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1980-1981 Calgary Boomers


Calgary BoomersNorth American Soccer League (1980-1981)

Born: September 1980 The Memphis Rogues relocate to Calgary
September 1981

Stadium: McMahon Stadium

Arena: Stampede Corral (6,400)

Team Colors:

Owner: Nelson Skalbania

Soccer Bowl Championships: None


The Calgary Boomers were a One-Year Wonder in the North American Soccer League (NASL).  The Boomers arrived in Calgary courtesy of a manic 1980-1981 sports franchise buying spree by Vancouver real estate speculator Nelson Skalbania.  Over a frenzied period of little more than a year, Skalbania purchased the Atlanta Flames hockey team of the NHL, the Vancouver Canadians triple-A baseball team, the Memphis Rogues of the NASL and the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.  During the same timeframe, he made an offer for Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners and took out ads in the Vancouver papers promoting interest in an NBA expansion franchise.   Skalbania moved both the NHL’s Flames and the NASL’s Rogues to Calgary, Alberta.

Skalbania already had a sketchy track record in pro sports.   As owner of the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association in the late 1970’s, he was the man who signed 17-year old Wayne Gretzky to his first pro contract.  On the down side, Skalbania flipped Gretzky’s contract to the Edmonton Oilers only eight games into the Great One’s rookie season and then folded the Racers a month later right in the middle of the season.

We’ll let former Boomers General Manager Rudi Schiffer, a holdover from the club’s days in Memphis, pick up the story from here…

Rudi Schiffer – General Manager (1980-1981)

“Skalbania wanted it because his buddy Peter Pocklington owned the Edmonton Drillers in the league and he wanted to compete with him.

“We went to Vancouver for the league meetings in September 1980.  I’m sitting next to <Rogues outgoing owner> Avron Fogelman, but I had already talked to Skalbania.  I told him ‘I want to come north with the team and I can help you’.  He said OK.  So we’re sitting there at this big horseshoe table.  The league had taken a stance that it didn’t want to expand and bring in these new cities anymore.  So they took a vote on the sale and it went right around the table and right down to the last vote.  The tiebreaker was the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Fogelman was sitting there shaking like a leaf – he was so nervous I thought he was gonna fall apart at the table right in front of me.  Herb Capozzi was the owner of the Whitecaps – he was a great owner – and he voted yes, so Calgary was in.

“Fogelman was kind of a tough guy with everybody,” Schiffer continued.  “A dictatorial owner and boss.  That’s the way he ran his businesses – basically scared a lot of people.  Little Napoleon.  So Fogelman says ‘Well, Skalbania, you’ve got the team for a million bucks.’

I had already coached Skalbania.  I told him to ask for the indoor soccer carpet, which costs about a hundred grand, plus all the equipment and the vans and everything.  I told him how bad Fogelman wanted to get rid of it.  So Skalbania says, ‘Well, Avron, I want all the equipment too.’  Fogelman says ‘Oh no.  You got to pay extra for that.’

“Skalbania told him ‘Oh yeah?  You can stick it up your tuckus.  You want the equipment? Keep the whole team!’

“Fogelman blanched.  He turned white – and he gave it to him.

“Avron was a good businessman – he was tough as hell.  Nobody beat Avron.  Well, he got beat this day because Skalbania never paid him.  Nelson gave Avron a hundred thousand dollars down and never paid him the rest of the million bucks.”

Calgary Boomers LogoThe Rogues arrived in Calgary in October 1980 and were re-branded as the Boomers in time to take part in the NASL’s winter 1980-81 indoor soccer season.  The Boomers played their indoor games at the Stampede Corral.  The Boomers finished the indoor season 10-8, not quite good enough for playoff consideration.

The Boomers’ roster for the 1981 NASL outdoor season featured nine imports from West Germany, including starting goalkeeper Jurgen Stars and leading scorer Franz Gerber (20 goals, 10 assists).  The team was competitive, making the playoffs with a 17-15 record.  The Boomers were bounced in the first round by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in August 1981.

By this time, Nelson Skalbania’s real estate empire was collapsing under pressure from Canada’s skyrocketing interest rates and his string of money-losing sports investments.

