Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1996-2001 Florida Bobcats

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Arena Football League (1996-2001)

Born: December 1995 – The Miami Hooters relocate to West Palm Beach, FL
Folded: 2001

Arenas:

Team Colors: Teal, Black & Silver

Owners:

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

The Florida Bobcats were a sad sack Arena Football League outfit that wandered in the wilderness for a decade in the notorious pro sports graveyard of Southern Florida.  Ownership squabbles and building problems plagued the franchise throughout its existence and the team was reliably terrible in competition, posting ten consecutive losing seasons.

The Bobcats’ origin dates back to March 1992 and a proposed expansion club called the Los Angeles Wings.  The franchise never played a down in Los Angeles, drifted through Northern California for a single season (1992) as the Sacramento Attack, and later turned up in Miami, named for the Hooters restaurant chain.  Depending on your worldview, the Miami Hooters (1993-1995) were either the world’s first men’s professional team named after large boobs, or the second one named after owls.*

Florida BobcatsWest Palm Beach real estate investor Bruce J. Frey bought the club from Hooters exec Dave Lageschulte in September 1995 and re-branded as the Florida Bobcats.  Frey’s original investment partner in the Bobcats was Lowell “Bud” Paxson, co-founder of the Home Shopping Network.  Frey and Paxson hoped to put together a South Florida sports empire consisting of the Bobcats, a minor league hockey team and the planned Miami expansion franchise for Major League Soccer.  But the MLS franchise went to a rival bidder, the hockey effort stalled and Frey and Paxson soon had a falling out.

For their first three seasons, the Bobcats played in the tiny 5,000 West Palm Beach Auditorium, AKA the Leaky Teepee.  The building was by far the smallest in the AFL and it was viewed as a temporary venue until Frey and the AFL could help persuade the West Palm Beach city elders to build a 12,000 – 15,000-seat arena.  In 1997, the league scheduled a number of the Bobcats “home” games in neutral sites around the country, rather than play in West Palm Beach.  In 1998, the Bobcats were booted out of the Auditorium midway through the season after the city sold the building to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Bobcats finally moved into the brand new 18,000-seat National Car Rental Center for the 1999 season.  The huge building only highlighted the community’s disinterest in the Bobcats.  On May 3, 2011,  the Bobcats announced the smallest crowd in the 22-year history of the original Arena Football League when 1,154 fans showed up for a game against the Los Angeles Avengers.  In classic Bobcats fashion, the team chose this night to pull out one of their rare victories.  Their overall record during the Florida years was 25-59.

From a football perspective, the most noteworthy Bobcat was probably quarterback Fred McNair, older brother of NFL All-Pro Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans.  McNair took most of the snaps for Florida over four seasons from 1996 to 2000.

Dating back to the Hooters days, the franchise also had a knack for attracting high-profile troubled players.  In 1994, the Hooters signed former Miami Dolphins All-Pro receiver Mark Duper, whose late career was dogged by drug suspensions and criminal indictments.  The Hooters also featured lineman John Corker, a prodigiously talented defensive lineman whose NFL career was derailed by a voracious cocaine habit.  Corker’s career ended in 1995 and he spent parts of the next decade homeless, before seeming to turn his life around, as described in this 2012 New York Times profile.  In 2001, the Bobcats signed toxic draft bust running back Lawrence Phillips, who bounced out of the NFL two years earlier, but was still only 25 years old.  Phillips’ signing made headlines, but he vanished from Bobcats training camp less than a week later. He never played a down in Arena Football.  Phillips is currently serving a 25-year sentence in California state prison.

The Bobcats finally folded after the 2001 season.

*The Chicago Owls (1968-1969) of the Continental Football League were the other, if you’re keeping score at home.

 

Florida Bobcats Memorabilia

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

Florida Bobcats All-Time Results & Statistics on ArenaFan.com

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1998-1999 Florida Thundercats

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Florida ThundercatsNational Professional Soccer League (1998-1999)

Born: May 19, 1998 – NPSL expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1999 – The Thundercats cease operations.

Arena: National Car Rental Center (19,200)

Team Colors: Blue, Black & Silver

Owner: Milan Mandaric

 

The Florida Thundercats were an indoor soccer team in Sunrise, Florida that resides on our One-Year Wonders file. The Thundercats failed despite a deeply experienced management team of pro soccer investors and operators.

Financial backer Milan Mandaric owned soccer clubs in both the United States and Europe dating back to the 1970’s. He also had previous experience in the indoor game as a club owner in the defunct Major Indoor Soccer League and the Continental Indoor Soccer League. Mandaric paid a reported $400,000 expansion fee to the NPSL for the rights to the Florida franchise in May 1998 (Sports Business Journal, 10/26/1998)

General Manager Dick Berg was an experienced promoter in the NFL and the NBA and previously managed Mandaric’s outdoor clubs in the North American Soccer League during the 1970’s, the San Jose Earthquakes and the Oakland Stompers.

Head Coach Fernando Clavijo was a long-time indoor star of the 1980’s and played in the 1994 World Cup for the United States. In 1997, Clavijo coached the Seattle Seadogs to the championship of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.

The Thundercats played in the brand new National Car Rental Center in the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale. They shared the 19,000-seat building with the NHL’s Florida Panthers and sold seats only in the 8,500-seat lower bowl. The arena opened with a Celine Dion concert in October 1998 and the Thundercats followed just over a month later with their home opener, an 11-5 win over the Kansas City Attack before 6,217 fans on November 13, 1998.

Attendance plummeted quickly from there. For the season, the Thundercats averaged fewer than 2,500 fans announced for a 20-game home slate. Coach Fernando Clavijo told GoalIndoor Magazine in 2006 that Mandaric soon recognized he had been sold a bill of goods by the NPSL and Clavijo himself advised the owner to shut the team down. Midway through the 1998-99 season, the Thundercats held a fire sale of the team’s best (and most expensive) players and finished out the season with journeymen players earning $50 a game.

The Thundercats disbanded at the end of the 1998-99 season. For Mandaric, it was his third and apparently final strike with indoor soccer. At the time of this writing in 2013, Mandaric is Chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club in England.

 

==Links==

National Professional Soccer League Media Guides

National Professional Soccer League Programs

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