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 Wiemegave an lengthy interview to Crain’s Detroit Business where he recalled the business challenges of operating the team.
Arena Bowl VII was the second and final meeting between Arena Football’s two greatest dynasties: the Detroit Drive, who played in the title game in all six seasons of their existence, and the Jay Gruden-era Tampa Bay Storm, who won four titles in six years with Gruden under center. In fact, the Storm were the only force standing between the Drive and a perfect six-for-six record in championship games. Gruden & Co. handed Detroit their only two Arena Bowl losses in 1991 and in this 1993 rematch.
The Storm took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back, winning or tying every quarter en route to a 51-31 victory. Gruden was named the MVP of Arena Bowl VII, passing for 204 yards and 3 touchdowns. Gruden, the brother of Super Bowl champion coach and Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden, ultimately won four Arena Bowls with the Storm. He later won two more as an Arena Football head coach. In 2014 he was named Head Coach of the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
Another standout was Storm OL-DL Keith Browner, who recovered a fumble for a touchdown on defense and also caught a 9-yard touchdown pass. Browner, a former 2nd round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who played five seasons in the NFL, is part of the remarkable Browner family. His brothers Ross and Joey were NFL standouts during the 1980’s. Joey Browner’s son Keith Jr. and nephew Max Starks would also play in the NFL. Keith Browner was named the “Ironman of the Game” as the top two-way player in Arena Bowl VII.
Arena Bowl VII proved to be the final appearance of the Detroit Drive franchise. During the offseason, owner Mike Ilitch sold the team and the new owners relocate it to Worcester, Massachusetts where it became the Massachusetts Marauders. The Marauders lasted just one season and failed to extend the Drive’s dynasty.
The evening’s game program (above right) pictured the Arena Football League’s 1993 award winners on the cover:
This rare program from the 1996 Florida Bobcats of the Arena Football League showed up at the P.O. box this afternoon. The Bobcats were considered one of the league’s more troublesome embarrassments, thanks to their ownership squabbles, a puny 4,700-seat arena controlled by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and miserable crowds. Nevertheless, the ‘Cats managed to hang in there for six seasons from 1996 to 2001, which was a long life span by the standards of the Arena League.
Before the franchise arrived in West Palm Beach under new ownership in the spring of 1996, the team played in Miami and was known as the Miami Hooters (1993-1995). The Hooters were something of a convalescent home for ex-Miami Dolphins wide receivers. Jim “Crash” Jensen, a 12-year Dolphins vet and special teams ace, started at quarterback (his college position at Boston University) for the Hooters in 1993 and 1994. Former All-Pro Mark Duper showed up to play a couple of games in 1994, hauling in passes from his old Fins teammate.
Jensen retired from playing in 1995 and Duper wandered away to defend himself against a drug trafficking charge the same year. But when new franchise owner Bruce Frey moved the team to West Palm Beach in 1996, he brought back Crash Jensen as the Bobcats’ first Head Coach. That’s Jensen on the cover of this Week 4 game program (above right).
The gig wasn’t a stable one, however. Frey went through five Head Coaches during his five tumultuous seasons as owner. (Oddly, Jensen would end up back with the Bobcats in 1999 as an assistant coach to another ex-Dolphin, former tight end Bruce Hardy.)
The Bobcats lost this May 1996 game to the San Jose Sabercats by a score of 43-26. The Sabercats, improbably, still survive today after 18 seasons of indoor football.
Fred McNair, older brother of the late NFL star Steve McNair, took most of the snaps at quarterback for the Bobcats this season.
The New York Cityhawks enjoyed a brief two-year fling in the Arena Football League. The team performed quite poorly both on the field and at the box office. The Cityhawks were 2-12 in 1997 and 3-11 in 1998. In both seasons, announced attendance hovered near the 6,500 mark, nearly 40% below the league average.
The Cityhawks marked the Arena Football League’s second failed attempt to establish a franchise in the nation’s biggest media market. An earlier club – the New York Knights – played a single summer at the Garden in 1988 before vanishing.
The Cablevision-owned Madison Square Garden operated the Cityhawks. After the team’s disappointing second season in 1998, MSG moved the franchise to Connecticut into the MSG-controlled Hartford Civic Center. The club was renamed the New England Sea Wolves and played two seasons in Connecticut (1999-2000) before new owners acquired the team and moved it to Toronto where the well-travelled franchise finally died in 2002.
The Fort Worth Cavalry were a failed Arena Football League franchise now residing in our One-Year Wonders file. After one star-crossed season in Fort Worth, the team crossed the border into Mexico just in time for that country’s late 1994 financial meltdown and vanished without a trace.
The Cavalry started out in December 1993 as an AFL expansion franchise owned by minor league baseball investor Woody Kern. The Cavalry replaced the AFL’s recently folded Dallas Texans (1990-1993) in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market. Sales were sluggish from the outset, thanks in part to a very unfavorable home schedule at the Tarrant County Convention Center that saw five of the team’s six home dates relegated to Monday nights. The Cavalry’s home debut on May 23, 1994 against the Milwaukee Mustangs drew a bleak announced crowd of 2,852 spectators.
The team attracted some negative press in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when a group of fans at the home opener complained about the Cavalry’s prominent sponsorship and signage promoting Club Legends, a “totally nude” gentleman’s club.
The Cavalry featured a couple of ex-NFL journeymen, including Kyle Mackey, who was the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback during the 1987 NFL players’ strike, and former Texas Christian All-American Kelley Blackwell, who play a full season for the Chicago Bears in 1992. The team backed into the playoffs with a 5-7 record, but were quickly eliminated by the Orlando Predators in the first round. That road playoff loss on August 19, 1994 turned out to be the franchise’s final game.
In September 1994, Woody Kern purchased the Arena Football League’s flagship franchise, the Tampa Bay Storm, and off-loaded the lowly Cavalry to Doug Logan and Mexico/Illinois event promotion company OCESA. Logan had some history with the Arena League. He was the former manager of the Rockford MetroCentre in Illinois, where he helped to promote the Arena Football League’s first “test game” in 1986, a year before the league formally debuted.
Logan and OCESA planned to move the Cavalry to Mexico City’s 17,800-seat Palacio de los Deportes for the 1995 season as part of a minor league entertainment package that would also include a Continental Basketball Association franchise. The CBA club, known as the Mexico City Aztecas, actually got off the ground and managed to play a single season. But the Mexican peso crashed in December 1994, plunging the country into financial crisis. The Arena Football franchise vanished without further mention and OCESA pulled out of its Mexican boondoggle by the middle of 1995.
Arena Football returned to the Dallas/Ft. Worth region in 2002 with the formation of the Dallas Desperados (2002-2008), owned by Cowboys ownerJerry Jones.
Fort Worth Cavalry vs. Milwaukee Mustangs at Tarrant County Convention Center. May 23, 1994