EPISODE #66: Sports Broadcaster JP Dellacamera

Fox Sports soccer play-by-play broadcaster extraordinaire JP Dellacamera joins the podcast this week to discuss a pioneering career in sports announcing spanning over 30 years – including calling this year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – his ninth consecutive men’s quadrennial assignment since Mexico ’86.

Widely acknowledged as the original voice of US Soccer, Dellacamera’s calls have become synonymous with some of modern-day American soccer’s most indelible moments – including his accounts of the US Women’s National Team’s dramatic penalty kick shootout victory over China in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Paul Caligiuri’s historic “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” against Trinidad & Tobago in the final game of 1989 CONCACAF qualifying that punched the US Men’s National Team’s ticket for Italy ’90 – ending a 40-year World Cup finals drought, and reorienting the sport’s trajectory in the ‘States for decades to come.

The road to broadcasting global soccer’s marquee events has by no means been a straight and narrow one, however, and we (of course) chat with Dellacamera about some of the more memorable “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:

  • Talking his way into his professional debut calling local TV games for the 1978 NASL expansion Detroit Express;
  • Handling radio play-by-play for the American Soccer League’s ALPO dog food-sponsored Pennsylvania Stoners;
  • Parlaying years of minor league hockey broadcast experience into lead announcing duties for indoor soccer’s Pittsburgh Spirit of the fledgling MISL;
  • Cementing his stature as the voice of US women’s soccer as the play-by-play lead for the 2001 launch of the WUSA; and   
  • Returning to his first love of pro hockey – finally at the NHL level – with the short-lived Atlanta Thrashers.  

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EPISODE #65: The CFL’s American Expansion Experiment with Sportswriter Ed Willes

As Johnny Manziel’s pro football comeback journey wraps up a promising pre-season with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, we take a moment this week to reminisce on the approaching 25th anniversary of the CFL’s bold, but ultimately ill-fated attempt to bring its exciting brand of pigskin south of the border in 1993.

When the NFL put the brakes on its two-year World League of American Football experiment in the summer of 1992 (which included a franchise in Montreal, dubbed the “Machine”), an economically wobbly CFL sensed an opportunity to fill the gap in US markets newly comfortable with the notion of pro football, as well as a potential growth path for the tradition-rich Canadian game to expand outside the Provinces.  In fact, two WLAF owners, Fred Anderson (Sacramento Surge) and Larry Benson (San Antonio Riders) "crossed over" to the Canadian League and were awarded newly rechristened franchises for 1993 – Anderson’s Sacramento Gold Miners and Benson's San Antonio Texans. 

While the Gold Miners were the only ones to make it into the following season’s expanded CFL schedule (Benson literally – and ominously – left the league at the altar by bowing out the day of the league’s press conference announcing the expansion), the door was open to a wild three-season adventure that brought the wide-open Canadian game to far-flung American outposts in Baltimore, Las Vegas, Shreveport, Memphis, Birmingham, and, ironically (via eventual relocation from Sacramento), San Antonio.

Longtime Vancouver Province sportswriter Ed Willes (End Zones and Border Wars: The Era of American Expansion in the CFL) joins the podcast to discuss the league’s short-lived American expansion effort, which then-commissioner Larry Smith had hoped to eventually encompass ten US teams in a fully expanded 20-team league.  

Among the misadventures, Willes recounts: the 1995 champion Baltimore Stallions (who operated as the nickname-less “CFLers” the previous season in a trademark dispute with the NFL over the “Colts” moniker); the woefully attended Las Vegas Posse (who practiced on the Strip in the Riviera Hotel’s parking lot and were forced to play their last “home” game in Edmonton); the Memphis Mad Dogs’ unique approach to fitting the longer/wider CFL field into the Liberty Bowl; why football-mad Birmingham couldn’t draw flies for Barracuda games once college and high school seasons started; and the “Great Tucker Caper” – featuring the infamous brothers Glieberman and their attempt to steal away the Shreveport Pirates to the greener pastures of Norfolk, VA.

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EPISODE #64: American Soccer’s “Dark Ages” with Writer Michael J. Agovino

It wasn’t easy being a soccer fan in the United States in the 1980s. 

