Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1973 New York Golden Blades

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New York Golden BladesWorld Hockey Association (1973)

Born: May 30, 1973- Re-branded from New York Raiders
Died: November 20, 1973 – The Golden Blades relocate to Cherry Hill, NJ.

Arena: Madison Square Garden

Team Colors:

Owner: Ralf Brent, Lee Matison & Lawrence Stern

 

The New York Golden Blades lasted for just 24 games and marked the grim conclusion to the World Hockey Association’s hopes to plant its flag in New York.  The WHA, a 1970’s rival to the NHL, originally hoped to place its New York Raiders franchise in the brand new Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in 1972.  But the senior circuit blocked the WHA from Nassau by hastily awarding the New York Islanders expansion club to Long Island.  The Raiders wound up in Manhattan, getting pushed around by the New York Rangers at the Madison Square Garden.  The team’s original investors bailed and the league had to take over the Raiders two months into the WHA’s 1972-73 maiden season.

The league found a new buyer in the spring of 1973 with a consortium led by Ralf Brent.  Brent’s group took over the club and immediately changed the name from Raiders to “Golden Blades”.  The team, in fact, would wear white skates with gold colored blades.  The Golden Blades scored an early coup in the summer of 1973, signing the league’s reigning scoring champion Andre Lacroix away from the similarly troubled Philadelphia Blazers club.  Then things went south in a hurry.

The new owners were still saddled with the Raiders’ old lousy dates and expensive lease at the Garden.  And they turned out not to have any real money.  Brent & Co. missed their very first payroll in October 1973.  (At least the Raiders’ owners made two payrolls before evaporating the previous winter).  The WHA took over player payroll, but Brent and his partners were still responsible for funding the remaining operations of the Blades.  By November 1973 they were on the verge of eviction from Madison Square Garden.  The league stepped in on November 20th and seized the franchise.  The Golden Blades were swiftly shipped off to tiny 5,000 Cherry Hill Arena on the outskirts of Philadelphia and finished out the 1973-74 season as the “Jersey Knights”.

The WHA never returned to New York.  The league folded in 1979 following a merger that saw four of its teams join the NHL.

 

==Links==

World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs

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Written by andycrossley

March 25th, 2015 at 2:25 am

1973-1977 Winston-Salem Polar Twins

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Winston-Salem Polar Twins ProgramSouthern Hockey League (1973-1977)

Born: 1973 – SHL founding franchise.
Died: January 7, 1977 – The Polar Twins shutdown in midseason.

Arena: Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum (6,037)

Team Colors: Gold, Red & Blue

Owners:

 

The Winston-Salem Polar Twins were a rough-and-tumble mid-70’s minor league hockey outfit from deep in the heart of North Carolina tobacco country.  They had one of the great (or, at least, original) ice hockey names of all time and if you have a theory on the origin of this deeply weird name, please leave your explanation in the comments.

Originally owned by a group of 15 investors, the group suffered through a couple of tough seasons and by December 1975, the Polar Twins’ financial backers apparently dwindled to one guy named Ed Timmerman who couldn’t keep the club afloat.  Famed wrestling promoted Jim Crockett Jr. stepped in to take over the team and kept it going until January 1977.  The league’s championship trophy, the Crockett Cup, was named for Jim Jr.’s father, a long-time backer of the Charlotte Checkers minor league hockey team.

By January 1977, the Southern Hockey League was in dire straits, with several clubs dropping out midseason. Crockett declined to keep the Polar Twins going in light of the other SHL clubs dropping out of the league in early 1977 and folded the team on January 7, 1977.  Reduced to just three solvent teams, the rest of the Southern Hockey League closed its doors a few weeks later.

 

==Winston-Salem Polar Twins Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1974-75

1974-75 2/25/1975 vs. Roanoke Valley Rebels ?? Program

1975-76

1975-76 10/11/1975 @ Greensboro Generals  W 3-2 Program

 

==Links==

Southern Hockey League Programs

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1980 Syracuse Hornets

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Eastern Hockey League (1980)

Born: August 1980 – EHL expansion franchise.
Died: November 11, 1980 – The Hornets fold in midseason.

