Born: October 1984 – The Washington Federals relocate to Orlando.
Died: August 7, 1986 – The USFL ceases operations.
Stadium: The Florida Citrus Bowl (50,050)
Team Colors: Blue, Red, White, Grey & Black
Owner: Donald R. Dizney
The United States Football League arrived in Orlando, Florida in October 1984 when the league’s doormat Washington Federals franchise fled the nation’s capital for a fresh start in Florida. During the springtime football league’s first two season, the Federals had a league worst 7-29 record. The club’s exasperated former owner, Washington D.C. attorney Berl Bernhard, publicly compared his Federals to “untrained gerbils” after a typically dispiriting loss.
Bernhard thought he had a deal during the summer of 1984 to unload the team to Florida developer Woody Weiser, who would bring the team to Miami’s Orange Bowl, where they would be known as the Miami Manatees and coached by Howard Schnellenberger. But in late August, the USFL voted to move to a fall season in 1986, pitting the league head-to-head against the National Football League. Weiser knew he couldn’t compete in market against the Miami Dolphins in the autumn and pulled out of the sale. Bernhard, faced with a similar problem competing head-to-head with the Washington Redskins come 1986, was desperate to unload the Feds. He managed to strike a new deal with Donald Dizney, a minority partner in the USFL’s popular Tampa Bay Bandits franchise, to move the team to Orlando instead.
Unlike the USFL’s glitzier franchises, which lured three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners away from the NFL and paid out large contracts to get NFL free agents to jump leagues, the Federals/Renegades never opened the checkbook for splashy signings. The Renegades’ roster was composed mostly of journeymen from the Canadian Football League and NFL training camp cuts. ESPN College Gameday host Lee Corso was the Renegades Head Coach and is likely the only member of the team whose name would be familiar to younger fans today.
The team was marginally improved under Corso at 5-13, which was actually the best record in the franchise’s three-year history. Attendance was also much better. The Renegades averaged a little over 24,000 fans at the Florida Citrus Bowl in the spring of 1985, which was more than triple what they drew during their final depressing season at RFK Stadium in Washington.
The Renegades were due to return in the fall of 1986 for the USFL’s first fall season, but league owners elected to fold the league in August 1986 just as training camp was due to get underway. The USFL bet its future as a fall league on the successful outcome of an federal anti-trust against the National Football League. The USFL actually won the suit, but a jury awarded the league just $1.00 in damages, which was trebled to a final judgement of a whopping $3.00. USFL owners gave up shortly after the verdict.
Former Renegades owner Donald Dizney later owned the popular Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League for several years during the mid-1990’s. The Renegades starting quarterback, Reggie Collier, also started for the Predators during their first season in 1991.
After the demise of the the USFL, spring football returned to Orlando and the Citrus Bowl twice more. The Orlando Thunder of the NFL-backed World League of American Football played two seasons in 1991 and 1992. The Orlando Rage of the NBC/World Wrestling Entertainment joint venture the XFL arrived in 2001, but that league folded after only one season play.
Orlando Renegades vs the Memphis Showboats at the Florida Citrus Bowl
Cornerback Neal Colzie died of a heart attack on August 19, 2001. He was 48 years old.
Former Renegades General Manager Lewis “Bugsy” Engelberg died by his own hand in July 1987 at the age of 41.