EPISODE 134: The World League of American Football’s London Monarchs – With Alex Cassidy

By popular request, we begin our exploration of the enigmatic 1990s international experiment known (initially) as the World League of American Football with a deep dive into its first championship team – the London Monarchs – with author Alex Cassidy (American Football's Forgotten Kings: The Rise and Fall of the London Monarchs).

Resurrected from an idea originated (but never launched) by the NFL in 1974 called the “International Football League,” the WLAF was formed in 1989 as both a spring developmental circuit as well as an operational test bed for full-fledged expansion of American football into markets outside the United States.

Eventually comprised exclusively of European teams by 1995 (later under the banners “NFL Europe” from [1998-2006] and “NFL Europa” [2007]), the first two seasons of the WLAF also featured a Canadian franchise (the Montreal Machine) as well as six in the US – most of which (Orlando, Birmingham, Sacramento, San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham [1991], and Columbus, OH [1992]) were historically forlorn pro markets.

The Monarchs played their first two seasons at the original/famed Wembley Stadium and became an immediate sensation in London, averaging over 40,000 fans per game – including a league-record-setting 61,108 for the WLAF’s inaugural World Bowl 21-0 championship over the Barcelona Dragons on June 9, 1991. 

Though the team never achieved the level of success or stability in the years that followed (the league’s return in 1995 began a peripatetic journey of future home stadiums across London, as well as Bristol and Manchester), the Monarchs boasted a memorable array of characters that – like other WLAF/NFLE teams – consisted of veteran NFL journeymen and promising young developmental talent from both the US and the Continent, including:

  • Kicker Phil Alexander, the league's 1991 points leader (and now Managing Director of Crystal Palace);

  • RB Victor Ebubedike, the first European native to score a touchdown (vs. the Orlando Thunder, 4/6/91):

  • Journeyman NFL QB Stan Gelbaugh, 1991’s WLAF Offensive Player of the Year; and

  • Former Chicago Bears Super Bowl-winning defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry.

PLUS: The “Yo-Go” Monarchs theme song!

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EPISODE 133: Baseball’s Original Miami Marlins – With Sam Zygner

We “celebrate” the 2019 Miami Marlins’ National League-worst 57-105 season with a look back to colorful 1950s-era Triple-A minor league franchise that laid the groundwork for South Florida’s eventual ascension to the majors in 1993.

Author and SABR historian Sam Zygner (The Forgotten Marlins: A Tribute to the 1956-1960 Original Miami Marlins and Baseball Under the Palms: The History of Miami Minor League Baseball) joins the podcast to discuss the flamboyant, but little-remembered International League club that introduced Miami to its first taste of high-level regular season baseball. 

During their five years of existence, the original Marlins featured outsized personalities such as eccentric manager (and former St. Louis Cardinals’ “Gashouse Gang” member) Pepper Martin, hard-living lefty pitcher Mickey McDermott, maverick baseball promoter Bill Veeck, and even the mythically ageless Negro League hurler (and eventual Hall of Famer) Satchel Paige.   

In between, the Marlins featured a who’s who of battle-hardened veterans (like 18-year minor league journeyman Woody Smith; ex-New York Giants World Series-winning pitcher Rubén “El Divino Loco” Gómez; two-time MLB All-Star slugger Sid Gordon; former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder Cal Abrams; and major league All-Star fireballer Virgil Trucks) – as well as a parade of future big-league standouts such as infielder Jerry Adair; outfielders Whitey Herzog and Dave Nicholson; and pitchers Rudy Árias, Don Cardwell, Turk Farrell, Jack Fisher and Dallas Green.  

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EPISODE 132: ABA Basketball Memories – With Hall of Famer Dan Issel

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame legend Dan Issel joins this week’s ‘cast to discuss his All-Star career in the American Basketball Association with two of the league’s most (relatively) stable franchises – the Kentucky Colonels and the Denver Nuggets.  And a brief cup of coffee with one its shakiest, in between.