While the 24-team North American American Soccer League ushered in the decade with an air of stability and momentum (the NASL even sold a pennant labeling the game the “Sport of the 80’s”), it wasn’t long before big-time American pro soccer was dangerously on the ropes (the NASL shrank to just nine franchises by 1984) – and then seemingly gone for good when the league officially sank into oblivion in early 1985.  For a nascent generation of US fans newly hooked on the world’s “beautiful game,” it felt like an abandonment – and an air of disillusionment beset the American soccer scene in the immediate years that followed. 

For Bronx-born writer Michael J. Agovino (The Soccer Diaries: An American's Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game), the demise of the NASL and its global flagship New York Cosmos franchise was simply the last nail in the coffin of his soccer “coming of age” during the early 80s – the conclusion of an arc of tragedies: the US Soccer Federation’s unsuccessful bid to replace Colombia as host of the 1986 World Cup; the US national team’s failure to even qualify for the quadrennial event; and the unfathomable death of 41 fans in a riot at the 1985 European Cup Final in Brussels’ Heysel Stadium. 

As Agovino framed it: “Soccer – my new friend – was dead.”

Undaunted, Agovino’s love affair with soccer persisted, while Americans slowly got wise – qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, hosting the event in 1994, and re-birthing the pro game with Major League Soccer in 1996 – and ultimately turned it into one of the most popular sports in the country.

We chat with Agovino about US soccer’s mid-1980s “dark ages” and subsequent phoenix-like rise from seeming oblivion, including memorable stops like: New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal; the NASL’s Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup; the 1991 Cosmos Reunion Game; Tony Tirado’s lyrical Spanish (and broken English) SIN-TV broadcasts; “Soccer Made in Germany;” and the legacy/enigma of Giants Stadium.

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EPISODE #63: Baseball’s Federal League with Author Dan Levitt

In late 1913, the newly formed Federal League of Base Ball Clubs – more simply known as the “Federal League” – declared itself a third major professional baseball league in competition with the established circuits of organized baseball, the National and American Leagues.

Led by inveterate baseball promoter John T. Powers, and backed by some of America’s wealthiest merchants and industrialists, the Federal League posed a real challenge to baseball’s prevailing structure at the time – offering players the opportunity to avoid the restrictions of the organized leagues' oppressive and despised reserve clause.  The competition of another, better-paying (though detractor-labeled “outlaw”) league caused players' salaries to skyrocket, and quickly demonstrated the bargaining potential of free agency for the first time – seeds first sown two decades earlier by the similarly-intentioned Players’ League in 1890.

For the next two seasons, NL and AL owners fought back furiously in the press, in the courts, and on the field – while the Federal League drew substantial fan attention with its high-quality play and superior stadia across its mix of directly competitive (Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Louis), and underserved (Buffalo, Indianapolis [later Newark, NJ], and Kansas City) markets. 

After sustained behind-the-scenes interference by owners of the senior leagues, the Federal League folded after the 1915 season, but not without leaving lasting marks on America’s Pastime that still define the sport today – including a landmark federal lawsuit (Federal Baseball Club v. National League), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to Major League Baseball; and the construction of one of baseball’s most iconic and enduring stadiums (Chicago’s Wrigley Field), originally built for Charles Weeghman’s Federal League Chicago Whales.

Award-winning author Dan Levitt (The Outlaw League and the Battle That Forged Modern Baseball) joins the podcast to discuss the history and legacy of the last independent major league outside the established structure of professional baseball to make it to the playing field, and the last serious attempt to create a third major league until the abortive Continental League of 1960.

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EPISODE #62: The Whaler Guys

It’s been 21 years since the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers abruptly bolted for the (supposedly) greener pastures of North Carolina and a rechristened life as the Carolina Hurricanes, but don’t tell that to superfans Peter Hindle and Jerry Erwin – the self-professed “Whaler Guys” – who have made it their personal mission since 2011 to keep the memory of the franchise they love alive,  and, with any luck, bring top-tier pro NHL hockey back to the Nutmeg State.

As the hosts of their eponymous weekly Hartford Public Access TV show, Hindle and Erwin are not only passionate about remembering what the Whalers used to be, but also relentlessly focused on virtually every aspect of local civic development that might help someday return the city of Hartford to the ranks of “major league” status once again.

