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June 23, 2012 – Kansas City Command vs. Chicago Rush

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Kansas City Command vs. Chicago Rush
June 23, 2012
The Sprint Center
Arena Football League Programs
38 pages

The Arena Football League lost its first franchise in what many observers expect to be a grim offseason last Friday when the Kansas City Command quietly pulled out of the league on August 23rd.  Also purportedly in trouble: the Georgia Force and Milwaukee Mustangs, both of whom have pitiful followings in their markets, and the league-run Chicago Rush, which has been adrift since its previous investor group walked away last fall.  The Pittsburgh Power (more on them in a moment) saw announced attendance decline over 50% in their second year of action.

It’s been a weird year for an increasingly weird league. The AFL’s tag line this year was “Year of the Fan”, but “Year of the Scab” would have been more like it.  The season was dominated by a protracted and disorganized labor dispute that saw players and owners squabbling  publicly over the handful of pocket change left in the sport after the recession and a disastrous 2009 bankruptcy.  Some (or all?) of the players may (or may not?) be represented by Ivan Soto, a mysterious financial adviser from Ohio who rails against ownership to his tiny army of 200 Twitter followers.  Soto’s questionable tactics included persuading a single team – the Cleveland Gladiators – to strike on their own for one game, resulting in a forfeit that helped knock them out of the playoffs.  Whoops.

Owners and league execs have seen and raised Soto’s buffoonery on several occasions, most majestically when Pittsburgh Power honcho Matt Shaner fired his entire team during dinner at Olive Garden and abandoned them in Florida a few hours before the first game of the season.  Shaner’s theatrics drew more attention to the AFL than any other story in this Year of the Fan, including the league’s showpiece Arena Bowl XXV championship game, played before a comically inflated announced crowd of 13,648 in New Orleans two weeks ago.

The AFL promoted the 2012 season as the league’s 25th Anniversary, harkening back to the founding of the original Arena Football League in 1987.  But that’s rather disingenuous.  It’s kind of like saying you’ve seen Motley Crue in concert, when what you really mean is that you saw a tribute band called Shout At The Devil play in a South Carolina bowling alley.  While the sport (and some of the intellectual property) is indeed a quarter century old, today’s Arena Football League is just three years old and boy is it different than what came before.

The original league (1987-2008) played for two decades and had quite a few problems of its own.  Most fundamentally, it never solved the eternal revenue/expense problem faced by leagues that play as tenants in other people’s buildings.  But these business model problems were hidden by a speculative bubble in expansion fees in the early 2000′s, a charismatic chief executive in C. David Baker, and a brief fling with the NFL, that saw investment pour into the AFL from deep-pocketed NFL owners like Arthur Blank, Pat Bowlen, Tom Benson and Jerry Jones.  For a half decade or so, the money kept flowing and the creditors remained patient.

The bubble deflated for the original AFL in 2008 after three years without new expansion money.  The NFL guys got out and never looked back.  There was no Arena Football in 2009 as the league went bankrupt.  This new league, launched in 2010, is primarily composed of the poorer owners from the old league and its former small-market minor league system.  These guys scraped together $6.1 million bucks in late 2009 to purchase the old league’s IP rights at a bankruptcy auction.  Many of the old team identities have been revived and the original league’s history has been reclaimed and packaged as if it were never interrupted.  The only elements missing are the high quality players of the first league – driven away by salary reductions both draconian and inevitable – and the fans, who seem to detect the aura of shabbiness that envelops this new entity.

The question now is whether Arena Football is poised to go the way of indoor soccer, which was bigger than outdoor soccer (and more popular than the NBA in a few cities) in the 1980′s, but has now languished for more than a decade in state of complete and utter irrelevance.  Kansas City may be the first domino to fall in a decisive autumn/winter for the “new” AFL.   But more likely, the league will muddle through for many more years, chasing an elusive formula of smaller arenas, cheaper workers (both on field and off) and lowered expectations in a “Puppet Show and Spinal Tap” kind of way.   There are several second tier football leagues out there trying to carve out a piece of market share – the new, retro-themed USFL, the zombie carcass of the United Football League – but the Arena Football League is the only one that has already fired the silver bullet that the others so obviously covet: partnership with the NFL.  The AFL had that chance once.  It didn’t work out and it’s probably never coming back.  It’s hard to imagine what’s next to resuscitate this sport.

