Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1966-1967 Waterbury Orbits

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Waterbury Orbits ProgramAtlantic Coast Football League (1966-1967)

Born: January 1966 – ACFL expansion franchise.
Died: 1968 – The Orbits relocate to Bridgeport, CT.

Stadium: Municipal Stadium (10,000)

Team Colors:

Owners: Dan Adley, Israel Gordon, James Lamberti & C. Newton Schenck

 

The Waterbury (CT) Orbits were a minor league football outfit that played for two seasons in the Atlantic Coast Football League during the mid-1960’s.  The franchise, awarded in January 1966, was originally intended for New Haven, Connecticut but community opposition to use of the city’s playing fields caused the team to relocate to the fading industrial city of Waterbury.

Connecticut Gridiron Bill RyczekBill Ryczek’s excellent Connecticut Gridiron: Football Minor Leaguers of the 1960’s and 1970’s offers the definitive history of the Orbits (and perhaps the Atlantic Coast Football League more broadly).  Ryczek notes the support the Orbits received from Waterbury Mayor Frederick Palomba, a sports booster who worked to bring both pro football and minor league baseball to the Brass City in 1966.  One of the enticements was a $100,000 upgrade to Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium, which included the installation of lights for night games and the expansion of seating to accommodate 10,000 fans for football.

Club and civic officials confidently forecasted a sellout of 10,000 for the Orbit’s home opener in September 1966, but the crowd that day was about half that number and never would approach those lofty expectations.

The 1966 Orbits squad was strong under the direction of Fred Wallner, a former Pro Bowl lineman with the Chicago Cardinals NFL teams of the mid-1950’s.  Waterbury finished 8-3-1 and just outside of the playoffs in their first season.  Wide receiver Roger Milici led the ACFL in receiving yardage (1,083) and touchdowns (13), while Jerry Stevenson was the circuit leading ground gainer with 942 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.

Wholesale changes were in store for 1967.  Wallner departed as coach, replaced by Nick Cutro.  Stevenson departed as well, but was ably replaced by Allen Smith in the offensive backfield.  Smith would finish 2nd in the league in rushing yards and lead the ACFL with 15 touchdowns.  Milici returned, but was no longer the focus of the passing game – he would finish third on the team in receiving, although his totals (23-447-5 TDs) would still rank among the league’s best.

Superstar Billy GrahamThe Orbits’ prolific 1967 passing attack was directed by a flamboyant rookie quarterback named Jim “King” Corcoran.  There was no one quite like The King – a cult playboy who toiled most of his career in places like Pottstown and Chambersburg, yet earned tributes from The Rockford Files (where Rob Reiner played a character clearly based on Corcoran) to The Washington Post who printed an encyclopedic obituary upon his death in 2009.  In what would become a typical Corcoran number line, he led the league in passing yards (2,065), touchdown passes (19) and interceptions (21).

Another colorful figure from the Orbits roster was gargantuan defensive lineman Wayne Coleman from the 1966 squad.  Coleman’s football career would summit with a brief trial with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes in 1968.  But he found his real calling in the world of pro wrestling, where he became “Superstar Billy Graham”, heavyweight champion of the W.W.W.F. (precursor of today’s WWE) in the late 1970’s.

Following the 1967 season, the money-losing Orbits moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Kennedy Stadium and became the Bridgeport Jets.  The Jets would play in Bridgeport from 1968 until the demise of the ACFL in 1973.

 

==Waterbury Orbits Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1966 9/17/1966 @ Scranton Miners W 20-13 Program
1966 9/24/1966 vs. Wilmington Clippers ?? Program

 

==Links==

Atlantic Coast Football League Media Guides

Atlantic Coast Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 28th, 2014 at 9:41 pm

2001-2004 Detroit Fury

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Detroit Fury Media GuideArena Football League (2001-2004)

Born: Arena Football expansion franchise.
Died: September 20, 2004 – The Fury cease operations.

Arena: The Palace of Auburn Hills (20,804)

Team Colors: Black, Red, Purple & Silver

Owners: William Davidson & William Clay Ford, Jr.

 

The Detroit Fury of the Arena Football League were a short-lived joint venture between Bill Davidson’s Palace Sports & Entertainment (owners of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons) and  Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford, Jr.

An earlier Motor City entry in the league, the Detroit Drive (1988-1993), won four Arena Bowl championships and drew large crowds to the Joe Louis Arena downtown.  But the Fury were unable to revive that promise at the suburban Palace of Auburn Hills.  The Fury compiled a 22-41 record over four seasons of play, never finishing better than .500 under Head Coaches Mouse Davis (2001-2002), Al Luginbill (2003) and Al’s son Tom Luginbill (2004).

