EPISODE #92: “Retro” Pro Lacrosse History – With Steve Holroyd & Dave Coleman

We celebrate the (labor dispute-delayed) opening weekend of the National Lacrosse League’s 2018-19 season – as well as the return of the iconic Philadelphia Wings franchise – with two of pro box lacrosse’s most ardent fans and chief chroniclers.  

Metro Philly natives Steve Holroyd and Dave Coleman are the engines behind the historical treasure trove known as RetroLax.com, which digs deep into the history of the pro indoor game in North America – and features a wealth of hard-to-find stories and rare game footage from circuits like the original six-team National Lacrosse League of 1974-75, the one-year National Lacrosse Association of 1968, and, of course, the precedents to today’s NLL – 1987’s Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse and 1988-97’s Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

Holroyd and Coleman join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the origins of their interest in the game; their commitment to definitively “filling in” the surprisingly substantial and lengthy backstory of professional lacrosse in North America; what they’ve learned and who’ve they met along the way; and their thoughts on where the pro game is headed – as the NLL re-enters Philadelphia and expands into San Diego, and the outdoor Major League Lacrosse gets ready to battle the new Paul Rabil-founded, private equity-backed Premier Lacrosse League this coming spring.

Check out our great sponsors for all your last-minute “forgotten sports” gift-giving needs: SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, and Audible!

EPISODE #91: NASL Soccer Video Archeology – With Dave Brett Wasser

The images are grainy, the commentary earnestly naïve, and the theme music disco-infused, but the bigger picture is clear – it’s American soccer history, in all its VHS videotape glory.

Gleaned from a simpler, pre-HD media landscape of the 1970s and early 1980s – much of it before even the mass consumer adoption of the VCR – the roughly 900 hours of TV broadcast match coverage that still survives from the pioneering North American Soccer League is a veritable time machine of pro soccer’s coming-of-age.   And one man has been chiefly responsible for compiling and preserving it.

De facto soccer video anthropologist Dave Brett Wasser has spent over two decades tracking down virtually every known snippet of NASL game footage – more than 450 league and exhibition matches in all – for what is arguably the most comprehensive collection of vintage soccer Americana anywhere.

Meticulously (and sometimes just plain luckily) sourced from a myriad of former players, coaches, TV network vaults, and even garage sales – Wasser’s now-digitized trove has become the go-to source for some of the NASL’s most memorable competitive moments for today’s generation of soccer broadcast producers and documentarians.  Including even the newly-rechristened National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX.

In this revealing conversation with host Tim Hanlon, Wasser talks about: his childhood memories of local WOR-TV/New York broadcasts of Cosmos games; the impetus to rediscover them as an adult in the early 1990s lead-up to World Cup USA 1994; the people he’s met along the way of amassing his collection; and the tenuous relationship with the Hall of Fame in his quest to comprehensively digitize and permanently house the entire set of videos for current and future generations of American fans of the “beautiful game” to enjoy and learn from.

Celebrate the holidays (and help us keep our shows going!) by patronizing our great sponsors: 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, Audible, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com!

EPISODE #90: The National Football League’s Origin (and Survival) Story – With John Eisenberg

Episode #86 guest John Eisenberg (Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future) returns, this time to guide us through the fascinating formative years of the National Football League – and the five now-legendary figures responsible for nurturing its development through tumultuous times and an often-uncertain future into what is now America’s most popular sport.

In his new book The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire, Eisenberg highlights the individual dedication and collective conviction of Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney, Chicago’s George Halas, New York’s Tim Mara, Washington’s George Preston Marshall, and Philadelphia’s Bert Bell to risk everything in building and growing the game of professional football.

Originally formed (as the “American Professional Football Association”) at a time (1920) when the sport barely registered on the national scene (baseball, boxing, horse racing, and even the college version of the game all rated higher in fan appeal) – the circuit (renamed the National Football League two seasons later) injected structure and integrity into the sport, on the shared belief that a viable professional business was both possible and inevitable.

Fending off existential threats from a constant stream of challengers – including the better-funded All-American Football Conference (AAFC) of the late 1940s and American Football League (AFL) of the early 1960s – the five owners ultimately succeeded by repeatedly sacrificing short-term success of their respective teams for the longer-term good of the NFL as a whole.