 

 

Written by andycrossley

August 28th, 2012 at 8:25 pm

July 23, 1992 – Sacramento Attack vs. Dallas Texans

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Sacramento Attack vs. Dallas Texans
July 23, 1992
ARCO Arena
Attendance: 8,226

Arena Football League Programs

 

This is not a post about the Sacramento Attack (who played only five home games at ARCO Arena before folding) or their opponents on this night in July 1992, the Dallas Texans.   This is a post about Zubaz.

I won’t write too extensively here about the stunning rise and rapid fall of zebra-striped workout gear.  If you were at least 12 years old at the dawn of the Nineties, you remember.  Besides, Ethan Trex at Mental Floss has already written the definitive history (must read).  I plucked this program out of the FWiL files because the cover offers the best Zubaz money shot I’ve seen from this psychedelic moment in Arena Football history.

You see, the inventors of Zubaz – a couple of bodybuilding Minnesota gym owners named Dan Stock and Bob Truax - struck a sponsorship with the Arena Football League that seems to have lasted from 1991 to 1992.  Some – but not all – of the league’s teams agreed to incorporate Zubaz into their game uniforms.  The participating clubs in 1991 included the Albany Firebirds, the Denver Dynamite, the New Orleans Night and the Orlando Predators, most of whom added a Zubaz strip in their respective team colors to their sleeves and shoulders, along with vertical piping on their uniform pants.   But nobody – and I mean nobody – rocked the Zubaz liked the Tampa Bay Storm.  The Storm were the only team to use Zubaz stripes as the base design for their uniform pants.   The full glory/horror of the 1991 Storm unis is on display on the cover of this ARENABALL game program, showing the purple/blue/white striped Tampans in action against fellow Zubaz perpetrators the New Orleans Night.

Very little archival video of the early days of the Arena Football League lives on the interwebs today, but I did find this grainy, apparently home-made loop of 1991 league highlights, which can be viewed as an unintended symphonic ode to Zubaz.  Enjoy.

And yes, the Zubaz jerseys do have a certain cache among obsessive collectors.  The guys at Classic Stuff offer a pair of circa 1991 Orlando Predators home & road Zubaz-tinged jerseys on sale for $250.00 each:

Arnold Campbell.  1991 Orlando Predators home jersey.

Durwood Roquemore.  NFL & USFL vet. 1991 Orlando Predators home jersey.

 

 

1994-1995 – Las Vegas Dustdevils & Las Vegas Sting

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Bill MacFarland’s Nevada Pro Sports was a short-lived effort to build a business around summer-time arena sports at the brand new MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in the mid-1990′s.  While toiling as a minor league hockey player for the Seattle Totems in the 1960′s, MacFarland put himself through law school.  In the 1970′s, MacFarland served as President and Legal Counsel of the World Hockey Association and later took part in a failed effort to secure an NHL expansion franchise for Seattle in the early 1990′s.  After the Seattle NHL bid failed, MacFarland turned his attention to Las Vegas and the development of MGM Grand Garden.

Nevada Pro Sports’ first acquisition on December 1st, 1992 was an expansion franchise in the start-up Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL).    The CISL was a start-up league whose investors included owners and arena operators from the NBA and NHL looking to fill building dates during the slow summer season.  With the MGM Grand Garden still under construction in 1993, MacFarland elected to defer the debut of his Las Vegas Dustdevils soccer team until the CISL’s sophomore campaign in 1994.  Soon afterwards, Nevada Pro Sports added an Arena Football League expansion franchise, the Las Vegas Sting, to its portfolio of teams set to debut in the summer of 1994.

Neither team drew much interest in Las Vegas, long known as a graveyard of pro sports franchises.  The Sting put an announced crowd of 10,109 into the MGM Grand Garden for their home debut on May 21st, 1994 against the Miami Hooters.  But by the Sting’s third home game in June, attendance plunged below 4,000 and the team finished the year with an average of 6,413, 9th best out of the league’s 11 teams.

On the carpet, the Sting assembled the typical Arena Football collection of pro football nomads and castaways.  Before joining the Sting, two-year starting quarteback Scooter Molander last played for the Colts…the Espoo Colts of the Finland Football League.  Molander’s favorite target in 1994 was Tyrone Thurman. At 5′ 3″ tall and 135 pounts, the kick return specialist was likely the smallest Division I All-American in college football history back in 1988 at Texas Tech.  The Sting’s defensive leader was former UNLV standout Carlton Johnson, who earned All-League honors as a Defensive Specialist in 1994.

