EPISODE #96: The National Pastime in the Nation's Capital – With Fred Frommer

We throw another chunk of firewood into our baseball hot stove this week, as we warm up with the surprisingly long and rich history of the National Pastime in the Nation’s Capital with sports PR veteran Fred Frommer (You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions).

While historically smaller in population than its more industrial neighbors to its north and west, Washington, DC was regularly represented in the highest levels of baseball dating back to the earliest professional circuits – including the 1871-75 National Association’s Olympics, Blue Legs, and two named the “Nationals”; two new and separate Nationals clubs in the competing Union and American Associations of 1884; and two teams each in the American Association (another Nationals in 1884; Statesmen in 1891), and early National League (yet another Nationals from 1886-89; and “Senators” from 1892-99).

But it was the creation of the American League in 1901 that solidified the city’s place in baseball’s top echelon, as the (second) Washington Senators launched as one of the junior circuit’s “Classic Eight” charter franchises – establishing an uninterrupted presence for Major League Baseball in the District that endured for more than seven decades.  (Technically, the original AL Senators stayed until 1960, when the franchise moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN to become the Minnesota Twins – only to be immediately replaced by a new expansion Senators the next season, that lasted 11 more seasons until they moved to Arlington, TX to become the Texas Rangers in 1971.)

Frommer joins host Tim Hanlon to look back on DC’s deep and oddly curious relationship with baseball, including:  

  • The Senators’ often-lamentable on-field performance that entrenched Washington as “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League;"

  • The advent of the ceremonial Presidential season-opening “first pitch” tradition;

  • New York’s rival “Damn Yankees;”

  • The Negro National League’s Homestead Grays’ second home; AND

  • Why it took 33 years for Major League Baseball to finally return to the Nation’s Capital.

Thanks to our great sponsors: 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, and OldSchoolShirts.com!

You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions - buy here

EPISODE #95: The MISL’s Denver Avalanche – With Former Owner Ron Maierhofer

It was December 1979, and Denver-area IT marketing and sales executive Ron Maierhofer was having what some would consider to be a mid-life crisis.  Just off the heels of an annual work retreat and now vacationing on a British Virgin Islands beach with his wife, Maierhofer – a second-generation German-American immigrant and a former player with a lifelong passion for and recreational involvement in the sport of soccer – mused that his business career just wasn’t doing it for him anymore, and that a radical change of pace might be in order.

His muse was the fledgling professional sport of indoor soccer – and his entrée, the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League – the firecracker circuit that had just debuted a year earlier with its fast-paced play, enthusiastic crowds and a non-stop excitement that offered an alluring anecdote to relatively staid pace of the newly popular outdoor game.  The MISL, Maierhofer reasoned to himself and his wife, was the future of soccer – and his chance to make a profession of his love of the “beautiful game.”

Within months, Maierhofer was back home in Denver: hustling up an investment group (including his investment banker brother); working municipal politicians (securing hard-to-get dates and benefits from the city’s McNichols Arena); devising clever marketing hooks (like dash-board rumble seats and a new home for the popular Denver Broncos cheerleaders); and schmoozing the MISL’s top brass during the 1980 All-Star Game and Championship Playoffs in St. Louis – to eventually land what would become one of three new franchises (along with the Chicago Horizons and Phoenix Inferno) in the fall of 1980.

Maierhofer (No Money Down: How to Buy a Sports Franchise; Memoirs of a Soccer Vagabond) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the heady rise, against-all-odds success, and (ultimately) rapid fall of his two-year “dream job” owning and running the Denver Avalanche – including life lessons learned from his adventure, and the fans that still fondly remember his efforts to this day, nearly 30 years later.

We love our sponsors, and so will you – Streaker Sports, OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com!

     

No Money Down: How to Buy a Sports Franchise - buy here

Memoirs of a Soccer Vagabond - buy here

     

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EPISODE #94: Major League Baseball’s Seattle Pilots – With Bill Mullins

We kick off the New Year with our first-ever discussion about one of Major League Baseball’s most enduring enigmas – the ephemeral, one-season Seattle Pilots.

However, as we discover in our conversation with this week’s guest Bill Mullins (Becoming Big League: Seattle, The Pilots, and Stadium Politics), the story of the team’s 1969 American League misadventures has a much longer historical arc – one rooted in the decades-long success of the city’s minor league Rainiers prior – and extending years afterward, when a new expansion Mariners franchise took to the Kingdome turf in 1977.

