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March 23, 1991 – Sacramento Surge vs. Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks

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Sacramento Surge vs. Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks
March 23, 1991
Hughes Stadium
Attendance: 15,126

World League of American Football Programs
96 pages

 

This rain-soaked game marked a rather glum debut for the NFL-backed World League of American Football in Sacramento back in March of 1991.

The WLAF seemed to have a hodge podge of agendas that didn’t complement each other very well - to extend the NFL brand into major European markets, to bring spring football to the type of 2nd tier American cities that embraced the USFL in the mid-80′s, and to create a developmental league for NFL practice squad types and training camp cuts.

The odd result was a league where American football junkies could watch Barcelona, Spain play Raleigh, North Carolina on national television with players that few had ever heard of.  Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Kevin Sweeney, playing for the WLAF’s Montreal Machine, came up with this loaded analogy after the league’s debut week, which undoubtedly made the World League’s NFL funders cringe:

“It’s a lot like strike-team ball, at least right now,” Sweeney told Sports Illustrated, referencing the NFL’s infamous 1987 replacement/scab games.

The least appealing of the WLAF’s opening week games was undoubtedly the Sacramento Surge vs. Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks match up in California.  The Surge played in the league’s smallest venue, 23,000-seat Hughes Stadium.  Nevertheless, the stands were only two-thirds full for the first professional football game in the California capital since the late 1960′s.  Part of this was due to the torrential rain, which washed away the walk-up box office.  Unfortunately, for the 15,000 or so that did show up, the quality of football on display was as gloomy as the weather.

Surge coach Kay Stephenson handed the starting quarterback duties to 28-year old pro football nomad Ben Bennett, a former NFL replacement player and a star in the Arena Football League.  It was an odd choice and one that exposed one of the tensions in the WLAF’s model.  The Surge also had quarterback Mike Elkins on loan from the Kansas City Chiefs, a 1989 2nd round draft pick in need of regular playing time to develop.  As the Surge’s coach, was Stephenson’s job to play whatever personnel he thought gave his team the best chance to win…or was it to develop a prospect like Elkins, who was one of a very small number of active NFL players entrusted on loan to the WLAF in its first season?

In the event it didn’t matter, as Bennett was ineffective in his first outdoor game in four years.  At halftime, the visiting Skyhawks led 3-0.  Bennett was 6-of-17 for 43 yards with two interceptions.  Waterlogged fans began to leave.  In the sloppy conditions, the teams combined for seven fumbles and four interceptions.  Surge kicker Kendall Trainor missed two field goals from inside 40 yards.

Things improved for the home team when Mike Elkins replaced Bennett for the second half.  Elkins completed 7-of-10 for 73 yards and protected the ball, leading the Surge on two scoring drives while the Sacramento defense held Raleigh-Durham scoreless in the second half.  Running back Paul Frazier plunged in from one yard out for the game’s only touchdown with 3:47 remaining, to seal an artless 9-3 victory for Sacramento.

Surge coach Kay Stephenson was diplomatic about the new league’s debut afterwards, telling The Associated Press: “It was the best, worst and only game I’ve seen.”

The loss started a trend for the doomed Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks, owned by NBA Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn.  The Skyhawks lost all ten of their games in 1991 and Shinn promptly folded the club in July after only eight months in business.

Ben Bennett never started another outdoor football game and was back in the Arena League by springtime.  In 2012, Bennett was ranked #23 on a list of the Greatest Arena Football Players of All Time, put out by the AFL in celebration of its 25th anniversary season.

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Written by andycrossley

August 31st, 2013 at 2:22 pm

1991-1992 Sacramento Surge

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World League of American Football (1991-1992)

Born: June 8, 1990 – WLAF founding franchise.
Died:
September 17, 1992 – The WLAF ceases operations.

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owner: Fred Anderson

 

The Sacramento Surge were a minor league football team in the NFL-sponsored World League of American Football for two spring seasons in 1991 and 1992.  During their debut season, the Surge played at Hughes Stadium.  In 1992 the team moved across town to Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium.

The first Surge team in 1991 fared poorly under former Buffalo Bills Head Coach Kay Stephenson.  The team finished 3-7 and out of the playoff hunt.  The roster was composed primarily of late 1980′s NFL draft picks-turned-training camp casualties, plus refugees from the Canadian Football League.  In a nod to the league’s international pretensions, there were also a couple of “Operation Discovery” players from overseas attempting to adapt their athletic talents to the sport of American football.  The Surge had a Swedish linebacker named Matti Lindholm and a German defensive lineman named Oliver Erhorn.

1991 Surge starting quarterback Mike Elkins was exactly the kind of the player the World League was designed for.  A 2nd round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs out of Wake Forest in 1989, Elkins was expected to be the Chiefs quarterback of the 1990′s.  But Elkins had accuracy troubles and spent his first two years in the NFL holding a clipboard on the sidelines.  More than anything else, Elkins needed snaps and the WLAF would provide a competitive developmental environment for that kind of player.  Elkins started 9 games for the Surge in 1991 on assignment from Kansas City and then reported back to Chiefs training camp, where he was released in the team’s final cutdown for the 1991 NFL season.

The Surge returned in 1992 with all-new players at the key skills positions.  Elkins was gone, replaced by NFL journeyman David Archer, who was one of the older players in the league at age 30.  Former Atlanta Falcons practice squadder Mike Pringle took over lead running back duties.  Former Iowa State receiver Eddie Brown came over from the Canadian Football League.

Archer would lead the WLAF with 2,964 yards passing and 23 touchdowns in only 10 games.  Brown was the league’s best in receiving yardage (1,011) and touchdown receptions (12).  Pringle was a double-threat running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield.  On defense, the Surge unearthed a Seattle Seahawks practice squad player named Michael Sinclair.  Sinclair tore up the World League with 10 sacks in 1992 and would go on to become one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers of the 1990′s, earning three Pro Bowl nods during a decade with the Seahawks.

Another notable player on the 1992 edition of the Surge was defensive tackle Bill Goldberg, an 11th round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams out of the University of Georgia in 1990.  Goldberg would parlay his World League experience into a brief NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons in the early Nineties, but his real fame came at the end of the decade as the World Championship Wrestling and WWE star Goldberg.

The 1992 Surge tied with the Orlando Thunder for the best record in the World League at 8-2.  The two teams met in the World Bowl II championship game at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on June 6, 1992.  Down 17-6 entering the 4th quarter, David Archer threw touchdown passes to tight end Paul Green and to Eddie Brown to lead a furious 15-point rally, as the Surge won the championship 21-17.  Archer was named game MVP.   This turned out to be the final game for the league.

The NFL pulled the plug on the WLAF in September 1992 after two years of operation.  Surge owner Fred Anderson wanted to soldier on and acquired a Canadian Football League expansion franchise for Sacramento to begin play in July of 1993.  Anderson’s Sacramento Gold Miners were the first CFL team to be based in the United States.   The Gold Miners were in some ways a continuation of the Surge in a new league, retaining the old team’s color scheme, Head Coach Kay Stephenson, and quite a few players, including starting quarterback David Archer.

The Gold Miners played two seasons in Sacramento (1993-1994) before moving to San Antonio, Texas.

 

==Surge Games on Fun While It Lasted==

 Year Date Opponent Score Program Other
1991 3/23/1991 vs. Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks W 9-3 Program
1991 3/30/1991  @ Birmingham Fire  L 17-10 Video
1991 4/27/1991 vs. Barcelona Dragons L 29-20 Video
1992 3/21/1992  vs. Birmingham Fire  W 20-6 Video
1992 6/6/1992 Orlando Thunder @ Montreal  W 21-17 Program

 

==Key Players==

  • David Archer
  • Bill Goldberg
  • Mike Jones
  • Mike Pringle
  • Michael Sinclair

 

 ==In Memoriam== 

Defensive back Junior Robinson died in a car accident on September 30, 1995.  He was 27 years old.

Former Surge defensive lineman Nate Hill passed away on September 18, 2012 at age 41.

 

==YouTube==

April 27, 1991.  The Surge host Spain’s Barcelona Dragons at Hughes Stadium before a crowd of 19,045 and a national cable audience on USA Network.

 

 ==Links==

World League of American Football Media Guides

World League of American Football Programs

1991 Sacramento Surge Statistics on FootballDB.com

1992 Sacramento Surge Statistics on FootballDB.com

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Written by andycrossley

August 30th, 2013 at 3:24 pm

June 8, 1977 – Sacramento Spirits vs. Los Angeles Skyhawks

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Sacramento Spirits vs. Los Angeles Skyhawks
June 8, 1977
Sacramento State Stadium
American Soccer League Programs

During pro soccer’s 1970′s boom years (or bubble years, as it turned out) the city of Sacramento, California hosted 2nd division professional soccer for five seasons.  The Sacramento Spirits/Gold appeared in three American Soccer League championship games between 1976 and 1980.  Oddly, during the two seasons the Sacramentans did not play for the championship, they finished dead last.

The American Soccer League dated all the way back to 1933 and spent most of its existence confined to industrial cities of the Northeast, where teams were often defined by their ethnic affiliation.  Through the postwar years clubs such as the New York Hakoah-Americans, Newark Portuguese and the Philadelphia Ukrainians competed under the ASL auspices.  In the early 1970′s, the league began to professionalize, banishing the ethnic names and branching out beyond the Philadelphia-New York corridor.

In 1974, the ASL hired former NBA star Bob Cousy – who professed to know nothing whatsoever about soccer – as its Commissioner to attract national credibility.  A full-fledged West Coast expansion occurred in the summer of 1976, which included the debut of the Sacramento Spirits.  The Spirits played out of Sacramento State Stadium and finished in the cellar that first year with a 4-14-3 record.

The Spirits returned in 1977 and engineered a remarkable turnaround under Head Coach Bob Ridley.  The Spirits won the West Division with an 18-4-4 record and flew east on to face the New Jersey Americans for the ASL Championship on September 4th, 1977.  The Americans triumped 3-0.  Ridley was named Coach-of-the-Year and Spirits leading scorer Mal Roche earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors.

After the 1977 season, a California cabinet manufacturer named John Andreotti bought the Sacramento franchise and re-branded it as the Sacramento Gold for 1978.  The 1978 campaign was anything but golden as the club regressed to a 7-15-2 last place finish.

The Gold rebuilt again in 1979, importing English brothers Ian and Malcolm Filby and South African striker Neill Roberts among others.  Mal Filby was expected to be the team’s key threat but suffered a season-ending injury in the home opener.  Brother Ian stepped up in his stead and led the ASL in scoring with 14 goals and 17 assists.  From a front office standpoint though, the best signing had to be Roberts.  Midway through the season, the Gold sold Roberts’ contract to the Atlanta Chiefs of the first division North American Soccer League for $25,000, reportedly a record transfer fee between the two American leagues.  (Roberts was more than worth it, scoring 14 goals in 19 matches for the Chiefs in 1979).

That $25,000 undoubtedly helped the Gold bottom line.  According to Dave Litterer’s terrific American Soccer History Archives site, typical annual operating budgets for ASL franchises in the late 1970′s averaged $300,000 to $350,000 per year.  By 1979, the Gold had moved to 23,000-seat Hughes Stadium on the campus of Sacramento City College.  During the 1979 season, the Gold drew 57,073 to Hughes for 14 matches and led the low-budget ASL with average announced attendance of 4,077 per match.

On September 17th, 1979 the Gold travelled to Ohio to face the Columbus Magic in the American Soccer League championship game.  The match took place at Franklin County Stadium, a re-lined minor league baseball park.  As he had all season, Ian Filby came through for the Gold and broke a scoreless tie in the 84th minute.  The 1-0 margin held up to give the Gold the 1979 ASL championship.

The Gold returned for a third ASL season in 1980 (fifth if you count the Spirits years), but quickly ran out of money.  In early July 1980, the Gold chose to forfeit a road match at the Miami Americans rather than pay for airfare to Florida.  By late July, with the team still unwilling or unable to travel, the ASL terminated the franchise.  A group of Sacramento-area boosters raised $35,000 – $40,000 and turned it over to the league office to run the team through the end of the season.  “Sacramento” (the Gold moniker was dropped) finished out the season as a ward of the league and, improbably, made a return visit to the ASL championship game.  Sacramento lost the title match to the Pennsylvania Stoners 2-1 in Allentown, PA on September 18th, 1980.

After the season, Sacramento folded along with the rest of the ASL’s remaining West Coast franchises.

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The ASL played three more seasons from 1981 to 1983.  After 1980, it never again fielded a team west of Oklahoma City.  The league folded in late 1983 or early 1984.

The Gold’s young General Manager Greg “Dutch” Van Dusen became a leading figure in the successful effort to lure the NBA’s Kansas City Kings franchise to Sacramento in 1985.  He also negotiated the naming rights to the city’s ARCO Arena and worked as an executive for the Kings throughout the 1980′s.

Professional soccer – of the indoor variety – returned to Sacramento in the summer of 1993 with the Knights of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.  The Knights played at ARCO Arena in a succession of leagues for nine summers between 1993 and 2001.

Downloads:

1978 American Soccer League Attendance Report

Sacramento Spirits / Gold Sources

Written by andycrossley

October 16th, 2011 at 7:20 pm