Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1987-1990 Pittsburgh Gladiators

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Pittsburgh GladiatorsArena Football League (1987-1990)

Born: 1987 – Arena Football founding franchise
Moved: November 15, 1990 (Tampa Bay Storm)

Arena: Pittsburgh Civic Arena (15,052)

Team Colors: Green & Khaki

Owners:

  • 1987-1989: Arena Football League
  • 1990: Bob Gries

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

The Pittsburgh Gladiators were one of four founding members of the Arena Football League in 1987. The novelty of 50-yard indoor football caught some traction in the Steel City in the summer of ’87. All four of the Glads’ home games in the summer of 1987 drew more than 11,000 fans, culminating when Pittsburgh hosted Arena Bowl I at the Civic Arena before 13,232 and an ESPN national TV audience on August 1, 1987.

The 1987 Gladiators featured a handful of USFL castaways, including the team’s original starting quarterback Mike Hohensee and All-Arena League lineman Craig Walls. Head Coach Joe Haering was the defensive coordinator of the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers in 1984. The team’s breakout star was a 23-year old rookie from the University of Kentucky named Russell Hairston. The strapping (6-3, 205) receiver caught 67 balls from 1,126 yards and 18 touchdowns in 6 games, earning the league’s inaugural Most Valuable Player award. Hohensee went down early in the season/ But back-up Brendan Folmar filled in capably as the Glads finished the regular season 4-2.

Hohensee was ready to play again for Arena Bowl I against the Denver Dynamite. Folmar was dinged up himself by this point. Haering gave Hohensee the nod, but replaced him with Folmar after the Dynamite went up 18-0 early. Pittsburgh never got back in the game and lost 45-16.

Several players on the 1987 Gladiators team used their Arena Football showcase to earned Replacement Player jobs during the 1987 NFL players strike. The replacements included Russell Hairston (Pittsburgh Steelers), Craig Walls (Buffalo Bills), and both of the team’s quarterbacks, with Folmar going to the Detroit Lions and Hohensee starting two replacement games for the Chicago Bears.

The Gladiators returned with an expanded 12-game schedule in 1988. Hohensee and Folmar platooned at quarterback again. Hairston also returned, but coach Joe Haering dumped the reigning league MVP in a midseason trade to the New England Steamrollers. But fan interest waned and only one of the team’s 6 home dates drew more than 10,000 fans. The team finished a middling 6-6.

The Arena League nearly folded during the winter of 1988-89 amidst a dispute between founder Jim Foster and team operators. When the league did return in the spring of 1989, there we just four teams playing a brief four-game schedule over the course of three weeks. The 1989 season was intended to showcase Arena Football to new investors around the country, so the Gladiators made only one actual appearance in the city of Pittsburgh. The team’s other games were played in Sacramento, Richfield, Ohio and Baltimore. During the 2nd game of the season at Sacramento’s ARCO Arena, an on-field scrap broke out with the Chicago Bruisers. In the fracas that ensued, coach Joe Haering punched AFL founder and commissioner Jim Foster in the head three times and earned himself a suspension.

Willie Totten took over the quarterback duties in 1989. Totten was Jerry Rice’s quarterback at Mississippi Valley State. He completed just 48.7% of his passes but was still named the 1st All-Arena quarterback for the shrunken league. The Gladiators returned to the title game, losing Arena Bowl III to the Detroit Drive 39-26 on August 18, 1989.

Owned directly by the league for their first three years, the Gladiators finally acquired an independent owner in 1990. Bob Gries was in his early 30’s. His family owned a significant minority stake in the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. By the time the Glads opened their fourth and final season on June 8, 1990, the team had made only one appearance in Pittsburgh in the past 23 months. The city was no longer interested in Arena Football. The club’s announced attendance of 5,289 per game was second worst in the league.

Gries move his franchise to Tampa, Florida in November 1990. The Tampa Bay Storm became one of the greatest Arena Football teams of all-time. The Storm won five Arena Bowls and played for 25 seasons before going out of business in December 2017.