The story of the NFL’s rise to the top of America’s pro sports landscape is one of not only historical significance but also of methodical – and sometimes, just plain lucky – business ingenuity.

As the holiday season approaches, be sure to check out our great sponsors: OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and Audible!

    

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EPISODE #89: The NBA Buffalo Braves – With Tim Wendel

The Buffalo Braves were one of three NBA expansion franchises (along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers) that began play in the 1970–71 season. 

Originally owned by a wobbly investment firm with few ties to Buffalo, the Braves eventually found a local backer in Freezer Queen founder Paul Snyder – who, by the end of the first season, had inherited a team that was neither good (penultimate league records of 22-60 in each of its first two seasons), nor easy to schedule (third-choice dates for Buffalo’s venerable Memorial Auditorium behind the also-new NHL hockey Buffalo Sabres, and Canisius Golden Griffins college basketball).

Snyder addressed the Braves’ on-court issues by luring head coach Dr. Jack Ramsey from the Philadelphia 76ers, while drafting key players like high-scoring (and later Naismith Basketball Hall-of-Famer) Bob McAdoo, eventual NBA Rookie of the Year Ernie DiGregorio, and local (via Buffalo State) crowd favorite Randy Smith – yielding three consecutive playoff appearances from 1973-74 to 1975-76.

Off the court, Snyder looked to regionalize the team’s appeal beyond “The Aud” by scheduling select home games in places like Rochester, Syracuse and even Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens – and team attendance, TV ratings and revenues achieved league-average levels.

By the summer of 1976, however, Snyder was facing severe pressure to sell the team and get it out of “The City of Good Neighbors.”  Of particular consternation was Canisius president Fr. James Demske, who publicly thwarted the Braves’ attempts at decent home dates – which angered the NBA enough to force the issue with Snyder. 

Snyder, who said he was losing money anyway, threatened to move the Braves to suburban Miami’s Hollywood Sportatorium, a deal that collapsed after the city of Buffalo sued and secured a new 15-year Aud lease – with a provision it could be broken if the team didn’t sell 5,000 season tickets in any future season.  

Author and Western New York native Tim Wendel (Buffalo, Home of the Braves) joins the pod to discuss the convoluted story of what happened next, including:

  • Snyder’s ownership sales to former ABA owner (and eventual Kentucky governor) John Y. Brown and businessman Harry Mangurian;

  • The subsequent dismantling of the team and overt attempts to drive down attendance to break the Aud lease;

  • The two-season coaching and player carousel that followed – including the curious six-minute career of Moses Malone; AND

  • How the Braves’ eventual move in 1978 to become the San Diego Clippers wouldn’t have happened without the Boston Celtics.

Thanks to 503 Sports, Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s show!

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EPISODE #88: The 1968-69 AFL New York Jets – With Bob Lederer

On January 12, 1969, the American Football League champion New York Jets stunned the sports world when they beat their heavily favored NFL title-winning counterparts the Baltimore Colts to win the third annual “AFL–NFL World Championship Game” – today remembered as version III of the “Super Bowl.”

The key to the Jets’ ultimate success, of course, was superstar quarterback Joe Namath – whose talent, confidence and charm had already made him an instant celebrity when he first arrived on the Gotham sports scene in 1965.  But the rise of the former (and by the end of its third season in 1962, insolvent) New York Titans to the top of the pro football heap was far from a solo effort.

Author Bob Lederer (Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl Team That Changed Football) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the decade-long saga of the Jets’ remarkable evolution from a mediocre team in a dilapidated stadium in an oft-derided "Mickey Mouse" league, to a franchise that literally saved the AFL from itself and vaulted a newly merged NFL into the modern era of pro football.

Thanks for supporting our great sponsors OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and Audible!

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EPISODE #87: New York’s Shea Stadium’s Curious 1975 – With Brett Topel

It was, unwittingly, the center of the New York professional sports universe in 1975.

