 7, 2003 – Arena Football expansion franchise.
Died: September 2008 – The Wranglers cease operations.

Arena: Frank Erwin Center

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

 

The Austin Wranglers were an expansion franchise added to the booming Arena Football League in September of 2003.  The Wranglers came in at the ass end of a giant speculative bubble in Arena Football franchises, sparked by investment from NFL owners and a network television contract with NBC in the early 2000′s.  Original Wranglers majority owner Greg Feste and his partners – who included NFL super agent Leigh Steinberg and half a dozen then-current and former NFL players – paid a reported $16.2 million expansion fee according to The Orlando Sentinel, the third highest price ever paid for an indoor football franchise. (Other sources pegged the price tag at $12.0 million).

Feste was a controversial figure in Austin and in pro football circles.  At the time the Wranglers were formed, Feste was a failed former stockbroker who ran afoul of federal regulators, a real estate developer  who fell into bankruptcy and, equally briefly, an agent and financial advisor to Christian pro football players.  Feste’s player representation activities and ties to an organization called Champions For Christ were the subject of an NFL investigation in 1998.

None of these activities are mentioned in Feste’s lengthy two-page bio in the Wrangler’s inaugural media guide in 2004.  Instead, Feste is credited solely as the founder of FesteCapital, which portrays the 43-year old Texan as a “leader, entrepreneur and visionary” in the field of virtually everything: “consulting, realty, development, franchise management, mortgage banking, private equity, aviation services, finance and sports enterprises”.

A U.S. Magistrate Judge named Andrew Austin would later find that FesteCapital had “no assets” and existed solely to control a lease agreement for a couple of dozen private jet rentals that Feste used in the winter of 2003-04 while the Wranglers were ramping up.  The matter came to the court’s attention when Feste neglected to pay for the flights.

Despite Feste’s history of failed ventures, both the Wranglers and Arena Football League Commissioner David Baker bragged that the Wranglers expansion application was approved in record time, just over 60 days after Feste’s initial inquiry to the league office.  In early 2004, Feste described his business plan to an Austin American Statesman reporter: “Buy it for $12 million, sell it for $40 million.”  But unbeknownst to Feste and his partners, they’d bought in at the top of the market.  The AFL’s expansion binge crested in 2003 and the league would sell only one new franchise (Kansas City for a record expansion fee of $18.0 million in 2005) before folding in 2009.  Dr. Robert Nucci, a disgruntled late era owner who paid a record $18.8 million for the Tampa Bay Storm franchise in 2007, would later compare the league’s business model to a “Ponzi scheme” reliant on continuous infusions of expansion fee cash.

Austin WranglersOn the carpet, the Wranglers finished their first season at .500 with an 8-8 record, narrowly missing the playoffs.  Austin claimed an average gate of 11,140 fans per game, which was just below the league average of 12,019.  Greg Feste’s partners forced him out of the organization at the end of the Wranglers’ debut season.  He was replaced as managing partner by Doug MacGregor, a former Dell Computers executive and Wranglers’ season ticket holder during the team’s inaugural season.

Doug MacGregor turned out to be a true believer in the sport of Arena Football and his holdings eventually grew to include not just the Wranglers, but numerous franchises in Arena Football 2, a developmental league for smaller markets.

The Wranglers endured three more money-losing seasons in the AFL.  The highlight was 2006, when the team finished 10-6 and earned their only playoff appearance, losing at home in the first round to the Philadelphia Soul.

At the end of the 2007 season, the Wranglers declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy and re-organized.  MacGregor continued to own the club, but pulled the team out of the Arena Football League and self-relegated down to the lower-budget Arena Football 2.   The move to AF2 coincided with a dramatic crash in fan interest, as average crowds dropped from over 12,000 per game in 2007 to just 3,458 in 2008.  MacGregor and his partners folded the club in September 2008.

The Austin Wranglers are the only Arena Football League franchise that ever dropped down into Arena Football 2.  Both leagues went out of business in 2009, although the Arena Football League was later revived in 2010 after its name and intellectual property were purchased in bankruptcy court.

Greg Feste resurfaced in Austin as a restaurateur in 2006, but his Cheesecake Kitchen went bust the following year, leaving dozens of workers unpaid and protesting in front of his house.  Mark Brunell, the former Jacksonville Jaguars Pro Bowl quarterback, born again Christian, and Austin Wranglers investor, declared bankruptcy in 2011.  During Feste’s late 1990′s NFL adventures with Champions For Christ, he represented Brunell’s commercial interests.  Feste later recruited Brunell into at least two failed investment schemes – the Wranglers and a group of Whataburger fast food franchises in Jacksonville, Florida.

 

==Austin Wranglers Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
2004 2/22/2004 vs. Tampa Bay Storm W 56-48 Program
2005 5/14/2005 @ New Orleans Voodoo  L 69-68 Program
2008 7/26/2008 vs. Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings L 65-54 Program

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 24th, 2013 at 2:13 am