Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1978-1983 Detroit Express

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1978 Detroit Express Media GuideNorth American Soccer League (1978-1980)
American Soccer League (1981-1983)

Born: 1977 – NASL expansion franchise
Moved: February 28, 1981 (Washington Diplomats)
Re-Formed: 1981 – ASL expansion franchise
Folded: Postseason 1983


Arena (Indoor Soccer): The Pontiac Silverdome (16,860)

Team Colors: Orange & Navy Blue


Soccer Bowl Championships: None
ASL Champions: 1982


The Detroit Express began life as an expansion team in the North American Soccer League in 1978. Express ownership was headed up by British football broadcaster and promoter Jimmy Hill. Hill and the Express gained some national (and international) attention for acquiring English soccer star Trevor Francis on loan from Birmingham City in 1978.  Francis was a prolific scorer and the first footballer to earn 1 million pounds sterling per season in England.

Francis played for the Express in 1978 and 1979. It was an era when NASL owners lured numerous aging European stars to America with eye-popping paychecks.  Francis was an exception to this NASL retirement plan.  He was only 25 years old and at the peak of his powers during his Express seasons. Francis was a prominent attraction for the Express. But one of the club’s general partners eventually soured on this imported superstar approach:

Trevor Francis Detroit ExpressIn a 2012 self-published memoir, Harold “Sonny” Van Arnem compared the NASL to “a league full of Harlem Globetrotters, except they player soccer.  Now, a lot of people enjoy watching the Globetrotters play, but only about once a year.  We need people to come out a dozen times a year, and this all-star approach isn’t working.”

Van Arnem’s solution was Americanization.  Grass roots pro soccer, relevant to the American fan because the American player was the norm rather than the exception.  This was just as well because the rest of the Express ownership gave up on Detroit in February 1981. Jimmy Hill moved the NASL franchise to Washington, DC where it met a quick and ugly end in six months.

Van Arnem, meanwhile, retained control of the Detroit Express name and marks. He immediately relaunched a new version of the  club in the ramshackle 2nd division American Soccer League in the spring of 1981.  The “New” Detroit Express would play in the ASL from 1981 to 1983.

This 1982 season was the high water mark for the New Express.  The club posted a league best 19-5-4 record.  Both the Express and their opening day opponents from Oklahoma City fielded starting line-ups full of young Americans, but the impact players were still foreign.  Detroit’s pair of English forwards, Brian Tinnion and Andy Chapman, finished 1-2 in the ASL in scoring in 1982, with teammate Billy Boljevic (Yugoslavia) 4th.

The Express and the Oklahoma City Slickers met in the best-of-three 1982 American Soccer League championship series.  After splitting the first two matches, the teams returned to the Pontiac Silverdome on September 22, 1982 for the deciding game.  Sonny Van Arnem, faced with only a few days to promote the game after advancing from the semi-finals, gave away 70,000 tickets to local Dodge dealers. An army of car salesmen offered the duckets for free to anyone who showed up at a dealership.  The result: an astonishing crowd of 33,762 that showed up at an NFL stadium to watch what amounted to a minor league soccer game.  The Express won the game 4-1 and with it the league title.

The Express played one final season in the summer of 1983. The team went out of business along with the rest of the American Soccer League


Two British stars from the ASL-era Express, Andy Chapman and Brian Tinnion, remain fixtures on the Michigan soccer scene.  Both were with the now-defunct Detroit Rockers indoor team in the 1990’s, and are still active in youth soccer in the region.


Detroit Express Shop

Express Weathered ASL Logo T-Shirt by UGP Campus Apparel

Express NASL Logo T-Shirt by Throwback Max

Ian Plenderleith’s Definitive Account of “The Short Life & Fast Times of the North American Soccer League



Detroit Express Memorabilia


In Memoriam

Head coach Ken Furphy (Express ’78-’81) died on January 17, 2015 at age 83.

Express owner Jimmy Hill passed away on December 19, 2015 at the age of 87 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Daily Mail obit.


Detroit Express Video

Express vs. Dallas Tornado at the Silverdome. June 11, 1978



Jimmy Hill’s ill-fated ownership of the Detroit Express and Washington Diplomats in NASL remembered“, Bob Williams, The Telegraph, December 22, 2015.

North American Soccer League Media Guides
North American Soccer League Programs
American Soccer League  Media Guides
American Soccer League Programs


1983-1984 Michigan Panthers

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Michigan PanthersUnited States Football League (1983-1984)

Born: May 11, 1982 – USFL founding franchise.
Died: November 20, 1984 – The Panthers merge with the Oakland Invaders.