We get into all things Whalers past (the legendary “Brass Bonanza” theme song, the iconic logo); present (XL Center renovation updates, the Guys’ Whaler-themed Connecticut state license plate initiative); and future (what current NHL markets are prime candidates for relocation, where Hartford stands against other potential franchise cities like Quebec, Houston, Kansas City, or Seattle) – as well as the Guys’ thoughts on the Hurricanes’ sudden rediscovery/re-embrace of the team’s heritage in its previous incarnation.

PLUS: why the Coyotes, Panthers and even (ironically) Hurricanes would all do better in Hartford; why Whaler jerseys remain so popular; the vision of original (WHA New England) team owner Howard Baldwin; and the two most unsung heroes in Whaler history – Peter Good and Jacques Ysaye (aka Jack Say).

Our appreciation to Audible, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com and Podfly for their sponsorship of this week’s show!

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EPISODE #61: Sports Promoter Doug Verb

If someone ever decides to build an American sports promotion Hall of Fame, the inaugural class will undoubtedly be led by this week’s special guest, Doug Verb.  In a career spanning more than 40 years in professional sports management, Verb’s remarkable career has included spearheading marketing, promotion, publicity, and television for some of the most innovative and memorable leagues and franchises of the modern era. 

One of the founding executives of both the pioneering Major Indoor Soccer League (along with sports entrepreneurs Earl Foreman, Ed Tepper, and previous podcast guest Dr. Joe Machnik), and the frenetic Arena Football League (with the sport’s inventor [and past two-part guest] Jim Foster), Verb additionally  served as president of pro soccer’s legendary Chicago Sting from 1982-86 – which, incredibly, drifted between playing in two separate leagues during his tenure (for one year, simultaneously) – the outdoor North American Soccer League and the indoor MISL. 

In our longest and more anecdote-filled episode to date, Verb vividly recounts the highs and lows of launching new teams, leagues and even sports themselves from whole cloth – with nary an operational blueprint or career roadmap to be found.  Buckle up for a wild ride through the woeful 1976 NASL Philadelphia Atoms, the “Rocket Red” pinball-like MISL, soccer for all seasons in the Windy City, and birthing indoor football. 

PLUS:  Kiddie City to the rescue; Earl Foreman’s “Brother-in-Law Effect;” getting paid in soybeans; and the curious one-game history of the Liberty Basketball Association! 

AND:  Verb reveals plans for a first-ever Major Indoor Soccer League reunion later this year in Las Vegas!

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EPISODE #60: Baseball’s League That Never Was: The Continental League with Professor Russ Buhite

By the summer of 1959, the absence of two former National League franchises from what was once a vibrant New York City major league baseball scene was obvious – and even the remaining/dominant Yankees couldn’t fully make up for it.  Nor could that season’s World Series championship run of the now-Los Angeles Dodgers – a bittersweet victory for jilted fans of the team’s Brooklyn era. 

Fiercely determined to return a National League team to the city, mayor Robert Wagner enlisted the help of a Brooklyn-based attorney named William Shea to spearhead an effort to first convince a current franchise to relocate – as the American League’s Braves (Boston to Milwaukee, 1953), Browns (St. Louis to Baltimore, 1954), and A’s (Philadelphia to Kansas City, 1955) had recently done.  When neither Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or even MLB Commissioner Ford Frick, could be convinced by the opportunity, Shea and team moved on to an even bolder plan –  an entirely new third major league, with a New York franchise as its crown jewel.

Financial backers from not only New York, but also eager expansionists in Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Toronto, Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Buffalo joined in the effort – christened the “Continental League” – and recruited longtime pioneering baseball executive Branch Rickey to do the collective’s bidding.  In preparation for an inaugural 1961 start, Rickey immediately preached the virtues of parity, and outlined a business plan that included TV revenue-sharing, equally accessible player pools, and solid pension plans; properly executed, it would take less than four years for the new league to be a credible equal of the National and American Leagues.  His plan: poach a few established big-league stars, and supplement rosters with young talent from a dedicated farm system that would quickly ripen into a formidable stream of high-caliber players and, in turn, a quickly competitive “major” third league.  That, plus an aggressive legal attack on MLB’s long-established federal antitrust exemption – designed to force greater player mobility and expanded geographic opportunities.