The official home of both Major League Baseball’s Mets and AFL-then-NFL football’s Jets since 1964, Shea Stadium was always a busy venue.  But when the football Giants and baseball Yankees found themselves displaced by extensive renovations to their shared Bronx home of Yankee Stadium, Shea instantly became Mecca for Gotham sports fans – hosting all four teams over the course of their respective 1975 seasons. 

The Giants, of course, had already started their wayward journey away from the Bronx in 1973, when plans were announced for a brand new, state-of-the art facility in the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, New Jersey to open in time for Big Blue’s 1976 season.  After two miserable seasons at New Haven, Connecticut’s Yale Bowl (winning only one of 12 games there), the Giants were wooed by New York mayor Abe Beame to play one last season back inside the city limits before absconding for good across the Hudson.

The Yankees, meanwhile, set up temporary shop at Shea beginning in the spring of 1974 – the first of two seasons the Bronx Bombers would play “home” games there while awaiting their new digs, also to open in 1976. 

Thus, for one crazy 1975 season, all four New York teams – the Mets, Jets, Yankees, and Giants – called Shea Stadium home.  Four teams, 175 games, 3,738,546 fans, and one stadium – the only time in professional sports history that two baseball teams and two football teams shared the same facility in the same year.

Brett Topel (When Shea Was Home: The Story of the 1975 Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Jets) joins the pod to discuss the highlights – but mostly lowlights – of one of the oddest years in New York City sports history.

Be sure to check out our awesome sponsors: Audible, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, MyBookie, 503 Sports, and OldSchoolShirts.com!

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EPISODE #86: The Battle for Dallas: The AFL Texans vs. The NFL Cowboys – With John Eisenberg

By the end of the 1958 NFL season – one punctuated by an iconic, nationally televised “Greatest Game Ever Played” championship – interest in professional football had risen to unprecedented levels across the country, capturing enough attention to seriously challenge baseball for America’s chief sporting interest.  Nowhere was the ground more fertile than in the state of Texas, where college and even high school football had held sway for generations – but the pro game (last attempted with a relocated 1952 NFL franchise called the Texans that ended in mid-season abandonment) had still yet to firmly root.

But in the spring of 1960, after an unlikely series of events, two young oil tycoons each became convinced of the opportunity to start their own pro franchises in Dallas’ legendary Cotton Bowl: a reincarnated club called the “Texans” – part of a new upstart circuit called the American Football League; and a hastily arranged response from the established (and newly threatened) NFL called the “Cowboys.”  Virtually overnight, a bitter professional football feud was born – with Dallas sports fans caught in the crossfire.

Texans owner (and AFL league founder) Lamar Hunt and Cowboys head Clint Murchison wasted no time drawing battle lines for the hearts and minds of Dallas’ (and the state’s) pigskin faithful; their teams took each other to court, fought over players, undermined each other’s promotions, and rooted like hell for the other guys to fail.  

Hunt’s Texans focused on the fans – building squads heavy on local legends and using clever promotions to draw attention to both his new team, and the new league.  Murchison’s Cowboys concentrated their efforts on the game – hoping to quickly match the competitiveness of the NFL’s established teams with a young cerebral coaching talent named Tom Landry, and a draft strategy that eyed the long term.

John Eisenberg (Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the three-year battle for pro football supremacy in Dallas – from which both teams eventually (and ironically) emerged victorious in their separate pursuits of success.

We love our friends at 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, MyBookie, and Audible – and you will too!

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EPISODE #85: Houston’s Iconic Astrodome – With Bob Trumpbour

When it debuted to the public on April 9, 1965 (with an exhibition Major League Baseball game featuring the newly-renamed Houston Astros and Mickey Mantle’s New York Yankees), the Astrodome – audaciously dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by its builders – immediately captured the attention of the sports, entertainment and architectural worlds.  

It was a Texas-sized vision of the future – a seemingly unimaginable feat of engineering, replete with breakthrough innovations such as premium luxury suites, theater-style seating, and the world’s first-ever animated stadium scoreboard.  At the time, it was the biggest-ever indoor space ever made by man – an immense cylinder nearly half-a-mile around and with a flying-saucer-like roofline – that evoked a modern space age that the city of Houston and a reach-the-Moon-obsessed nation envisioned for itself.

