Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1976-1982 Colorado Rockies

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Lanny McDonald Colorado RockiesNational Hockey League (1976-1982)

Born: 1976 – The Kansas City Scouts relocate to Denver, CO.
Died
: May 27, 1982 – The Rockies relocate to East Rutherford, NJ.

Arena: McNichols Arena

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

Hockey’s Colorado Rockies were a star-crossed NHL franchise that spent most of their six seasons in Denver attempting to move elsewhere.  The Rockies began life in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts, a poorly vetted NHL expansion effort. After two disastrous seasons in K.C., the destitute Scouts were purchased by Colorado oilman Jack Vickers in the summer of 1976.  Vickers immediately moved the team to Denver’s McNichols Arena for the 1976-77 NHL season.

Denver trudged a long, weird path to make it into the National Hockey League.  During the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the city enjoyed the minor league Denver Spurs, who played at the Denver Coliseum.  In 1972, the World Hockey Association formed and fired a shot across the NHL’s bow by signing Chicago Blackhawks star Bobby Hull to an historic $1 million contract.  Further raids on NHL rosters followed and the warring leagues soon began fighting over expansion cities.  Denver was attractive to both leagues, especially with the brand new 16,000-seat McNichols Arena due to open in 1975.

Barry Beck Colorado RockiesIn 1974, Spurs owner Ivan Mullenix landed conditional approval for an NHL expansion club to begin play in the fall of 1976.  But with McNichols Arena ready for 1975, Mullenix pushed to get into the NHL a year earlier.  The plan called for Mullenix to acquire one of the NHL’s basket case franchises of the era – either the California Golden Seals or the Pittsburgh Penguins.  But those maneuvers collapsed in early 1975 and with the Spurs’ future in the NHL looking shaky, Mullenix abruptly joined the rival World Hockey Association instead that spring.  Denver fans, promised NHL for more than a year, were displeased with the bait and switch.  They stayed away in droves and the Spurs only lasted three months in the WHA before bolting town midway through the 1975-76 season.

This was the landscape that Vickers inherited when NHL hockey finally arrived in Denver in the autumn of 1976.  “Rocky Hockey” could have been a coronation after years of struggle.  Instead, it was just Act II of the perverse soap opera that was Colorado hockey during the Me Decade.  For starters, the Rockies were consistently terrible.  The team had seven head coaches in six seasons and in their best season finished 23 games below .500.  The Rockies never won a playoff game in their brief lifespan.

By the spring of 1978, Vickers had lost somewhere between $4.5 and $6 million on the Rockies and was fed up with the lease at McNichols Arena.  The Rockies nearly move to Houston in June 1978, but instead Vickers sold the team later that summer to New Jersey trucking baron Arthur Imperatore.  Imperatore was clear about his ambition to move the Rockies to New Jersey to play in the new Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford but the new building wouldn’t be ready until 1981.  The Rockies would stay in Denver another four years, but they always had the feel of short-timers.

Don Cherry Colorado RockiesDuring the second year of Imperatore’s ownership, in 1979-80, the Rockies made their two biggest acquisitions.  First, they hired the colorful former Boston Bruins chieftain Don Cherry and made him the highest paid coach in the National Hockey League.  And midway through the season, they traded one of their top players, Wilf Paiement, to the miserly Toronto Maple Leafs for future Hall-of-Famer Lanny McDonaldCherry was a fan favorite in Colorado and McDonald quickly established himself as the Rockies’ top scoring threat.

But as usual the club’s chronic instability rapidly undermined any sense of excitement or momentum.  The Rockies finished in last place (19-48-13) under Cherry, while the coach clashed all season long with General Manager Ray Miron.  Cherry was fired at the end of the season (no Rockies coach ever lasted longer than one season).  McDonald was traded to Calgary in 1981 after playing just one full season for Colorado.  And Imperatore gave up on the NHL and sold the club to Buffalo cable TV entrepreneur Peter Gilbert in late 1980, the team’s third owner in four years.

