Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1987-1990 Washington Commandos / Maryland Commandos

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Washington CommandosArena Football League (1987, 1989-1990)

Born: 1987 – Arena Football founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1990

Arenas:

Team Colors: Silver & Red

Owner: Arena Football League

Arena Bowl Championships: None

 

The Washington Commandos were one of four original franchises in the Arena Football League when the AFL launched in 1987. The league’s inaugural season featured a brief six-week schedule between mid-June and early August 1987. Six games were broadcast nationwide on ESPN, including the Commandos home debut at the Capital Centre against the Denver Dynamite on June 27, 1987. The Commandos won that contest 36-20 in front of an announced crowd of 13,587.

The Commandos finished the 1987 season 2-4. Wide Receiver/Defensive Back Dwayne Dixon, Quarterback Rich Ingold, and lineman Jon Roehlk were named to the All-Arena 1st Team.

During the 1987 season all four of the league’s teams were owned centrally by AFL founder Jim Foster’s company Arena Sports Ventures Unlimited. In 1988, the AFL expanded to six teams and doubled its schedule to 12 games per team. Most significantly, Foster started licensing teams to local owner-operators. When no interested owners stepped forward for the Commandos, the team was closed down.

The AFL suffered a crisis after its second season in 1988. The league’s new crop of owners revolted against Foster and his licensing structure. Three of six clubs folded. The league scrambled to put on an abbreviated showcase schedule in 1989. The old Commandos gear was hauled out of storage and the Maryland Commandos were formed to fill out a tiny four-team league. Each club would play just four games in 1989, many in neutral site test markets around the country. The Maryland Commandos played one game at the Capital Centre in Landover and one at the Baltimore Arena. The Commandos went 0-4.

The AFL found itself on slightly more solid footing by the spring of 1990. As the league’s fourth season dawned, Foster successfully patented the league’s unique game system that March. Expansion teams in Albany and Dallas joined the league and the schedule grew back to 8 games.

The Commandos returned and took back their old “Washington” moniker instead of “Maryland” for the 1990 season. The team did not return to the 17,000-seat Capital Centre though. The 1990 Commandos played in the smaller, cheaper Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Wide receiver Charlie Brown, a Pro Bowl Selection on the Washington Redskins Super Bowl XVII championship team in 1983, suited up for the Commandos and caught 11 passes with 2 touchdowns.

The Commandos went 2-6 in 1990 and folded quietly at the end of the season.

Arena Football returned to the nation’s capital in 2017 when Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis  launched his Washington Valor franchise at the Verizon Center.

 

Commandos Video

 

In Memoriam

Head Coach Ray Willsey (Commandos ’89) passed away at age 85 on November 4, 2013.

Head Coach Bob Harrison (Commandos ’87) passed away on February 4, 2016 at age 78.

Lineman Jon Roehlk (Commandos ’87) died on March 13, 2016. The Arena Football Hall-of-Famer was 54 years old.

Lineman Patrick Cain (Commandos ’90) died on lung cancer at age 53 on March 14, 2016.

Quarterback Rich Ingold (Commandos ’87) died of pneumonia on February 15, 2017. Ingold was 53. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary.

 

Downloads

James F. Foster U.S. Patent #4,911,443 for Arena Football Game System and Method of Play. March 27, 1990

 

Links

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

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1974-1981 Washington Diplomats

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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

Stadia:

Team Colors:

Owners:

  • 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.

 

Downloads

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

 

Links

Jim Reed’s excellent Diplomat fan/history site: washingtondiplomats.blogspot.com

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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1961 Washington Tapers

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Washington TapersAmerican Basketball League (1961)

Born: 1961 – ABL founding franchise
Moved: December 31, 1961 (New York Tapers)

Arena: Washington Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owner: Paul Cohen

ABL Championships: None

 

Doomed entry in Abe Saperstein’s short-lived American Basketball League of the early 1960’s. The Tapers were owned by Paul Cohen, owner of the Technical Tape Company of New Rochelle, New York. Cohen was a millionaire business owner, basketball fan and sufferer from muscular dystrophy. It was Cohen who recruited Jerry Lewis to the cause of muscular dystrophy and helped inspire the comedian’s famous Labor Day telethons in support of the MDA. Cohen previously backed the New York Tuck Tapers (1959-1961) in the amateur National Industrial Basketball League. The Washington Tapers marked Cohen’s first foray into full professionalism in the basketball arena.

The biggest name on the Tapers was Gene Conley, a two-sport star who previously played Major League Baseball for the Milwaukee Braves and pro basketball for the Boston Celtics. Dan Swartz, a holdover from the NIBL, was the Tapers’ top scorer at 24.8 points per game in 1961-62.

The team was a bust in the nation’s capital. After just two months of play, the Tapers announced a midseason move to Long Island’s Commack Arena on New Year’s Eve, 1961, where they would become known as the New York Tapers. Following the 1961-62 season, Cohen moved the team again, this time to Philadelphia. The ABL folded on December 31st, 1962 midway through its second season, taking the Washington/New York/Philadelphia Tapers down with it.

 

Links

American Basketball League Media Guides

American Basketball League Programs

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Washington Darts vs. Bangu. August 8, 1971

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Washington Darts ProgramWashington Darts vs. Bangu (Brazil)
August 8, 1971
Catholic University Stadium
Attendance: 4,403

North American Soccer League Programs
8 Pages

 

Rare match day sheet for a 1971 international match between the short-lived Washington Darts (1968-1971) of the North American Soccer League and visiting Bangu of Brazil.  Bangu was a frequent visitor to the States in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.  In 1967 the Brazilian club spent most of their summer offseason in Texas, moonlighting as the “Houston Stars” in the United Soccer Association, a league that imported foreign clubs to play under Americanized names.

This match, held at the 7,000 Catholic University Stadium, was part of a short U.S. tour by Bangu in 1971.  The struggling NASL was down to just eight clubs in 1971 and relied on international matches to both generate interest and fill out the schedule.  So this match wasn’t a friendly – it actually counted in the regular season standings.

The result was a 2-2 draw.  The Darts got goals from Tibor Szalay and Warren Archibald, but couldn’t hold a 2-1 second half lead. Bangu’s goals came from Edson Bonfim and Amauri Da Silva.

The debt-ridden Darts club would play only two more home matches after this date with Bangu.  The team was sold in the offseason and moved to Miami where it became the Miami Gatos in 1972.

 

==Links==

More NASL International Friendlies

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1983-1984 Washington Federals

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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.

 

Links

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

USFL Media Guides

USFL Game Programs

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Written by AC

January 16th, 2014 at 2:08 am

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