Amidst the ambition, not all was perfect: baseball outfielders were initially unable to see fly balls through the stadium’s clear Plexiglas roof panels, and attempts to grow natural grass for its playing surface failed repeatedly (ultimately leading to the development of artificial “AstroTurf”).    

Yet, unquestionably, the arrival of the Astrodome changed the way people viewed sporting events and – putting casual fans at the center of the experience, that would soon become the expected standard for all facets of live communal entertainment.

Penn State University professor Rob Trumpbour (The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the life, impact and ongoing legacy of the Astrodome’s signature role in transforming Houston as a city – and some of the memorable (and not so memorable) pro franchises that called it home during its 43-year run, including the AFL/NFL football Oilers, the NASL soccer Stars and Hurricane, and challenger-league football’s Texans (WFL) and Gamblers (USFL). 

Plus, the backstory of Major League Baseball’s 1962 expansion Houston Colt .45’s – the original catalyst behind the dome’s conception and construction.

Our appreciation to OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, 503 Sports, Audible, and MyBookie for sponsoring this week’s episode!

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EPISODE #84: The 1960s-Era NFL Baltimore Colts – With Jack Gilden

The third incarnation of the Baltimore Colts – the second as an official member of the NFL – produced some of the most memorable and dominant teams to ever play the pro game. 

Winners of impressive back-to-back NFL titles over the New York Giants in both 1958 (the December 28th Yankee Stadium sudden-death overtime final regarded as the mythic “Greatest Game Ever Played”) and 1959, the Colts and head coach Weeb Ewbank surprisingly stumbled into mid-table mediocrity in the early years of the 1960s – enough to convince mercurial owner Carroll Rosenblum to make a stunning change at the end of the team’s (7-7) 1962 season – one that would quickly shake up the squad and the expectations behind it.

The selection of Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Don Shula to become the new head coach of the Colts was eyebrow-raising for a number of reasons – age (at 33, the youngest-ever to be chosen for such a role in the NFL up until that time); relative inexperience (only two years as a college assistant at Virginia and Kentucky before his first pro stint in Detroit building the famous “Fearsome Foursome” defense); and karma – cut by the Colts as a player seven years earlier, Shula was now suddenly coach over former teammates who hadn’t previously accorded him much respect.

Chief among those players was quarterbacking legend-in-the-making Johnny Unitas – arguably the Colts’ most valuable franchise player, who was hugely responsible for the team’s titles in the late 50s, and through whom any future success depended. 

Author Jack Gilden (Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula and the Rise of the Modern NFL) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss how these two eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame titans battled each other and the rest of the NFL during the remainder of the 1960s, and lifted the Colts back to elite status in the league – while setting themselves both up for further individual greatness once they again parted ways.

Thank you MyBookie, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, and Audible for their sponsorship!

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EPISODE #83: The Baltimore Orioles, Boston Beaneaters & the 1897 NL Pennant Race – With Bill Felber

Career journalist and baseball history author Bill Felber (A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant) joins the big show to discuss the most cut-throat pennant race in American baseball history – a multi-level study in contrast that also symbolically set the course of how the modern-day game would ultimately be played.

On one side was the original incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles – a charter member of the 1882 American Association who migrated to the National League ten years later (and not genealogically connected to today’s current American League club).  Led by eventual baseball Hall of Famers John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler, and managerial innovator “Foxy” Ned Hanlon (no relation to your humble host?), the original O’s had a reputation as the dirtiest team in baseball – though many of the tactics they employed (e.g., tight pitching, base-stealing, hit-and-run plays, and precise bunting) were simply edgy approaches to the rules that later became strategic staples of the modern game.

On the other, the comparatively saintly Boston Beaneaters – part of the longest lineage in baseball history dating back to the earliest days of the professional game and predecessors of today’s Atlanta Braves – and eight-time National League champs over the course of the late 1800s.  Boasting five of their own Cooperstown enshrinees – pitcher Kid Nichols, outfielders Hugh Duffy and Billy Hamilton, third baseman Jimmy Collins, and manager Franke Selee – the 1897 Beaneaters were the latest installment of a franchise that largely dominated the NL for most of the 1890s.