After an outstanding, twice-named All-American collegiate career at the University of Kentucky (where he still remains as all-time leading scorer) in the late 1960s, Issel spurned a draft call by the NBA’s Detroit Pistons for a chance to stay in the Commonwealth with the John Y. Brown-owned, Louisville-based Colonels.

Joining an already solid lineup (including future Hall of Famer Louis Dampier), Issel immediately lit up the 1970-71 ABA with a league-leading 29.9 points-per-game – powering Kentucky to the ABA Finals (losing to the Utah Stars in seven games), and a share of the league’s Rookie of the Year title.

An eventual six-time ABA All-Star (including his and the league’s final season with the later NBA-absorbed Nuggets), Issel’s prolific scoring touch help lead the Colonels to its first and only league championship in 1975 – later “rewarded” with an unpopular Brown-directed trade to Denver, by way of curious detour to the Baltimore Claws – a franchise that lasted only three pre-season games. 

Issel ultimately became the ABA’s second all-time leading scorer (behind Dampier), and upon his retirement from the NBA Nuggets in 1985, only Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Julius Erving had amassed more points (he now sits 11th all time).

We obsess with Issel about his trials and tribulations across the ABA – as well as his current role in helping Louisville return to the pro game with its pursuit of a long-elusive NBA franchise.

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EPISODE 131: Calling Balls & Strikes in Baseball’s Negro Leagues – With Byron Motley

Multi-talented singer-songwriter, photographer, and soon-to-be sports history documentarian Byron Motley joins the show this week to discuss his late father’s colorful career as an umpire in baseball’s legendary Negro Leagues – the subject of his 2007 collaborative oral history, Ruling Over Monarchs, Giants, and Stars.

A child of Depression-era rural Alabama, a teenaged Bob Motley migrated north in the early 1940s to his uncle’s home in Dayton, OH in search of work – and a tryout as a Negro League pitcher.  World War II intervened, and Motley was soon off to the front lines as one of the first African-Americans in the then-segregated (Montfort Point) Marines – receiving both a Purple Heart (shot in the foot during combat) and a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for his service.

While recovering from his wounds, Motley caught wind of a baseball game outside his military hospital and volunteered to umpire – crutches and all.  Despite earning him an immediate trip back to the battlefield, it set the stage for his post-discharge career ambitions.

Relocated to Kansas City in 1946, Motley supplemented his day job at a local GM plant with persistent attempts to umpire games with KC’s fabled Monarchs, ultimately yielding a decade-long moonlighting career calling contests across the Negro Leagues.  Known for a flamboyant acrobatic style, Motley became nationally known as the most entertaining game-caller in the Negro majors – as much an attraction as the pioneering players and teams themselves.

Though a Major League call-up never came, Motley still broke barriers in Triple-A and NCAA ball, and was instrumental in helping usher in the eventual arrival of the first African-American umpire (his Pacific Coast League colleague Emmett Ashford) in 1966.  

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EPISODE 130: St. Louis: The Original Soccer City USA – With Dave Lange

On August 20, 2019, the city of St. Louis, MO was officially awarded the 28th franchise in Major League Soccer, with an anticipated inaugural season beginning in 2022.  And while the club begins its efforts to get its team name, new downtown stadium and initial soccer operations in place, we take some time this week to reflect on the city’s deep and rich soccer history – perhaps unmatched by any locale in the United States.

Dave Lange (Soccer Made in St. Louis: A History of the Game in America’s First Soccer Capital) joins the ‘cast to trace the undeniably symbiotic relationship between the Gateway City and the Beautiful Game – as well as its impact on the development of the sport (especially professionally) across America.