 

Pittsburgh Gladiators Memorabilia

 

Gladiators Video

 

Downloads

1988 Arena Football League fan survey

James F. Foster U.S. Patent #4,911,443 for Arena Football Game System and Method of Play. March 27, 1990

 

Links

The Pittsburgh Gladiators nearly won a championship in their first year. Then, they never played again“, Kevin Stankiewicz, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 7, 2017

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

January 23rd, 2018 at 3:40 am

1997-1999 Portland Forest Dragons

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Portland Forest DragonsArena Football League (1997-1999)

Born: August 25, 1996 – The Memphis Pharaohs relocate to Portland, OR
Moved: November 1999 (Oklahoma City Wranglers)

Arena: The Rose Garden (18,800)

Team Colors: Black, Silver & Teal Green

Owners: Kevin Hunter, Dr. J.T. Davis, Ed Gatlin & Jon K. Thompson

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

This transient Arena Football League franchise made its way through Memphis, Portland and Oklahoma City from 1995 to 2001. During their three-year run in Oregon from 1997 to 1999, the Forest Dragons played a spring/summer schedule at The Rose Garden, home of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers.

The team’s stay in Portland was uninspiring. The Forest Dragons had back-to-back last place seasons in 1997 (2-12) and 1998 (4-10).  The team improved marginally to 7-7 for their final campaign in 1999, but missed the playoffs once again.

The Forest Dragons top player was Wide Receiver/Defensive Back Oronde Gadsden. The 26-year old joined the team in 1998 after several years of kicking around NFL practice squads and NFL Europe. He won AFL Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1998 with 93 receptions for 1,335 yards and 37 touchdowns, plus 3 interceptions and another score on the defensive side of the ball.  Gadsden used his Arena League success to score a contract with the Miami Dolphins, where caught 227 passes and 22 touchdowns between 1998 and 2003.

The Forest Dragons left town in November 1999 to move to Oklahoma City. The team finally folded two years later following the 2001 season.

Arena Football returned to Portland in 2014 with the Portland Thunder (2014-2015) and Portland Steel (2016) franchises.

Sports Marketing guru Jon Spoelstra, a long-time Portland Trailblazers executive, consulted for the Forest Dragons during their start up in 1997. His influential 2001 book Marketing Outrageously

Portland Forest Dragons Memorabilia

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

January 21st, 2018 at 6:15 pm

1987-1990 Washington Commandos / Maryland Commandos

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Washington CommandosArena Football League (1987, 1989-1990)

Born: 1987 – Arena Football founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1990

Arenas:

Team Colors: Silver & Red

Owner: Arena Football League

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

The Washington Commandos were one of four original franchises in the Arena Football League when the AFL launched in 1987. The league’s inaugural season featured a brief six-week schedule between mid-June and early August 1987. Six games were broadcast nationwide on ESPN, including the Commandos home debut at the Capital Centre against the Denver Dynamite on June 27, 1987. The Commandos won that contest 36-20 in front of an announced crowd of 13,587.

The Commandos finished the 1987 season 2-4. Wide Receiver/Defensive Back Dwayne Dixon, Quarterback Rich Ingold, and lineman Jon Roehlk were named to the All-Arena 1st Team.

During the 1987 season all four of the league’s teams were owned centrally by AFL founder Jim Foster’s company Arena Sports Ventures Unlimited. In 1988, the AFL expanded to six teams and doubled its schedule to 12 games per team. Most significantly, Foster started licensing teams to local owner-operators. When no interested owners stepped forward for the Commandos, the team was closed down.

The AFL suffered a crisis after its second season in 1988. The league’s new crop of owners revolted against Foster and his licensing structure. Three of six clubs folded. The league scrambled to put on an abbreviated showcase schedule in 1989. The old Commandos gear was hauled out of storage and the Maryland Commandos were formed to fill out a tiny four-team league. Each club would play just four games in 1989, many in neutral site test markets around the country. The Maryland Commandos played one game at the Capital Centre in Landover and one at the Baltimore Arena. The Commandos went 0-4.

The AFL found itself on slightly more solid footing by the spring of 1990. As the league’s fourth season dawned, Foster successfully patented the league’s unique game system that March. Expansion teams in Albany and Dallas joined the league and the schedule grew back to 8 games.

The Commandos returned and took back their old “Washington” moniker instead of “Maryland” for the 1990 season. The team did not return to the 17,000-seat Capital Centre though. The 1990 Commandos played in the smaller, cheaper Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Wide receiver Charlie Brown, a Pro Bowl Selection on the Washington Redskins Super Bowl XVII championship team in 1983, suited up for the Commandos and caught 11 passes with 2 touchdowns.

The Commandos went 2-6 in 1990 and folded quietly at the end of the season.

Arena Football returned to the nation’s capital in 2017 when Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis  launched his Washington Valor franchise at the Verizon Center.

 

Commandos Video

 

In Memoriam

Head Coach Ray Willsey (Commandos ’89) passed away at age 85 on November 4, 2013.

Head Coach Bob Harrison (Commandos ’87) passed away on February 4, 2016 at age 78.

Lineman Jon Roehlk (Commandos ’87) died on March 13, 2016. The Arena Football Hall-of-Famer was 54 years old.

Lineman Patrick Cain (Commandos ’90) died on lung cancer at age 53 on March 14, 2016.

Quarterback Rich Ingold (Commandos ’87) died of pneumonia on February 15, 2017. Ingold was 53. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary.

 

Downloads

James F. Foster U.S. Patent #4,911,443 for Arena Football Game System and Method of Play. March 27, 1990

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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1998 Mississippi Beach Kings

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Mississippi Beach KingsEastern Indoor Soccer League (1998)

Born: 1998 – The Columbus Comets relocate to Biloxi, MS
Folded: Postseason 1998

Arena: Mississippi Coast Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners:

EISL Championships: None

 

Biloxi-based indoor soccer team that played a lone season at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in the summer of 1998. The Beach Kings originated in Columbus, Georgia as the Columbus Comets as a founding franchise in the Eastern Indoor Soccer League in 1997. The club shifted to Biloxi prior to the league’s second season.

The Beach Kings went 18-10 under coach Gary Hindley in their lone season of play. They advanced to the EISL’s championship series in late August 1998 where they lost to the Lafayette SwampCats in a two-game sweep.

The EISL went out of business following the 1998 season.

 

Links

Eastern Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Eastern Indoor Soccer League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

January 19th, 2018 at 4:04 am

1969 Tri-City Apollos

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Tri-City ApollosContinental Football League (1969)

Born: January 1969 – The Michigan Arrows relocate to Midland, MI
Folded: Postseason 1969

Stadium: Midland Community Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Albert Fill

Continental Football League Championships: None

 

The Tri-City Apollos were a minor league football team that represented Bay City, Midland and Saginaw, Michigan. The team lasted just one season in the Continental Football League in the autumn of 1969. The team folded along with the rest of the Continental League during the winter of 1969-70.

The Apollos played out of the high school football stadium in Midland. Chuck Cherondolo, a former Pittsburgh Steelers star of the 1940’s, served as the Apollos head coach. He enjoyed a long career as an NFL assistant coach both before and after his one-year stint with the Apollos.

The team went 2-10 in their only season of operation. The Apollos offense was particularly horrid. In twelve games, the team scored 20 points just once. Apollos quarterbacks combined for 6 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions over the course of the entire season. Larry Rakestraw, a two-time All-SEC  star at the University of Georgia and the hero of the Bulldogs’ 1963 Orange Bowl victory over the University of Miami, took most of the snaps under center.

 

Links

Continental Football League Media Guides

Continental Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

January 18th, 2018 at 4:21 am

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