By the spring of 1982, the Brendan Byrne Arena was open for business in the swamps of northern New Jersey.  Peter Gilbert sold the team yet again, this time to Houston Astros owner John McMullen.  McMullen pulled off the complex maneuver that had eluded Arthur Imperatore, paying off the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers to gain the NHL’s blessing to move to New Jersey in May 1982.

Postscript: Don Cherry never coached again in the NHL after being dismissed by the Rockies in the spring of 1980.  But he became a Canadian icon as the between-periods host of “Coaches Corner” on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada NHL broadcasts.  In 2004, Cherry was voted the “7th Greatest Canadian” in a CBC poll.

The NHL returned to Denver in 1995 when the Quebec Nordiques relocated to the Mile High City and became the Colorado Avalanche.

 

==Colorado Rockies Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1978-79 9/26/1978 @ Winnipeg Jets (WHA) W 5-3 Program
1980-81 4/2/1981 @ Calgary Flames L 5-3 Program

 

==In Memoriam==

Peter Gilbert, the final owner of the Rockies, died of cancer on March 26, 1989 at age 62.  New York Times obit.

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Written by andycrossley

January 24th, 2015 at 2:24 pm

1946 Youngstown Gremlins

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Youngstown Gremlins ProgramMiddle Atlantic League (1946)

Born: 1946
Died: 1947 – Re-branded as the Youngstown Colts.

Stadium: Idora Park

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio was a fixture in the Class C Middle Atlantic League between 1939 and 1951.  The team identity changed every couple of years (Browns, Gremlins, Colts, A’s) and there was no baseball in the Steel Valley at all from 1942 to 1945, as the Mid-Atlantic went dark during the meanest years of World War II.  The local nine were known as the Youngstown Gremlins (the best name of the bunch, IMO) for only one season, when the Mid-Atlantic League came back to life in the post-war summer of 1946.

The Gremlins played at Idora Park, site of Youngstown’s historic amusement park.  The Jack Rabbit roller coaster loomed over right field.  The amusement park closed in 1984 following a devastating fire.

There’s no clear record online of whether the Gremlins had a Major League affiliation in 1946.  Between the unusual name and the fact that only one player from the club ever advanced to the Major Leagues, I’d hazard a guess that the team was independent.  Ace pitcher Johnny Kucab (12-1, 1.86 ERA) was the brightest light at the not-quite-young age of 26.  He would later pitch three seasons in the Majors for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1950-1952.

Another compelling figure was the team’s manager, Paul Birch.  Birch played some sporadic minor league baseball, but his better sport was basketball.  He starred at Duquesne University in nearby Pittsburgh and was playing for the Youngstown Bears in the National Basketball League (a forerunner to the modern NBA) in 1947 when he signed on to manage to Gremlins during the summer months.

Birch would later become Head Coach of the NBA’s Fort Wayne Pistons from 1951 through 1954.  Birch would resign his Pistons job under pressure in the fall out from the Jack Molinas point shaving scandal in 1954 and never worked in the NBA again.  Birch passed away in 1982.

 

==Links==

Youngstown Baseball Has a History Dating Back to 19th Century“, Vince Guerrieri, DidTheTribeWinLastNight.com

Middle Atlantic League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 15th, 2015 at 2:17 am

1983-1985 Oakland Invaders

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Oakland InvadersUnited States Football League (1983-1985)

Born: May 11, 1982 – USFL founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1985 – The Invaders cease operations.

Stadium: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

 

 

==Oakland Invaders Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1983 4/3/1983 @ Los Angeles Express L 10-7 Program
1983 4/16/1983 vs. Philadelphia Stars L 17-7 Program
1983 6/13/1983 vs. Denver Gold W 16-10 Program
1983 7/10/1983 @ Michigan Panthers  L 37-21 Program
1984 5/13/1984 vs. Arizona Wranglers W 14-3 Program
1984 6/15/1984 @ Los Angeles Express L 24-19 Program
1985 6/30/1985 vs. Tampa Bay Bandits W 30-27 Program Video
1985 7/14/1985 Baltimore Stars L 28-24 Program Video

 

==Key Players==

  • Anthony Carter
  • Bobby Hebert

 

==YouTube==

The last USFL game.  Invaders vs. Baltimore Stars in the 1985 USFL Championship Game, July 14, 1985.