Disappointing as the attendance figures were, the Sting numbers were a box office bonanza compared to the Las Vegas Dustdevils indoor soccer team, which mustered an average of just 2,709 at the 12-000 seat MGM Grand Garden for their 14 home dates in 1994.  That was the worst figure in the 14-team CISL, despite the fact that the Dustdevils fielded a championship team that finished 17-11 and featured seven local graduates from the UNLV soccer program.  The team’s “star” was 33-year Croatian forward Branko Segota, one of the all-time greats of the indoor game.  Segota earned the CISL maximum of $3,500/month, as did the indoor veteran goalkeeper Brett Phillips and defender Rusty Troy.  The Dustdevils’ younger players earned between $75/game and $500/week.  A strong playoff run led to a showdown with the Dallas Sidekicks in the best-of-three CISL Championship Series.  On October 8th, 1994, the Dustdevils won the decisive Game 3 in front of a sold-out crowd of 16,652 at Reunion Arena in Dallas.  Still, few in Las Vegas cared.  Only 5,500 turned out to cheer on the Dustdevils in Game 2, the lone match of the series played in Las Vegas.

Following the 1994 season, MacFarland and Nevada Pro Sports moved both of their teams out of the MGM Grand Garden and into the Thomas & Mack Arena on the campus of UNLV.  The move didn’t help.  Sting attendance dropped to an average of 5,053 for six dates in 1995, which was worst among the AFL’s 13 franchises.  A postmortem by The Los Angeles Times claimed the Sting lost in excess of one million dollars in both 1994 and 1995.  The Dustdevils improved insignificantly to 3,274 per game, but it wasn’t enough to save the team.  Nevada Pro Sports folded the Dustdevils shortly after their second season ended in September 1995.

Nevada Pro Sports had more luck ridding itself of its failing Arena Football franchise.  In September 1995, a Southern California group purchased the Las Vegas Sting for an estimated $1 million and relocated the club to the Arrowhead Pond arena in Anaheim.  Re-named the Anaheim Piranhas, the former Sting franchise played two more seasons in the Arena Football League before folding in November 1997.

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Former Dustdevils and Sting owner Bill MacFarland passed away in 2011 at the age of 79.

Former UNLV and Sting defensive standout Carlton Johnson remained in Las Vegas, working as a substitute teacher in the Clark County school system.  In 2005, Johnson murdered his brother, 6-year old niece and his own 5-year old son.  Johnson had no prior criminal history or history of mental illness and offered no motive for the killings.  He was convicted on three counts of second degree murder in 2007 and is currently serving a 20-60 year sentence.

Downloads & Links:

1994 Las Vegas Sting Statistics on ArenaFan.com
1995 Las Vegas Sting Statistics on ArenaFan.com

Las Vegas Dustdevils & Las Vegas Sting Sources

 

1994 Massachusetts Marauders

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Arena Football League (1994)

Born: 1994 – The Detroit Drive relocate to Worcester, MA.
Died: February 1995 – The Marauders cease operations.

Arena: The Worcester Centrum

Team Colors:

Owner: Joseph O’Hara


 

The Massachusetts Marauders played a single season of Arena Football at the Worcester Centrum in the summer of 1994.  The franchise had a previous history as the terrifically successful and popular Detroit Drive, a team which appeared in the Arena Bowl title game in all six season of its existence from 1988 to 1993, winning four of them.  The Drive packed crowds as high as 18,000 into Detroit’s enormous Joe Louis Arena.  After Drive owner Mike Ilitch, founder of the Little Caesar’s pizza chain, purchased the Detroit Tigers in 1992, he lost interest in the Drive and sold the team to Arena Football League Commissioner Joseph O’Hara for an undisclosed sum in early 1994.

I was home from college in the summer of ’94 when the Marauders set up shop in Worcester, a small city about 45 minutes west of Boston.  My father and I made the trip one night to see the Marauders play the Las Vegas Sting at the half-full Worcester Centrum.  The team had a few familiar names – Head Coach Don Strock had been the long-time back-up quarterback to Bob Griese and Dan Marino at the Miami Dolphins.  Marauders QB Mike Pagel was also a long-time NFL journeyman, most notably with the Indianapolis Colts.  The Marauders also had local legend Gordie Lockbaum, the former Holy Cross star who finished third in the 1987 Heisman Trophy balloting.  But Lockbaum rarely saw the field for the Marauders and never played Arena Football – or any brand of pro football -  again.