A hotly contested battle throughout the season, the pursuit of the pennant was the most intensely watched team sporting event in the country’s history to that time, right down to the dramatic final week that climaxed with a decisive three-game series.  The effective championship match on the last day of the season saw 30,000+ crazed Boston fans – including a rabid self-appointed supporters group known as the “Royal Rooters” – break down the gates of the 10,000-capacity South End Grounds to watch the Beaneaters grind out a win and bring down baseball’s first and most notorious “evil empire.”

PLUS: soap suds on the pitcher’s mound; the Temple Cup; late-Senator Ted Kennedy’s grandfather; the “Baltimore Chop,” and "Nuf Ced" McGreevy!

AND, we fire up the old Victrola to hear one of (if not) the earliest known recordings of the Boston “Royal Rooters” de facto fight song, that originated with the Beaneaters during this memorable season!

Thanks to 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Audible, and MyBookie for their support of this week’s episode!

A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant - buy here

EPISODE #82: AFL & NFL Football All-Star Ron McDole

In a nearly 20-year playing career across the 1960s American Football League and 1970s NFL, defensive end Ron McDole (The Dancing Bear: My Eighteen Years in the Trenches of the AFL and NFL) experienced pro football’s modern-day coming-of-age from inside his old-school, two-bar helmet.  From 1961-1978, McDole played in over 250 professional games, including championship runs with the AFL Buffalo Bills (1964, 1965) and a Super Bowl appearance with the NFL Washington Redskins in 1972.

A cagey and deceptively agile athlete, McDole wreaked havoc on football’s best offenses as part of a Bills defensive line (including left tackle Jim Dunaway, right tackle Tom Sestak, and right end Tom Day) that held opponents without a rushing touchdown for 17 straight games across 1964-65. His twelve career interceptions remain a pro record for defensive linemen.

Traded by the Bills in 1970, he was given new life in Washington as one of the most famous members of George Allen s game-smart veterans known as the “Over the Hill Gang.”  Through it all, McDole was known and loved by teammates and foes alike for his knowledge and skill on the field and his ability to have fun off it.

In this revealing conversation with host Tim Hanlon, McDole describes: the unique camaraderie of playing in small-market Buffalo and in the upstart AFL; the reality of needing off-season jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet; the continual magnanimity of Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson; AND (at 45:00) the price he and many of his fellow players are now paying health-wise for playing the game they loved - with very little acknowledgement or support from the NFL.

Check out our new sponsors 503 Sports – and our continuing friends: OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Audible, and MyBookie!

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EPISODE #81: Roller Hockey International – With Richard Neil Graham

Richard Neil Graham (Wheelers, Dealers, Pucks & Bucks: A Rocking History of Roller Hockey International) joins the big show to delve into the 1990s summertime indoor league started by inveterate sports entrepreneur (and defunct sports patron saint) Dennis Murphy – designed to profit from major arena owners’ desire for summer events, minor league players looking for extra work, and a budding national craze for inline skating.

Despite deep pockets from several team and arena owners from the NBA and NHL – including Los Angeles’ Buss family (previous Murphy partners in World Team Tennis two decades earlier), and Howard Baldwin (an original franchise owner in the Murphy-founded World Hockey Association in 1972) – the bulk of RHI franchises were decidedly less capitalized or marketing-savvy.  

That didn’t stop the league from aggressive expansion, however, from an inaugural 1993 roster of 12 teams to a mind-boggling 24 franchises the following season (and diligent listeners to this podcast know how ambitious moves like those often turn out).  Predictably, by RHI’s sixth and final campaign in 1999 (after taking 1998 off to reorganize), the league was down to eight clubs and barely made it to season’s end.

National TV coverage on a fledgling ESPN2, solid fan enthusiasm in places like Anaheim (the Bullfrogs regularly drew 10,000+ fans a game to the new Arrowhead Pond), innovative rules adjustments (five-a-side teams and no blue lines, to open up space and scoring), and even a novel proprietary puck designed to generate long-term sustainable licensing revenues, were not enough to sustain RHI into the new millennium.

Thank you to our awesome sponsors for this week’s episode: MyBookie, OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and Audible!

