Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘RFK Stadium’ tag

1974-1981 Washington Diplomats

leave a comment

Washington Diplomats SoccerNorth American Soccer League (1974-1981)

Born: January 21, 1974 – NASL expansion franchise
Folded: December 1980
Re-Born: February 28, 1981 – The Detroit Express relocate to Washington, D.C.
Folded Again: September 1981


Team Colors:


  • 1974: Nick Mangione, Mike Finci, et. al.
  • 1975-1978: San Juan Racing, Inc. (Steve Danzansky, et al.)
  • 1979-1980: Gulf & Western/Madison Square Garden Corp. (Sonny Werblin) & Steve Danzansky
  • 1981; Jimmy Hill, Duncan Hill, Gary Lemmen, et al.

Soccer Bowl Championships: None


The Washington Diplomats were the third attempt to establish pro soccer – and a North American Soccer League franchise – in the nation’s capital.  Club founders Nick Mangione and Mike Finci ponied up $75,000 to buy their NASL expansion franchise in January 1974. The Diplomats hired former Manchester United star and Munich air disaster survivor Dennis Viollet to coach the team.

The Dips, as the team was colloquially known, struggled to establish an identity in their early years. The team was mediocre during the Viollet (1973-1977) and qualified for the postseason only once. Ownership changed hands in 1975, with the Daznansky family buying out Mangione and his partners for $650,000. The club bounced back and forth between RFK Stadium and a high school football stadium in Fairfax, Virginia from 1974 to 1976. RFK conveyed big-city, Major League status. W.T. Woodson High School was economical and more convenient for the Dips’ white flight core audience. The Fairfax games also marked the Dips as a distinctly minor league operation.

Johan Cruyff Washington DiplomatsThe Diplomats’ glory years came during a brief period at the end of the 1970’s. The club hired John Carbray as General Manager in October 1976. Carbray, a veteran minor league baseball exec, brought his innovative promotions to soccer in 1976 with the NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes. Carbray persuaded the Dips’ ownership to commit to RFK Stadium once and for all. The NASL was never a league to worry much about FIFA conventions. Carbray embrace the league’s permissiveness, introducing multi-colored penalty areas and goal boxes at RFK. He also hired former New York Cosmos manager Gordon Bradley to replace Viollet as the club’s Hea Coach in 1978.

Announced attendance rose from 5,963 per game in Fairfax in 1976 to 13,037 at RFK in 1977 during Carbray’s first season in charge. The team had a major on-field improvement in form in 1978 under Gordon Bradley.  But attendance fell back to 10,783 and the team remained deeply in the red.

A lifeline arrived in October 1978 when Madison Square Garden Corporation, a subsidiary of the publicly traded conglomerate Gulf & Western, purchased the team. Madison Square Garden owned the NBA’s New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers. MSG Chief Executive Officer Sonny Werblin was the man who built the New York Jets and signed Joe Namath, setting in motion the AFL’s infamous upset of the NFL champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. With Gulf & Western’s resources behind the team, it suddenly seemed plausible that the Diplomats could take on the Time Warner-owned New York Cosmos as an international super club.

“Sonny and his crew are out to spend it all,” Atlanta Chiefs Director of Operations Terry Hanson predicted to Alex Yannis of The New York Times in December 1978. “I hear they are going to crank the whole thing wide open, spend all the money they have for players … I hear they already call them the Cosmos of the South.”

After Madison Square Garden’s takeover, the Diplomats negotiated for Argentine World Cup captain Daniel Passarella and nearly signed English captain and 1978 European Football-of-the-Year Kevin Keegan. But the Sonny Werblin era was not without controversy. Werblin’s original goal in buying an NASL club was to move the team to Shea Stadium in Flushing and take on the New Jersey-based Cosmos head-to-head. MSG ultimately balked at the $12 million territorial fee demanded by the Cosmos and elected to stay in D.C. But Werblin’s long-term commitment to Washington was placed into question from the start.


Washington Diplomats Shop

Diplomats Distressed Logo T-Shirt by Ultras

Diplomats Soccer Shorts by Ultras

Rock n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life & Fast Times of the North American Soccer League by Ian Plenderleith


Washington Diplomats Memorabilia


Diplomats Video


In Memoriam

Owner Sonny Werblin (Dips ’78-’80) died of a heart attack on November 21, 1991 at the age of 81. New York Times obituary.

Forward Bobby Stokes (Dips ’77-’80) died of bronchial pneumonia on May 30, 1995 at 44 years of age.

