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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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1991-2017 Tampa Bay Storm

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Tampa Bay StormArena Football League (1991-2017)

Born: November 15, 1990 – The Pittsburgh Gladiators relocate to Tampa Bay, FL
Folded: December 21, 2017

Arenas:

Team Colors:

  • 1994: Black, Silver & Royal Blue
  • 1998: Midnight Blue, Metallic Gold & White

Owners:

Arena Bowl Champions: 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996 & 2003

 

The Tampa Bay Storm were arguably the greatest franchise in the 30-year history of the Arena Football League(s). The Storm played for 26 seasons and won 5 Arena Bowl titles. For many years the team was among the most popular box office attractions in the AFL. The Storm’s closure, four days before Christmas of 2017, reduces the Arena League to just four remaining franchises and may mark the final nail in the league’s coffin after many near-death experiences.

The Storm started out as the Pittsburgh Gladiators, one of Arena Football’s four original franchises, in 1987. The team moved to Florida in the spring of 1991 under owner Bob Gries. The Storm made their debut at the Florida Suncoast Dome on June 1, 1991 with a 51-38 loss to the Orlando Predators in front of 10,354 fans. The game marked the start of Arena Football’s greatest rivalry. The “War of I-4” would last for a quarter century until the Predators went out of business in 2016. The Storm and the Preds combined for seven league championships during that time.

Tampa Bay Storm Arena Bowl VAfter that 0-1 start, the Storm lost only one more game that season. Crowds grew at the Suncoast Dome as the season went on. Built for baseball (and known today as Tropicana Field, home of MLB’s Rays), the seating could expand well beyond the capacity of an NHL and NBA arena. The Storm’s final two regular season games in 1991 drew announced crowds of more than 20,000 fans. On August 17, 1991 the Storm traveled to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena and defeated the Detroit Drive 48-42 to win Arena Bowl V.

The great stars of the early Storm years were former University of Louisville quarterback Jay Gruden (Storm ’91 – ’96) and offensive specialist Stevie Thomas (Storm ’91 – ’99) out of Bethune-Cookman. The Storm would win four Arena Bowls between 1991 and 1996 with Gruden and Thomas fueling the offense.

The Storm also had the winningest coach in Arena Football history. Tampa Bay won their first two Arena Bowls under Fran Curci (1991) and Larry Kuharich (1993). In 1995, the Storm hired Tim Marcum as the team’s third head coach. Marcum already had four Arena Bowl titles on his resume as chief of the Denver Dynamite and the Detroit Drive. Under Marcum, the Storm would win back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996 and another in 2003. Marcum coached the team through 2010, before a scandal related to content on the Storm coaching staff’s work email accounts forced his resignation. Marcum passed away in 2013.

The Storm passed through many ownership hands over the years. Founding owner Bob Gries won two titles with the team. In a sign of just how small potatoes the AFL was in the early 1990s’, he sold the team to minor league baseball investor Woody Kern in 1994 for just $447,000. Kern oversaw the Storm’s growth and relative stability for 13 years from 1994 to 2007. During that time, the team won three more titles and moved from the Suncoast Dome to the St. Pete Times Forum in 1997. In 2007, Kern sold the Storm to Tampa orthopedic surgeon Robert Nucci for $18.8 million. And then …. hoo boy.

Nucci, a professional sports novice, made a spectacularly ill-timed purchased. His deal with Kern called for a $9.6 million down payment in 2007 to acquire 51% interest in the team and additional installments through 2011. Nucci would own the team for just one season (2008). He never made the additional payments, as the Arena Football League’s house-of-cards financial model collapsed in late 2008. The league closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in August 2009. Nucci soon filed for personal bankruptcy. He has spent much of the next decade filing lawsuits against Storm and AFL officials and his own legal advisors. Nucci alleged that by the mid-late 2000’s, the Arena Football League was little more than a “disguised Ponzi scheme” with a broken business model that was dependent on expansion fees from unwitting investors to fund its massive debt.

There was no Arena Football in 2009 as the original league moved into bankruptcy. In 2010, a group of former AFL investors and operators from its small market Arena Football 2 developmental league purchased the old league’s intellectual property and trademarks from the bankruptcy court. A new original football league launched in 2010, with a revived  but lower-budget Tampa Bay Storm re-taking the field under Marcum’s direction. The following year the owners of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning acquired the Storm and brought the team under its Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment umbrella. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Derrick Brooks was tabbed as President to run the team.

The new Arena Football League struggled badly over the next six seasons. The Storm were a relative beacon of stability, but Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment finally gave up on the league in late 2017. The Storm folded on December 21, 2017.

 

Tampa Bay Storm Memorabilia

 

Storm Video

The Zubaz era. Tampa Bay Storm vs. Detroit Drive. Arena Bowl V at Joe Louis Arena, August 17, 1991.

Arena Bowl X. Tampa Bay Storm vs. Iowa Barnstormers at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

In Memoriam

Lineman Al Lucas (Storm ’03) died of spinal cord injury suffered during an Arena Football League game on April 10, 2005 while a member of the Los Angeles Avengers. Lucas was just 26 years old.

Wide receiver Chandler Williams (Storm ’12) died of a heart ailment during a flag football game on January 5, 2013. He was 27.

Head Coach Tim Marcum (Storm ’95-’10) passed away on December 5, 2013 at the age of 69. Tampa Bay Times obituary.

Storm owner Woody Kern (Storm ’94 – ‘) died on January 7, 2014. Kern was 66 years old. Tampa Bay Times obituary.

Fullback-linebacker Cedric McKinnon (Storm ’95-’00) passed on May 23, 2016 at age 48. Bethune-Cookman University obituary.

Head Coach Lary Kuharich (Storm ’92-’94) died of brain cancer at age 70 on November 13, 2016.

 

Downloads

2013 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

2014 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

2016 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

2017 Tampa Bay Storm Media Guide

February 2015 Court Complaint Robert C. Nucci vs. Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, PC – Sheds light on final days of original AFL circa 2007-2008.

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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1993-1995 Miami Hooters

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Miami Hooters LogoArena Football League (1993-1995)

Born: March 4, 1993 – The Sacramento Attack relocate to Miami, FL.
Moved: 1996 (Florida Bobcats)

Arena: Miami Arena (14,600)

Team Colors: Orange, Black & White

Owner: Dave Lageschulte, et al.

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

This short-lived Arena Football League franchise was named after the Hooters restaurant chain. Owner Dave Lageschulte was one the early franchisees of the Hooters wings-and-boobs empire and developed the chain’s many South Florida restaurants.

Arena Football players of the early 1990’s earned about $500 per game with a small bonus for victories. Given the low pay, most of the league’s players were unknowns, even to hardcore NFL draft junkies.  By comparison with other Arena League teams, the Hooters signed up a good number of familiar names. Miami Dolphins cult hero Jim Jensen, a wide receiver and special teams warrior in his NFL days, came out of retirement to play quarterback for the Hooters. Former New England Patriots Pro Bowl running back Tony Collins played both ways as a Running Back/Linebacker in 1993. Ex-Dolphins All-Pro wide receiver Mark “Super” Duper joined the Hooters for their second season in 1994.

The team also signed a few notable ex-Miami Hurricanes players, including wide receiver Leonard Conley and quarterback Bryan Fortay.

The Hooters lasted for three seasons at Miami Arena. In late 1995, Lageschulte sold the Hooters to South Florida real estate developer Bruce Frey. Frey moved the team to West Palm Beach and re-named it the Florida Bobcats (1996-2001).

Six years later, Lageschulte would return for a second try at Arena Football as owner of the Indiana Firebirds franchise (2001-2004).

 

Hooters Video

Brief clip of the Hooters hosting the Cleveland Thunderbolts at Miami Arena in 1993.

 

 

In Memoriam

Miami Hooters owner David Lageschulte died on March 11, 2014 after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 62.

Offensive/Defensive Lineman Jon Roehlk (Hooters ’94) passed away on March 13, 2016 at age 54. Quad City Times obituary.

 

Links

Half the Distance to the Bustline“, Todd Anthony, The Miami New Times, June 9, 1993

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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Written by AC

December 16th, 2017 at 6:57 pm

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