Detroit never really took to the team either – the Fury consistently ranked near the bottom of league at the box office. Overall, the team claimed an average of 8,152 fans for 30 home dates over four years.

Palace Sports & Entertainment folded the club on September 20, 2004 after four money-losing seasons.

Years later, former Fury staffer Dave Wieme gave an lengthy interview to Crain’s Detroit Business where he recalled the business challenges of operating the team.

 

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

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
2001 5/25/2001 @ Indiana Firebirds L 38-35 Program

 

==Links==

What killed the AFL’s Detroit Fury? The rent was too damn high” Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business, January 23, 2013

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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1987-1991 Denver Dynamite

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Denver DynamiteArena Football League (1987 & 1989-1991)

Born: 1987 – Arena Football League founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1991 – The Dynamite cease operations.

Arena: McNichols Arena (17,022)

Team Colors: Royal Blue & Gold

Owners:

 

The Denver Dynamite own a (very) minor place in pro football history as the answer to a trivia question: What city claimed the first championship of Arena Football?  The Dynamite won Arena Bowl I back in 1987, concluding a brief 6-game regular season with a 45-16 demolition of the Pittsburgh Gladiators before 13,000 fans at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena on August 1, 1987.

Arena Football expanded from four to six teams in 1988 and sought local limited partners for each franchise for the first time.  But no investor could be found in Denver, so the league’s defending champion was shut down and left off the 1988 schedule.  The following year, Arena Football nearly shut down after a revolt by the local limited partners against league founder Jim Foster.  Foster survived the coup, but the league was only able to stage a brief 4-game regular season contested by 5 clubs.  Needing teams to fill out the 1989 schedule, the Dynamite uniforms were hauled out of storage and the team was re-formed as a league-operated club.  But the 1989 team had only one home date at McNichols Arena.  The rest of the team’s games were played on the road or as league showcases in neutral cities.

In fact, from 1987 through 1989, the Dynamite had virtually nothing to do with the city of Denver.  During those three years, the Arena League staged only four games in the Mile High City.  And three of those games came during a three-week stretch in July of 1987.  You might have heard of the team, but damned if you could ever find a game to go.

Denver Dynamite

In April 1990, Foster finally found a Denver-area investor named Gary J. Graham who agreed to pay $125,000 for the rights to the Denver territory.  Under Graham’s management, the Dynamite finally became a true local team, playing full schedules at McNichols Arena in the summers of 1990 and 1991.  However, the team soon ran into financial problems including missed payrolls and creditor lawsuits and the Dynamite went out of  business for good in late 1991.

Marty Mornhinweg, who later became Head Coach of the NFL’s Detroit Lions in 2001-2002, played quarterback for the Dynamite in 1987, appearing in just one game before suffering an injury.

Arena Football returned to Denver in 2003 with the arrival of the Colorado Crush, owned by Mile High heavyweights Pat Bowlen, Stan Kroenke and John Elway.  The Crush were a popular fixture on the local sports scene, playing from 2003 until 2008, when the original Arena Football League closed its doors and declared bankruptcy.

 

==Denver Dynamite Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1987 8/1/1987 Pittsburgh Gladiators W 45-16 Program
1991 6/22/1991  @ New Orleans Night  W 54-44 Program

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Dynamite Head Coach Tim Marcum (’87) passed away on December 5, 2013 at age 69.

 

==Links==

Denver Dynamite exploded in Arena League’s first season, then fizzled out“, Joey Bunch, The Denver Post, October 22, 2012

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 28th, 2014 at 3:13 am

1990-1993 Dallas Texans

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Drew Pearson Dallas TexansArena Football League (1990-1993)

Born: 1990 – Arena Football expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1993 – The Texans cease operations.

Arena: Reunion Arena (16,088)

Team Colors: Blue, Red & White

Owners:

 

The Dallas Texans were the first of four Arena Football League teams to set up shop in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.  They preceded the Fort Worth Cavalry (1994), the Jerry Jones-owned Dallas Desperados (2002-2008) and the ill-fated Dallas Vigilantes (2010-2011).

The Texans earned a trip to Arena Bowl IV in the first season of play.  Granted there were only six teams in the league at the time.  Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Ernie Stautner was the Texans’ head coach in 1990 and would win the league’s Coach-of-the-Year award (and then never coach indoor football again).  Arena Bowl IV, played before 19,000 at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, featured the two greatest quarterbacks of the early years of Arena Football: Ben Bennett of the Texans and Art Schlichter of the Detroit Drive.  Schlichter was the former Ohio State star and #4 overall pick of the 1982 NFL draft who was infamously banned from the NFL by Commissioner Pete Rozelle due to his crippling gambling addiction.  Schlichter outdueled Bennett in the title game as Detroit defeated Dallas 51-27.

