EPISODE #113: The Alliance of American Football – With Conor Orr

Just weeks after its sudden collapse, we take our first look at the brief life of the Alliance of American Football with Sports Illustrated football writer and MMQB NFL podcast host Conor Orr (The Curious Rise and Spectacular Crash of the Alliance of American Football; More Strange Tales from the Collapse of the AAF).

Inspired by his work producing the 2017 documentary This Was the XFL for ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series, director Charlie Ebersol concluded that the renegade league co-created by his father (NBC Sports producer Dick) and World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) impresario Vince McMahon in 2001 had actually been a viable concept, but poorly executed – especially the subpar quality of on-field play. 

After reportedly being rebuffed by McMahon to potentially revive the old XFL brand, Ebersol instead dove into planning for his nascent AAF – with the prime focus on solid football product; the “Alliance” formally announced its launch on March 20, 2018, and by June had more than 100 players under contract.

What followed was months of methodical and seemingly well-conceived efforts to: construct a solid football operations infrastructure under veteran NFL executive Bill Polian (including top coaches like Steve Spurrier, Rick Neuheisel and Dennis Erickson); solicit investment from (supposedly) stable deep-pocketed investors (such as player-turned-entrepreneur-turned-NFL-owner Reggie Fowler); develop business-enhancing media, data and wagering technology to augment on-field play; and even devise evolved rules to speed up games and improve player safety.

The AAF made its debut with two simultaneous Saturday evening games in San Antonio and Orlando on February 11, 2019 in front of a surprisingly large CBS national primetime TV audience – but the league’s operational wheels started coming off almost immediately.  Chief among the issues: a Week One cash call that investor Fowler couldn’t cover, and a hastily-arranged $250MM majority equity investment from NHL Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon – who quickly concluded that operational finances were dangerously unstable, and likely unsustainable.

After weeks of maneuvering, Dundon pulled the plug on further funding his pledge (rumored as only $70MM of the promised amount), announcing the suspension of the league’s operations on April 2nd – just two weeks shy of completing the regular season.  15 days later, the AAF filed for Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy.

SI’s Orr walks host Tim Hanlon through the league’s chronology, the facts as we know them today, and what’s likely to come in the months ahead as the story of the AAF continues to play out.

Thanks to OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, Audible, and 503 Sports for their support of the show!

EPISODE #112: The Once & Future Soccer Legacy of Ft. Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium – With Jeff Rusnak

Long-time South Florida Sun-Sentinel soccer columnist Jeff Rusnak joins to discuss the rich past, transitional present and promising future of one of American pro soccer’s most venerable, yet historically underrated venues – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida’s Lockhart Stadium.

Originally built in 1959 as an American football and track venue for four high schools in the region and named after a former city commissioner, the modest bleacher-constructed Lockhart was unwittingly transformed into the country’s first de facto “soccer specific stadium” when the (original) North American Soccer League’s Miami Toros moved 32 miles north from the cavernous Orange Bowl to become 1977’s Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.

The Strikers became a South Florida sports phenomenon during their seven NASL seasons at the crackerbox Lockhart, boasting world-class talent (Gordon Banks, Gerd Müller, Teófilo Cubillas, George Best) and magnetic personalities (Ron Newman, Ray Hudson) that quickly endeared the club and the sport to an adoring fan base.

Numerous lower division clubs kept the soccer flame alive after the Strikers moved (to Minnesota in 1983) and the NASL died – until 1998, when Major League Soccer investor-operator Ken Horowitz debuted the curiously-named “Miami” Fusion expansion franchise at a refurbished Lockhart, featuring Colombian star Carlos Valderrama.  Despite winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield in 2001 under the dynamic coaching of former Striker fan-favorite Hudson, the league contracted the Fusion after just four season – and the stadium again became the intermittent home to lower-league teams (and even FAU college football) until 2016.

But Lockhart refuses to give up the ghost, as an aggressive demolition and rebuild of the abandoned facility now becomes the focal point of a new David Beckham/Jorge Mas-owned MLS franchise called Inter Miami CF set to debut in 2020 – sans a permanent home in the city of Miami proper. 