Stadium: Pontiac Silverdome

Team Colors: Royal Plum, Champagne Silver, Light Blue & White

Owners: A. Alfred Taubman, Max Fisher and Peter Spivak

USFL Champions: 1983


The Michigan Panthers were a very strong pro football entry in the United States Football League.  A popular springtime alternative to the Lions for Detroit gridiron fans, the team was soon pushed out of business by the USFL’s decision to abandon its spring schedule in favor of head-to-head competition with the NFL in the fall.

During the league’s first season in the spring of 1983, the Panthers were one of the top-spending teams in the USFL.   and put together a blend of NFL veterans and talented rookies.  The offense, in particular, relied on a trio of rookie skill position players – unheralded Cajun quarterback Bobby Hebert out of Northwestern State (Louisiana), running back Ken Lacy from the University of Tulsa, and star wideout Anthony Carter of Michigan, who would have been a top NFL draft pick in 1983 had the Panthers not lured him away from the senior circuit.

The defense was keyed by NFL washout John Corker, who would terrorize the USFL in 1983 with 28.5 sacks from his outside linebacker position, and rookie safety David Greenwood out of Wisconsin (who doubled as the Panthers’ punter).

David Greenwood USFLThe Panthers got off to a weak 1-4 start before catching fire midway through the season.  They won 11 of their final 13 to finish the 1983 season with a 12-6 record.  As the wins mounted, fans began to take notice.  When the Panthers hosted the Western Conference championship playoff game against the Oakland Invaders at the Silverdome on July 10th, 1983, a USFL record 60,237 fans showed up.

The following week, the Panthers travelled to Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado for the first USFL Championship Game against the Philadelphia Stars.  The Panthers won the game 24-22 with the decisive play coming on a 4th quarter touchdown pass from Hebert to Carter.

The script flipped for the Panthers during the 1984 USFL season.  Michigan got off to a hot start, racing out to a 6-0 record through the first third of the schedule.  But in Week Six against the San Antonio Gunslingers, Anthony Carter broke his arm and was lost for the remainder of the season.  The team went into a prolonged funk, losing eight of their next ten before rallying to win their final two games and sneak into the playoffs with a 10-8 record.

On June 30th, 1984 the Panthers played the Los Angeles Expressquarterbacked by future Hall-of-Famer Steve Young, in a first round playoff contest.  The quarterfinal game turned into an epic battle, although fewer than 8,000 fans were on hand to watch it at the Coliseum.  The Express finally triumphed 27-21 in the third overtime period, on a long touchdown run by future Detroit Lion Mel Gray.  At three overtimes, the game remains the longest pro football game in history.

It was also the last game ever played by the Panthers.  At the end of the 1984 season, USFL owners voted to shift to a fall season in 1986.  The Panthers were against the move, not wishing to compete head-to-head with the NFL’s Detroit Lions.  The business model shift set off a wave of relocations and mergers among the USFL franchises located in NFL markets.  In the fall of 1984, the Panthers merged with the Oakland Invaders.  Most of the top Panthers players, with the exception of John Corker, moved to Oakland for the USFL’s final spring season in 1985.

The Invaders, led by Hebert, Carter and other Michigan holdovers, returned to the USFL championship game in 1985.  There they met the Baltimore Stars in what was to some degree a rematch of the 1983 USFL title game against the then-Philadelphia Stars.  (The Stars were another relocation born out of the USFL’s planned switch to the fall).  This time the Stars came out on top with a 28-24 victory at Giants Stadium on July 14, 1985.  This was the final game in USFL history, as the league folded before staging its planned fall season in 1986.


Michigan Panthers Shop

Panthers 1983 USFL Champions Retro T-Shirt by A&E Designs

Just published! One of FWIL’s Top Sports Books of 2017


Michigan Panthers Memorabilia


Panthers Video

The Panthers defeat the Philadelphia Stars in the first USFL championship game.  July 17th, 1983.


==In Memoriam==

Defensive end Larry Bethea, who had 11 sacks for the Panthers in 1984, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 24, 1987 at age 30.

Defensive lineman Phil Dokes, a 1977 NFL 1st round pick who played for the Panthers in 1983, passed away on December 7th, 1989 at age 34.

Panthers offensive guard Tyrone McGriff died of a heart attack on December 9th, 2000 at age 42.

Former Panthers Head Coach Jim Stanley died of melanoma at age 76 on January 12, 2012.

Safety John Arnaud died of lung cancer at age 51 on November 10, 2012.



1983 David Greenwood USFL Standard Player Contract



USFL Media Guides

USFL Game Programs


Written by AC

June 1st, 2014 at 1:43 pm


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