The Cleveland Cobras were a lower-division American pro soccer club, active through the mid-70’s and into the early 1980’s. The team started out as the Cleveland Stars (1972-1974) before changing to the Cobras name in 1975. The Cobras played their home matches on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace University in suburban Berea. Cobras matches typically drew crowds in the low thousands.
The franchise was sold and relocated to new ownership in suburban Atlanta in early 1982, where it became known as the Georgia Generals. The Generals played only a single year before folding.
With the original Cobras departed, a new team organized under the Cobras name and announced plans to play a short exhibition schedule against American Soccer League opponents in 1982. The idea was to re-organize the team and apply for reinstatement to the ASL in 1983, but that never came to pass. At least one of these exhibition matches was held in the spring of 1982, but the team faded away quietly later that year, never to be heard from again.
==Cleveland Cobras Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
The Birmingham Stallions of the USFL were the best and most enduring of Birmingham’s endless procession of speculative pro football start-ups. Between 1974 and 2001, eight different football teams set up shop at the city’s Legion Field. Of this bunch, only the Stallions played more than two seasons.
After a middling debut season in the spring of 1983 (9-9), the Stallions emerged as one of the top teams in the USFL in 1984 (14-4) and 1985 (13-5). Birmingham’s fortunes began to improve with the arrival of a trio of players poached from the National Football League. Stallions Head Coach Rollie Dotsch was a former offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl champion teams of the late 1970’s. In April 1983, the Stallions lured deep threat wide receiver Jim Smith away from the Steelers. Although he arrived midway through the season, Smith quickly emerged as one of the top wideouts in the USFL and led Birmingham in receptions and receiving yards.
Shortly after the 1983 season, the Stallions persuaded disgruntled Buffalo Bills running back Joe Cribbsto jump to the USFL on a futures contract after the 1983 NFL season. Cribbs was a former Auburn star and a 3-time Pro Bowler who was still at the peak of his powers in the NFL. The Bills claimed to have a right of first refusal clause in Cribbs’ rookie contract that allowed them to retain the young tailback by matching any rival offer. Birmingham won a court battle with the Bills in the fall of 1983. Cribbs would lead the USFL in rushing as a Stallion in the spring of 1984.
The third key signing of offense was another one of Rollie Dotsch’s former compatriots from the Steelers. Quarterback Cliff Stoudt started most of the 1983 NFL season for Pittsburgh after Terry Bradshaw went down with the elbow injury that would ultimately end his career. The Steelers won the AFC Central with a 10-6 record, but Stoudt’s 21 interceptions and a late season collapse earned the quarterback the undying enmity of Pittsburgh fans. Stoudt signed with the Stallions in January 1984 two weeks after quarterbacking the Steelers in a blowout playoff loss to the Los Angeles Raiders. When the Stallions opened the 1984 USFL season on the road at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium a couple of months later, more than 50,000 fans showed up to heckle Stoudt and pelt him with snowballs. (The USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers franchise would never draw more than 25,000 again).
Fairly or not, Stoudt was maligned in Pittsburgh. But he excelled as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the USFL. In 1984, he threw 26 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions with a passer rating of 101.6. In 1985, he would toss 34 touchdowns (2nd only to Houston’s Jim Kelly), 20 of which went to former Steelers teammate Jim Smith. Stoudt was also supremely durable, starting all 36 Stallions games plus playoff contests in 1984 and 1985.
Although the Stallions were 27-9 across the 1984 and 1985 seasons, they never could top their nemesis, the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, in the postseason. The 1983-1985 Stars were arguably the best pro football team assembled outside the NFL since the AFL-NFL merger, appearing in all three USFL title games and winning two of them. Birmingham lost to the Stars in the Eastern Conference championship game two years in a row in 1984 and 1985.
Trouble struck in the first month of the 1985 season. Up to March 1985, the Stallions were one of the USFL’s most stable franchises. Owner Marvin Warner was a developer, banker and former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland with a personal net worth in excess of $100 million in the early 1980’s. Warner owned an Ohio savings and loan called Home State Savings Bank. Home State Savings was the largest investor in a Florida securities firm call ESM Government Securities that came under federal fraud investigation in 1985. When word leaked of Home State’s exposure to ESM’s collapse, it sparked a run on the bank among Ohioans and triggered a collapse of the state’s entire savings and loan system. Warner was forced to withdraw his financial support of the Stallions in the middle of the 1985 season. Unable to meet payroll, the Stallions were forced to seek a $1M bailout from the city of Birmingham in April 1985 that allowed the team to finish out the season.
Despite the off-field turmoil, the Stallions had another fine year in 1985 and a deep playoff run (until they ran into the Stars, of course). The team was also set to return in 1986 when the USFL planned to switch to a fall schedule to compete directly with the NFL. But after the league “won” a multi-billion anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in the summer of 1986 (but was awarded just $3 in damages), USFL owners threw in the towel and folded the league in Augut 1986.
==Birmingham Stallions Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
The Indianapolis Checkers were the top farm club of the NHL’s New York Islanders during the Isles’ NHL dynasty era of the early 1980’s. During the Checkers’ five years in the Central Hockey League, New York owned the club directly. The Islanders went to the Stanley Cup finals in all five of those seasons, winning four times. Meanwhile, the Checkers won the Adams Cup championship of the CHL in back-to-back seasons in 1982 and 1983.