Will Lockhart again rekindle the original Striker magic – perhaps even permanently?

WE THANK our tremendous sponsors for their continued support of the show: Streaker Sports, Audible, 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com!

EPISODE #111: Pro Football’s “League That Didn’t Exist” – With Gary Webster

WKKY-FM radio personality and sports author Gary Webster (The League That Didn’t Exist) helps us return to the curious story of the All-America Football Conference – the well-funded upstart that competed directly with the NFL in the late 1940s for supremacy of the still-fledgling sport of US pro football.

After being rebuffed by the NFL to expand, influential Chicago Tribune sports editor (and baseball and college football All-Star Games’ creator) Arch Ward recruited a who’s who of wealthy businessmen to help form a rival second league that he hoped would ultimately play the senior circuit in an annual championship game similar to the World Series. 

Post-war peace produced a surplus of talent, and the AAFC attracted many of the nation’s best players to its eight inaugural teams in 1946 – including more than three dozen College All-Star Game participants, two Heisman Trophy winners and over 100 players with NFL experience. 

With commercial air travel increasingly viable, the enterprising AAFC placed franchises in burgeoning markets outside of the NFL’s traditional Northeast and Midwest footprint (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami); it also chose larger stadiums in established NFL markets (Chicago, New York, Cleveland) to compete head on.

Despite the NFL’s publicly dismissive tone, the AAFC quickly established itself as a formidable threat – drawing huge crowds and generating significant national publicity.  The quality of play was high (15 AAFC alumni were eventually inducted into pro football’s Hall of Fame), and innovations such as a 14-game double round-robin schedule, zone defenses, and racial integration quickly proved popular and ultimately, long-lasting. 

By 1949, however, nearly every team in both leagues was losing money, as increased competition for players drove salaries higher, while average attendances declined.  By season’s end, the NFL agreed to absorb three AAFC franchises (Cleveland, San Francisco and Baltimore) for 1950; the combined and briefly renamed “National–American Football League” was set – and the AAFC was no more.

Webster joins host Tim Hanlon to recount some of the more notable events during the AAFC’s brief, but impactful history – as well as the befuddling refusal of the modern-day NFL to recognize the statistics and lasting contributions of the All-America Football Conference, despite the continued existence of two of its original franchises (the Browns and the 49ers) today.

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EPISODE #110: Cleveland’s Historic League Park – With Ken Krsolovic

Author Ken Krsolovic (League Park: Historic Home of Cleveland Baseball, 1891-1946) joins the podcast to go deep into the history and legacy of Cleveland’s first major league sports stadium.

Originally built for the National League’s Cleveland Spiders, team owner Frank Robison strategically built the wood-constructed League Park at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Dunham (now East 66th) Street in the city’s Hough neighborhood, where the streetcar line he owned conveniently stopped.  It debuted on 5/1/1891 with a Spiders 12-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, with the legendary Cy Young throwing the first pitch.  Despite being competitive during the decade (including a Temple Cup in 1895), the Spiders drew poorly, leading Robison to ship his best players to his new fledgling St. Louis Browns franchise in 1899 – and the Spiders to on-field (20-134) and off-field (6,088 fans for the season) collapse.

After a year of minor league play, League Park became the home of the Cleveland Bluebirds (aka Blues) of the new “major” American League in 1901 – the team that would ultimately evolve (1902: Broncos; 1903-14: Naps) into today’s Cleveland Indians.  The park was rebuilt in 1910 as a then-state-of-the-art concrete-and-steel stadium, debuting on 4/21/1910 (a 5-0 Naps loss to the Detroit Tigers before 18,832) – a game also started by Cy Young.

Though the Indians were League Park’s primary team, they were not the only tenants over the stadium’s later decades.  In 1914-15, the Naps/Indians shared the stadium with the minor league Cleveland Bearcats/Spiders (actually, the temporarily relocated minor league Toledo Mud Hens) to discourage the upstart Federal League from placing a franchise in Cleveland.  The Negro American League’s Cleveland Buckeyes held court at the park during much of the 1940s – including a Negro World Series title in 1945. 