In between, the story of the Pilots wends its way through the concentric worlds of pro sports economics (MLB’s blind zeal for expansion in the West Coast’s third-most populous market); municipal politics (Seattle’s quest for “major league” status, from the 1962 World’s Fair to a tortuous pursuit of a modern domed stadium); managerial challenges (an underfunded ownership group with limited resources and overly-optimistic revenue expectations); and logistical realities (a quaint-but-aging minor league Sicks’ Stadium, ill-prepared for the more pronounced demands of big league play and fan comfort).

And, oh yes, a surprisingly competitive on-field performance filled with memorable highs (winning both their first-ever game [at the California Angels, 4/8/69], and their home debut [vs. the Chicago White Sox, 4/11/69]); forgettable lows (three home runs by Reggie Jackson in a 5-0 loss to the Oakland A’s, 7/2/69); and a deceivingly last-place finish in a tightly-bunched AL West cellar, only a handful of games behind the Angels, Royals and White Sox.

Despite the Pilots’ woes, the legacy of this quixotic franchise remains remarkably endearing to the Seattle fans who got to experience the city’s first taste of big-time major league sports fifty years hence.

Be sure to visit our new sponsor Streaker Sports – where, fittingly, you can order a beautiful baby blue classic Seattle Pilots logo T-shirt to commemorate this episode (and the team’s 50th anniversary)!

Becoming Big League: Seattle, The Pilots and Stadium Politics - buy here

EPISODE #93: National Soccer Hall of Famer Bobby Smith

We close out an amazing second season of episodes with a special year-end conversation featuring the US pro soccer pioneer who is, at least indirectly, responsible for the creation of this little podcast.  

Just weeks after signing with the fledgling New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in January 1976, league All Star Bobby Smith (along with fellow Philadelphia Atoms teammate Bob Rigby) was already out pounding the promotional pavement in support of his new club – including (unwittingly) a stop at host Tim Hanlon’s then-elementary school in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey to hand out recreational league trophies and sign autographs. 

The seeds of life-long pro soccer fandom were quickly sown, soon blossoming into an obsession with America’s most famous and successful franchise – and, over time, morphing into an enduring fascination with professional teams and leagues across all sports which, like the Cosmos and the NASL, ultimately came and went.

Defender extraordinaire Smith joins the podcast to discuss his remarkable American pro soccer career before, during and after winning back-to-back NASL titles (1977, 78) with the Cosmos – including:

  • Winning his first league championship with the inaugural 1973 Philadelphia Atoms;

  • A skills-enhancing off-season loan to Irish first division side Dundalk in 1974-75;

  • Playing alongside world’s-best talent like Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Carlos Alberto during his time in New York;

  • Post-Cosmos stops with the NASL’s San Diego Sockers, Philadelphia Fury and Montreal Manic;

  • Indoor soccer adventures with the MISL’s 1980-81 Philadelphia Fever;

  • 18 caps with the US National Team during the 1970s; AND

  • Induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007.

A big thank you to all of our great sponsors this past year – SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, OldSchoolShirts.com, 503 Sports, and Audible!

Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos - rent or buy here

Philadelphia Atoms NASL & Philadelphia Fever MISL T-Shirts from OldSchoolShirts.com - click individual shirt photos or buy here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire - buy here

Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future - buy here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo, Home of the Braves - buy here

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl Team That Changed Football - buy here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Shea Was Home: The Story of the 1975 Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Jets - buy here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten-Gallon War: The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future - buy here

            

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Eight Wonder of the World: The Life of Houston’s Iconic Astrodome - buy here

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Houston Texans WFL & Gamblers USFL Sportswear from 503 Sports - click individual shirt photos or buy here

                

Cool Houston Oilers Stuff from New Era, ‘47, Cufflinks, Proline, and Mitchell & Ness - click photos or buy here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula and the Rise of the Modern NFL - buy here

    

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Baltimore Colts Mitchell & Ness NFL Vintage "Block" Knit Hat w/ Button from Mitchell & Ness - buy here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dancing Bear: My Eighteen Years in the Trenches of the AFL and NFL - buy here

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Buffalo Bills AFL Retro Cuffed Knit Hat from Reebok - buy here

Houston Oilers AFL 9Fifty Snapback Cap from New Era - buy here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joining the Clubs: The Business of the National Hockey League to 1945 - buy book here

                

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