As we root for the new St. Louis MLS team (our name suggestion: Gateway FC!) to meaningfully recognize and incorporate this important past, Lange helps tide us over in the interim as he discusses:

  • The St. Louis transplant who help launch both the USA’s first governing body for the sport, as well as its first professional league (the American Soccer League) during the Roaring Twenties;

  • The deep-rooted amateur, scholastic and collegiate landscape that kept the city at the center of the nation’s soccer development (including occasional US national team flashes of brilliance);

  • The seminal, but oft-forgotten St. Louis Stars of the 1967 NPSL and 1968-77 NASL;

  • How “soc-hoc” evolved into a professional indoor soccer explosion in the 1980s & 90s with St. Louis (Steamers, Storm, Ambush) as its epicenter; AND

  • The “invisible hand” of Anheuser Busch executive Denny Long.

PLUS:  There “Ain’t No Stoppin’” our tribute to the MISL’s iconic St. Louis Steamers!

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EPISODE 129: ABA Basketball's Origin Story – With Founder Dennis Murphy

The American Basketball Association was not founder Dennis Murphy’s original intent. 

Thwarted in his attempt to get the fast-growing city of Anaheim, CA (he was mayor of nearby Buena Park) into the fledgling American Football League during the mid-1960s, Murphy quickly pivoted his attention to basketball – reasoning that with only 12 teams in the staid, yet long-established National Basketball Association, there surely must have been room for more.

“What the hell,” Murphy told author Terry Pluto in his seminal 1990 oral history Loose Balls.  “The AFL had worked, hadn't it?  Maybe we could force a merger with the NBA."

By the end of the ABA’s ninth season in 1976, Murphy’s unwitting prescience had become reality – and along with it, a validating blueprint for how to modernize professional sports in North America.

The legendarily inveterate sports entrepreneur (Murph: The Sports Entrepreneur Man and His Leagues) joins the podcast to discuss how the iconically idiosyncratic ABA got started, as well as hints of how other future pursuits – like the World Hockey Association, World Team Tennis, the World Football League, and Roller Hockey International – would similarly come to be. 

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EPISODE 128: NASL Soccer’s Chicago Sting – With Mike Conklin

Prolific Chicago Tribune sportswriter Mike Conklin (Goal Fever!; Transfer U.) joins the podcast to help us go deep into the story of the North American Soccer League’s twice-champion Chicago Sting – a club he covered extensively and exclusively from its little-noticed launch in late 1974 all the way through its breakthrough Soccer Bowl ’81 title.

The personal passion project of prominent Chicago commodities trader Lee Stern, the Sting came to life as one of five expansion franchises for the NASL’s ambitious 1975 campaign, and the team’s early seasons were heavily British-flavored under coach (and former Manchester United legend) Bill Foulkes. 

Despite winning a division title in 1976, the Sting was largely uncompetitive during its first few seasons – and worse, drew poorly as the team shuffled games between Soldier Field, Comiskey Park, and Wrigley Field each summer.  By 1978 – when they went 0-10 to start the season – the Sting had the worst attendance in the entire 24-team NASL, averaging a mere 4,188 fans per match. 

Things rebounded later that year, however, when assistant coach (and early NPSL/NASL player) Willy Roy was permanently elevated to head coach, and an influx of standout German players like Karl-Heinz Granitza, Arno Steffenhagen, Horst Blankenburg, and Hertha Berlin’s Jorgen Kristensen soon turned “Der Sting” into one of the league’s most exciting and attractive sides.

By 1980, the club had vaulted into the league’s elite – including and especially an uncanny mastery over the oft-dominant New York Cosmos – which ultimately extended into the 1981 NASL final, securing Chicago’s first professional sports championship since the Bears’ NFL title in 1963.

Conklin was there to chronicle all of it as the Tribune’s Sting beat reporter – and we dig in with to recall some of the club’s most memorable moments.

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EPISODE 127: A British View of US Pro Soccer History – With Tom Scholes

UK sportswriter Tom Scholes (Stateside Soccer: The Definitive History of Soccer in the United States) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the surprisingly long, colorfully vibrant and regularly misunderstood history of the world’s most popular sport in America.

