Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1974-1978 Hampton Gulls

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Hampton GullsSouthern Hockey League (1974-1977)
American Hockey League (1977-1978)

Born: October 1974: The Fayetteville Arsenal relocates to Hampton, VA
Folded: January 31, 1977
Re-Born: 1977
Folded Again: February 10, 1978

Arena: Hampton Coliseum

WHA Affiliation: Cincinnati Stingers

Team Colors:

Owners:

SHL Championships: None
Calder Cup Championships (AHL): None

 

Virginia’s Hampton Gulls hockey team formed in 1974 as an expansion franchise in the tiny Southern Hockey League. The club was intended for Fayetteville, North Carolina but arena problems there led to the hasty relocation to Hampton just days before the start of the 1974-75 season. Hampton’s 10,000-seat Coliseum was available because the American Hockey League’s Virginia Red Wings vacated the building that fall to move to the nearby Norfolk Scope.

The Southern Hockey League worked as a farm system to the World Hockey Association, the 1970’s major league rival to the NHL. The WHA’s Cincinnati Stingers served as the parent club of the Gulls.

The Gulls offered their head coaching job to 41-year old John Brophy. Often cited as the inspiration for Paul Newman’s Reggie Dunlop character in Slap Shot, Brophy was a legendary minor league enforcer over 18 seasons in the Eastern Hockey League. The Gulls job was Brophy’s first full-time coaching gig and he would stay with the Gulls for the team’s entire run in Hampton. He later became a head coach in both the WHA (Birmingham Bulls) and the NHL (Toronto Maple Leafs).

The Gulls played for the Southern Hockey League championship in the spring of 1976, losing to the Charlotte Checkers in the finals.

The Southern Hockey League folded on January 31, 1977, midway through the circuit’s fourth season. The Gulls were in first place with a 32-16-2 when the league closed its doors.

The Gulls re-grouped to join the American Hockey League for the 1977-78 season, but their stay was a short and unhappy one. The franchise folded on February 10th, 1978 after playing just 46 games of an 81 game calendar. The Gulls had the worst record in the AHL at 15-28-3 when they closed their doors.

Pro hockey returned to the Hampton Coliseum 11 months later with the formation of the Hampton Aces of the Northeastern Hockey League.

John Brophy returned to the region to coach the Hampton Roads Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League in 1989. The Admirals, who played out of the Scope in Norfolk, won three ECHL championship under Brophy during the 1990’s.

 

Hampton Gulls Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Ex-Gulls coach John Brophy died in his sleep on May 23, 2016 at age 83. CBC Obituary.

Former Gulls owner Charles Wornom died on February 26, 2017 at the age of 88. The Daily Press obituary.

 

Links

Southern Hockey League Programs

American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 7th, 2017 at 4:44 am

1974-1975 Philadelphia Bell

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1974 Philadelphia BellWorld Football League (1974-1975)

Born: 1973 – WFL founding franchise
Folded: October 22, 1975

Stadiums: 

Team Colors:

Owners: 

WFL Championships: None

 

The Philadelphia Bell were one of twelve original franchises in the World Football League in 1974. The Bell made several efforts to poach high profile stars and draft picks from the National Football League during their brief lifespan. But the team was best known for “Papergate”, an attendance reporting and accounting scandal that demolished the fledgling WFL’s credibility barely than a month into its debut season.

The Bell organization took shape along with the rest of the WFL over the winter of 1973-74. John B. Kelly, Jr., a local sports hero and the elder brother of actress Grace Kelly, served as the front man for the Bell ownership group. The team offered a reported 3-year, $500,000 contract offer to the 1973 Heisman Trophy winner, running back John Cappelletti of Penn State.  Cappelletti, picked #11 overall in the NFL draft that winter, wisely chose to sign with the Los Angeles Rams for less money. The Bell biggest “name” signing in 1974 was linebacker/madman Tim Rossovich, the Eagles’ #1 draft pick back in 1968. Ron Waller, who finished out the 1973 NFL season.

