Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1992-2001 Buffalo Blizzard

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Buffalo BlizzardNational Professional Soccer League (1992-2001)

Born: 1992 – NPSL expansion franchise
Folded: August 15, 2001

Arenas:

Team Colors: Blue, Purple, Black & White

Owners:

 

The Buffalo Blizzard were a long-running indoor soccer franchise that enjoyed a degree of popularity in Western New York during the early 1990’s.  The team started in 1992 with a strong managerial pedigree.  The original owners included brothers Seymour & Northrup Knox, then owners of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, as well as Bob and Melinda Rich, the owners of the city’s wildly popular minor league baseball club, the Buffalo Bisons.

The Knox/Rich soccer group became the subject of a heated competition between America’s two indoor leagues, the Major Indoor Soccer League and the National Professional Soccer League.  The MISL was older, played in bigger cities and had better talent.  Buffalo also had a previous history with the MISL – the city’s previous indoor club, the Buffalo Stallions, played in the league from 1979 to 1983.  But by the early 1990’s the MISL was frail, shrinking and wracked by labor unrest.  The upstart NPSL, formed in 1984, was expanding into a nationwide air travel league after spending much of the 1980’s as a Midwestern bus circuit.  The Blizzard ultimately chose to join the NPSL, a decision that hastened the demise of the 14-year old MISL in July of 1992.

Buffalo BlizzardThe Blizzard’s finest season came during the expansion year of 1992-93.  The team posted an all-time best mark of 23-17 under Head Coach Trevor Dawkins, but lost in the quarterfinals of the NPSL playoffs to the Cleveland Crunch.  Just about every Blizzard season to follow more or less followed the same plot.   The team had only two losing seasons in nine years, but never won a playoff series.  The Crunch eliminated them in the first round four consecutive years from 1993 to 1996.

Key players for the Blizz included local brothers Randy Pikuzinski and Rudy Pikuzinski.  Randy was the only Blizzard player to play all nine seasons for the club.  Rudy played eight years, missing only the club’s final season in the winter of 2000-01.   U.S. National Team goalkeeper and captain Tony Meola, one of the best known soccer players in the country at the time, appeared in a dozen games for the Blizzard during the 1994-95 season.  But Meola would leave the team before the playoffs after getting cast in an off-Broadway play.

The Blizzard played at The Aud for their first four seasons until that building closed in 1996.  Then they moved into the brand new Marine Midland Arena in 1996.  The move into the new arena coincided with a sale of the team in August 1996.  Team President John Bellanti, a long-time local soccer booster who also served as a top exec for the MISL’s Stallions in the early 80’s, purchased the club from the Knox family.

Bellanti kept the Stallions going for another five seasons.  But interest in the team waned as the population of Buffalo shrank and the sport of indoor soccer ceded ground to a resurgence of the outdoor game nationwide.  The city’s crowded sports landscape was another challenge, as the Blizzard faced competition from both the Sabres and the Buffalo Bandits box lacrosse team for ticket sales and sponsorships.

The National Professional Soccer League re-organized and re-branded itself in the summer of 2001, adopting the now-nostalgic “Major Indoor Soccer League” name.  During this time, Bellanti acknowledged that the team had lost money for nine straight years. He decided to fold the club in August 2001.

 

Buffalo Blizzard Memorabilia

 

 

 

In Memoriam

Blizzard co-founder Seymour Knox passed away after a bout with cancer on May 22, 1996 at age 70.

Carlos Salguero, a former Buffalo Stallions player who served as Head Coach of the Blizzard during the 1997-98 season, died on cancer in December 2006 at the age of 51.

Paul Kitson, the Blizzard’s final Head Coach from 1999-2001, died of a heart attack on August 25, 2005 at age 49.

 

Links

National Professional Soccer League Media Guides

National Professional Soccer League Programs

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1974 Toronto-Buffalo Royals

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Buffalo-Toronto RoyalsWorld Team Tennis (1974)

Born: 1974 World Team Tennis founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1974

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: John Bassett

 

The Toronto-Buffalo Royals were one 16 original franchises in World Team Tennis (1974-1978) in the summer of 1974.  The league was founded by Billie Jean King, her husband Larry, and serial sports promoter Dennis Murphy A few of the founding investors from Murphy’s World Hockey Association (1972-1979) signed on as investors in the new venture, including Royals owner John Bassett.  Bassett’s burgeoning sports empire included the WHA’s Toronto Toros and the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League.  All three of Bassett’s pro sports franchises were organized during a spree of activity in 1973 and early 1974.

The Royals’ star attraction was player-coach Tom Okker of the Netherlands, the 1968 U.S. Open finalist and a Top Ten-ranked singles player throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies.  Other members of the Royals’ six-person roster included Mike Estep, Jan O’Neill, Wendy Overton and Laura Rossouw.

In the “team” concept, each World Team Tennis club consisted of three male and three female players.  Matches consisted of a single set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles, with one point awarded to a team for each game won within a set.

A July 30, 1974 contest against the Pittsburgh Triangles at The Aud in Buffalo illustrates the league’s unique scoring system.  The match opened with Pittsburgh’s Evonne Goolagong overpowering Jan O’Neill 6-2 in the women’s singles set.  Then Goolagong and partner Peggy Michel edged O’Neill and Rossouw 7-6 in women’s doubles to open up a 13-8 lead for the Triangles.  The Royals pulled ahead during the men’s portion.  Okker beat Pittsburgh’s Ken Rosewall 6-2in singles and the Okker/Estep doubles team bested Rosewall and Gerald Battrick 6-4 in doubles.  The Royals entered the fifth and final set of the night – mixed doubles – holding a 20-19 lead in points.  The Estep/Overton duo held off Pittsburgh’s Battrick/Michel pairing 7-6 for a final score of 27-25 in favorite of Buffalo-Toronto.

The Royals finished the 1974 season with the second-worst record in the league at 13-31.  The Royals went out of business shortly after the season as World Team Tennis shrunk from 16 original teams to only 10 for the league’s second season.

 

==Toronto-Buffalo Royals Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
7/9/1974 vs. Philadelphia Freedoms L 27-26 Program

 

==Links==

World Team Tennis Media Guides

World Team Tennis Programs

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1979-1984 Buffalo Stallions

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Buffalo StallionsMajor Indoor Soccer League (1979-1984)

Born: March 22, 1979 – MISL expansion franchise
Folded: July 1984

Arena: Buffalo Memorial Auditorium (16,307)

Team Colors: Red, Gray, White & Black

Owners:

MISL Championships: None

 

The Major Indoor Soccer League launched in December of 1978 with six franchises playing a winter schedule in major market hockey arenas.  Buoyed by consistently large crowds in Philadelphia and strong showings in several other cities, the MISL began to market expansion franchises for the 1979-80 season.  Buffalo, New York received the first MISL expansion club on March 22, 1979.

The principal investors in the Buffalo Stallions were a group of local executives from Tops Markets, the largest supermarket chain in Western New York. Tops CEO  Armand J. Castellani and Vice President Michael Geraci headed the investor group.

The Stallions would fill winter dates in the city’s Memorial Auditorium, which was down to one primary tenant (the NHL’s Sabres) after the 1978 departure of the Buffalo Braves NBA franchise.  The team attracted 11,028 to its home debut at the Aud against the Philadelphia Fever on December 7, 1979.  The Stallions remained a popular draw for the rest of the 1979-80 season. The team claimed average attendance of 8,556 per match for the 16-game MISL schedule.

Two of the great legends of international soccer briefly wore the Stallions colors.  In early 1980, midway through the Stallions first season, the club signed Eusebio, the famed Mozambican-born Portuguese international.  By this point, the 37-year old was in state of acute physical decline.  He spent most of the late 1970’s moving bouncing around between lower-division Portuguese clubs and obscure American teams such as the Las Vegas Quicksilvers and the New Jersey Americans.  Eusebio suited up for five games for the Stallions, scoring one goal.  These marked the final pro games of his remarkable career and his only indoor professional experience.

In October 1980, the Stallions signed the banned Italian striker Paolo Rossi.  Earlier in the year Rossi, a veteran of the 1978 Italian World Cup team, became embroiled in the Totonero match fixing scandal, resulting in a three-year ban from Italian soccer.  Rossi appeared in one pre-season exhibition match for the Stallions on October 30th, 1980, but never appeared in the regular season.  Rossi’s three-year suspension was later reduced to allow him to represent Italy in the 1982 World Cup.  Rossi scored six goals in the tourament, leading Italy to victory and earning the 1982 World Cup’s Golden Boot award.

Buffalo StallionsStallions attendance peaked during the club’s second season in 1980-81.  During a span of two weeks in March of 1981, the Stallions drew the two largest crowds in what would turn out to be the club’s five-year history.  A record  (announced) crowd of 16,103 turned out for a regular season match against in-state rivals the New York Arrows on March 7th, 1981.  Two weeks later, the Stallions announced a new record with 16,329 on hand for a March 21st, 1981 MISL playoff game against the St. Louis Steamers.  For the 1980-81 season, the Stallions claimed 189,742 fans for an average game attendance of 9,472.

Stallions attendance began to drop precipitously in 1982.  Average attendance dropped from 9,214 (1981-82 season) to 7,422 for the 1982-83 campaign.  The Geraci/Castellani ownership group decided to pullout in the spring of 1983, selling to minority investor Frank Deni in June 1983.

Attendance continuted to plummet under the Deni regime. In 1983-84, ,the Stallions pulled just 5,183 per game at the Aud. This represented a nearly 50% drop in just two seasons.  By July of 1984, the Stallions owed $94,000 in back rent to the Memorial Auditorium.  Stallions President & General Manager John Bellanti owned 16% of the club and made an offer to buy controlling interest in the club and keep the team in Buffalo.  But Bellanti and Deni could not agree on terms.

Buffalo StallionsAdding insult to injury, Auditorium manager George Gould interrupted Stallions officials trying to remove office furniture from their arena offices under cover of darkness.  Gould padlocked the Stallions out of the building. The story got picked up by national wire services after Gould drew a comparison with the recent midnight departure of the NFL’s Colts from Baltimore.

The following week, at annual league meetings in Los Angeles, the MISL granted a request for the Stallions and the Phoenix Pride to suspend operations and withdraw from the league for one season to financially reorganize.  The move had precendent within the league, as the MISL’s Pittsburgh Spirit franchise withdrew from the league prior to the 1980-81 season and then returned under new ownership for the 1981-82 season.  Unlike the Spirit, however, the Stallions and the Pride were never heard from again.

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Professional indoor soccer returned to Buffalo in the fall of 1992 with the Buffalo Blizzard of the National Professional Soccer League.  The Blizzard played at the Aud until it closed in 1996.  Former Stallions goalkeeper Jim May served as the Blizzard’s General Manager and John Bellanti, a former Stallions minority partner and President/GM, owned the team during its final seasons.  The Blizzard folded in 2001, lasting four seasons longer than the Stallions had in Buffalo.

Bellanti, along with original Stallions investors Armand Castellani and Michael Geraci, have all passed away.

The Major Indoor Soccer League folded in July 1992.  Thirty-two franchises came and went during the league’s 14-year existence.

 

Buffalo Stallions Memorabilia

 

Stallions Video

Buffalo Stallions TV spot from the 1981-82 season:

 

In Memoriam

Forward Carlos Salguero (Stallions 1981-1984) passed away December 28, 2006 from cancer at age 51.

Portugese superstar Eusebio, who played briefly for the Stallions in 1980, died on January 5, 2014 at age 71.

 

Downloads

2011 Interview with Buffalo Stallions Head Coach Jay Hoffman

Buffalo Stallions Article Sources

 

Links

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs 

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