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:
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
“This isn’t just about high-speed, in-your-face football action, it’s about saving an entire generation of Minnesota’s game fish from becoming shore lunch.” – Minnesota Fighting Pike President Tom Scallen describing – obliquely – his Arena Football team’s offbeat nickname in November 1995.
I love this name and logo, but not nearly as much as I love Tom Scallen’s nonsensical explanation for it. As far as I know, Scallen did not contribute any of the proceeds of his Arena Football club to bolster the Minnesota’s fragile freshwater ecosystem. Far from it – the team’s creditors were reportedly stiffed to the tune of $200,000 when the team tanked after a single season. But anyway…
The Pike were a 1996 expansion franchise in the Arena Football League. Scallen was/is a colorful Minneapolis attorney and businessman, the one-time owner of the Ice Follies, the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters. Scallen also was the man who brought the NHL to Vancouver as the first owner of the Vancouver Canucks in 1970. Scallen conducted a controversial public sale of Canucks stock during their first season of play. Canadian authorities investigated and eventually sent Scallen to prison for nine months and later deported him, bringing his tenure as an NHL owner to a swift end. (Scallen’s view – recounted to the Toronto Globe & Mail three decades later – is that the charges were politically motivated, designed to drive out American ownership).
Scallen’s Fighting Pike debuted in Minneapolis on May 4th, 1996 at the Target Center. Their opponents were the Iowa Barnstormers, whose starting quarterback was future Super Bowl hero Kurt Warner. But the better known quarterback at the time for the reported 14,840 Minnesotans on hand was Fighting Pike starter Rickey Foggie, pictured on the evening’s game program (left). Foggie was a former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher star (’88) who enjoyed a long career in the Canadian Football League before returning to Minnesota with the Pike.
The Barnstormers got the best of it on this night, defeating the Fighting Pike 59-43. It was the start of a downhill slide, as the team dropped eight in a row under former CFL and USFL coach Ray Jauch. A late season rebound saw Minnesota finish its only season at 4-10.
The bigger problem was that the curiosity seekers who turned out on opening night failed to return. Attendance never again topped 9,000. Scallen shut down the team right after the season and the franchise was formally dropped from the Arena Football League in November 1996, one year to the month after it was awarded. A 2006 retrospective by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune pegged Scallen’s financial loss at $400,000 and noted that creditors were left holding the bag for $200,000 in unpaid bills when the franchise was liquidated.
If the Fighting Pike had any real legacy, it was the the now forgotten club gave an opportunity to an unheralded kicker from the University of West Virginia named Mike Vanderjagt who had been released four times in the Canadian Football League. Vanderjagt only lasted a few games with the Pike, before he was replaced by the immortal Ty Stewart. But in 1998 Vanderjagt hooked on with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and enjoyed a nine-year NFL career, that included an All-Pro selection in 2003. He retired as one of the most accurate placekickers in NFL history.