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EPISODE #80: The AAFC, AFL & the NFL’s Formative 1950s – With Economist David Surdam

After barely surviving World War II, the National Football League of the late 1940s was not only on tenuous financial footing, but also facing an existential threat from an ambitious new challenger with deep-pocketed owners ready take advantage of America’s growing interest in professional football, a newfound surplus of playing talent, and a tantalizing return to economic prosperity. 

While the All-America Football Conference lasted for only four seasons (1946-49), its mere presence jolted the historically conservative and inwardly-focused NFL into an era of dramatic transformation and strategic maturation that laid the groundwork for a meteoric rise in popularity for the sport and secured its position against the raft of competitive challenges to its supremacy in the decades that followed.

University of Northern Iowa Professor of Economics and David W. Wilson Business Ethics Fellow David Surdam (Run to Glory and Profits: The Economic Rise of the NFL During the 1950s) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the economic and regulatory developments that the league underwent during the Fifties – which enabled the NFL to not only withstand direct competition from upstarts like the AAFC and, in the 1960s, the even more-formidable American Football League – but also solidify its place as the dominant and most economically successful professional sport in North America.

We love our sponsors SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, and MyBookie – and you will too!

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EPISODE #79: The NHL’s New York/Brooklyn Americans – With Dale Morrisey

On September 21, 2013, a crowd of 14,689 Brooklyn hockey fans cheered when the NHL’s New York Islanders played a pre-season exhibition against the New Jersey Devils in the sleekly modern Barclays Center – the first-ever contest of its kind in New York’s most populous borough, and one that set into motion the eventual relocation of the team from Long Island to Kings County.

What few in the stands realized, however, was that the borough, technically, was the home to a professional hockey team many decades earlier.  Originally funded from a Depression-era bootlegger’s fortune, the New York (later renamed Brooklyn) Americans pre-dated the NHL’s long-running and legendary New York Rangers by a year, and were the star attraction of the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden during its debut in 1925. 

Featuring brightly colored, red-white-and-blue, star-spangled uniforms, and a roster of largely Canadian players from the recently league-expelled Hamilton (ON) Tigers, the “Amerks” were the immediate toast of the Gotham sports scene upon their arrival.  So much so that MSG majority owner Tex Rickard soon connived with the NHL board of governors to secure his own franchise (originally dubbed “Tex’s Rangers”) the following season – quickly dooming the Americans to second-class status as the league’s loveable losers for the rest of their mostly lamentable run through 1942.

Documentary filmmaker Dale Morrisey (Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss New York’s (and Brooklyn’s) original and oft-forgotten National Hockey League franchise, and the unique part hockey history it occupies.

Huge thanks to our sponsors Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, MyBookie, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s episode!

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EPISODE #78: The United States Football League – With Jeff Pearlman

Multiple New York Times bestselling sports book author Jeff Pearlman (Gunslinger; Boys Will Be Boys; The Bad Guys Won!; Sweetness) joins the pod this week to promote his latest literary treasure – a deeply personal devotional about the wild and ultimately misbegotten United States Football League.

Crafted from over four hundred interviews and borne of a childhood fascination/obsession, Football For a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL is a narrative tour de force that chronicles the bizarre and often comical story of the erstwhile early 1980s spring league that pugnaciously challenged the pro football establishment with a witches’ brew of ownership bravado, expensive player talent, national TV coverage, wayward franchises, bounced paychecks – and, audaciously, a Hail Mary of a class action federal lawsuit that won the battle, but ultimately lost the war against the supremacy of the NFL.  

Thanks to MyBookie, OldSchoolShirts.com, Audible, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for sponsoring this week’s episode!

Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL - buy book here

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EPISODE #77: Before the NHL’s “Original Six” – With Andrew Ross

When quizzed on the historical origins of the National Hockey League, most fans reflexively default to the hagiographic construct known as the “Original Six” – the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Detroit Red Wings – as the seminal franchise lineup from which the modern-day NHL was ultimately built.

In fact, the league traces its official roots to a much friskier start dating back to 1917 – when, out of the ownership discord of the predecessor National Hockey Association (1909-17), and a rising challenge to Stanley Cup supremacy from other fledgling pro circuits like the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and Western Canada Hockey League – a then-four team (and all-Canadian) NHL made its debut with franchises in Toronto (Arenas), Ottawa (Senators), and Montreal (Canadiens and Wanderers).

