EPISODE #44: Arena Football League Founder Jim Foster - Part Two

We conclude our two-part journey into the early history of the Arena Football League with founder and inventor Jim Foster, who recounts some of the most notable events of the league’s formative years – including a memorable 1987 “demonstration season” featuring:

  • The February debut “Showcase Game” in suburban Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon between the hometown Bruisers and the Miami Vise – highlights of which later dominated ESPN’s SportsCenter;  
  • A return to the Horizon for the first-ever nationally televised league match four months later (after a non-televised inaugural game the night before in Pittsburgh) – an overtime thriller that left fans, ESPN broadcasters, and league officials scrambling for the newly-written rule book;
  • The league’s first “Arena Bowl” championship game (won by the visiting Denver Dynamite) in front of a sold-out Pittsburgh Civic Center and a live national TV audience; AND
  • US patent filings (officially granted in the spring of 1990) protecting the original rules, play and configuration of arena football – and precluding potential competition (like 1989’s almost-World Indoor Football League) from stealing the concept.

Plus: the early dynasty of the Mike Illitch’s Detroit Drive; the holier-than-thou genius of coaching legend Tim Marcum; Des Moines gets a team; what happens when a ball gets stuck in the goalpost during the run of play; and can today's Arena Football League be saved?

Thanks to Audible, Sports History Collectibles and Podfly for their support of this week’s show!

EPISODE #43: Arena Football League Founder Jim Foster

As the new year beckons, the fate of the Arena Football League – one of America’s most innovative modern-day professional sports concepts – hangs in the balance.  With only four teams (the mutually-owned Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade, defending champion Philadelphia Soul, and a still-unnamed Albany, NY squad) confirmed for the upcoming 2018 season, the AFL will play with exactly the same number of franchises that comprised its inaugural “demonstration” season back in 1987 – and a mere fraction of the 19 clubs that competed during its heyday in the early-to-mid 2000s.

Much has happened to the league and the sport during those 30+ years, of course – and few doubt that the unique (and once-patented) excitement of arena football won’t eventually find a sustainable business model and a return to long-term stability. 

In the interim, however, we delve into how it all began, with the first of our two-part interview with Iowa native Jim Foster – the inventor of arena football and the founder of the original Arena Football League – who takes host Tim Hanlon on rollicking excursion across the uncharted sports terrain of the 1970s and 80s that led to both the birth of a sport and the launch of a professional league, including: 

  • Exporting professional American football to Europe decades before the NFL;
  • Discovering fans’ year-long appetite for pro football via the USFL;
  • Scribbling parameters for “indoor football” on a manila envelope while attending the 1981 MISL All-Star Game;
  • Tinkering on a shoestring with facilities, equipment, rules, and approaches to TV broadcast coverage;
  • Tapping into the nostalgia and cost economics of two-way players, as well as the fan appeal of “run-and-shoot” offensive action; AND
  • Defending the notion of centrally-controlled league ownership from franchise-hungry charter owners.

This week’s episode is sponsored by Sports History Collectibles, Audible and Podfly.

EPISODE #42: Entertainer Pat Boone and the ABA’s Oakland Oaks

We usher in the holidays and round out our debut season with the inimitable Pat Boone – an American entertainment legend and inveterate business entrepreneur, with a life-long passion for the sport of basketball.  In a career spanning over six decades (and counting!), the incomparable Boone has just about done it all in the fields of music, film, television, and stage, as well as the pursuit of a wide variety of business interests – including being the majority owner of the American Basketball Association’s charter Bay Area franchise, the Oakland Oaks.

Denied the ability to play its NBA All-Star marquee signing (and cross-town San Francisco Warriors star) Rick Barry for the inaugural 1967-68 ABA season, Boone’s Oaks endured a league-worst 22-56 record, amid dismally low crowds at the brand-new Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena.  Barry’s official arrival the next season (despite a knee injury that curtailed his play after only 35 games), paired with the hiring of two-time NBA champion head coach Alex Hannum, and an influx of future perennial All-Star talent like Doug Moe and Larry Brown, instantly rejuvenated the club’s competitive profile, as the Oaks zoomed to a league-leading 60-18 “worst-to-first” regular season record and a dominating run in the playoffs to capture the 1968-89 league championship.