While even the most erudite of the game’s international scholars mistakenly (though understandably) define the US pro game’s epicenter as the chaotic, post-1966 World Cup launch of the North American Soccer League – the roots of organized soccer actually date as far back as the American Civil War, around the time when the first rules around “American football” were also coming into focus.

In fact, US soccer’s actual first “golden age” can be traced to the Roaring 1920s when immigrant-rich corporate teams in the first American Soccer League rivaled the nascent National Football League in popularity, and US national teams regularly qualified for the first-ever FIFA World Cups in 1930 (finishing third) and 1934.

While a heavily ethnic successor ASL and regional semi-pro circuits kept American soccer’s flickering flame alive (not to mention an international headline-grabbing 1950 World Cup upset of then-world power England), the organized game in the United States continued to grow – albeit regionally niche and nationally inchoate – especially at the pro level.

Yet, the Bill Cox-created International Soccer League of the early 1960s proved that American fan interest in top-flight professional soccer played by the world’s premier clubs was real – setting the kindling for the NASL’s eventual wildfire during the following decade, yet eventual flameout in 1984.

Since then, Scholes suggests, the US has finally entered its third golden age of soccer – as the no-longer “new” Major League Soccer closes in on its 24th consecutive season of growth (recently adding history-rich St. Louis as its 28th North American market) – while the women’s national team extends its unprecedented dominance on the international stage.

Still, soccer’s future success in America is by no means guaranteed – and the frequent travails of America’s long history with the game provide ample lessons of what might ultimately lie ahead.

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EPISODE 126: CBA Basketball’s Fort Wayne Fury – With Rob Brown

After extraordinary listener response to our Episode #118 with David Levine a few months back, we bounce-pass our way back to the endlessly intriguing Continental Basketball Association for this week’s conversation – this time with a focus on the league’s travails during the 1990s, courtesy of the Fort Wayne (IN) Fury and its former radio voice/media relations director Rob Brown.

More than forty years since the relocation of the NBA’s seminal Pistons from the Summit City to Detroit (and a decade before the arrival of the current-day G-League Mad Ants), the Fury held court at the city’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum from 1991 until the league’s first demise in 2001 – winning the CBA’s regular season title in 1998, after narrowly losing the league championship finals two seasons earlier.

Brown recounts some of his standout memories from his time with the Fury, including:

  • Playing second fiddle to the Komets, Fort Wayne’s minor league hockey juggernaut;

  • The harrowing 50-foot fall of team mascot “Sabre” from the Coliseum’s ceiling during a 1996 playoff game;

  • Indiana Hoosier legend Keith Smart’s final year of playing and first year of pro coaching – both with the Fury;

  • The short-lived playing career of Percy Miller – better known as rap superstar Master P; AND

  • Why today’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants owe a debt of gratitude to both the Fury and the CBA.

PLUS:  The real origin of New York Knicks/ESPN broadcaster Mike Breen’s signature three-point call!

Enjoy a FREE MONTH of The Great Courses Plus streaming video service – including the new series “Fundamentals of Photography” – created in conjunction with National Geographic!

EPISODE #125: San Jose Sharks Broadcaster Randy Hahn

Before embarking on his incredible 29-year (and counting) run as play-by-play lead for NHL hockey’s San Jose Sharks, NBC Sports California sportscaster Randy Hahn was first known to 1980s pro soccer audiences as the versatile radio and TV voice behind the short-lived Edmonton Drillers of the North American Soccer League as well as the dynastic San Diego Sockers of both the NASL and the Major Indoor Soccer League.

We descend deep into the Good Seats audio archives to revisit some of the more memorable (and sometimes downright forgettable) moments from Hahn’s North American indoor and outdoor soccer broadcasting exploits, including:

  • Covering the original NASL Vancouver Whitecaps at a commercial station while still a college student at the University of British Columbia;

  • Answering the call for a last-minute/first-ever radio play-by-play assignment for a Drillers “outdoor” game in Houston;

  • Learning the differences between calling slower-building outdoor matches vs. the faster-moving indoor game;

  • Winning “One for the Thumb” – and then some - with the indoor Sockers;

  • The coaching genius and indelible legacy of Sockers head coach Ron Newman; AND

  • How Hahn found his “way to San Jose” with the return of pro hockey to the Bay Area.