And the fledgling sport of professional football also called League Park home during the NFL’s formative 1920s in the forms of the Cleveland Tigers (1920-22), Indians (1923), Bulldogs (1924-27) – and most famously with the Cleveland Rams of the late 1930s/early 1940s.

Like the Rams, the baseball Indians began moonlighting games and eventually full seasons with the larger, more modern (and lighted) Municipal Stadium during the WWII and post-war eras – ultimately sealing the venerable League Park’s fate by 1946. 

After years of neglect and urbanization, a modern restoration of League Park and its original ticket house was completed in 2014, where fans can now play on the original field where Cleveland’s pro players once roamed.

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EPISODE #109: The NASL Players’ Strike of 1979 – With Steve Holroyd

Professional union labor lawyer and Society for American Soccer History sports historian Steve Holroyd returns to the podcast to go deep into one of the more curious rabbit holes in North American Soccer League history.

In early 1977, Ed Garvey, a labor lawyer and head of the newly-formed National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), recruited Washington Diplomats midfielder John Kerr to help gauge interest among his teammates and those of other clubs in forming a similar organization for the suddenly ascendant ten-year-old NASL. 

By the end of that summer, player representatives from all 18 league clubs agreed in principle to create the North American Soccer League Players Association (NASLPA), and on August 29th, 1977 – the day after the New York Cosmos’ dramatic Soccer Bowl victory over the Seattle Sounders in Pele’s US swan song – officially sought recognition by NASL owners to become the players’ collective bargaining entity.

Commissioner Phil Woosnam and league ownership quickly refused, fearing a threat to the still-fragile circuit’s integrity by a group run by a union of the NFL, with whom NASL owners already had a tenuous (and in the cases of Ft. Lauderdale’s Robbie and Dallas’ Hunt families, common ownership) relationship.     

With no progress towards recognition of the union either during the subsequent off-season or the next year, members of the NASLPA finally voted 252-113 to strike against ownership – announcing its intention to do so on April 13, 1979, one day before the league’s second weekend slate of regular season games.

What transpired next was five unprecedented days of confusion (would foreign imports risk deportation by playing during an American player work stoppage?); desperation (coaches Eddie McCreadie [Memphis] and Ron Newman [Ft. Lauderdale] donning uniforms to help their strike-depleted teams); naiveté (unwitting fans seeking Rochester Lancer “player” autographs during last-minute replacement tryouts); and ultimately, miscalculated futility – as player resolve waned almost immediately, especially among the association’s non-US residents, who actually made up the majority of the membership.

The players’ point had been made, however, and by mid-1984 – through a long series of subsequent court rulings – the NASLPA finally prevailed in its mission to collectively represent players at the bargaining table with league ownership.

Ironically, by then, it didn’t matter – the NASL folded in March of 1985.

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EPISODE #108: The “Almost Yankees” of 1981 – With David Herman

We’re stuck in the minors again this week – this time with Microsoft News senior managing editor and former newspaper sportswriter David Herman (Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of) – as we discuss the memorable story and unique circumstances of the 1981 championship season of the International League’s Columbus Clippers, the then-flagship farm club of the New York Yankees.

Longtime baseball fans will remember 1981, of course, as the year Major League Baseball experienced its first-ever mid-season interruption of play, as players took to the picket lines against ownership beginning on June 12th – just over two months into the schedule.

Once big-league play stopped, fans and sports reporters alike scrambled to fill the void – with organized baseball’s robust minor league system as the immediate beneficiary.  And suddenly, the heavily Yankee-influenced Triple-A Clippers found themselves basking in the unexpected spotlight of New York and national media attention, as the newfound best team in baseball.

The Clippers’ mix of raw recruits, MLB prospects, and minor league journeymen responded to opportunity by playing some of the greatest baseball of their lives – on what would be, arguably, the greatest team most of them would ever belong to.

Yet, almost as suddenly as the strike began, it ended (roughly two months later on August 9th) – leaving most of the Clippers to return to their ordinary aspirational lives and to be just as quickly forgotten.