Suddenly pressured, MLB owners surprisingly responded in the summer of 1960 with a hastily crafted plan for expansion, beginning in 1962 with new NL teams in New York (Mets) and Houston (Colt .45s) – undercutting the upstart league’s ownership groups in those cities, and promising additional franchises in the years following.  Within weeks, the Continental League was no more, and the accelerated expansionary future of the modern game was firmly in motion.

Original Continental League minor leaguer Russ Buhite (The Continental League: A Personal History) joins host Tim Hanlon to share his first-person account (as a member of the proposed Denver franchise’s Western Carolina League Rutherford County Owls in 1960) of both the build-up to and letdown of the “league that never was” – as well as the broader history of the unwittingly influential circuit that changed the economic landscape of modern-day Major League Baseball.

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EPISODE #59: Pro Soccer’s Dean of Media Relations, Jim Trecker

With a career spanning more than four decades, the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s 2017 Colin Jose Media Award-winner Jim Trecker has been part of the American sports media relations landscape since the late 1960’s.  After a chance part-time undergrad job in Columbia University’s modest sports information department, Trecker traded his initial career ambitions in French language education for what ultimately became an unmatched professional journey in public relations at the highest levels of international sports.

After cutting his PR teeth with various post-grad pro sports gigs around New York (including work for the Madison Square Garden-owned New York Skyliners [actually Uruguay’s C.A. Cerro] of the 1967 United Soccer Association), Trecker helped manage media relations for the “Broadway” Joe Namath-era AFL-then-NFL New York Jets – a whirling dervish of major league sports information management that transfixed both the Gotham and national press corps, especially in the wake of a surprising Super Bowl III championship.

But it was the arrival of international soccer superstar Pelé to the fledgling New York Cosmos in 1975 that ultimately took Trecker – and the steeply ascendant North American Soccer League – into a stratospheric professional orbit, as the increasingly star-studded team, league and sport exploded onto the local, national and global sports scenes during the latter half of the decade.  Soccer’s first true international “super club,” the Cosmos became nothing short of an international sports and cultural phenomenon, and Trecker’s job was to manage all of the media’s intense interest in everything related to them – no easy feat.

Trecker joins host Tim Hanlon to recount some of the most memorable events during the heyday of the Cosmos, as well as his subsequent PR leadership roles with the NASL’s Washington Diplomats, the league office itself, and his mega role as head of media relations for the wildly successful USA-hosted 1994 World Cup.  PLUS: we discuss Trecker’s role behind the upcoming NASL 50th Anniversary, to be held in conjunction with the re-launch of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX on October 16-18, 2018!

Thanks to Audible, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com and Podfly for their support of the show!

EPISODE #58: The Intersection of Sports & Art with Artist/Designer Wayland Moore

Internationally acclaimed multi-media artist/illustrator/designer Wayland Moore joins the podcast from his studio in suburban Atlanta to discuss his nearly six-decade career as one of America’s most recognizable commercial artists – including some of his most notable works in the realm of professional sports.  

Designer of such iconic team logos such as pro soccer’s Atlanta Chiefs (National Professional Soccer League, 1967; North American Soccer League, 1968-73 & 1979-81); and, most legendarily, New York Cosmos (NASL, 1971-85) – Moore is also known for his extensive promotional artwork for baseball’s Atlanta Braves, including the design and color scheme for the team’s 1974 season uniform, in anticipation of the worldwide attention surrounding Henry Aaron’s eventual record-breaking 715th career home run on April 8, 1974 – forever memorialized in “Hammerin’ Hank”’s Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit.

In this very intriguing conversation, Moore reflects on: his most memorable commissioned pieces from major sporting events like US Hockey’s 1980 Winter Olympics “Miracle on Ice” and 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” between tennis legends Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King; his curious sports Impressionism “rivalry” with LeRoy Nieman; and his experiences in the age-old economic tension between art and commerce that most pointedly and persistently presents itself in the business of professional sports. 

Moore also shares his surprising advice for well-intentioned nostalgia lovers faced with opportunities to purchase newly-reissued items of memorabilia featuring his formerly trademarked designs, from which he no longer financially benefits.

Thanks to SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Podfly and Audible for their support of the podcast!