PLUS:  We dig up the long-forgotten San Diego Sockers official theme song!

Enjoy a FREE MONTH of The Great Courses Plus streaming video service – including the new series “Fundamentals of Photography” – created in conjunction with National Geographic!

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EPISODE #124: The CFL’s Baltimore Stallions – With Ron Snyder

Sportswriter Ron Synder (The Baltimore Stallions: The Brief, Brilliant History of the CFL Champion Franchise) joins to delve into the story of the mostly-forgotten team that revitalized Baltimore’s pro football history and viability.

When the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts secretively absconded to Indianapolis in the wee hours of March 29, 1984, three decades of pro football history left with them.  Subsequent dalliances with the USFL’s nominally “Baltimore” Stars in 1985, and ill-fated attempts to rejoin the NFL (1987’s wooing of the St. Louis Cardinals & 1993’s proposed expansion “Bombers”) only deepened local pigskin fans’ despair.

In the wake of the expansion disappointment, entrepreneur and ex-Washington Redskins assistant Jim Speros saw an opportunity to bring the newly expanding Canadian Football League to Charm City as a viable replacement in 1994.  Capitalizing on the city's love for its cherished NFL franchise, Speros tapped directly into Colts nostalgia by adopting the original team’s colors, marching band, cheerleaders, fan clubs, and even Memorial Stadium – christening the new club the "Baltimore CFL Colts."

None too pleased, the NFL obtained a legal injunction against the use of "Colts," literally hours before the team was to play its first game.  Speros had to scrap tons of merchandise and a sizable advertising campaign – while hastily converting the franchise's official name to the "Baltimore Football Club" (dubbed the "Baltimore CFL's" by many in the media).  Enthusiastic locals referred to the team as the “Colts" anyway – which team officials tacitly (and happily) encouraged. 

Unfazed, the team (later renamed “Stallions” for 1995) quickly became the toast of the town, establishing itself as the most successful American team in the CFL's otherwise ill-fated southern expansion effort – reaching the league championship Grey Cup final in 1994, and winning it the following season.

Just days after claiming the CFL title, however, the city and the Maryland Stadium Authority announced an agreement with NFL owner Art Modell to move his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season.  Virtually overnight, the Stallions were forgotten, as fans and the media immediately obsessed on the market’s imminent return to football’s biggest stage. 

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EPISODE #123: Ballpark Architecture and the American City – With Paul Goldberger

We amp up the intellectual quotient this week with Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger (Ballpark: Baseball in the American City), as we delve into the inextricable historical bond between the rise of America’s favorite pastime and the evolution of the American city.

From the first “saloons in the open air” of the late-1800s, such as Brooklyn, NY’s Union Grounds; to the  ornate turn-of-the century wooden structures of Chicago’s Lakefront Park, Boston’s South End Grounds, and St. Louis’ Sportsman Park; to the early-1900s’ steel-and-stone “Golden Era” ballparks headlined by Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, Cincinnati’s Crossley Field, Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, Boston’s Fenway Park, Chicago’s Wrigley Field, and Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field; to the suburban, multi-purpose (and exceedingly TV-friendly) “concrete donuts” of the 1960s; to the retro “urban renaissance” ushered in by Baltimore’s Camden Yards in 1992 – Goldberger discusses how baseball's architectural maturation is undeniably concurrent with and reflective of America’s cultural, geographic and economic history.

PLUS: The future of baseball’s ballparks, as well as how other sports’ arenas and stadiums are likely to evolve in similar and dissimilar ways.