Ron Waller hired on to coach the Bell. Though Waller finished the 1973 NFL season as interim head coach of the San Diego Chargers, he spent much of his coaching career in the bush leagues. Waller stocked the Bell roster with skill position players from the defunct Pottstown (PA) Firebirds, a championship minor league club that he coached in the late 1960’s. Quarterback Jim “King” Corcoran and the running back tandem of John Land and Claude Watts were all Firebirds alums.

1974 Philadelphia Bell ProgramThe Bell debuted at 100,000-seat John F. Kennedy Stadium on July 10th, 1974. Waller’s squad drubbed the visiting Portland Storm 33-8. But the big headline was the crowd. Bell officials announced a stunning attendance figure of 55,534. When the team returned two weeks later for its second home game against the New York Stars on July 25th, an even larger mob of 64,719 fans gathered at JFK Stadium. The TVS network broadcast the game nationwide. The Bell blew two go-ahead field goal attempts in the game’s final three minutes and lost 17-15.

120,000 fans for the Bell’s first two home games! Local journos assumed that team officials must have papered the city with free tickets. Not so, claimed the team’s Executive Vice President Barry Leib when questioned after the New York game. Leib obfuscated, indicating a minority of tickets were discounted for group sale or distributed to corporate sponsors. Left unsaid was an implication that Philly fans bought the majority of the tickets at face values of $2, $5 and $8. The Bell were forced to disclose actual paid attendance figures when it came time to pay city taxes on the sale of the tickets. The Bell actually sold fewer than 20,000 for the first two home games. Just 6,200 fans – less than 1/10th the announced crowd – paid for the New York game on July 25th.

On August 8th, 1974, one day before Richard Nixon’s resignation as President, the Bell held a press conference to apologize for the deception. The press dubbed the scandal “Papergate” and various outlets, including Sports Illustrated, pejoratively began referring to the WFL as the “World Freebie League”. Bell President John B. Kelly, Jr. resigned from the club in mortification. Attendance crashed, bottoming out at the Bell’s ninth home game against the Shreveport Steamer on October 16th, 1974. Just 750 fans showed up for the game on rainy Wednesday night. It was the smallest crowd in World Football League history.

On the field, the Bell underachieved. The offense, led by the Pottstown contingent, was high powered. Corcoran threw for 3,631 yards and 31 touchdowns (albeit with 30 picks to match). John Land and Claude Watts combined for over 2,000 yards rushing. The defense was suspect though and the Bell entered the final week of the WFL season with an 8-11 record. The Bell were scheduled to play the Chicago Fire at JFK Stadium on November 13, 1974. But Fire owner Tom Origer had had enough of the WFL. Rather than travel to Philadelphia, he forfeited the game and folded his franchise. With a 9-11 record, the Bell were on the outside looking in for the postseason. Until the Charlotte Hornets decided they couldn’t afford to compete in the playoffs and withdrew. The Bell replaced Charlotte on the league’s playoff schedule. The team traveled to Orlando and lost to the Florida Blazers 18-3 in the divisional round on November 21, 1974.

The WFL re-grouped to stage a second season in the fall of 1975. Bell owner John Bosacco was one of only two original WFL owners with the stomach to carry on for a second campaign. The rest of the 1975 WFL investors were new guys who apparently never read the newspaper. The Bell moved from 100,000-seat JFK Stadium to 60,000-seat Franklin Field for the new season. The team fired head coach Ron Waller during training camp in July 1975, just one week before the regular season opener. Team owner John Bosacco promoted Willie Wood, the team’s defensive coordinator, to the head job three days before . Wood, a former All-Pro safety for the Green Bay Packers, became the first African-American head coach in pro football since Fritz Pollard in 1925. Only 3,266 fans turned up at Franklin Field for the Bell’s 1975 home opener on July 19th.