 

==In Memoriam==

Defensive end Larry Bethea, who played briefly for Oakland in 1985, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 24, 1987 at age 30.

Offensive lineman Chris Riehm (Invaders ’84) passed away in March 2012 at age 50.

Safety John Arnaud died of lung cancer at age 51 on November 10, 2012.

 

==Links==

USFL Media Guides

USFL Game Programs

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1943-1950 Racine Belles

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Racine Belles ProgramAll-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1950)

Born: 1943 – AAGPBL founding franchise.
Died: September 30, 1950 – The Belles withdraw from the AAGPBL.

Stadium: Horlick Field

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Racine (WI) Belles were charter members of the historic All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the war summer of 1943.  The Midwest-based AAGPBL was founded by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley when it appeared that the war and the military draft might imperil the continued operation of Major League Baseball.  The women’s league was originally conceived as a softball league in 1943, but evolved into a baseball competition through a series of gradual rules changes throughout the 1940’s.  The league used underhand pitching, for example, for its first few seasons.  Wrigley gave up the league after its first season when it became clear that Major League Baseball would survive the war.  But his gum advertising guru Arthur Meyerhoff took over management of the AAGPBL and kept it operating into the post-war era.

The AAGPBL found an audience in places like Racine – where Belles attendance would peak at a very respectable 102,413 fans in 1946 – and continued to operate until 1954.  The Belles won the first championship of the AAGPBL in 1943, defeating the Kenosha Comets.  They would win a second crown in 1946.

As late as 1947, Belles attendance topped 100,000, but interested declined rapidly in the summers that followed.  In 1949 attendance fell to 44,912 and the money-losing club was re-organized under the auspices of a non-profit organization the following winter.  Crowds continued to shrink (an estimated 30,000 admissions for the 1950 season) and Belles management announced it would withdraw from the AAGPBL in September 1950.

Rights to the Belles franchise and its players were later assigned to Battle Creek, Michigan under new management, though many of the Belles players declined to follow the club to Michigan.  The Battle Creek Belles played two further seasons, going out of business at the end of the 1952 campaign.

 

==Slideshow==

  • Racine Belles Yearbook
  • Racine Belles Program
  • Racine Belles Yearbook
  • Racine Belles Yearbook
  • Racine Belles Yearbook

 

==Links==

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 11th, 2015 at 5:01 am

2001-2002 New Jersey Gladiators

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Arena Football League (2001-2002)New Jersey Gladiators

Born: 2001 – The New Jersey Red Dogs are re-branded as the Gladiators.
Died: December 20, 2002 – The Gladiators relocate to Las Vegas, NV.

Arena: Continental Airlines Arena (19,040)

Team Colors: Black, Red & Gray

Owner: Jim Ferraro

 

A pretty much forgotten Arena Football League entry that briefly made its home at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford at the turn of the century.  The franchise was actually formed back in 1997 as the New Jersey Red Dogs, who took their name and logo from a title sponsorship with Miller Brewing’s briefly prominent Red Dog beer brand.

By the end of the 2000 season, the Red Dogs’ original ownership group (which included former Giants Carl Banks, Jim Burt, Harry Carson and Joe Morris) was ready to move on and the team passed into the hands of Miami attorney Jim Ferraro.  The beer sponsorship seemingly ended at this time as well, since Ferraro quickly re-branded the team as the “Gladiators” for the 2001 season.

The new-look Gladiators got off to a grim start when only 3,542 showed up for the first home game of the 2001 season, a listless 52-21 loss to the Carolina Cobras.  The team finished the 2001 season in last place with a 2-12 record and average attendance of 3,312, which was barely a third of the Arena Football League average of 9,188.

New head coach Frank Haege led a turn around on the carpet in 2002 (9-5 record and a playoff appearance). But the team’s improved play failed to translate at the box office and the Gladiators bolted town for Las Vegas in December 2002.

Ex-New York Jets quarterback Glenn Foley signed with the Gladiators in 2002 but failed to best journeyman minor leaguer Jay McDonagh for the starting job and spent the season on the bench.

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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