Herman walks host Tim Hanlon through the previously untold story of a baseball team and its players (including the likes of once and future major leaguers like Steve Balboni, Dave Righetti, Buck Showalter, and Pat Tabler) performing in the shadow of one of the MLB’s most famous teams and infamous owners, George Steinbrenner – becoming a launching pad for some, a last chance for others, and the end of the major league dream for most.

Thanks mightily to our wonderful sponsors: 503 Sports, Streaker Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, and Audible!

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EPISODE #107: The Havana Sugar Kings & Cuban League Baseball – With César Brioso

Longtime USA Today sports writer/producer César Brioso (Last Seasons in Havana: The Castro Revolution and the End of Professional Baseball in Cuba) joins the show to explore the rich parallel histories of America’s and Cuba’s shared national pastime – and the colorful period of the late 1950s/early 1960s when it appeared baseball in the island nation was mainstreaming its way into eventual US major league status.

During much of the ‘50s, baseball in pre‑Castro Cuba was enjoying a golden age. The Cuban League – founded in 1878, just two years after the formation of the National League – was thriving under the auspices of American organized baseball. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, players regularly came from the US major, minor and Negro leagues to play in what was the country’s wholly integrated winter baseball league.  In addition, native-born Cuban teams routinely dominated annual Caribbean Series regional tournaments.

In 1946, Havana’s El Gran Estadio del Cerro became home to its own “regular season” US-domiciled (Class C Florida League) minor league franchise called the Sugar Kings.  By 1954, the club had grown to become a competitive member of the AAA International League as an official affiliate of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds (featuring future major league standouts such as Leo Cárdenas, Mike Cuellar, Vic Davalillo, Julián Javier, and Cookie Rojas) – eventually culminating in league and Junior World Series (over the AAA American Association’s Minneapolis Millers) titles in 1959. 

The impact of the Sugar Kings’ championships that year went far beyond mere baseball titles; they became de facto moments of national civic pride, as well as indisputable evidence that Havana and Cuba were more than ready for and deserving of a place in America’s major leagues.

Of course, the club’s achievements fatefully coincided with – and were ultimately undermined by – the events that year of the Fidel Castro-led Communist revolution over Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. 

By the end of 1960, the baseball landscape in the country looked much different: professional play was converted to an amateur state-sponsored model; American players stopped participating in the winter Cuban League; and the International League extracted the Sugar Kings from Havana and moved them to US soil, where they became the soon-to-be forgotten (after the 1961 season) Jersey City (NJ) Jerseys. 

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EPISODE #106: Seattle’s “Sonicsgate” – With Filmmakers Jason Reid & Adam Brown

Documentary filmmakers Jason Reid and Adam Brown (Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team) join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the long, tortuous and acrimoniously messy departure of the NBA’s iconic Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in the summer of 2008 – a story newly relevant as the “Emerald City” prepares to welcome a new NHL expansion franchise, and as former owner (and Starbucks CEO Emeritus) Howard Schultz publicly explores a run for the US Presidency.

A real-life drama replete with local political intrigue, wily (and/or naïve) business dealings, and an array of villains straight out of Hollywood central casting – the Sonics-to-Thunder saga has quickly become a chilling metaphor for the triumph of business revenue streams and facilities real estate over the spectacle of athletic competition or the rooting interests of fans.

Reid and Brown walk Hanlon through: the landing (in 1967) and honeymoon first years of Seattle’s first-ever pro sports franchise; the region’s loving embrace of their own pro hoops team (especially during its 1979 league championship season); the Achilles’ heel of Key Arena and a city government wary of public stadium subsidies; a litany of lawsuits; and a raft of agenda-driven actors like the in-over-his-skis Schultz, a devious Oklahoma City lead investor Clay Bennett, and a complicit NBA Commissioner David Stern – all of whom share blame for the Sonics’ ignominious relocation in the minds and hearts of Seattle sports fans.

Plus: we speculate whether the 2021 arrival of the NHL to Seattle portends a return of NBA basketball – perhaps in the form of a newly constituted SuperSonics – in the years ahead!

Thanks to this week’s sponsors: Streaker Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, and 503 Sports!

Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team via Amazon Prime - access here

EPISODE #105: The World Football League’s Detroit Wheels – With Mark Speck

In a league uniquely rich in comic misadventures and financial disasters, perhaps no one franchise from the World Football League’s inaugural 1974 season stood out more for its own brand of woeful ineptitude than the Detroit Wheels.

Saddled from inception by an unwieldy ownership group of 33 different founding investors – including Motown Records superstar Marvin Gaye and Little Caesar’s Pizza founder (and budding Detroit pro sports patron) Mike Illitch – the Wheels’ front office featured neither cohesive management nor adequate funding to cover even the most basic of operating expenses, let alone a realistic budget from which to field a competitive team.

Unwilling to spend more than $10,000 per player, management unwittingly took the club out of contention for most of the NFL and CFL veterans flocking to other WFL franchises, while securing only three signings from its 33 picks in the league's college draft.  In pre-season desperation, the Wheels even advertised an open tryout that drew over 600 hopefuls, yet produced none good enough to make the roster.  As training camp progressed at Eastern Michigan University, one owner even suggested that the team move the players into tents in a nearby public park to help cut costs.

Worse still, the Wheels couldn’t secure a lease at either Detroit’s downtown Tiger Stadium or Ann Arbor’s (University of) Michigan Stadium – having to settle instead for Eastern Michigan’s Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, 35 miles and full hour’s drive outside of the city.   Unsurprisingly, the team averaged just 11,264 fans across five-ever home games, save for a relocated sixth match played in even further-distant London, Ontario, Canada before an assemblage of barely 5,000.

Not that there was much to cheer for anyway.  The Wheels lost their first ten games of the season, winning only once (a 15-14 away squeaker at the then-league-leading Florida Blazers in Orlando on September 11, 1974), before dropping their next three to fall to a WFL-worst 1-13 record.  By October 10th, creditors and the league had had enough, and the Wheels folded into oblivion – six games short of completing their first and only season.

WFL researcher Mark Speck (Nothing but a Brand-New Set of Flat Tires: The Sad, Sorry Saga of the 1974 Detroit Wheels of the World Football League) returns to the show to fill in the rest of the details!

Be sure to visit our sponsors OldSchoolShirts.com, Streaker Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and 503 Sports for great World Football League garb and gear!

Nothing But a Brand-New Set of Flat Tires: The Sad, Sorry Saga of the Detroit Wheels of the World Football League - buy here

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Numerous photos courtesy: Richie Franklin's World Football League website - visit here

EPISODE #104: Big League Baseball in WWII Wartime Washington – With David Hubler & Josh Drazen

On a cold and ominous Sunday, December 7, 1941, Major League Baseball’s owners were gathered in Chicago for their annual winter meetings, just two months after one of the sport’s greatest seasons. For the owners, the dramatic news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor earlier that morning was not only an assault on the United States, but also a direct threat to the future of the national pastime itself.

League owners were immediately worried about the players they were likely to lose to military service, but also feared a complete shutdown of the looming 1942 season – and perhaps beyond.  But with the carefully cultivated support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, organized baseball continued uninterrupted – despite numerous calls to shut it down.

Authors David Hubler and Josh Drazen (The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever) join host Tim Hanlon to discuss the impact of World World II on the two major professional teams in Washington, DC – the American League’s Senators (aka Nationals), and the Negro National League’s Homestead Grays – as well as the impact of the war on big league baseball as a whole, including:

  • How a strong friendship between Senators owner Clark Griffith and Roosevelt kept the game alive during the war years, often in the face of strong opposition for doing so;

  • The continual uncertainties clubs faced as things like the military draft, national resources rationing and other wartime regulations affected both the sport and American day-to-day life; AND

  • The Negro Leagues’ constant struggle for recognition, solvency, and integration.

PLUS: The origin of the twi-night doubleheader!

AND: The ceremonial first-pitch ambidexterity of President Harry Truman!

Show some love for the show by making a purchase from one of our great sponsors: Streaker Sports, Old School Shirts, 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and/or Audible!