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EPISODE #57: The Pro Football Life of Upton Bell

Upton Bell grew up at the knee of the National Football League’s second-ever commissioner – his father, the legendary Bert Bell – who not only saved professional football from financial ruin in the aftermath of World War II, but also became one of its greatest innovators.  Originator of the iconic phrase “on any given Sunday,” the senior Bell created lasting contributions to the NFL, such as the first pro football draft, scheduling parity, television revenue-sharing, and sudden-death overtime.

For the junior Upton, it was a priceless childhood amidst pro football’s formative years – begun while watching his father draw up the league schedule each year using dominoes at the kitchen table – steeped in the personalities, lore, and economic pragmatism of a game that would ultimately dominate the American professional sports landscape like no other.

In a seemingly preordained career, Upton Bell (Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America’s Game) has been an owner (the wacky World Football League’s Charlotte Hornets), a general manager (the NFL’s New England [née AFL Boston] Patriots), a player personnel director (the 1960s NFL-dominant Baltimore Colts), and long-time sports commentator/talk radio host – remaining a true and insightful “football guy” throughout.

In this very revealing conversation, Bell joins Tim Hanlon to discuss his personal and professional journey through the sport he loves; the lessons learned and insights gleaned from his unique purview into the pro game’s coming-of-age era; the current state of the NFL and where it might be headed; and heretofore untold stories about the stranger-than-fiction WFL.

This week’s episode is brought to you by SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Audible (where you can listen to the audiobook version of Present at the Creation!) and Podfly.

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EPISODE #56: The Players’ League of 1890 with Professor Bob Ross

With Major League Baseball finally back in full swing, we dial the Wayback Machine all the way back to the year 1890, when the professional version of America’s Pastime was still nascent, its business model was largely unproven, and the players of the day seethed at their team owners’ increasingly restrictive operating practices – to the point of dramatic and open revolt that ultimately set the contentious tone of owner-player relations for baseball and all of US pro sports for generations to follow.

Global cultural studies professor Bob Ross (The Great Baseball Revolt: The Rise and Fall of the 1890 Players League) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the short-lived professional baseball league controlled and owned in part by players themselves – a response to the dominant National League’s salary cap and “reserve rule,” which bound players to one team for life.  Led by curveball-pioneering and first-ever sports labor union-founding (and eventual baseball Hall of Famer) John Montgomery Ward, the Players’ League was a star-studded circuit that included most of the National League’s best players, who bolted not only to gain more control of their wages, but also to share ownership of the teams.

Lasting only one season and spanning eight major markets (Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh), the league impacted both the professional sports and the labor politics of athletes and non-athletes alike.  Though it marketed itself as a working-class entity, the players were badly underfunded; ironically, they had to turn to wealthy capitalists for much of their startup capital outlays – including, in many cases, new ballparks – which, along with baseball’s best talent, helped the Players’ League initially outdraw the National League at the turnstiles.  But when the National League retaliated in the press by overinflating its attendance and profits, the backers of the upstart league pulled out at season’s end, and the unionized players’ bold experiment folded.

But a clear message had been sent – and the business of baseball and American professional sports would never be the same.

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EPISODE #55: Russ Cline and the Birth of Modern-Day Indoor Box Lacrosse

Our first-ever (and long-overdue) exploration of the sport of professional lacrosse begins with a conversation with one of the godfathers of the modern indoor game, Russ Cline – founder (along with partner and fellow Kansas City sports promoter Chris Fritz) of 1987’s seminal four-team Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League (soon renamed the Major Indoor Lacrosse League) – and the progenitor of today’s vibrant National Lacrosse League that spans 11 cities across the US and Canada.

Cline walks obsessive inquisitor Tim Hanlon through: the duo’s rationale behind choosing lacrosse as the focus of their entrepreneurial efforts; the slow-growth approaches to expansion beyond the lacrosse-rich Northeast and national television coverage; the business model battle between single-entity and individually-owned franchises; and the delicate balance between maintaining the integrity of the sport’s rich history and marketing a hard-hitting, high-scoring, action-packed entertainment product.

Plus: playing surfaces borne of carpet remnants and Coca-Cola; robbing Philadelphia to pay Baltimore; becoming ESPN2’s first-ever scheduled pro league; and turning down a very tempting birthday gift!