The Marauders finished the 1994 season with an 8-4 record, good enough for a trip to the Arena Football playoffs.  A home playoff game, on August 20th, 1994 would prove to be the Marauders final appearance in Worcester, not that the locals seem to care much.  A modest announced crowd of 6,858 – second smallest of the season – turned out at the Worcester Centrum for the playoff game.   The following week the Marauders travelled to Florida and were eliminated by the Orlando Predators 51-42 in the playoff semi-finals.  For the season, the Marauders averaged 7,474 which ranked 8th among the league’s 11 teams.

O’Hara began to feud with his Jim Drucker, his successor as Arena Football League Commissioner, about the direction of the league.  At Arena Bowl XIII in Orlando in early September 1994, the two came to blows in a Disney World hotel lounge.  O’Hara letter threatened to sit out the season if Drucker was not removed from his post.   He wasn’t and in February 1995, just a year after purchasing the club, O’Hara declined to post the six-figure letter of credit required of all clubs planning to take part in the 1995 season.

The Marauders were no more, but O’Hara was allowed to maintain ownership rights to the shuttered franchise.  A couple of years later he sold off the carcass to the DeVos family of Grand Rapids, who were essentially buying just the league membership by that point.  The players had long since scattered to the winds.  The former Drive/Marauders franchise resumed play as the Grand Rapids Rampage in 1998 and continued in business until the original Arena Football League closed down after the 2008 season.

 

==YouTube==

 

==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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1995-2008 Iowa Barnstormers / New York Dragons

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The inspiring story of Kurt Warner, who rose from supermarket stock boy to Super Bowl Champion and MVP over the course of five years, is one of the great legacies of the original Arena Football League (1987-2008).  Warner, undrafted out of college and later released in training camp by the Green Bay Packers in 1994, famously signed on with the Arena League’s Iowa Barnstormers in 1995.  He led the Barnstormers to the Arena Bowl title games in 1996 and 1997, before finally earning his shot at the NFL with the St. Louis Rams.  By 1999, he was the NFL’s MVP and quarterback of a Super Bowl championship team in his first season as a starter.  Warner’s fame briefly made the Iowa Barnstormers an object of cult fascination, if not quite a household brand name.

So what became of the Barnstormers?

The Barnstormers started out as an Arena Football expansion franchise in the spring of 1995.  Jim Foster, founder of the Arena Football League in 1987, owned the club, which played in the 11,400-seat  Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, dubbed “The Barn”.  Head Coach John Gregory was a long-time Canadian Football League coach.  Gregory brought in CFL vet Willis Jacox to play the role of Iowa’s Offensive Specialist – most AFL players played “Ironman” football in this era, meaning they played both offense and defense.  The offensive specialist was akin to the DH in baseball, playing offense only and returning kicks.  Gregory also plucked Warner out of the Hy-Vee grocery store aisle prior to the Barnstormers’ first season in 1995.

The team was competitive in 1995, advancing as far as the playoff semi-finals.  Gregory earned AFL Coach-of-the-Year honors (he would repeat in 1996) and the team drew terrific cowbell-clanging crowds to The Barn.  In a 2012 celebration of Arena Football’s 25th Anniversary, the league ranked the 1990′s atmosphere at The Barn as the 2nd best in the sport’s history.

The Barnstormers glory years came in 1996 and 1997, when Warner and Jacox led the Barnstormers to back-to-back Arena Bowls.  In 1996, the Barnstomers hosted Arena Bowl X before a national cable TV audience but lost to the Tampa Bay Storm 42-38.  The following year, the Barnstormers fell to the Arizona Rattlers 55-33 in Arena Bowl XI in Phoenix, in what would prove to be Warner’s last AFL game.

Warner headed the Rams and Jacox retired after the 1997 season.  But Gregory and the Barnstormers uncovered more great players in WR-DB Carlos James, offensive specialist Mike Horacek and, especially, quarterback Aaron Garcia.  Garcia would go on the set every major career passing record in Arena Football over the course of the next decade plus.