Despite the reversal of fortune on the hardwood, Boone lost a fortune at the box office (in excess of $2 million in just two seasons), as neither Barry nor a title provided any significant lift in ticket sales – or visible hope of near-term future improvement in the competitive Bay Area market.  Former Baltimore Bullets NBA owner (and later Major Indoor Soccer League co-founder) Earl Foreman purchased the franchise (and its debts) from Boone for $2.6 million in August of 1969 and moved them to the Nation’s Capital, where they became the one-year Washington Caps, replete with a reluctant Barry in tow.

In this revealing conversation, Boone recounts: the events that led him to become a pro basketball owner; the tortuous journey of landing Rick Barry; the thrill of winning an ABA championship; the unwitting blank check that kept the Oaks financially afloat, but nearly sank Boone personally and professionally; and why, despite his continued passion for the sport, he never pursued another professional basketball ownership opportunity in the decidedly more stable NBA in later years. 

Plus: a ring more expensive Elizabeth Taylor's; dunking over Bill Russell; comparing pro titles with Mark Cuban; and our quest for footage of the 1978 CBS/NBA Three-on-Three Tournament!

This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Podfly, Audible and Sports History Collectibles!

EPISODE #41: ABA Basketball’s Indiana Pacers with Sportswriter Mark Montieth

Long-time Indianapolis pro hoops beat reporter Mark Montieth (Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis) joins host Tim Hanlon to delve into the intriguing story behind the efforts of late-1960s civic leaders to re-establish a top-tier professional franchise in the capital city of basketball-mad Indiana after a curious 14-year absence.   

One of eleven charter franchises in 1967’s upstart American Basketball Association, the Indiana Pacers literally and figuratively “set the pace” early and often during the league’s nine-year existence – amassing three ABA championships, five finals appearances, and a dazzling array of All-Star talent including the likes of Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Billy Knight, and future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, and head coach Bob “Slick” Leonard.

In a league synonymous with wild games, outsized personalities and vagabond franchises, the Pacers were a uniquely steady constant on the court, in the stands and with the local Indianapolis community – which later rewarded them with a downtown-transforming arena of their own in 1974, and ultimately, helped bolster their case to become one of only four ABA clubs to be included in the post-merger National Basketball Association in 1976.

Our thanks to Sports History Collectibles, Audible and Podfly for their sponsorship of this week’s episode!

Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis - buy book here

EPISODE #40: The Three Acts of Pro Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes with Columnist Gary Singh

Long-time Metro Silicon Valley columnist and San Jose, California native Gary Singh (The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the confusing journey and three distinct incarnations of one of American soccer’s most colorful and persistent professional franchises.  

As one of four West Coast expansion teams (along with the Los Angeles Aztecs, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps) added for the North American Soccer League’s breakthrough 1974 season, the original San Jose Earthquakes were an immediate hit both on the field (finishing second in the all-new Western Division, and led by the league’s leading scorer Paul Child) and in the stands, where they drew in excess of 15,000 fans a game to a less-than-modern Spartan Stadium – more than double the league average.  Though never regular championship contenders, the ‘Quakes cultivated a rabidly loyal fan base that became the envy of clubs across the league – until the NASL’s ultimate demise ten years later. 

Elements of the club soldiered on semi-professionally in the following years, but the appellation (along with some of the previous cast) returned in earnest in 1999, when the management of San Jose’s struggling (and unpopularly named) Major League Soccer “Clash” sought to rekindle some of the original magic – and by 2001, the second iteration of the Earthquakes were contending for and winning MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield titles.   

However, stymied by an inability to construct a soccer-specific stadium in the area, owner-operator Anschutz Entertainment Group pulled up stakes and relocated the club to Houston for 2006 – taking further championships with them.  Nonplussed San Jose fans revolted – and a new “expansion” franchise was quickly announced by MLS officials, with plenty of structural caveats that ensured today’s now-third incarnation of the ‘Quakes rightfully retains all of its accumulated heritage and rich legacy.

Thank you Audible and Podfly for your support of this week’s show!