The Nats and the Grays: How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever - buy here

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EPISODE #103: MISL Indoor Soccer's Origin Story – With Co-Founder Ed Tepper

We celebrate our second anniversary with the intriguing background story of the original Major Indoor Soccer League, with the man who started it all – Ed Tepper. 

A commercial real estate developer by trade, Tepper actually got his start in pro sports ownership as the owner of the original National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings – only to switch allegiances to an inchoate indoor offshoot of the world’s most popular sport after a chance exhibition (between the 1973 NASL champion Atoms and the Russian CSKA “Red Army” team) at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on February 11, 1974. 

Originally interested in the game’s bespoke Astroturf-covered surface as a potential improvement for his fledgling box lacrosse club, Tepper (along with 11,700+ enthusiastic curiosity-seekers) instead became instantly attracted to the fast-paced action and high scoring of “indoor soccer” – and quickly resolved to make a professional sport out of it.

In this illuminating interview, Tepper recounts some of the notable events and influential people along the journey from concept to the MISL’s official debut kick (by Cincinnati Kids part-owner Pete Rose, no less) on December 22, 1978 at Uniondale, Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum – including:

  • Convincing ABA Virginia Squires owner (and eventual MISL commissioner) Earl Foreman of the game’s potential;

  • The instant credibility boost of signing American superstar goalkeeper Shep Messing;

  • NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam’s on-again, off-again interest in the indoor game;

  • How (and why) NFL owners Carroll Rosenbloom and Al Davis wanted in; AND

  • The unsung role of TV executive Bob Wussler in garnering attention for the fledgling circuit.

PLUS: The untold tale of Tepper’s very own (barely one-season long) MISL franchise – the New Jersey Rockets!

Support the show by considering a purchase from one of our great sponsors: 503 Sports, Audible, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, and Old School Shirts!

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EPISODE #102: The World Football League’s Florida Blazers – With Mark Speck

World Football League researcher extraordinaire Mark Speck (And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams, and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers) returns to the podcast to discuss the incredible story of Orlando’s first professional sports franchise – and the crazy challenger football league that hastened both its creation and demise.

The Florida Blazers actually originated in late 1973 as the Washington Ambassadors, one of the originally-envisioned charter WFL teams to begin play the next summer.  From the outset, franchise owner/oceanographic engineer Joseph Wheeler had difficulties raising financing and securing a lease for DC’s RFK Stadium – and by March, had moved the team to nearby Norfolk, VA – with no better luck.    

Hastened by a nervous WFL Commissioner Gary Davidson, Wheeler sold the club in May of 1974 – a mere two months before the start of the season – to an Orlando, FL syndicate led by former New England Patriots player and executive Rommie Loudd, which had just lost (to Tampa Bay) a bid to get an NFL expansion team. 

Quickly setting up shop in a small and rickety Tangerine Bowl, the newly rechristened Blazers finally got their act together (at least on the field) with a surprising array of veteran (ex-Jets Bob Davis and Larry Grantham) and rookie (eventual league co-MVP Tommy Reamon) talent assembled by NFL star coach Jack Pardee – who rose to the league’s elite and ultimately to the World Bowl championship game. 

Incredibly, off the field, the franchise was a financial disaster – riddled with poor attendance, non-existent marketing, inadequate financing, unpaid bills (and players) – and an owner who ultimately would up in jail for tax embezzlement and narcotics trafficking.

And we’re only scratching the surface!

Check out all the great World Football League garb and gear from our friends at: 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, and OldSchoolShirts.com!

And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers - buy here

Numerous photos courtesy: Richie Franklin's World Football League website - visit here

EPISODE #101: New York Yankees Broadcaster John Sterling

Legendary New York Yankees baseball play-by-play man John Sterling joins host Tim Hanlon for a cavalcade of career memories from his 50+ year journey in sports broadcasting – including a treasure trove of stops along the way with previously incarnated or otherwise defunct teams (and leagues).

Now celebrating his 30th consecutive season with the Bronx Bombers, Sterling’s unique vocal stylings have become synonymous with some of the Yankees’ most signature moments during that time – including the team’s dominant run of American League and World Series championships across the late 1990s and much of the 2000s. 