Arena: State Fairgrounds Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owner: Gaetan Gagne

 

The Syracuse Hornets were an ill-fated minor league hockey team that lasted just 10 games in the fall of 1980 before going out of business.  The club, owned by local contractor Gaetan Gagne, joined the Eastern Hockey League as an expansion franchise in the summer of 1980.  The Hornets replaced the departing Syracuse Firebirds (1979-1980) of the higher-level American Hockey League.  But the Hornets did not take over the Firebirds’ old lease at the Onondaga County War Memorial, the longtime home of pro hockey in Syracuse.  Instead the Hornets would play at the smaller, cheaper State Fairgrounds Coliseum.

The Hornets were unable to secure a parent club affiliation with an NHL team.  This left Head Coach and General Manager Bill Horton, a former Syracuse Blazers player, to compile an independent roster of castoffs and tryout camp wanna-bes.  Even at the relatively low level of competition in the EHL, the Hornets were desperately outclassed.  They went o-9-1 in the first ten games of the season, yielding an obscene 99 goals.

The Hornets’ financial situation was equally desperate.  The team sold fewer than 100 season tickets and crowds at the Coliseum numbered in the hundreds.  In early November, the team ran out of funds and did not appear for road games in Baltimore and Salem, Virginia.  A last ditch effort to move the Hornets to Utica fell through and the Hornets closed their doors on November 11, 1980.  The team played only 10 of 72 scheduled games and folded without ever celebrating a win.

 

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1959-1977 Greensboro Generals

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Greensboro GeneralsEastern Hockey League (1959-1973)
Southern Hockey League (1973-1977)

Born: Spring 1959 – EHL expansion franchise.
Died: January 4, 1977 – The Generals cease operations in midseason.

Arenas:

Team Colors: Green, Gold & White

Owners:

 

The Greensboro Generals were a long-running minor league outfit that was one of the first pro hockey teams to establish a following in the American South.  The Generals formed as an Eastern Hockey League expansion franchise in 1959, the same year that the city of Greensboro, North Carolina opened up the 7,000-seater Greensboro Coliseum.  To stock the team, the Greensboro backers acquired the struggling Troy (MI) Bruins of the Midwest-based International Hockey League and brought many of the ex-Bruins to Greensboro.  A crowd of 3,014 showed up at the Coliseum on November 11, 1959 for the Generals home debut, a 4-1 victory over the Washington Presidents.

From the team’s formation and through the 1960’s the Generals were operated by a group of civic leaders fronted by heating oil entrepreneur Carson Bain.  (Bain would also serve a term as Greensboro’s Mayor from 1967 to 1969).  In the spring of 1971, Bain and his partners sold the Generals to Tedd Munchak, owner of the Carolina Cougars of the American Basketball Association.  By this time, however, the EHL and minor league hockey in general was entering a period of decline and decay.  The EHL dissolved in the spring of 1973, splitting into two offshoots.  The Northeastern clubs formed the North American Hockey League and the Southeastern teams re-organized into the Southern Hockey League.

The Generals ran out of gas in the mid-1970’s.  The club’s final two seasons were marred by financial problems and a move to the smaller, cheaper Piedmont Arena.  On January 4, 1977, the Generals closed down in the middle of the 1976-77 campaign.  Three other SHL clubs folded the same week, and the league itself threw in the towel four weeks later on January 31, 1977.

The historic Greensboro Generals brand name was resuscitated in 1999 for a new East Coast Hockey League franchise that played five seasons at the Coliseum from 1999 through 2004.

 

==Greensboro Generals Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1960-61

1960-61 1/4/1961 @ Clinton Comets ?? Program

1964-65

1964-65 12/5/1964 vs. Jacksonville Rockets ?? Program

1975-76

1975-76 10/11/1975 vs. Winston-Salem Polar Twins L 3-2 Program

 

==Links==

Eastern Hockey League Programs

Southern Hockey League Programs

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1974-1975 Memphis Southmen

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Larry Csonka Memphis SouthmenWorld Football League (1974-1975)

Born: May 8, 1974 – The Toronto Northmen relocate to Memphis, TN.
Died: October 22, 1975 – The WFL ceases operations in midseason.

Stadium: Memphis Memorial Stadium (50,164)

Team Colors: Burnt Orange & Brown

Owner: John Bassett et al.

