Born: 1979 – Joined American Football Association. Died: 1979 – The Mustangs cease operations in midseason.
The Tulsa Mustangs were a minor-league football outfit that last for only 5 games of a planned 16-game schedule in the American Football Association in 1979. The team had a 1-4 record at the time they folded in midseason. The AFA was a southern U.S. minor league that stretched from Jacksonville to San Antonio and as far north as Louisville during the 1979 season.
Most of the Tulsa Mustangs players were local players from Oklahoma and Texas universities and junior colleges. A roster from one of their five games is available in the games section below.
According to Wikipedia, the Mustangs played their few home games at Skelly Stadium, but we haven’t been able to find confirmation for that claim.
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.
The 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==
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==
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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.