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EPISODE #54: Effa Manley & the Negro National League’s Newark Eagles with Biographer Bob Luke

Baseball historian Bob Luke (The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues) joins host Tim Hanlon to delve into the intriguing story of the first (and still only) woman to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame – and the second Negro National League’s Newark Eagles franchise she successfully co-owned (with husband Abe) and general managed from 1936-48.  

A student of the sport since early childhood with a keen sense of promotion, marketing and player welfare, Manley blended a strong baseball operations IQ with a savvy aptitude for local politics and African-American community issues to become a dominant front office force in the Negro Leagues, and a persistent champion of player integration that ultimately transformed the white-male-dominated National and American “major” leagues in the late 1940s. 

Manley’s Eagles teams consistently performed well on the field and at the gate, and her deft management style culminated in a Negro World Series championship for the Eagles in 1946, and fueled the careers of no less than six eventual baseball Hall of Famers (Larry Doby, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Monte Irvin, Biz Mackey, and Willie Wells), as well as dozens of other players who soon found their way into the majors after the demise of the team and the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s.   

Manley, herself, gained Hall of Fame induction in 2006 – albeit posthumously – alongside a number of her fellow Negro League pioneers.

Thanks to Podfly, Audible and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for supporting this episode!

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EPISODE #53: NHL Hockey’s Minnesota North Stars with Author Adam Raider

In this week’s episode, we skate back to the National Hockey League’s 1967 “Great Expansion,” when the league ambitiously doubled in size from its “Original Six” to incorporate a half-dozen new franchises – including the seemingly most obvious and overdue market of all: the hockey-mad state of Minnesota and its cultural epicenter, Minneapolis-St.Paul. 

With a skilled management team led by amateur hockey pioneer Walter Bush, the Minnesota North Stars fielded a team-minded and quickly respectable squad of NHL journeymen, castoffs and amateurs that immediately won the hearts of the hometown Met Center faithful. 

By the mid-1970s, however, the North Stars had fallen on hard times, with perennially poor records and few playoff berths – until 1978, when, in an unprecedented arrangement, Cleveland Barons (née California Golden Seals) franchise owner-brothers Gordon and George Gund acquired the team and merged them.  Bolstered by an immediate influx of quality Barons like goaltender Gilles Meloche and forwards Al MacAdam and Mike Fidler – plus savvy acquisitions and draft picks like eventual Calder Cup-winning forward Bobby Smith, 1980 US Olympian (and Minnesota native) Neal Broten, and future Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli – the North Stars reeled off five straight winning seasons and reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1980-81.

Author Adam Raider (Frozen in Time: A Minnesota North Stars History) joins the show to recount the club’s rise to championship contention, and subsequent relapse in the later 1980s/early 1990s – that ultimately saw: the Gunds trade for rights to a San Jose expansion franchise; Calgary Flames owner Norman Green opportunistically swap his interests for the North Stars; and, despite the addition of Mike Modano and a 1991 Stanley Cup Finals run, Green achieve villainy status (“Norm Sucks!”) by moving the team to Dallas in 1993.

If you are a fan of today’s NHL Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars or even San Jose Sharks, the story of the North Stars is an important part of your hockey education!

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EPISODE #52: The Wild & Wacky World Football League with Author Mark Speck - Part Two

We conclude our conversation with WFL researcher Mark Speck (WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League; World Football League Encyclopedia; . . .And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams, and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers), as we find the league limping its way through an inaugural 1974 campaign that featured two mid-season franchise relocations (Houston to Shreveport, and New York to Charlotte), two outright team collapses (Detroit and Jacksonville), dwindling attendance and TV ratings, the ousting of league founder/commissioner Gary Davidson – and a championship “World Bowl” between two cash-strapped finalists (Birmingham and Florida) that was only allowed to take place after the IRS agreed to accept the game’s gate receipts as payment for an overdue tax bill.

A return for an improbable second season in 1975 was made possible only by dissolving the league entirely and legally reconstituting into a second incarnation (inexplicably with the same name), under the stricture of resort developer/Hawaiians owner Chris Hemmeter’s eponymous operating plan that called for franchise deposit fees, limited budgets and player revenue-sharing based on business success.  But with no renewed national TV contract (TVS declined the option after Joe Namath spurned the Chicago Winds’ lucrative offer to jump), a now-highly suspicious fan base, and far less press coverage than the previous year’s spectacle, the “new” World Football League fared even worse – folding entirely and for good on October 22, 1975 – after just 13 weeks of play.