Manager Dennis Viollet (Dips ’74-’77) passed away after a two-year battle with brain cancer on March 6, 1999 at age 65.

Manager Gordon Bradley (Dips ’78-’80) passed on April 29, 2008 after fighting Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 74. New York Times obituary.

Midfielder John Kerr, Sr. (Dips ’76-’77) passed away from heart disease on June 19, 2011 at the age of 67. Washington Post obituary.

Midfielder Johan Cruyff died of cancer on March 24, 2016. The Flying Dutchman was 68 years old. New York Times obituary.



1977 Washington Diplomats Ticket Brochure

1977 Washington Diplomats Media Guide Additions & Deletions

8-6-1977 Washington Diplomats vs. New York Cosmos Game Notes

5-27-1980 Washington Diplomats vs. New York Cosmos Match Preview Press Advisory

6-1-1980 Washington Diplomats vs. New York Cosmos Game Notes

Soccer Bowl ’80 Ticket Order Form

1980 Arthur Treacher’s Soccer Teacher Booklet

8-12-1981 Washington Diplomats vs. New York Cosmos Game Notes



Jim Reed’s excellent Diplomat fan/history site:

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs


1983-1984 Washington Federals

leave a comment

United States Football League (1983-1984)

Born: May 11, 1982 – USFL founding franchise.
Moved: October 1984 (Orlando Renegades)

Stadium: RFK Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Berl Bernhard

USFL Championships: None


The Washington Federals were the lowliest franchise of the springtime United States Football League (1983-1985).  The Federals had the misfortune to debut in the nation’s capital just several weeks after the Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XVII, solidifying their grip on the region’s pro football passions. Beyond mere bad luck, the team was simply awful. It seems so appropriate that the Feds’ 1984 promotional pocket schedule depicts the team punting.

Federals owner Berl Bernhard followed the league’s original slow growth business plan and opened his checkbook to sign one marquee player away from the NFL – rookie running back Craig James out of Southern Methodist University.  But James was repeatedly injured and managed to play in just 10 games with minimal effectiveness over two seasons.  The rest of the roster was largely anonymous, with former NFL All-Pro defensive end Coy Bacon, by now far past his prime at age 40, the most familiar name.

The Federals debuted at RFK Stadium on March 6th, 1983 against the Chicago Blitz, who were coached by former Washington Redskins head man George Allen.  The game was selected as the league’s first nationwide broadcast in its ABC television deal.  More than 38,000 fans showed up in the rain, but the Federals were overmatched and lost 28-7.  The team would never again draw more than 15,000 fans in its two seasons of existence.

The Federals finished the 1983 season with the worst record in the 12-team USFL at 4-14.  But they did win their final two games, including a surprise upset of the league’s best team, the 15-3 Philadelphia Stars.  The last couple of weeks showed enough promise that Berl Bernhard brought back Head Coach Ray Jauch for a second season in 1984.

The nature of the league changed during the 1983-84 offseason.  New owners like Donald Trump (New Jersey) and William Oldenburg (Los Angeles) bought into the league and launched a salary war with the NFL over free agents and, especially, the 1984 college draft class.  Bernhard refused to be sucked into the spending spree and made no significant additions to the team during the winter of 1983-84.  The Federals’ biggest move was to acquire Reggie Collier from the Birmingham Stallions to try and settle the team’s chaotic quarterback situation.  Collier was Birmingham’s 1st round draft pick in 1983 but failed to hold down the starting job for the Stallions.  The same story would play out in Washington D.C. Despite flashes of promise, Collier couldn’t unseat holdover signal caller Mike Hohensee.

Bernhard learned just how far behind the curve his team had fallen on opening night of the 1984 season.  The Federals opened on the road against a lightly regarded expansion team, the Jacksonville Bulls. The Bulls blew out the Feds 53-14.  Bernhard famously complained that the team played “like a group of untrained gerbils” – a great line which got more national press attention than Bernhard likely wanted.  Head gerbil trainer Ray Jauch was fired three days later and replaced by assistant Dick Bielski, who couldn’t fare any better.  The Federals were even worse than the year before, finishing with the worst record in the league again at 3-15.

Washington FederalsOff the field things were even worse.  Craig James got hurt again. The Federals let him bolt town midway through the season to sign with the NFL’s New England Patriots.  The Feds were just relieved to be out from under the fragile running back’s contract.  Attendance plummeted more than 50% from 1983’s already week numbers.  On May 6, 1984 the Federals drew the smallest crowd in the history of the USFL when only 4,432 fans showed up at RFK Stadium to watch an overtime loss to the Memphis Showboats.