Over the next 25 years, the league fitfully expanded and contracted across cities like St. Louis, Quebec, Hamilton, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit – and even a 16-season, dual-franchise odyssey in New York.  But, when the NHL Board of Governors terminated the financially troubled Brooklyn Americans after a World War II-ravaged 1941-42 season, the league settled back to just six reasonably solid clubs – a group that would remain stably intact until 1967, when the ambitious “Great Expansion” doubled its membership to 12, and set the stage for even more meteoric growth in the decades to follow.

Author Andrew Ross (Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945) joins host Tim Hanlon to talk about the league’s surprisingly rough-and-tumble first quarter-century of existence – including the winding economic journey that eventually defined hockey’s place in the North American professional sports firmament.

Thank you to Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, MyBookie, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s show!

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EPISODE #76: Gordon Jago

We continue our march towards the upcoming 50th anniversary reunion of the North American Soccer League (as part the rechristening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX on October 19-21, 2018), with one of the coaching pioneers from the league’s heyday, Gordon Jago (A Soccer Pioneer: The Autobiography of Gordon Jago).

After a sparkling youth career with England’s Charlton Athletic and the national Under-20s, Jago quickly segued to coaching in the mid-1960s as an assistant coach with First Division Fulham – where he, during a summer exhibition in Oakland, CA, became smitten with the idea of professional soccer in the US.

Persuaded by eventual NASL co-founder (and Episode #74 guest) Clive Toye, Jago jumped the pond in  to become head coach of the newly consolidated league’s 1968 Baltimore Bays, whose beer baron/owner Jerold Hoffberger soon gave up on the team, the league and the sport by the following season.  After a brief stint overseeing the US National team later that year for World Cup ’70 qualifying, Jago returned to England to hone his coaching skills with Queens Park Rangers (who he guided to First Division promotion in 1973) and Millwall (promoted from Third Division to Second in 1976).

But it was the US for good when Tampa Bay Rowdies owner George Strawbridge came calling in 1978 to replace the recently absconded Eddie Firmani as the successful Florida NASL franchise’s head coach – a team he promptly led to back-to-back Soccer Bowl championship games with perennial league all-stars like Rodney Marsh, Oscar Fabbiani, Steve Wegerle, Mike Connell, and John Gorman.

It was also there (actually, St. Petersburg’s cozy Bayfront Center) where Jago got his first taste of the professional indoor game (including an NASL indoor championship in 1980) – experience that would later serve as foundation for a nearly 20-year coaching and management career leading the formidable Dallas Sidekicks, netting league championships across the MISL (1987), CISL (1993), Premier Soccer Alliance (1998), and World Indoor Soccer League (2001).

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A Soccer Pioneer: The Autobiography of Gordon Jago - buy book here

    

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EPISODE #75: The World Hockey Association Hall of Fame with Tim Gassen

Buckle up for our sophomore excursion into the legendary World Hockey Association, as we chat with the passionate founder and meticulous curator of the short-lived but influential league’s official Hall of Fame, Tim Gassen. 

Physically ensconced inside the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, MN, as well as an expansive online digital presence, the WHA Hall of Fame is the undisputed historical authority on the brief seven-season life and wild times of the iconic 1970s-era challenger league that kicked the staid National Hockey League in the butt and reinvigorated the pro game in the process.

Gassen joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the:

  • Origins of his WHA fanaticism (sparked by childhood memories of Indianapolis Racers games);
  • Wayward (and illustrative) journeys of teams like the Jersey Knights (née New York Raiders/Golden Blades, then San Diego Mariners) and the Calgary Cowboys (birthed as the Miami Screaming Eagles, converted into the Blazers of Philadelphia, then of Vancouver, before saddling up for one last rodeo in the Stampede City);
  • Unmatched dominance of the Winnipeg Jets; and
  • Ongoing hunt for the Hall of Fame’s holy grail of artifacts – the makeshift WHA championship trophy hoisted by the league’s New England Whalers in 1973, in lieu of the yet-to-be-completed AVCO World Trophy.