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EPISODE #122: Black Pioneers of the NASL – With Patrick Horne

Brooklyn College women’s soccer head coach and former NASL (Memphis Rogues, New England Tea Men) and ASL (New Jersey Americans) pro player Patrick Horne (Black Pioneers of the North American Soccer League) joins the podcast to help shine a light on the largely unrecognized contributions of black players to both the success of North America’s first major foray into pro soccer, and the growth of the sport’s popularity in the US and Canada in the decades since.

While no one disputes the significance of the June 1975 signing of Brazilian superstar Pelé to the league’s flagship New York Cosmos as the watershed that legitimized soccer’s viability as a professional sport in North America (major world-class talent like Portuguese legend Eusebio and Brazilian star defender Carlos Alberto quickly followed), black players from various corners of the globe had already been plying their trade in the fledgling NASL years before – some as early as the competing 1967 leagues (NPSL and USA) that preceded it. 

And many of them were unqualified standouts, despite the league’s early struggles.

Exceptional black talent from places like: Bermuda (1972 MVP Randy Horton; Clyde Best); Trinidad & Tobago (MVPs Warren Archibald [1973] & Steve David [1975]); South Africa (1968 Rookie of the Year Kaizer Motaung; “Ace” Ntsoelengoe); Nigeria (Ade Coker); England (Mark Lindsay; and scores of others (including a number of notables from the US collegiate ranks) all helped to stabilize and strengthen the pro game during the 1970s and early 1980s until the NASL’s unceremonious collapse in 1984. 

Even then, many stayed in their adopted homelands to eventually become coaches and administrators, helping to keep the spirit of the game alive while the US and Canada began its long rebuilding process to get back to top-tier pro soccer.

PLUS: The “Black Pearl” sings!

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EPISODE #121: More Milwaukee Braves Baseball – With Patrick Steele

It’s been nearly two years since our first look at baseball’s still-revered Milwaukee Braves, and this week – courtesy of author/historian Patrick Steele (Home of the Braves: The Battle for Baseball in Milwaukee) – we finally get the chance to go deeper into the team that, in its brief 13-season run: never posted a losing season, won two National League pennants, and, in 1957, brought “Cream City” its first and only World Series championship. 

Featuring a stellar lineup of mostly Braves farm club-developed players (including eventual Hall of Famers Henry [Hank] Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Red Schoendienst, and Phil Niekro) the team immediately won the hearts of Wisconsin sports fans upon its hasty arrival from Boston in the midst of the 1953 pre-season – shattering then-modern-day attendance records, and ushering the city of Milwaukee into the world of America’s proverbial “big leagues.”

The Braves' surprising success in Milwaukee during the mid-1950’s prompted Major League Baseball to redefine itself as a big business, clearing the path for: franchises to relocate beyond the sport’s Northeast and Midwest strongholds; its two leagues to expand; and teams to leverage cities in high-stakes battles for local government-subsidized facilities.  

All of which, ironically, helped sowed the seeds for the club’s eventual relocation to Atlanta in 1966 – an acrimonious departure that generations of Milwaukee baseball fans still haven’t forgotten.  

PLUS: “There’s No Joy Left” – polka music king Frankie Yankovic’s song of “good riddance”!

Enjoy a FREE MONTH of The Great Courses Plus streaming video service – including the just-released 24-chapter lecture series “Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime” – created in conjunction with the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum!

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EPISODE #120: The Portland Timbers’ Origin Story – With Michael Orr

As the 2019 version of the Portland Timbers celebrates its 10th season in Major League Soccer, we spin the WABAC Machine dial back 44 years earlier to 1975 – when the club’s original namesake became an overnight sensation (figuratively and literally) in the then-20-team North American Soccer League. 

The last of the NASL’s five newly announced sides for that season (along with Chicago, San Antonio, Tampa Bay, and Hartford), the “Timbers” weren’t even named (via an open “name the team” contest) until March of 1975 – just two months after having been awarded the franchise, and barely a month before its first scheduled pre-season match.