Rudi Schiffer

All of these balls <Skalbania> had in the air came tumbling down. He was going into bankruptcy.  I showed up one day and the office was locked.  I finally got in and some lawyers came in and took my desk away, told me we were shut down.  He got it open again maybe a week later, paid somebody off, and we hung on to the end of the season.

“We had already done a season ticket drive for the 1981-82 NASL indoor season.  I had $114,000 in ticket deposits and league playoff money in the bank that only I could sign for.  When the team finally went down, I wasn’t going to send it back to Skalbania.  He actually owed me a year’s salary on agreement, so I could have taken $65,000 out of that with no hit to my conscience at all.  But I thought I wanted to stay in soccer and you do something like that, you’ll never get another job.

“So I went down to the bank and wrote refund checks to everybody who had paid for season tickets.  The league was trying to get the money back and Skalbania was trying to get the money.  I gave it all back to the fans and I didn’t get anything.  I left Canada broke.


The Boomers folded in September 1981.  They were one of seven NASL franchises to fold that fall, as the league shrunk from 21 to 14 clubs.  The NASL itself would fold three years later after completing the 1984 season.

Skalbania lost all of his pro sports investments and declared bankruptcy in December 1982 with debts of approximately $30 million.   His epic collapse caused two pro teams to go out of business entirely – the Boomers and the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.  In 1996, Skalbania returned to professional sports by acquiring a controlling interest in the CFL’s British Columbia Lions, but he lost control of that team to a bankruptcy receiver within six months.


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Boomers forward Carlos Salguero passed away on December 28, 2006 from cancer.  Salguero was 51 years old.



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Written by AC

May 26th, 2013 at 2:32 am

The Promoters: Rudi Schiffer

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“They called me ‘The Undertaker’,” Rudi Schiffer, 75, told me by way of introduction.  “Because I buried so many teams.  When I walked in the door, people said ‘Uh-oh…we‘re done‘”.

Every once in a while we get an interview subject here in the Fun While It Lasted archives who has little need for questions.  I imagine this is what it was like for rock writers to interview David Lee Roth back in the day.  Just let the tape roll.  Such was the case with long-time Southern sports promoter Rudi Schiffer when I tracked him down in Tennessee last month.

Across Schiffer’s four decade career in pro sports, there were hits and there were misses.  Schiffer promoted a string of sold out NFL exhibitions in Memphis, introduced the sport of indoor soccer to sold-out crowds in the Deep South, and promoted one of the most popular franchises of the United States Football League, helping to sell 25,000 season tickets as Vice President of Marketing for the Memphis Showboats in 1985.

Misfires included Schiffer’s efforts to promote a basketball league for short men in Nashville and to prop up a Canadian Football League expansion team…in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Along the way Schiffer encountered assorted crazies – sometimes players, often owners, by his telling – and banked many tall tales (and pointed lessons) about promoting pro sports out on the margins of public awareness.

The following are excerpts from our rambling interview with Rudi.  The complete transcript can be found here.



Where did you get your start in pro sports?


A soccer team called the Connecticut Yankees.  I had a small PR & marketing firm in Simsbury, Connecticut in the early Seventies.  I was looking for clients and saw that a soccer team was coming to play in Hartford.  The Yankees were owned by a guy named Bob Kratzer, who owned a machine shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  He was a tough little German who played soccer and wanted to have his own team.

We played at Dillon Stadium in Hartford.  Kratzer recruited all kinds of players that he got out of the local leagues, mostly foreign-born players.  We used to have workouts and they would come in and inevitably say: “I play feerst dee-vee-zhion een my country.”  We used to laugh – everybody played first division in their country.

Some of the memorable stories for the Yankees… we were in Cleveland and we stayed at the hotel where they had the state convention for “Parents Without Partners”.  I don’t know if you know anything about them, but they’re mostly single ladies looking for a husband by any means.  We got back to the hotel and the players were filing down the hallway disappearing into doorways left and right.  We had a hell of a time getting them out of bed in the morning and getting them on the plane.

You know, like any team of that type, you become chief cook and bottle washer.  I took tickets at the gate, got the laundry done, wrote press releases.  It was good basic training actually.  That led to me joining the Hartford Bicentennials, a rival team that played in the same town.


This was the Bicentennials of the North American Soccer League, the league that had just signed Pele and brought him to the United States, right?