The Bell had one of the most prolific offenses in the WFL in 1974.  All three skill players returned in 1975. The Bell added former NFL All-Pro tight end Ted Kwalick and running back J.J. Jennings, one of the WFL “Tri-MVP’s” in 1974 with Memphis. But the offense went backwards under Wood’s direction. Land and Watts remained a fearsome ground force. Along with Jennings, they racked up nearly 1,500 yards in eleven games. The passing game, however, collapsed. Wood benched Corcoran in favor NFL journeyman Bob Davis, who quarterbacked the Florida Blazers to the WFL’s World Bowl title in 1974. Both signal callers saw action in 1975, but neither found consistent form.

By October 1975 the writing was on the wall for the Bell and the WFL. After five home games at Franklin Field, the Bell averaged a league-worst 3,705 fans per game. National media outlets began to speculate that the WFL would terminate the club’s membership before the end of the season. Instead, the entire league voted to cease operations entirely on October 22, 1975 without completing its second season of play.  The Philadelphia Bell’s final game was played at Franklin Field four days earlier on October 18, 1975. Just 1,293 fans showed up.

 

Philadelphia Bell Shop


Bell Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League by Mark Speck

Philadelphia Bell Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Bell team President Jack Kelly Jr. (Bell ’74) died of a heart attack while jogging on March 2, 1985. He was 57.

Quarterback Jim “King” Corcoran (Bell ’74-’75) passed away in 2009 at the age of 65. Washington Post obituary.

Linzy Cole (Bell ’74) died in September 2016. The wide receiver, who was the first African-American to play football at Texas Christian University in 1968, was 68 years old.

 

Downloads

1975 World Football League Standard Player Contract

 

Links

World Football League Media Guides

World Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

November 13th, 2017 at 4:52 pm

1997-1999 Raleigh Cougars

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1997 Raleigh Cougars Pocket ScheduleUnited States Basketball League (1997-1999)

Born: 1997
Folded: June 7, 1999

Arena: Dorton Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Clyde Austin

USBL Championships: None

 

The Raleigh Cougars low-level minor league basketball outfit founded by former N.C. State star and Harlem Globetrotter Clyde “The Glide” Austin. The team’s name recalled the old Carolina Cougars club that played in the American Basketball Association in the early 1970’s. The original ABA Cougars played in various arenas around North Carolina, including Raleigh’s Dorton Arena, where Austin’s team set up shop a quarter century later.

The Cougars’ biggest name was Lorenzo Charles, who famously slammed home a buzzer-beating dunk to life N.C. State to the 1983 NCAA championship over the University of Houston.

As the Cougars prepared for their third season in the United States Basketball League in 1999, it was clear that something wasn’t right. The team held no training camp. Clyde Austin no-showed a league owner’s meeting and bounced his payroll. The Raleigh Cougars managed to play 13 games, posting a 5-8 record, before USBL Commissioner Daniel Meisenheimer euthanized the club on June 7th, 1999 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

It later emerged the Clyde Austin was running a multi-state pyramid scheme during the time he was involved in the USBL. Serving as a pastor in churches from North Carolina to Nevada, Austin swindled parishioners out of an estimated $16 million between 1996 and 2000. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2004.

Links

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Written by Drew Crossley

May 29th, 2017 at 7:36 pm

1961-1962 Kansas City Steers

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1961-62 Kansas City Steers Media GuideAmerican Basketball League (1961-1963)

Born: 1961 – ABL founding franchise
Folded: December 31, 1962

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Kenneth A. Krueger

ABL Championships: 1963* (*Sort of…)

 

The Kansas City Steers were one of the best entries in Abe Saperstein’s short-lived American Basketball League. The Harlem Globetrotters impresario aimed to compete with the NBA in major markets around the country and succeeded in luring top talent to the circuit.