The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy - buy book here

EPISODE #39: The Continental Indoor Soccer League’s Indianapolis Twisters with Broadcaster Kenn Tomasch

Former sportscaster and fellow defunct pro sports enthusiast Kenn Tomasch joins host Tim Hanlon to dig deep into the two-season saga of the Indiana (née Indianapolis) Twisters of the Continental Indoor Soccer League – the mid-90s summertime indoor soccer circuit hatched by a collective of team and arena owners from the NBA and NHL to keep their facilities humming during their respective “off”-seasons.  CISL franchises controlled by entities outside the big-league fraternity were also part of the mix (accounting for half of the eventual 18 teams during the league’s five-year run from 1993-97) – including the tumultuously tenuous Twisters, who cycled through two separate ownership groups as well as a temporary spell of league receivership during its brief 21-month existence.

As the radio “Voice of the Twisters,” Tomasch was there for all of it, including:

  • A rousing home debut on June 21, 1996 at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena that saw the club drop an entertaining 7-6 overtime decision to the Washington Warthogs;
  • Dwindling announced home-game crowds of barely 2,000+ just months later;
  • Co-owner Rodney Goins ceding his role as president mid-season to become an active player on the Twisters roster – debuting as US pro sports’ first-ever player-owner on August 23, 1996;
  • Becoming “wards of the league” two weeks later when Goins and his co-owner brother suspend operations – and team radio broadcasts;
  • New ownership, team name, logo, colors – and a surprising second-place regular season finish in 1997;
  • Losing home-field playoff advantage due to a scheduling conflict, and ultimately an early exit from a potential title run; AND
  • The abrupt folding of the venerable San Diego Sockers just days before the 1997 season that foreshadowed the CISL’s demise later in the year.

This week’s episode is sponsored by Podfly and Audible.

EPISODE #38: Women’s Professional Baseball with Film Producer/Director Jon Leonoudakis

Documentary film producer/director Jon Leonoudakis (The Wrecking Crew!) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss Season Three of his digital video series The Sweet Spot: A Treasury of Baseball Stories – devoted to the plight of women in the pursuit of playing America’s pastime.  Over this season’s nine episodes, Shutout! The Battle American Women Wage to Play Baseball tackles the tortuous journey of women in baseball from multiple angles – including notable attempts at professional play over the last century, such as:

  • The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – launched in wartime 1943 to keep interest in the sport alive while enlisted male players served overseas, the AAGPBL continued well into the early 1950s with a spirited blend of competitive moxie and girl-next-door femininity that delighted hundreds of thousands of fans across the Midwest and inspired a landmark 1992 film (A League of Their Own) that cemented its legacy generations later;
  • The Colorado Silver Bullets – formed in 1994 in the wake of the success of the movie, the Coors Brewing Company-sponsored Silver Bullets barnstormed the US for four seasons under the managerial tutelage of National Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro – holding its own against dozens of men's minor league, semi-pro and all-star amateur teams; AND
  • Ladies League Baseball – the short-lived 1997 West Coast-based women’s pro circuit (and its even shorter-lived 1998 successor, the Ladies Professional Baseball League) that sought to build on the Silver Bullets’ pioneering success, but failed to generate sustained enthusiasm at the gate.

This episode is supported by our friends at Audible and Podfly.

The Sweet Spot: "Shutout! The Battle American Women Wage to Play Baseball" - buy/rent digital video here

        

EPISODE #37: The NHL’s California Golden Seals with Author Steve Currier

Ice hockey makes its long-awaited return to the podcast, as host Tim Hanlon revisits the legendarily forlorn California Golden Seals franchise of the late 1960s/early 1970s National Hockey League, with author Steve Currier (The California Golden Seals: A Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams).   Part of the NHL’s “Great Expansion” of 1967, the Seals never posted a winning record in any of its 11 years of existence (including its last two seasons as the Cleveland Barons), and consistently finished dead last in league attendance despite playing in a then-state-of-the-art  Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum Arena. 

Currier recounts: a revolving door of promising players (though not future Hall of Fame legend Guy Lafleur, who might have become a Seal, if not for a previously traded first-round draft pick); hapless owners (from millionaire socialite Barry Van Gerbig, to flamboyant baseball disruptor Charlie Finley, to hotel magnate Mel Swig, to [eventually] the NHL itself); and outlandish marketing decisions (including mid-season name changes, garish green/gold uniforms and scuff-prone white skates, live seals on ice, and currying favor with a supposedly influential Bay Area barber community) – all of which made the Seals franchise one of the most idiosyncratic footnotes in modern-day hockey and pro sports history.

Thanks Podfly and Audible supporting this episode!