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WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League - buy book here

World Football League Encyclopedia - buy book here

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

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

 

 

EPISODE #51: The Wild & Wacky World Football League with Author Mark Speck

Perhaps no defunct league in modern-day professional sports history endured a more ignominious storyline and spectacular demise than that of the World Football League – a uniquely disastrous attempt to establish a summer-into-autumn rival to the National Football League during the mid-1970’s.

Brimming with confidence from his co-founding exploits with two previous (and at the time, still very-much-alive) challenger pro circuits – the American Basketball Association in 1967, and the World Hockey Association in 1971 – WFL founder/commissioner Gary Davidson saw the 1974-era National Football League as the next logical target for his quintessentially anti-establishment sports management ambitions.  While the ABA and WHA both eventually yielded successful mergers of their most viable franchises into their established rivals, the World Football League quickly proved to be quite different – and, ultimately, Davidson’s professional and personal Waterloo.

The WFL initially succeeded in persuading dozens of NFL stars to jump leagues for its hastily-arranged summer 1974 launch, largely because the NFL had no free agency, and the promise of a legitimate alternative offered newfound leverage for players seeking to improve their market values.  Many who did jump, however, signed “futures” contracts that would only take effect after the expiration of their NFL deals – a proposition that became increasingly dubious as under-capitalized WFL franchises seemingly began shutting down almost as soon as they debuted.  And that was just the start of what quickly became a litany of insurmountable calamities (including scandalous admissions of widespread game attendance inflation) that befell and ultimately sank both Davidson, and then the league itself – not once, but twice in just two years.

We begin our exploration of this most head-scratching of professional leagues with the dean of WFL researchers Mark Speck (WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League; World Football League Encyclopedia; . . .And a Dollar Short: The Empty Promises, Broken Dreams, and Somewhat-Less-Than-Comic Misadventures of the 1974 Florida Blazers), in a gift of an episode that just keeps on giving!

We appreciate Podfly, Audible and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for their support of the podcast!

          

WIFFLE: The Wild, Zany and Sometimes Hilariously True Story of the World Football League - buy book here

World Football League Encyclopedia - buy book here

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

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

EPISODE #50: National League Baseball’s Detroit Wolverines with Author Brian “Chip” Martin

While the Detroit Tigers hold the record as the oldest continuous one-name, one-city franchise in the American League (debuting as one of the league’s “Classic Eight” charter clubs in 1901), they were not the first team to play major league baseball in the Motor City.  That distinction actually goes to the Detroit Wolverines of the late 19th-century National League, which took to the field for the first time against the visiting Buffalo Bisons on May 2, 1881 in front of a curious crowd of 1,286 at Recreation Park – land now occupied by today’s Detroit Medical Center in the city’s Midtown.

Playing in what was then one of the best professional ballparks in America – and during a pre-automotive era when Detroit was known more sumptuously as the "Paris of the West" – the Wolverines traipsed through eight seasons of big league ball, including its final three under the brash and ambitious ownership of pharmaceutical baron Frederick Stearns that produced 1887 National League and “World Championship” titles, boasted a gaggle of the sport’s best players (including four eventual Hall of Famers), and rankled competing owners with unprecedentedly aggressive approaches to raiding talent and splitting gate receipts.

The Wolverines were also a product of their time: an era when baseball’s formative transition to professionalism was still rough and uncharted, players were rowdy and roguish, and owners were eager to profit by whatever means necessary – including collusively restricting player movement, a mechanism that would continue to haunt the sport well into the next millennium.

Author/journalist Brian “Chip” Martin (The Detroit Wolverines: The Rise and Wreck of a National League Champion) regales host Tim Hanlon with the curious tale of Detroit’s first and oft-forgotten major league baseball franchise.  Plus: the immortal "Pretzels" Getzein!