 

The Memphis Southmen (AKA Grizzlies) began life 1,000 miles to the north in late 1973 as a planned pro football franchise known as the Toronto Northmen.  The lead investor of the Northmen was Toronto media scion John Bassett, Jr., whose burgeoning sports empire at the time also included the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association and the Buffalo-Toronto Royals of World Team Tennis.  Bassett’s father, John Sr., was a Toronto newspaper and television station baron who owned part of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs before losing it to Harold Ballard in an early 1970’s power struggle.

The Northmen were to be members of the upstart World Football League, which planned to begin play in July 1974 and combat the NFL head-to-head for top collegiate & pro talent.  The formation of the WFL brought (briefly) a form of limited free agency to pro football.  Free agent movement was virtually unheard of in the NFL at the time thanks to the chilling effects of the “Rozelle Rule” reserve clause.  But with the arrival of the WFL in 1974, NFL players were no longer indentured solely to their current teams.  They could jump to the rival league for a bigger paycheck – or at least use that threat to gain some rare negotiating leverage.  The new league pursued NFL talent aggressively, signing stars such as L.C. Greenwood, Calvin Hill, Craig Morton and Ken Stabler to futures contracts to jump leagues once their current NFL deals expired.  Ultimately, no team would make a bigger splash in the NFL-WFL player battle than Bassett’s franchise.

Memphis SouthmenOn March 31, 1974, the Toronto Northmen held a press conference to announce the signings of Miami Dolphins’ stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield.  All three were heroes of Miami’s legendary 1972 undefeated Super Bowl championship squad.  Bassett and his General Manager, Leo Cahill, flew the trio to Toronto and floored them with an offer that Dolphins owner Joe Robbie couldn’t or wouldn’t match.  $1.5 million over 3 years for Csonka, the MVP of Super Bowl XIII just two months earlier.  $1.0 million over three years for Warfield.  And $900,000 over the years for Csonka’s fellow running back Jim Kiick.  It was a shocking coup for the World Football League and a gut punch to one of the NFL’s elite franchises.  The Dolphins stars still had a year to run on their NFL contracts.  The plan was for Csonka, Kiick and Warfield to join Toronto for the WFL’s second season starting in the summer of 1975.

Meanwhile, Bassett found an antagonist back in Toronto who proved a much more formidable adversary than Joe Robbie.  Canadian federal minister of health and welfare set out to force Bassett out of Toronto, believing the arrival of the U.S.-based World Football League posed an existential threat to the Canadian Football League and its Toronto Argonauts franchise.  Lalonde filed the Canadian Football Act with Parliament in April 1974.  The act sought to protect the Canadian Football League and Canadian-born football players by keeping U.S.-based pro leagues out of Canada.  Although the legislation never passed, the debate created enough uncertainty and antagonism that Bassett picked up his franchise and moved to Memphis, Tennessee on May 8, 1974, barely two months before opening night of the first WFL season.

In Tennessee, the franchise would officially be known as the “Memphis Southmen”.  But locals didn’t cotton to the name too well, and colloquially the team was known as the “Grizzlies”.  (You can see the duality of the team’s identity on the first season media guide cover at left).

Although Csonka, Kiick and Warfield weren’t due to arrive in town for another year yet, the Southmen/Grizzlies still had arguably the best team in the WFL during the league’s debut season in 1974.  Head Coach John McVay ran a ball control offense for the most part, with 1964 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback John Huarte at the helm.  A trio of running backs – rookie draft pick J.J. Jennings out of Rutgers, along with John Harvey and Willie Spencer – combined for 3,197 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns.  Rookie quarterback/punter Danny White – who would later succeed Roger Staubach as starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys – saw considerable late-game action behind center in a platoon role with Huarte.

The Southmen finished 17-3 and were undeated (10-0) at Memphis Memorial Stadium.  But on November 29, 1974, they were upset at home by the Florida Blazers 18-15 in the playoff semi-final.  The Blazers were an insolvent franchise at the time.  Their players hadn’t been paid in months and within months team owner Rommie Loudd would be charged with both tax fraud and cocaine distribution charges.  The chaos surrounding the Blazers was only slightly more extreme than the turmoil enveloping the entire league.  Founder Gary Davidson was expelled from the league by disgruntle owners late in the season.   Several clubs relocated in midseason or simply folded without completing their schedules.  Amidst it all, the Southmen were a beacon of stability.  The team paid its bills and Bassett reportedly had to bail out other owners on several occasions.