The California Golden Seals: A Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL's Most Outlandish Teams - buy book here

EPISODE #36: Dead-Ball-Era Baseball’s “Chief” Meyers & the New York Giants with Author Bill Young

Author/historian Bill Young (John Tortes “Chief” Meyers: A Baseball Biography) returns to the podcast to discuss the life and legacy of one of Major League Baseball’s most intriguing personalities from the sport’s “dead-ball era” of the 1900s/10s.  The sturdy, hard-hitting battery-mate (and eventual vaudeville stage partner) of Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Matthewson – as well as a fixture in some of legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw’s most successful teams – “Chief” Meyers was also one of the few true Native Americans to ever star in professional baseball, overcoming enormous prejudicial obstacles along the way.   Unlike other Native American players who eschewed their tribal identities to escape bias and ridicule, Meyers—a member of the Santa Rosa Band of the Cahuilla Tribe of California—remained proud of his heritage, and endeared himself to fans and the press with his disarming, accessible and uniquely erudite personality.  After retiring from the game in 1920, Meyers quietly returned to his roots to become a tribal leader, only to be rediscovered by a new generation of fans and scholars in 1966 with the publication of Lawrence Ritter’s acclaimed oral history of the early game, The Glory of Their Times.

We thank Audible and Podfly for their continued support of the show!

     

John Tortes "Chief" Meyers: A Baseball Biography - buy book here

The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It - buy book here

EPISODE #35: National Soccer Hall of Famer Paul Child

Former NASL, MISL, CISL (and even ASL) soccer great Paul Child becomes the fifth National Soccer Hall of Famer to join the podcast – and regales host Tim Hanlon with a bevy of eyebrow-raising anecdotes from a 25+ pro career as a player and coach across teams and leagues in both the outdoor and indoor versions of the game, including: 

  • Taking a chance to get first-team play as a 19-year-old via loan with the Atlanta Chiefs in the fragile 1972 North American Soccer League;
  • Learning to love the narrow confines and uniquely spray-painted burgundy and black penalty areas of San Jose’s Spartan Stadium;
  • Laying carpet for and dodging chicken wire during the NASL’s primitive inaugural indoor tournament in San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1975; 
  • Wondering if sellout crowds in Atlanta’s Omni for Chiefs indoor games in the early 1980s were for spirited play, or cheeky promotions like “Who Shot J.R.?” night;
  • Taking the early 1980s Pittsburgh sports scene by storm – and regularly outdrawing hockey’s Penguins – with the MISL’s Spirit; and
  • Earning two caps for the US National Team – despite not being an actual American citizen!

This week’s episode is supported by our friends at Audible and Podfly!

EPISODE #34: The National Basketball League with Author Murry Nelson

Basketball historian and Penn State professor emeritus Murry Nelson (The National Basketball League: A History) returns to the podcast – this time to dive into the deep end of one of the modern-day NBA’s  most important formative tributaries. 

The National Basketball League was forged out of an industrial collective of independent “company teams” that dotted the Midwest in the mid-1930s – and through the corporate patronage of firms like Goodyear, Firestone and General Electric, became a full-time pro hoops circuit that eventually stretched from Syracuse to Denver – with a hefty dollop of smaller markets in between.   Teams like the Oshkosh (WI) All-Stars, Anderson (IN) Duffy Packers, Tri-Cities (IA)  Blackhawks, and Toledo (OH)-based Jim White Chevrolets – along with star players like the lane-dominating Leroy “Cowboy” Edwards, long-range shooting ace Bobby McDermott, and the pro game’s first true “big man” George Mikan – broke new ground,  and spawned the launch of an even bigger-market competitor (the Basketball Association of America, in 1946) that ultimately resulted in a 1949 merger that yielded what we now know as the National Basketball Association.

Today’s Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, and Philadelphia 76ers all emanated directly from the NBL – although you might not know it, given the NBA’s tilted version of basketball history, as Nelson tells host Tim Hanlon in this enlightening episode.

Out thanks to Podfly and Audible for their support of the show! 