In May of 1984, the Central Hockey League collapsed, leaving only the Checkers and the Salt Lake Golden Eagles able to go on. Both clubs were accepted into the International Hockey League that summer. As part of the transition, the Islanders sold the Checkers to former Pittsburgh Penguins owner Al Savill. Although the Islanders still sent a few prospects, they moved their primary farm club to Springfield, Massachusetts. The Checkers also received players from the Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars.
In 1985, Savill sold the team to Larry Woods. Woods moved the Checkers out of their long-time home at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum into the massive and more expensive Market Square Arena. The Checkers played two seasons at Market Square before shutting down due to heavy financial losses in the summer of 1987.
After one winter without hockey in 1987-88, the IHL expanded back into the Indianapolis with the formation of the Indianapolis Ice (1988-1999) the following year.
==Indianapolis Checkers Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
The re-hatched Memphis Chicks (1978-1997) were a popular Class AA minor league baseball entry in southwestern Tennessee for two decades. The city’s previous ball club, Memphis Blues, left town amidst financial problems in late 1976, leaving Memphis as the largest American city without pro baseball in 1977.
Memphis real estate developer Avron Fogelman remedied that the following year with his acquisition of a franchise in the Class AA Southern League. Fogelman was a serial sports investor who also held a piece of the Memphis Tams of the American Basketball Association and owned the Memphis Rogues of the North American Soccer League. In 1983, he would become co-owner of the Kansas City Royals and the following summer would see the Royals become the new Major League parent club of the Chicks.
Fogelman was also a passionate collector and sports historian. Upon launching the team in late 1977, he presided over a name change for the city’s baseball stadium from Blues Stadium to Tim McCarver Stadium. The tribute was unusual in that Memphis native McCarver was not only still alive but, at just 35 years old, was still playing Major League Baseball. Born one year apart, Fogelman and McCarver were reportedly Little League teammates in Memphis decades earlier.
The team also adopted the name of Memphis old Southern Association ball club, the Memphis Chicks (1912-1960). McCarver had actually played for the Chicks during their final season in 1960. The original “Chicks” were short for “Chickasaws”, a Native American tribe native to the region. But the new Chicks of 1978 did not seem to claim the expanded Native American identity.
In their early years, the Chicks were a farm club of the Montreal Expos from 1978 to 1983. The Expos had exceptional minor league talent and future All-Stars such as Tim Raines and Tim Wallach came through town in the late 1970’s. These were also the peak years of Chicks attendance, with over 300,000 fans coming through the turnstiles each summer. The club’s 1980 mark of 322,000 fans was the most for a Memphis team since 1948.
The Chicks’ moment in the national spotlight arrived in 1986 when Fogelman signed Auburn’s Heisman Trophy winning running back to a baseball contract with the Kansas City Royals. Jackson started his baseball career with the Chicks and landed the team on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July 1986. Jackson hit .277 with 7 homers and 25 RBIs for the Chicks in 1986 and was in Kansas City by the end of the summer.
Fogelman sold the team in 1988 and the team changed hands several times in rapid succession over the next few seasons. The Chicks won their only Southern League championship in 1990. David Hersh, the team’s final owner, purchased the club in 1992. Hersh made an aggressive push for a new ballpark to replace Tim McCarver Stadium, but failed to win over city leaders. Blocked in Memphis, he moved the franchise to Jackson, Tennesee in 1998 where it became the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.
The Chicks were immediately replaced with a Class AAA expansion team in the Pacific Coast League, the Memphis Redbirds, who began play in 1998. Redbirds owner Dean Jernigan, who operated the club under an unusual not-for-profit model, was able to get the new ballpark built that Hersh could not. $80.5 million AutoZone Park opened in 2000.
==Memphis Chicks Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
The New York Golden Blades lasted for just 24 games and marked the grim conclusion to the World Hockey Association’s hopes to plant its flag in New York. The WHA, a 1970’s rival to the NHL, originally hoped to place its New York Raiders franchise in the brand new Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in 1972. But the senior circuit blocked the WHA from Nassau by hastily awarding the New York Islanders expansion club to Long Island. The Raiders wound up in Manhattan, getting pushed around by the New York Rangers at the Madison Square Garden. The team’s original investors bailed and the league had to take over the Raiders two months into the WHA’s 1972-73 maiden season.
The league found a new buyer in the spring of 1973 with a consortium led by Ralf Brent. Brent’s group took over the club and immediately changed the name from Raiders to “Golden Blades”. The team, in fact, would wear white skates with gold colored blades. The Golden Blades scored an early coup in the summer of 1973, signing the league’s reigning scoring champion Andre Lacroix away from the similarly troubled Philadelphia Blazers club. Then things went south in a hurry.
The new owners were still saddled with the Raiders’ old lousy dates and expensive lease at the Garden. And they turned out not to have any real money. Brent & Co. missed their very first payroll in October 1973. (At least the Raiders’ owners made two payrolls before evaporating the previous winter). The WHA took over player payroll, but Brent and his partners were still responsible for funding the remaining operations of the Blades. By November 1973 they were on the verge of eviction from Madison Square Garden. The league stepped in on November 20th and seized the franchise. The Golden Blades were swiftly shipped off to tiny 5,000 Cherry Hill Arena on the outskirts of Philadelphia and finished out the 1973-74 season as the “Jersey Knights”.
The WHA never returned to New York. The league folded in 1979 following a merger that saw four of its teams join the NHL.