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2004-2008 Austin Wranglers

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Arena 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.

On 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.

 

==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

July 28, 1989 – Detroit Drive vs. Pittsburgh Gladiators

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Detroit Drive vs. Pittsburgh Gladiators
July 28, 1989
Richfield Coliseum
Attendance: 3,412

Arena Football League Programs
16 pages

 

The Arena Football League hobbled into its third season in July of 1989 having barely survived an offseason civil war that pitted founder Jim Foster against a group of limited partners who bought into the league’s first round of expansion in 1988.

Foster emerged with control of his baby, but without most of his local market investors, save for Little Caesar’s Pizza founder (and future Detroit Tigers owner) Mike Ilitch in Detroit.  With its franchises rudderless and in disarray, Arena Football decided to stage a limited stopgap season, featuring just five league-managed teams and a total of 13 games.

Although teams represented Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Maryland and Pittsburgh in name, Arena Football made only one appearance in each of those cities in 1989.  The remaining five regular games were played in neutral cities to showcase the sport to potential expansion investors.

This particular game between the Detroit Drive and the Pittsburgh Gladiators was staged at Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum.  The game was a strong example of Arena Football’s pass-happy offenses and non-stop scoring (Detroit won 61-34), but as a sales promotion, it was a bust.  The event drew an announced crowd of only 3,412 curiosity seekers to the 17,000-seat Coliseum.  Of the 13 Arena Football exhibitions staged around the country in the summer of 1989, only a neutral site game in Baltimore drew a smaller crowd.

Despite the fact that none of the five 1989 test markets signed on for expansion franchises in 1990, the league did manage to add new investors and grow to six franchises in 1990.  That was the start of a fifteen-year surge in Arena Football growth which saw expansion fees grow from $125,000 in 1990 to $18 million in 2005.  The expansion bubble burst soon afterwards and the league folded and sought bankruptcy protection in 2009.

 

==Downloads==

July 28, 1989 Detroit Drive vs. Pittsburgh Gladiators Roster Sheets

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Written by andycrossley

December 16th, 2013 at 2:08 am

July 16, 1988 – Pittsburgh Gladiators vs. New England Steamrollers

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Pittsburgh Gladiators vs. New England Steamrollers
July 16, 1988
Pittsburgh Civic Arena
Attendance: 7,730

Arena Football League Programs
64 pages

 

This great-looking program comes from the final regular season game of the 1988 Arena Football League season.  The cover illustration depicts a blitzing defender from the New England Steamrollers closing in on a Pittsburgh Gladiators quarterback.  The fact that those were the two teams actually playing in this game was just a coincidence, since this was one of six illustrated cover designs for the ARENABALL game magazine that were used around league throughout the AFL’s 36-game season.

The Gladiators (6-5) beat up on the lowly Steamrollers (2-9) during two earlier 1988 meetings, including the league’s most lopsided blowout of the year, an 82-26 ass whipping back on May 7th at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  This night New England got a surprising measure of revenge, upsetting the Gladiators 44-34.  The catalyst was ex-Gladiator and reigning AFL Most Valuable Player Russell Hairston, who had been traded to New England two weeks earlier.  Hairston torched his former team for four touchdowns.  Since Arena Football players played both ways back in those days, Hairston also led New England in tackles on the evening.

This turned out to be the last hurrah for the obscure Steamrollers club, who folded quietly in the offseason after just one season of existence.  Former Boston Patriots quarterback Babe Parilli was New England’s Head Coach.

The game was broadcast nationally on ESPN and someone has posted a nice quality three minute clip on YouTube:

 

==YouTube==

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Written by andycrossley

December 5th, 2013 at 2:58 am

May 18, 1996 – Florida Bobcats vs. San Jose Sabercats

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Florida Bobcats vs. San Jose Sabercats
May 18, 1996
West Palm Beach Auditorium
Attendance: 4,479

Arena Football League Programs
78 pages

 

This rare program from the 1996 Florida Bobcats of the Arena Football League showed up at the P.O. box this afternoon.  The Bobcats were considered one of the league’s more troublesome embarrassments, thanks to their ownership squabbles, a puny 4,700-seat arena controlled by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and miserable crowds.  Nevertheless, the ‘Cats managed to hang in there for six seasons from 1996 to 2001, which was a long life span by the standards of the Arena League.