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The Detroit Wolverines: The Rise and Wreck of a National League Champion - buy book here

EPISODE #49: “Rock & Roll” NASL Soccer with Author Ian Plenderleith

By many accounts, the North American Soccer League was a one-of-a-kind phenomenon in the history of the world game – and, during its 1970s heyday (although it began shakily in 1968 and ended in shambles after the 1984 season) – a league years ahead of its time.  More than just Pelé and the star-studded, bigger-than-life New York Cosmos, the NASL lured international soccer’s biggest names like Johan Cruyff, Eusebio, George Best, and Franz Beckenbauer to play the “beautiful game” the way it was meant to be played—uninhibited, and with fan-pleasing innovations like sudden-death overtime, a 35-yard-line offsides demarcation, tie-breaking shootouts, and a points system that incentivized scoring regardless of result.

For international players, the NASL provided a bright and shiny alternative (or at least, summertime off-season respite) to the drearily conservative and cynically defensive state of the European game of the day.  Plush modern stadiums, professional cheerleaders, pre-game tailgating, clever promotional marketing – and increasingly attractive, though eventually unsustainable salaries – made US pro soccer an irresistible proposition.  Until, of course, it inevitably crashed back down to Earth like a once high-flying rock star’s private jet – bankrupting not only the league’s investors, but also the sport’s future in America in the process.

Author Ian Plenderleith (Rock 'n' Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss all the color and chaos of the world's first truly international league.

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Rock 'n' Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League - buy book here

EPISODE #48: How the ABA’s Indiana Pacers Helped “Change the Game” – with Bob Netolicky & Robin Miller

Four-time American Basketball Association All-Star Bob Netolicky and former Indianapolis Star sportswriter Robin Miller join host Tim Hanlon to share some of their most memorable (and heretofore untold) first-person accounts of playing and traveling with the thrice-ABA-champion Indiana Pacers – and promote their upcoming book We Changed the Game, penned in partnership with original team co-founder/owner Dick Tinkham.

Despite three championships, five finals appearances and the strongest fan base in the league, the Pacers – and by extension, the ABA itself – barely survived a number of remarkably close calls and dire financial situations during their collective nine-year pre-NBA-merger existence that nearly sank both the franchise and the league more than once. 

Yet, in the end, the team and the city improbably (and inspirationally) rallied together to keep the team (and the league) afloat – to ultimately become one of the four surviving franchises in the landmark merger with the National Basketball Association in 1976, as well as a source of deep, lasting and transformational civic pride for the city of Indianapolis that lasts to this day.

In this revealing, eyebrow-raising conversation, Miller and “Neto” set the record straight on numerous Pacer and ABA mythologies, and wax nostalgically authoritative on what really happened during the first nine years of the team’s pre-NBA existence.

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We Changed the Game - buy book here

EPISODE #47: US Pro Soccer’s 1960s-Era Rebirth with Author Dennis Seese

The history of professional soccer in the United States is richer and far more complex than today’s generation of Major League Soccer fans might realize.  Multiple ethnically-infused pro leagues existed as far back as the early 1900s – but when the American Soccer Association collapsed in Depression-Era 1933, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s when the next serious attempt to bring full-fledged, top-flight Division One professional soccer to US shores was pursued in earnest.

In 1966, suddenly and incredibly, no fewer than three separate groups of well-heeled American sports businessmen coalesced around the same idea, each attempting to draft off of attention-generating events like entrepreneur Bill Cox’s International Soccer League tournaments and NBC’s surprisingly high-rated, near-live national TV broadcast of the World Cup Final from England.

According to research librarian (and unwitting soccer historian) Dennis Seese (The Rebirth of Professional Soccer in America: The Strange Days of the United Soccer Association), it was a tumultuous revival that ultimately yielded two hastily-assembled competing leagues the following year – the FIFA-sanctioned United Soccer Association (featuring whole-cloth international clubs pseudonymously representing 12 American cities), and the “outlaw” National Professional Soccer League (boasting a national CBS television contract and a one-month-earlier start for its ten teams) –  that rushed to beat each other to the American public with their pro versions of the “world’s game.”

What resulted was near-disaster: sparse crowds, dubious refereeing, anemic ratings, and a shotgun post-season merger to form a successor North American Soccer League in 1968 – which, despite its inherited broadcast TV coverage and official international governing body approval, sputtered mightily itself.  By the end of the merged NASL’s first season, only five teams remained – and the future of American professional soccer was very much in doubt. 

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The Rebirth of Professional Soccer in America: The Strange Days of the United Soccer Association - buy book here