Dallas Texans LogoThe Texans looked completely different when the team returned for a second season in 1991.  Stautner departed for the NFL and was replaced as Head Coach and General Manager by former Dallas Cowboys star Drew Pearson.  Bennett didn’t re-sign with the team until midseason and then was quickly dealt to the Orlando Predators.  The star never threw another pass for Dallas after the 1990 Arena Bowl loss.  Replacement Alfred Jenkins, a Canadian Football League refugee, couldn’t muster much firepower, and the Texans finished 4-6 in 1991.

The franchise muddled along for two more seasons, continuing to shuffle Head Coaches (four different guys over four seasons), starting quarterbacks and owners.  Interest in the team ebbed away after some large early crowds in 1990 and the Texans were out of business by the fall of 1993.

One modest success story from the Texans’ brief existence was Lincoln Coleman, an undrafted running back out of Baylor.  Coleman played both running back and linebacker in the Arena League, where most players besides the quarterback and kicker played on both sides of the ball.  The ground game is an afterthought in Arena Football, but Coleman showed sufficient talent as a rookie with the Texans in 1993 that he earned a contract with the Dallas Cowboys and played two seasons in the NFL in 1993 and 1994.

Coleman was one of the first Arena Football players to earn a shot in the NFL and see significant playing time. He would be followed on that path a few years later by Kurt Warner.

 

==YouTube==

The Texans host the Detroit Drive before 13,360 fans at Reunion Arena on July 14, 1990.

 

==Dallas Texans Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1990 7/14/1990 vs. Detroit Drive W 33-29 Video
1990 8/11/1990 @ Detroit Drive L 51-27 Program
1991 7/5/1991 @ New Orleans Night  L 39-37 Program Video
1992 6/19/1992 @ Charlotte Rage W 32-20 Program
1992 8/23/1992 @ Sacramento Attack W 41-38 Program

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Texans Head Coach Ernie Stautner (’90) passed away on February 16, 2006 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.  Stautner was 80 years old.  New York Times obituary.

Texans founder and owner Lanier Richey died on May 13, 2012 at age 77 after battling Alzheimer’s disease. Obituary.

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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1964-1967 Joliet Explorers / Joliet Chargers

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Joliet Explorers ProgramUnited Football League (1964)
Professional Football League of America (1965-1966)

Born: 1964 – UFL expansion team.
Died: Postseason 1967 – The Joliet Chargers cease operations.

Stadium: Joliet Memorial Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners:

  • 1964: John Cantieri
  • 1964-1967: Joliet Explorers Inc. (numerous local investors)

 

The Joliet Explorers were a low-level minor league football team formed in 1964 as an expansion club in the United Football League.  The UFL had teams in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and the province of Quebec.  The Explorers were the league tomato can that fall, posting a record of 0-14.  Their opponents outscored them 591-144.

John Amos played briefly for the Explorers during that futile 1964 campaign.  At the time, Amos was a vagabond minor league running back.  In the 1970’s he got into acting, and would play James Evans, Sr., the father on Good Times from 1974 to 1976.  He’s been in dozens of other major film and TV roles, including playing meteorologist Gordy Howard on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Major Grant, the traitorous henchman who battles Bruce Willis on the wing of a passenger jet in Die Hard 2.

At the end of the 1964 season, the United Football League split apart.  The more ambitious teams partnered with defectors from the Atlantic Coast Football League to form the Continental Football League in February 1965.  Joliet fell in with a second faction that was content to remain a low-budget, regional league.  This group formed the Professional Football League of America in early 1965, which consisted of six teams from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska.

Punching bags in the UFL, the Explorers turned around their fortunes in the PFLA.  After posting an 8-1-1 regular season record in 1965, the Explorers swept the Grand Rapids Blazers in a two-game championship series.  The Explorers were competitive again in 1966 at 6-4-1, but finished just outside the playoffs.

In May 1967, Joliet struck an affiliation with the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League.  As part of the deal, the team changed its name to the Joliet Chargers for the 1967 season.  The Joliet Chargers went 10-2 in 1967 and then defeated the Alabama Hawks 31-20 in the PFLA Championship Game to claim their second title in three years.

The Chargers folded following the 1967 season.

 

==Links==

United Football League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

December 21st, 2014 at 10:59 pm