In May 1984, Bernhard found an escape route.  He lined up a sale of the franchise to Sherwood “Woody” Weiser.  The Miami-based hotelier intended to move the team to South Florida for the 1985 season.  Weiser coveted University of Miami Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger. Schnellenberger led the ‘Canes to a national championship in 1983. Weiser persuaded Schnellenberger to quit U of M. in return for part ownership of the USFL franchise and a guaranteed $100,000 salary for life.  It turned out to be a horrible decision for Schnellenberger.

At league meetings in August 1984, a cabal of new USFL investors led by Trump pushed through a plan to switch to a fall schedule in 1986 and take on the NFL head-to-head.  Weiser had zero desire to challenge the Miami Dolphins or U. of M. for attention during the fall and pulled out of the deal.

After the Miami deal fell apart, Bernhard needed a new buyer.  He got one in Donald Dizney, a minority partner in the USFL’s popular Tampa Bay Bandits club.  Dizney bought out Bernhard and moved the team to Orlando, Florida in October of 1984.  Renamed the Orlando Renegades, the team played one final (losing) season in the spring of 1985 . The USFL went out of business in August 1986 on the eve of what was supposed to be its first fall season.


Washington Federals Shop

Federals Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

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


Washington Federals Memorabilia



Federals Video

The USFL’s debut weekend and the league’s first broadcast on ABC Sports.  The Federals host the Chicago Blitz on March 6, 1983. Lee Corso, ABC’s color commentator for the broadcast, would become the franchise’s head coach in 1985 after the team moved to Orlando.

In Memoriam

Back-up quarterback Joe Gilliam (1983) died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 2000 at age 49.

Federals linebacker Mike Corvino (1983-1984) died in a car accident at age 46 on July 14, 2007.

Former Washington Redskins and Federals (1983) defensive end Coy Bacon died on December 22, 2008 at age 66.



It Was Up, Up and No Way, William Oscar Johnson, Sports Illustrated, May 14, 1984

USFL Media Guides

USFL Game Programs


Written by AC

January 16th, 2014 at 2:08 am

1987-1990 Washington Diplomats

leave a comment

1990 Washington Diplomats ProgramExhibitions only (1987)
American Soccer League (1988-1990)
American Professional Soccer League (1990)

Born: May 1987 – ASL founding franchise.
Folded: Postseason 1990

Stadium: RFK Stadium (55,750)

Team Colors: Red & White

Owner: Julio Pinon


The Washington Diplomats soccer club of the late 1980’s was a low-budget reboot of the old Washington Diplomats (1974-1981) brand from the defunct North American Soccer League (1968-1984).  Just like the old days, the new Dips still played in the enormous environs of RFK Stadium, but everything else was dramatically scaled down, including the competition.  The Dips were part of the American Soccer League (ASL), an East Coast-based pro loop that, together with the similarly regional Western Soccer League (WSL), represented the highest caliber of professional soccer in the United States at the end of the 1980’s, aside from the indoor game.

The Diplomats managed to win the first championship of the ASL in the summer of 1988, despite finishing the regular season with a mediocre 10-10 record and placing just one player – forward Joaquin Canales – on the league’s postseason All-Star team.  The Dips defeated the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in both legs of a two-game series to claim the title.

In 1990, the American Soccer League merged with the Western Soccer League to form a nationwide league known as the American Professional Soccer League.  To keep costs low, however, teams continued to play a regional schedule during the regular season and playoffs, with the two leagues meeting only in the championship game.

The costs of operating the Dips finally caught up to team owner Julio Pinon during the Dips’ third campaign.  Announced crowds of fewer than 1,000 fans were common at 55,000-seat RFK during the 1990 season.  The team’s financial problems became so severe that Pinon refused to fly Head Coach Niki Nikolicand several players to Florida for the team’s final road trip of the season.  Not surprisingly the Diplomats folded at the end of the 1990 season, as did their nearby ASL rival from the Virginia suburbs, the Washington Stars.


==Washington Diplomats Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other


1989 8/6/1989 @ New Jersey Eagles L 3-2 Program Roster


1990 6/17/1990 @ New Jersey Eagles W 2-1 Program Game Notes



American Soccer League Media Guides

American Soccer League Programs






Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: