Arena Football League (1995-1996)
Born: October 3, 1994 – AFL expansion franchise.
Died: August 25, 1996 – The Pharaohs relocate to Portland, OR.
Arena: Pyramid Arena (18,300)
Owners: Kevin Hunter, Dr. J.T. Davis, Ed Gatlin & Jon K. Thompson
The Memphis Pharaohs were a two-year entry in the Arena Football League. They were the first pro sports franchise to play in the infamous Pyramid Arena, a $62 million dollar white whale project that lasted a mere 15 years after its opening in 1991.
The Pharaohs joined the AFL in October 1995 as an expansion club, the growing league’s 15th franchise. The front man was Kevin Hunter, a 30-year cellular phone dealer from Mississippi, backed by his father-in-law and two other investment partners.
In March 1995, the Pharaohs signed cult legend Marcus Dupree. Considered one of the greatest high school running backs of all time ( ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series devoted a film to Dupree entitled The Greatest That Never Was), Dupree played one tantalizing season at the University of Oklahoma before dropping out of school. He landed in the USFL as a 19-year old phenom, but wrecked his knee during the first game of his second season in 1985. In 1990, Dupree came out of nowhere to make the Los Angeles Rams as a 25-year old rookie and played two season in L.A. The signing was an odd one, since the running game is virtually non-existent in Arena Football. Dupree was not in football shape and, although he appeared on Pharaohs rosters at times during the 1995 season, he never played a snap in the Arena Football League.
The Pharaohs were competitive during their inaugural season, finishing 6-6 and earning the 8th and final seed in the 1995 playoffs. The Pharaohs lost to the eventual Arena Bowl champion Tampa Bay Storm 53-41 in the quarterfinal round.
In 1996 the Pharaohs turned over virtually their entire roster, bringing a large number of newcomers with little indoor experience. The result was one of the worst teams ever seen in the Arena Football League. The 1996 Pharaohs finished o-14 and attendance crashed to 5,245 per game (announced), which was 14th out of 15 teams in the league. The Pharaohs final “home” game on August 3, 1996 was moved to Tupelo, Mississippi. Nobody showed up there either.
Three weeks later, the Pharaohs ownership group announce the relocation of the team to Portland, Oregon’s Rose Garden arena. The franchise would last three seasons in Oregon as the Portland Forest Dragons (1997-1999) and another two in Oklahoma as the Oklahoma City Cavalry (2000-2001) before finally folding.
The original ownership group hung on for virtually the entire ride, with the exception of front man Kevin Hunter. Hunter was dropped from the group in 1998 after a high profile arrest in Memphis, which embarrassed the administration of Mayor Willie Herenton, rumored to be Hunter’ s partner in an effort to acquire a Tunica, Mississippi casino at the time.
Arena Football returned to the Memphis area in 2001 with the debut of the Memphis Xplorers of Arena Football 2, a smaller-market minor league for the AFL. The Xplorers played out of the DeSoto Civic Center in nearby Southaven, Mississippi.
==Pharaohs Games on Fun While It Lasted==
|1995||5/26/1995||@ San Jose Sabercats||W 41-30||Program|
|1996||4/27/1996||vs. Charlotte Rage||L 54-30||Program|
|1996||7/27/1996||@ Iowa Barnstormers||L 57-28||Program|
- Marcus Dupree (did not play)
- Robert Lyles