The Sacramento Knights were an indoor soccer team that played for nearly a decade under the management of successive ownership groups of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings franchise. The basic details of this club are mostly indistinguishable from hundreds of other defunct teams here on FWIL – team forms, muddles along in obscurity for several years and then is quietly euthanized. So before running through those mundane details, I’ll just tell you the strangest thing in the Knights file:
Ex-Knights General Manager Hubert Rotteveel, once a member of UCLA’s 1985 national champion soccer team, became a bank robber after the demise of the Knights. And not a great one. On June 30, 2010, a bike helmet and spandex-clad Rotteveel robbed two Sacramento area banks with a BB gun. He was caught cycling away from the second bank when the dye pack in his loot exploded in front of a patrol car. Rotteveel, by most accounts a well-liked and respected executive during his soccer years, is eligible for release in 2014, but still faces additional fraud charges related his former real estate business.
ANYWAY … What happened to the Knights? Original owner Jim Thomas purchased the club as a founding member of the Continental Indoor Soccer League in September 1992, a few months after he acquired control of the Kings. The CISL, which existed from 1993 until 1997, initially attracted a number of NBA ownership groups besides Thomas and the Kings, but enthusiasm for the league and the sport of indoor soccer declined in the mid-1990’s. NBA owners began to look to the new WNBA to fill summer dates in their arenas instead. In addition to the Knights, the Sacramento Kings ownership also operated the WNBA’s Sacramento Monarchs during the summer months. Coincidentally or not, the debut season of the WNBA in 1997 also proved to be the final year for the CISL, which folded in December 1997.
The Knights did play on, however, joining several other CISL refuges in pair of lower-profile successor leagues starting in 1998.
When Thomas sold controlling interest in the Kings to Maloof Sports & Entertainment in 1999, the Knights were thrown in with the deal. The Maloofs operated the Knights for three more seasons through 2001 before folding the team.
The Dallas Sidekicks seemed perpetually on the edge of death during their 20-year run in North Texas, but they were revived on the operating table numerous times. For a brief period from 2001 to 2004, the Sidekicks were actually the longest continually operating professional soccer franchise in the United States. The team survived the implosion of four different leagues before finally meeting its maker once and for all in 2004 after nineteen seasons.
The club was founded in June 1983 by Dallas Mavericks owner Donald Carter, who bought the dormant MISL membership of the New Jersey Rockets (1981-1982) out of bankruptcy court. The team drew poorly during Carter’s first turn at the helm and the Mavs’ owner lost $5 million running the Sidekicks for two seasons from 1984 to 1986. The club’s demise was announced in June 1986, but angel investors stepped in the next day and rescued the team. This would become something of a tradition and Donald Carter himself would return in the early 1990’s to rescue the team during another financial crisis.
The Sidekicks greatest season was their third campaign during the winter of 1986-87. After nearly folding a few months earlier, the team went 28-24 under Head Coach Gordon Jago and made it to the best-of-seven MISL Championship Series against the favored Tacoma Stars. The series was absolutely thrilling and witnessed by huge crowds in both Dallas and Tacoma.
Tacoma held a 3-2 series lead as the series headed to Dallas for Game 6. 16,824 fans packed a sold-out Reunion Arena and exploded when Dallas’ Mark Karpun scored in the 21 minutes in double-overtime to send the series back to Tacoma for a decisive Game 7. 21,728 fans packed the Tacoma Dome for the finale. To this day, it is still the largest crowd ever to witness an indoor soccer game in the United States. Once again, the game went to sudden death overtime. And again it was Mark Karpun who scored the clincher, giving the Sidekicks a 4-3 victory and their first league title.
Many great indoor players suited up for the Sidekicks over the years, including Karpun, David Doyle, Godfrey Ingram and Krys Sobieski. But the figure who became indistinguishable from the franchise itself was the 5′ 6″ Brazilian striker known simply as Tatu. Tatu arrived in Dallas at age 22 for the Sidekicks first season in 1984-85 and stayed for the next 19 seasons. He previously played for Sidekicks coach Gordon Jago with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League. He became one of the most prolific scorers of all-time in the indoor game, scoring 857 goals in 21 seasons.
Tatu was a great showman as much as a thrilling attacker. He became the league’s most recognizable star, thanks to his tradition of stripping off his jersey and firing it into the Reunion Arena stands after each goal he scored at home. Growing up in Boston in the 1980’s, there wasn’t an indoor soccer team for hundreds of miles. But I knew about Tatu thanks to tape delayed broadcasts of MISL games on ESPN and SportsChannel America. He was the face (and torso, I suppose) of the league. In 1989, despite never having seen a pro soccer game in person, I mailed Tatu a copy of Soccer Digest magazine and asked for an autograph. He mailed a whole package of Sidekicks goodies, including the autographed picture at right.
Tatu retired as a player from the Sidekicks after the 2002-03 season, but returned the next season as the team’s Head Coach. However, with the face of the franchise now confined to the bench, Sidekicks attendance plummeted by nearly 30% to the club’s lowest figure since the first season nearly 20 years earlier. At the end of the 2003-04 season, the Sidekicks were again on their deathbed. This time, at last, there was no savior and the club folded in September 2004.
In 2012, Tatu led a revival of the Sidekicks name, helping to launch a club in the Professional Arena Soccer League. Tatu coaches the new Sidekicks, who play at the Allen Event Center in the suburbs of Dallas.
==Dallas Sidekicks Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
Goalkeeper Antonio Cortes (1997) was shot to death in his office in Puebla, Mexico on New Year’s Eve, 2001. According to Alan Balthrop of the Dallas Sidekicks Historical Archive, his murdered has never been apprehended.
Forward Kyle Owen died in car accident on April 11, 2003 at age 29.
Assistant Coach Keith Weller succumbed to cancer on November 13, 2004.