At the end of the season, halfback J.J. Jennings (1,524 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) was named Rookie-of-the-Year and one of the WFL’s ‘Tri-MVPs” for the 1974 season.

Ed Marshall Memphis SouthmenThe World Football League was all but dead by December 1974.  Many of the teams that survived the 1974 season now faced tax liens, property seizures and myriad lawsuits.  The Southmen’s arch rivals, the Birmingham Americans, defeated the Blazers to win World Bowl I, only to see sheriff’s deputies interrupt their post-game celebration to confiscate the team’s equipment.  But Hawaiians owner Christopher Hemmeter took the lead to re-organize the league under a new corporation and recruit new investors.  Bassett was one of only a handful of original investors who returned for the second season.

The WFL returned for a second season in July 1975 and that meant that Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield were headed to Memphis, Tennessee.  To make room the Csonka and Kiick in the already crowded backfield, the team’s 1974 sensation J.J. Jennings was shipped out to play for the WFL’s Philadelphia Bell franchise.  The trio of ex-Dolphins earned a cover shoot on the July 28, 1975 edition of Sports Illustrated in their Grizzlies uniforms- the first and only time that the WFL would be so honored by the nation’s premiere sports periodical.

Despite the arrival of the big stars, the Southmen seemed to take a step back during the first half of the 1975 season.  Csonka battled nagging injuries and missed games.  He would score only two touchdowns during his time in Memphis.  Kiick had the biggest impact, scoring 10 touchdowns, but Memphis’ leading rusher was the unheralded 1974 holdover Willie Spencer.  No one replaced the production of the departed J.J. Jennings.

At quarterback, 2nd year pro Danny White took over the primary role from Huarte, who accepted back-up status.  White showed flashes of the promise that would make him a started in the NFL for much of the 1980’s but was still very much a developing player.  By late October, the Southmen had a record of 7-4 and sat in 2nd place in their division behind arch rival Birmingham.  As with the first season, the rest of the league was in chaos.  The new Chicago franchise had already folded up shop after just five games.  On October 22, 1975, the league owners voted to shutdown the league immediately rather than complete the 1975 season.

Csonka, Kiick and Warfield returned to the NFL.  John McVay was hired as an assistant coach by the New York Giants in 1976 and brought several ex-Southmen with him, including Csonka, defensive back Larry Mallory, wide receiver Ed Marshall, offensive lineman Ron Mikolajczyk and tight end Gary Shirk.

After the WFL folded, Bassett kept some of his key staff in place to petition for admission to the NFL as an expansion franchise.  A winter 1975-76 season ticket drive resulted in 40,000 pledges.  But the NFL turned down Bassett’s application.   Bassett responded with an anti-trust suit against the league – Mid-South Grizzlies v. National Football Leaguedragged on until 1983.  By that time, Bassett was back in pro football as owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the springtime  United States Football League.  Memphis would get a USFL expansion franchise the following year – the Showboats – to finally replace the Southmen/Grizzlies after nearly a decade’s absence.

 

==Memphis Southmen Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other

1974

1974 8/7/1974 @ Philadelphia Bell L 46-15 Program
1974 8/14/1974 @ Detroit Wheels W 37-7 Program
1974 9/18/1974 @ Chicago Fire W 25-7 Program
1974 10/16/1974 vs. Florida Blazers W 25-15 Program

1975

1975 7/14/1975 @ Southern California Sun (exh.) L 47-16 Program
1975 7/26/1975 @ Shreveport Steamer (exh.) W 14-7 Program
1975 8/2/1975 vs. Jacksonville Express W 27-26 Program
1975 8/30/1975 vs. Chicago Winds W 31-7 Program
1975 9/7/1975 vs. The Hawaiians W 37-17 Program
1975 9/14/1975 vs. Shreveport Steamer W 34-23 Program
1975 9/28/1975 @ San Antonio Wings L 25-17 Program
1975 10/12/1975 vs. Birmingham Vulcans L 18-14 Program

 

==Downloads==

1975 WFL Standard Player Contract

 

==Links==

They’re Grinning and Bearing“, Robert F. Jones, Sports Illustrated, July 28, 1975

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Game Programs

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