The path to becoming one of baseball’s marquee team broadcasters was far from direct, however, and we (naturally) obsess over some of Sterling’s more memorable “forgotten” gigs along the way, including:

  • Falling into radio play-by-play with the NBA Baltimore Bullets as a late fill-in for Jim Karvellas;

  • Becoming the almost-voice of the ABA Washington Caps (until a hasty move to Virginia to become the Squires);

  • Hustling to secure radio rights to the upstart WHA New York Raiders for Gotham’s talk powerhouse WMCA - and the irony of later calling games for the NHL Islanders;

  • The highs of the ABA New York, and lows of the NBA New Jersey Nets;

  • “Phoning it in” for the World Football League’s short-lived New York Stars; AND

  • The ahead-of-its-time Enterprise Sports Radio Network.

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Classic John Sterling audio clips courtesy of Eric Paddon; follow him on YouTube here

EPISODE #100: WHA Hockey’s New England Whalers – With Former Owner Howard Baldwin

We celebrate our 100th(!) episode with one of the founding owners of the pioneering World Hockey Association – and the man ultimately responsible for the absorption of four its teams into the NHL in the “don’t-call-it-a-merger” of 1979. 

Hollywood film producer and original New England Whalers founder/owner Howard Baldwin (Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood) joins host Tim Hanlon for a rollicking ride through the modest beginnings, death-defying life, and lasting aftermath of pro hockey’s paradigm-transforming challenger league – as well as the tortuous journey of the only US-based franchise to survive the consolidation.

Come for Baldwin’s hard-to-believe stories of the Whalers and the WHA, like:

  • Winning the Avco Cup championship in the team’s (and league’s) very first (1972-73) season, despite being fourth in line for Boston Garden home dates behind the Bruins, Celtics and even the AHL Braves;

  • The courtship-turned-love-affair between the Whalers and the city of Hartford that led to the club’s relocation to the WHA’s (and ultimately NHL’s) smallest TV market in 1974; AND

  • Doubling as league president with the sole purpose of effecting a merger with NHL.

But also stay for tales of Baldwin’s incredible WHA after-life, including:

  • Riding into the 1980s with the NHL’s “Hartford” Whalers;

  • The curious interconnection between the Minnesota North Stars and the San Jose Sharks;

  • Winning the 1992 Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but losing the franchise to bankruptcy six years later; AND

  • Segueing into life as an Academy Award-winning Hollywood film producer.

Show your support for the show and the legendary WHA by purchasing commemorative garb from our great sponsors 503 Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com and Streaker Sports!

Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood - buy here

EPISODE #99: Sports Broadcaster Bob Carpenter

You know him today as the long-time television play-by-play voice of Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. 

But before becoming one of the baseball’s most admired and durable broadcasters, Bob Carpenter cut his professional teeth in the burgeoning (but ultimately fleeting) American pro soccer scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s as the lead “man-behind-the-mic” for such iconic teams as the NASL's Tulsa Roughnecks and the MISL's St. Louis Steamers – as well as some less-than-memorable ones, like 1983’s ill-fated US Soccer/NASL hybrid, Team America.

His springboard into TV sports broadcasting’s “big leagues” – including 15 years of nationally televised baseball with ESPN, plus lead announcing duties for the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and his hometown St. Louis Cardinals – is rich in anecdotes, and we (naturally!) drag the versatile Carpenter back to some of the more “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:

  • A serendipitous segue from minor league baseball to “big time” pro soccer in Tulsa;

  • The Roughnecks’ gritty road to the 1983 NASL title as the league’s smallest-market team;

  • Leveraging national exposure from the NASL into soccer-centric gigs with the fledgling USA & ESPN cable networks;

  • The “invisible hand” of Anheuser-Busch’s soccer-mad executive Denny Long & his Bud Sports production division;

  • Returning home to call Steamers MISL indoor games at the often-packed St. Louis Arena (aka Checkerdome); AND

  • Masquerading as the “local” voice of the Washington, DC-based Team America – the de facto US National Team that played as an NASL franchise. 

Thanks to OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, Streaker Sports & SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of this week’s episode!