On November 1st, 2000, after the conclusion of the Barnstormers’ sixth season in Des Moines and nine months after Warner’s historic Super Bowl performance, Jim Foster sold the team to New York Islanders owners Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar.  The franchise relocated to Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum as the New York Dragons for the 2001 Arena Football League season.

The move to New York was in keeping with Arena Football’s growing ambition to become a “5th Major League”, as the league began favoring major markets over cities like Des Moines and Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In the course of a decade, Arena Football franchise valuations ballooned from $125,000 in 1990 to $7 million – the price paid by Wang & Kumar for the Barnstormers, and for another AFL franchise, the New England Sea Wolves, which also changed hands in the autumn of 2000.

Several top Barnstormers made the move from Iowa to New York, including Head Coach John Gregory and All-AFL quarterback Aaron Garcia.  In New York, the franchise also produced another future NFL star, as it had with Kurt Warner in Iowa.  In 2002, the Dragons signed WR-DB Mike Furrey, a refugee of World Wrestling Entertainment chief Vince McMahon’s defunct XFL.  Furrey became the favorite target of Garcia in 2002 and 2003.  Furrey left the Dragons partway through the 2003 season – he was leading the AFL in receptions at the time – to sign with the St. Louis Rams.  Furrey went on to play both wide receiver and defensive back in the NFL, leading the NFC in receptions in 1996 with 98 catches for 1,086 years as a member of the Detroit Lions.  In a bizarre coincidence, Furrey played college football at Northern Iowa University, just like Warner.

Back in Des Moines, a new Iowa Barnstormers expansion team was issued to play in AF2, a small market minor league spinoff of the AFL.  The new minor league Barnstormers were not able to re-capture the interest of area fans and this version of the Barnstormers folded after a single season in 2001.

The Dragons were never one of Arena Football’s top draws and the Nassau Coliseum was typically regarded as one of the league’s worst venues, much as it was in the National Hockey League.  Announced attendance averages peaked in 2005 at 11,922 per game.  By 2008, announced attendance dipped to 9,072, the second lowest figure in the 17-team league.

In July 2008, Wang sold the Dragons to Steve and Shanna Silva for an estimated $12 million.  This would prove to be the last time a franchise changed hands in the original Arena Football League.  By this time, the league was struggling under $14 million in accumulated debt.  A postseason attempt to sell a $100 million controlling stake in the league to leveraged buyout firm Platinum Equity and re-organize the league as a single-entity structure fell through in late 2008.  The league suspended the 2009 season in December 2008 and ultimately filed for bankruptcy in August 2009 after owners failed to come together on a way forward.

The Silvas were left with nothing for their unfortunately timed investment.  Another Arena Football investor who bought into the league late at the peak of the bubble – Dr. Robert Nucci who bought the Tampa Bay Storm for approximately $18 million in 2007 – later filed a lawsuit claiming that the late-era Arena Football League was little more than a debt-laden ponzi scheme that relied on constantly rising expansion fees to finance its existence.  The Silvas, for their part, got as far as announcing a new logo and color scheme for the Dragons in September 2008.  The new green-and-black color scheme would have been used for the 2009, but the league collapsed first:

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A group of former Arena Football League owners and officials called Arena Football One purchased the assets of the original Arena Football League out of bankruptcy for $6.1 million in December 2009.   It was a long way down from the proposed Platinum Equity purchase of the AFL just a year earlier, which valued the league at approximately $250 million.

A much more budget-conscious (and non-union) reinvention of the Arena Football League debuted in 2010, with many franchises returning under their old names and, in some cases, their old investors.   The New York Dragons and the Silvas were not among them.  But the Iowa Barnstormers were.   A third incarnation of the Iowa Barnstormers joined AF2 for the 2008 season as an expansion team playing in the new $99 million Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.  The team retained the old logo of the original Kurt Warner-era Barnstormers and still practices in The Barn – venerable Veterans Memorial Auditorium.   When the Arena Football League went dark in 2009, AF2 kept playing.  In 2010, the new Barnstormers took a leap up to rejoin the new Arena Football League.

Kurt Warner retired from the NFL in January 2010.  He led two different franchises to Super Bowl appearances, starting in three and winning one.  As of 2011, he holds one of the top ten passer ratings in NFL history.

Mike Furrey played seven seasons in the NFL, ending in 2009.  He is now one of the growing number of former NFL players filing suit against the league over concussion-related health problems.