Yeah.  The Bicentennials were owned by Bob Darling, who I knew from Simsbury.  Our kids played soccer together.  Darling was a nice guy, but kind of naïve.  He was very wealthy and he wanted to own a soccer team.

The first year of the Bicentennials was the year Pele signed with the New York Cosmos.  We hosted the Cosmos at Dillon Stadium in Hartford which was just a rundown place.  I mean, I’d go in the locker room and all we had for lockers was a peg on the wall.  Pele was in there with his clothes on the peg and must have been wondering “What the hell is this all about?”  That was the first big crowd we had.

Darling picked that Bicentennials name in 1975 because 1976 was going to be the American bicentennial, right?  I said: “What about after 1976?  What are we gonna be then?  The 19-seventy-seven-tennials?”

It was a terrible name.  Not much meaning to it and too long to fit in headlines. So we became known as the “Bi’s” in the papers, which I didn’t care for because it sounded like the team was bi-sexual.  But you know, having been around professional sports all these years and around so many different teams with terrible names, by the second year it just becomes accepted.  It just falls into the common usage and people forget what a terrible name you have.


So what was the next stop for you?


I abandoned my PR business in Connecticut.  I wound up in Memphis where there was a NASL expansion club going in, the Memphis Rogues.  I flew down to Tennessee around New Year’s 1978 and met the guy who was running it – Bill Marcum.  Marcum was from Tampa, where he helped get the NFL to expand there in 1976.  He convinced a guy named Harry Mangurian, who was a horse breeder and owned the Buffalo Braves of the NBA, that he should buy the soccer team in Memphis.

Marcum hired me on New Year’s Eve for the Rogues marketing and PR job, but he was drunk.  When I called him a couple days later to get my airplane ticket, he’d forgotten who I was.  Which gives you a hint of what was to come.

I finally got down to Memphis and I didn’t have any money.  I think Marcum paid me about $15,000 a year.  I didn’t have any money to live or get a car, so I stayed with Marcum and I’d ride to work with him every day.  He was so absent minded that we’d run out of gas all the time because he’d never look at the odometer.  I’d be sitting around the apartment and the lights would go out because he forgot to pay the bill.  I had nothing to do except he had these huge boxes in his closet – he had every Playboy that was ever printed, which he carried around with him.  Which made for good reading.  Sitting there in the dark reading Playboys.

The Rogues were out of control.  In Memphis I was constantly getting calls from the police to come down and get the boys out of jail.  We had a theme song called “The Rambling Rogues of Memphis“The theme of the song was Off the field and on the field, we’re the Rambling Rogues.  The English players in particular were just wild.

I was a young guy then.  Well, I wasn’t that young.  We had parties all the time.  I got close to the players, which was a mistake, but I didn’t give a damn.  We were in last place, we had no money, the lowest budget in the league.  Harry Mangurian was tight as a drum.  Our total budget for 18 guys was $365,000.

The biggest moment in Memphis Rogues history – and one of the best in soccer history, really – was when the Cosmos came to town with that All-World Cup team of theirs…Beckenbauer, Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto.  They came down here just expecting to beat the hell out of us.  It was the Rogues first season and we were something like 1-10 at the time.  What the Cosmos didn’t realize was that the Liberty Bowl pitch was only 56 yards wide.  It wasn’t the 70 yards that they were used to.  We packed it up in the back and just played defense and frustrated ‘em.  They were getting angry.  We had an English player named Phil Holder who was about 5’ 6”.  Carlos Alberto was so frustrated he came up kicked Phil right in the groin and got thrown out.  Late in the game, we had a young kid from Chelsea named David Stride.  Speedy kid with a great left foot.  The key of the game was Stridey took off down the left wing, took it deep in the corner, and crossed it into the middle.  At the top of the box was Tony Field who had played for the Cosmos the year before.  They didn’t want him any more and we got him in a trade.  He put a one-timer right in the back of the net and we beat the Cosmos 1-0.  It was shocking.


What was it like working for Harry Mangurian?


Well, Harry really never did want to own a soccer team.  Bill Marcum talked him into it.  Harry had a lot of money.  Harry owned the Buffalo Braves and later the Boston Celtics and he had like 30,000 buildings in Florida, three or four jets.  He was tight with a buck.  He probably fired me fifteen times, accused me of stealing from him and so on.  He called me once and said “Rudi, how many glasses of beer do you get out of a barrel at the stadium?”.  I said “It must be sixty, Harry.”  He told me, “Well, you’re only getting fifty eight.  Are you stealing from me?”  Then he sent me a special pump he found that would pump out the last couple glasses at the bottom of a keg.

But when the season was over and Mangurian was done, I got a call from his right hand man.  He says “Rudi, why don’t you come down to Florida?  Harry wants to play golf with you.”  So they fly me down to his place in Boca Raton.  He had this beautiful, immaculate white house on the beach.  We’re playing golf, coming up on the 17th fairway.  Harry turns to me and says “Rudi, how’d you like to go back up to Boston with the Celtics.”  I says “What?!”  He knew I grew up in Boston and was a Celtics fan.

He says “Yeah, that son of a bitch Red Auerbach is stealing from me.”  Everybody was stealing from Harry! He was paranoid.

I said “Harry, I can’t go to Boston.”  I mean, Red Auerbach was the living legend.  He was surrounded by a coterie of four or five guys known as the Irish mafia guys. I said “I can’t go to Boston and watch Auerbach!  Are you kidding me?  They’re going to know what I’m up to.  They’re going to hand me a pencil and tell me to sit in the corner and shut up.  Either that, or they’re going to walk me down to the Mystic River with a pair of cement shoes on!”


Of all of these speculative start-up teams and leagues that you promoted, what do you consider to be the best promotion job you ever did?


There were a couple.  One was the indoor soccer team for the Memphis Rogues.  We brought indoor soccer to Memphis when the sport was just starting in this country <in the winter of 1979>.  We played at the Mid-South Coliseum.  We played indoor soccer there when no one knew anything about it and we sold out every game.  We won the Western Division championship and had a heckuva team. We did that with a lot of promotions and it was wild and exciting and everybody loved it.  We sold every ticket in the house.  But that all faded when the team moved to Canada.

The other was the Memphis Showboats.  Logan Young was a millionaire in Memphis who originally bought the team in 1983.  But he fell on tough times and had to sell it and Billy Dunavant bought it from him.  Billy was a cotton merchant known around the world.  I had moved back to Memphis and was working with an advertising agency that had the Showboats account.  Billy Dunavant liked me and the work I was doing for the team.  He hired me away from the agency and put me back on my feet.  Paid me $50,000 a year, that was good money  back in the early 1980’s.

We put the team together and got some real good players like Reggie White from the University of Tennessee.  When the league went bankrupt a couple years later, 18 of our players went to the NFL.  It was a decent team.

The second year in this upstart league, we sold 37,000 tickets a game with 25,000 season tickets.  All paid.  It was very promising, but the league went down.

After the USFL, I did some work for Fred Smith who owned Federal Express and Pepper Rodgers who had been the Head Coach of the Showboats.  Pepper was working with Fred.  We staged three NFL exhibition games at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and we sold all three of them out.  We knew the NFL could play in Memphis – it would get the support.  But unfortunately the city didn’t want to put the money up to build the stadium and the NFL expanded to Jacksonville instead, which had also had a popular USFL team.

I buried the Connecticut Yankees, buried the Connecticut Bicentennials, the Memphis Rogues and the Calgary Boomers.  I buried the Showboats and the Shreveport Pirates of the Canadian Football League and helped bury the Memphis Mad Dogs.  There was another basketball team in there somewhere.  These teams just weren’t going to make it.  To me, it was just another job.  Usually they were under-funded and the owners just didn’t want to be in it.  There was a bunch.

<The owners’> ego gets them into it through other sources.  Like in the case of Bernie Glieberman who owned the Shreveport Pirates in the Canadian Football League, his son Lonie wanted a team.  Bill Marcum talked Harry Mangurian into buying the Memphis Rogues.  Avron Fogelman’s right hand man Dean Jernigan talked him into buying the Rogues from Mangurian.  But they were successful businessmen.  Once they got in and saw they weren’t going to make any money, they lost interest.  They stuck their toe in the water to see what the temperature was and then they got out of the pool.

Their ego got them into it and the bottom line got them out.

Click here to read the full interview with Rudi Schiffer in the Fun While It Lasted archives.



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