Despite the haste, the Timbers immediately became the toast of both the Rose City and the league during the summer of 1975, as the club compiled the NASL’s best regular season record, earned a trip to the league championship “Soccer Bowl” (losing to the Rowdies 2-0), and regularly drawing 20,000+ crowds to Portland’s venerable Civic Stadium – earning the self-appointed moniker “Soccer City, USA” in the process.

Current MLS Timbers fan and de facto club historian Michael Orr (The 1975 Portland Timbers: The Birth of Soccer City) joins host Tim Hanlon this week to delve deep into the magical first year of Portland’s top-tier pro soccer franchise – including the personalities that made it work, the fans that made it special, and the traditions that still continue today in the team’s since-named (and newly renovated) Providence Park.

PLUS: “Green is the Color” – the long-lost Peter Yeates/Eric Beck/Ron Brady-penned 1975 Timbers theme song!

Enjoy a FREE MONTH of The Great Courses Plus streaming video service – including the just-released 24-chapter lecture series “Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime” – created in conjunction with the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum!

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EPISODE #119: The Alliance of American Football Saga Continues – With Michael Rothstein

We veer back this week into the still-unfolding mess that is (or was) the Alliance of American Football with ESPN.com “NFL Nation” reporter Michael Rothstein – who, along with ESPN Senior Writer Seth Wickersham – has been chronicling the demise of the once-promising league (Inside the Short, Unhappy Life of the Alliance of American Football), dating back to its curious pre-season earlier this winter.

With Carolina Hurricanes owner and last-minute financial savior Tom Dundon recently suing the now-bankrupt league for the return of his complete $70 million investment, the story of the Alliance is getting uglier by the week – with little end to the drama in sight. 

Despite helping nearly 60 of its players (and counting) sign NFL contracts, the AAF is increasingly likely to be remembered for its shaky finances and off-field managerial intrigue than for its surprisingly high quality of on-field play.

Rothstein recounts some of the more interesting stories and tidbits gleaned from his months of covering the formative weeks, initial games and now, chaotic dissolution, of a league that seemingly had everything going for it – until it suddenly (and with hindsight) didn’t – including:

  • Covering the AAF pre-season – despite being denied access to actual practices;

  • The mysterious coaching “debut” of Michael Vick;

  • The deceptive triumph of the Orlando Apollos’ home (and league co-) opener – replete with pre-game tailgating;

  • Initial suspicions the league wasn’t off to as solid a start as early appearances suggested; AND

  • An initial assessment of the villains and victims of the Alliance’s ongoing quietus.

Enjoy a FREE MONTH of The Great Courses Plus streaming video service – including the just-released 24-chapter lecture series “Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime” – created in conjunction with the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum!

EPISODE #118: The Continental Basketball Association – With David Levine

Author and former SPORT magazine writer David Levine (Life on the Rim: A Year in the Continental Basketball Association) joins the ‘cast to give us our first taste of the quirky minor league basketball circuit that began as a Pennsylvania-based regional outfit in 1946 (predating the NBA’s formation by two months), and meandered through a myriad of death-defying iterations until whimpering into oblivion in 2009.

Often billed throughout its curious history as the "World's Oldest Professional Basketball League," the colorful Continental Basketball Association rocketed into the national sports consciousness during the 1980s –  when expansion into non-traditional locales (e.g., Anchorage, AK; Casper, WY; Great Falls, MT; Atlantic City, NJ); innovative rule changes (e.g., sudden-death overtime, no foul-outs, a seven-point game scoring system); and headline-grabbing fan promotions (e.g., “1 Million Dollar Supershot," "Ton-of-Money Free Throw," "CBA Sportscaster Contest") – garnered its first national TV coverage, and even grudging respect from the staid, top-tier NBA.

Levine recounts his time chronicling the 1988-89 season of the CBA’s Albany (NY) Patroons, and the real-world stories of the realities of playing, coaching (including a young and hungry George Karl), traveling, and endlessly hoping in a league that sometimes rewarded its members with opportunities at the next level of pro basketball – but more often, did not.

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