Our appreciation to this week’s sponsors: Audible, OldSchoolShirts.com, Podfly, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com!

                

The World Hockey Association Hall of Fame: A Photographic History of the Rebel League - buy book here

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EPISODE #74: Clive Toye

Soccer America columnist (and Episode #6 interviewee) Paul Gardner summed up this week's Hall of Fame guest in his May 2015 commentary:

“The debt owed by American soccer to Clive Toye is a vast one. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say, flatly, that without Toye’s blind faith in the sport in the 1970s, pro soccer in the USA would have withered and died. Yes, Phil Woosnam and Lamar Hunt and Bob Hermann were there too. But in those unpromising years it was Toye’s voice -- it came in a steady flow of ridiculously optimistic press releases and grandiose plans for a future that few others even dared to ponder -- that called loudest.

“The New York Cosmos general manager credited with turning that league’s fortunes around when he signed Pele to a contract in 1975. Toye, who was born in England and came to the United States in 1967 at the age of 33, was president of three North American Soccer League teams – the Cosmos, Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard – and general manager of the [original National Professional Soccer League and subsequent NASL] Baltimore Bays.  [He] was an official of the NASL in helping it through its crisis year of 1969 and in its final months in 1985 – and helped to found the third American Soccer League in 1988.

There has always been the spirit of a showman in Toye, and surely it was that spirit that enabled Toye to overlook the virtual collapse of the old North American Soccer League and to see instead a glittering future for the sport in the USA, even to declare to anyone who was listening -- and not many were in those days -- the preposterous notion that the USA should begin preparing to stage the World Cup.

“And when the NASL, by the skin of its teeth and by the mad devotion of Toye et al., did survive, it was Toye who gave the reborn league its glittering image with his invention of the Cosmos, with his canny maneuvering and dealing, who brought Pele and Beckenbauer to New York.  Showmanship indeed.”

Toye (A Kick in the Grass: The Slow Rise and Quick Demise of the NASL; Anywhere in the World) joins host Tim Hanlon for a lyrical and anecdote-filled journey through the pro league that he helped create, later put to rest, and which ultimately shored up the long-term foundation of the “beautiful game” in America.

We appreciate our sponsors OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Podfly, and Audible for their support of this week’s episode!

          

A Kick in the Grass: The Slow Rise and Quick Demise of the NASL - buy book here

Anywhere in the World - buy book here

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EPISODE #73: The Union Association’s Wilmington Quicksteps – with Jon Springer

Professional baseball was barely into its adolescence in 1884 when a hard-playing, hard-drinking minor league club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware―the Quicksteps―got the opportunity of a lifetime.

Led by prototypical early era stars like loud-voiced outfielder/team captain Tommy “Oyster” Burns (aka the “Wilmington Growler,” who sold shellfish in the off-season), and Canadian-born curveball pioneer Edward “The Only” Nolan (who was briefly blacklisted from the National League for lying about missing a game to attend a funeral when he was, instead, out drinking) – the Quicksteps attacked opponents with a spike-sharpened, rough-and-tumble style befitting the major league style of the era.

Managed by a cricket-playing New Yorker and bankrolled by a cigar-chewing sporting goods dealer who ran illicit gambling rings by night, the Quicksteps were the talk of the town and the East Coast baseball establishment – accruing an .800 winning percentage in the minors and holding their own (and occasionally winning) in exhibitions with big league clubs. 

The National League was less than a decade old then, and the American Association, which had been established two years earlier, was nipping at its heels. But when a maverick millionaire named Henry Lucas established a third major league that year―the Union Association―the pro game erupted into chaos.

When the ensuing battle for players and fans overwhelmed the upstart circuit’s Philadelphia Keystones midway through its inaugural 1884 season, the Quicksteps were invited and abruptly promoted to the Union Association to take their place in a single mid-season fell swoop.  Their arrival in the majors, however, was anything but a dream come true.

Author Jon Springer (Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps) joins the pod to describe the story of the briefly major league team loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays, comical misfortune, and behind-the-scenes drama that, for a tumultuous and remarkable summer, was driven and ultimately destroyed by its own dream of success – while yielding a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility.

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Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps - buy book here