The Steers’ starting five of Bill Bridges (F), Maury King (G), Nick Mantis (G), Larry Staverman (F) and Bumper Tormohlen (C) all played in the NBA. Bridges, a rookie of the University of Kansas in 1961, finished fourth in the ABL in scoring with 21.4 points per game in 1961-62. He was leading the league with 29.2 per contest when the league folded midway through its sophomore campaign.

The Steers posted the best record in the ABL in each of the league’s two seasons.  In 1961-62, the Steers went 28-12. They met the Cleveland Pipers in the ABL championship series in April 1962. The Steers blew out the Pipers by 25 points and 36 points respectively in the first two games in Kansas City. But they could not close the deal on the road in Ohio. The series  was due to return to Kansas City for decisive Game 5 on April 8th, 1962. That’s when things when haywire.

The Steers primary home, Municipal Auditorium, booked the Ice Capades for April 8th. The Steers booked the 1,500-seat Mason-Halpin Fieldhouse on the campus of tiny Rockhurst College for the title contest. Pipers owner George Steinbrenner (yes, that one) was outraged, believing Saperstein promised the series finale to Cleveland. As the teams bickered with each other and the ABL office, the Pipers no-showed for Game 5 at Rockhurst College. Rather than forfeit the game to the Steers, Saperstein decreed the game would now be played the following night, April 9th, 1962, at Rockhurst. This time the Pipers showed and dealt the Steers a crushing 106-102 defeat.

The Steers came back for the ABL’s second season in the fall of 1962. By now the league was on shaky ground. Only three of the league’s eight founding clubs remained in their original cities of a year earlier. Steinbrenner folded the league champion Pipers after a failed attempt to run off and join the NBA.

The Steers were once again the class of the league, racing out to a 22-9 record in the fall and early winter of 1962. But the ABL’s woes proved insurmountable, and the Steers closed their doors along with the rest of the league on New Year’s Eve 1962. The ABL declared the Steers to be league champions for 1963 by virtue of having the league’s best record at the time of closing.

 

In Memoriam

Forward Larry Staverman died on July 12, 2007 at the age of 70. After playing for the Steers, Staverman went on to become the first head coach of the Indiana Pacers in 1967.

Steers forward Bill Bridges passed away on September 15, 2015 from cancer at age 76. Kansas City Star obituary

 

Links

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

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1948-1954 Marion Marauders

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Marion MaraudersWestern Carolina League (1948-1952)
Tar Heel League (1953-1954)

Born: 1948
Folded: June 21, 1954

Stadium:

Major League Affiliation:

Owners:

Western Carolina League Championships: None
Tar Heel League Championships:

 

The Marion Marauders were a Class D minor league baseball club in the small North Carolina of Marion. The mill town on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains had a U.S. Census population of fewer than 3,000 residents in 1950. The town is best known as the site of a deadly 1929 textile mill strike that saw six striking mill workers gunned down by law enforcement. The Marauders’ seven-year run from 1948 to 1954 marked the only time pro baseball was played in Marion.

The Marauders started out as a founding franchise in the Western Carolina League in 1948. Marion’s player-manager that first summer was Major League vet Wes Ferrell.  Ferrell pitched for parts of 15 seasons in the Majors from 1927 to 1941 but primarily played in the outfield for the Marauders. Ferrell departed following the 1940 season.

In 1953 the Western Carolina League merged with the North Carolina State League to form the Tar Heel League. The Marauders were the class of the circuit that summer, thanks largely to a 29-year old journeyman pitcher named Kelly Jack Swift. Swift posted a 30-7 record. Some six decades later, Swift remains the last minor league pitcher to win 30 games in a season.

The Tar Heel League began the 1953 season with 10 clubs. By opening day of 1954, the loop was down to just four ball clubs and the end was near. The league gave up the ghost on June 21, 1954 with the Marauders sitting in 2nd place with a 26-26 record.

 

Links

The Invisible Fastball“, Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated, October 17, 2011 (The story of Kelly Jack Swift)

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Written by Drew Crossley

March 25th, 2017 at 8:44 pm

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