Before the franchise arrived in West Palm Beach under new ownership in the spring of 1996, the team played in Miami and was known as the Miami Hooters (1993-1995).  The Hooters were something of a convalescent home for ex-Miami Dolphins wide receivers.  Jim “Crash” Jensen, a 12-year Dolphins vet and special teams ace, started at quarterback (his college position at Boston University) for the Hooters in 1993 and 1994.  Former All-Pro Mark Duper showed up to play a couple of games in 1994, hauling in passes from his old Fins teammate.

Jensen retired from playing in 1995 and Duper wandered away to defend himself against a drug trafficking charge the same year.  But when new franchise owner Bruce Frey moved the team to West Palm Beach in 1996, he brought back Crash Jensen as the Bobcats’ first Head Coach.  That’s Jensen on the cover of this Week 4 game program (above right).

The gig wasn’t a stable one, however.  Frey went through five Head Coaches during his five tumultuous seasons as owner.  (Oddly, Jensen would end up back with the Bobcats in 1999 as an assistant coach to another ex-Dolphin, former tight end Bruce Hardy.)

The Bobcats lost this May 1996 game to the San Jose Sabercats by a score of 43-26.  The Sabercats, improbably, still survive today after 18 seasons of indoor football.

Fred McNair, older brother of the late NFL star Steve McNair, took most of the snaps at quarterback for the Bobcats this season.

Written by andycrossley

November 20th, 2013 at 3:06 am

1991-1992 New Orleans Night

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Arena Football League (1991-1992)

Born: March 18, 1991 – AFL expansion franchise.
Died: October 1992 – The Night cease operations.

Arena: Louisiana Superdome (13,900)

Team Colors: Midnight Blue, Sunset Orange, Moonlight White

Owners:

  • 1991: Arena Football League
  • 1992: Mike McBath, et al.

 

The New Orleans Night was a short-lived franchise during the early years of the original Arena Football League (1987-2008).  The Night formed as an owner-less expansion team in March 1991 and were operated during their first season by the building management of the Louisiana Superdome.  In July 1991, Orlando-area businessman and former NFL defensive end put together a group to buy the Night for $500,000.  McBath already was a part owner of the league’s very popular Orlando Predators franchise, but he was unable to replicate that success in the Big Easy and the Night folded after a winless 1992 campaign.

The Night were 4-6 in the first season in 1991 under former Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Eddie Khayat.  The team’s most notable player was former Mississippi Valley State quarterback Willie Totten.  Totten was Jerry Rice’s college quarterback and shattered numerous Division 1-AA passing records in tandem with the legendary receiver.  Totten split time at quarterback with former LSU signal caller Mickey Guidry in 1991.

After Mike McBath bought the team, former Tulane Head Coach Vince Gibson replaced Eddie Khayat for the 1992 season.  The Night went 0-10 under Gibson, with Mickey Guidry taking most of the snaps at quarterback.  The Night’s final appearance was a 62-8 humiliation on the road against McBath’s other team, the Orlando Predators, on July 31, 1992.  McBath and his partners handed the keys to the franchise back to the league office in October 1992 and the Night was quietly euthanized when no other buys came forward.

Even among Arena Football diehards, the New Orleans Night are on obscure and forgotten franchise.  To the extent they are remembered at all, it is usually for sporting garish Zubaz stripes on their uniforms as part of a 1991 promotional campaign with the flash-in-the-pan apparel manufacturer.

The Night cheerleading squad was known as “The Rhythm of the Night”.

Arena Football returned to New Orleans in 2004 with the arrival of the New Orleans Voodoo, owned by Saints owner Tom Benson.

 

==Night Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1991 6/22/1991 vs. Denver Dynamite  L 54-44 Program
1991 7/5/1991 vs. Dallas Texans W 39-37 Program
1991 7/19/1991 @ Orlando Predators L 44-29 Program
1992 6/20/1992 @ Arizona Rattlers L 23-15 Program

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Night Head Coach Vince Gibson passed away on January 10, 2012 from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  Gibson was 78.

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

New Orleans Night All-Time Results & Statistics on ArenaFan.com

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Written by andycrossley

November 2nd, 2013 at 2:04 pm