The National Basketball League: A History, 1935-1949 - buy book here

EPISODE #33: Early Baseball’s National Association with Author Bill Ryczek

Author Bill Ryczek (Blackguards and Red Stockings: A History of Baseball’s National Association) makes a return visit to the podcast – this time to regale host Tim Hanlon in the intriguing story of the raucous early days of organized baseball’s first attempt at forming and sustaining a true professional league.  Birthed in early 1871 from a hodgepodge, post-Civil War-era amalgam of amateur teams, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players – or “National Association” – became both a novel experiment and decidedly imperfect beginning to bringing professional status not only to the game of baseball, but ultimately to the entire landscape of American sports.  Despite persistent claims of gambling, contract jumping, player inebriation, and less-than-honest sportsmanship, the National Association quickly became an entertaining circuit that featured the world’s best baseball players – eventually producing eight National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees (though, glaringly, not the legendary “Iron Batter” Lip Pike); two modern-day franchises (the Atlanta Braves [née Boston Red Stockings]; and the Chicago Cubs [née Chicago White Stockings]); and the foundation for the first of baseball’s two “major” leagues – the National League – in 1876.

Thanks Audible and Podfly for sponsoring this episode! 

Blackguards and Red Stockings: A History of Baseball's National Association - buy book here

EPISODE #32: Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Braves with Documentarian/Writer Bill Povletich

The lineage behind what is today’s Atlanta Braves is one of the longest, deepest and most uniquely enduring in all of professional baseball.  With early roots dating back to the launch of 1871’s National Association (when they were based in Boston, and known simply as the “Red Stockings”), the later-renamed Braves franchise boldly moved to the greener pastures of Milwaukee in 1953 – where for 13 years, the team never endured a losing season, won two National League pennants, and, in 1957, brought the city its first and only World Series championship.  With a talented lineup featuring future Hall of Famers Henry Aaron, Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews, Red Schoendienst, and Phil Niekro, the team immediately won the hearts of fans, shattered modern-day attendance records, and ushered the city of Milwaukee into the world of the “big leagues.”  In the process, the Milwaukee Braves' success prompted Major League Baseball to redefine itself as a big business—clearing the path for franchises to  relocate west, its two leagues to expand, and teams to leverage cities in high-stakes battles for civically funded facilities.  But the Braves' instant success made their rapid fall from grace in the early 1960s all the more stunning, as declining attendance and local political greed led the team to Atlanta in one of the ugliest divorces between a city and baseball franchise in sports history.    

In this supremely revelatory conversation, TV documentary director/producer and author (and Wisconsin native) Bill Povletich (Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak; A Braves New World) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the historical importance of the Braves’ time in Milwaukee, and some of the specific events and personalities that shaped it.

Our continued thanks to our friends at Podfly and Audible for their support of the show!

     

Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak - buy book here

A Braves New World - buy DVD here

EPISODE #31: Indoor Soccer’s Wichita Wings with Mike Romalis and Tim O’Bryhim

Wichita, Kansas natives Mike Romalis and Tim O’Bryhim (Make This Town Big: The Story of Roy Turner and the Wichita Wings) join host Tim Hanlon to talk about their current book – and upcoming documentary – focused on the improbable story of the Major Indoor Soccer League’s smallest-market (Nielsen-ranked #66) club that became the first major league professional sports team in Kansas history.  The MISL’s Wichita Wings defied conventional logic, as world-class soccer players from places like England, Denmark, Argentina, and Ecuador enthralled jam-packed Kansas Coliseum crowds with a fiery brand of play that made them a perennial playoff contender and one of the league’s most successful franchises – replete with a veritable “Orange Army” of rabid fans that became the envy of their big-city rivals across the league. 

Thank you to Audible and Podfly for their support of this episode!

Make This Town Big: The Story of Roy Turner and the Wichita Wings - buy book here

EPISODE #30: The Senior Professional Baseball Association with Author David Whitford

Inc. Editor-at-Large David Whitford (Extra Innings: A Season in the Senior League) joins host Tim Hanlon to retrace his journalistic odyssey covering the inaugural season of the short-lived, Florida-based Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) in the winter of 1989-90.  Whitford recalls the early-career events leading up to his plum writing assignment, and the process by which he went about chronicling this unique, but ultimately ill-fated eight-team circuit for former pro players over 35 (32 for catchers).  Despite half the franchises folding after the first 72-game season (and the rest of the league mid-way through the second), the Senior League, in Whitford’s view, afforded dozens of former big-league players and managers a "life-after-death fantasy" – one that attracted both stars and journeymen alike for a chance to either stay fresh for one last shot in the Show, recapture past on-field glories, or simply earn some needed money.  Whitford highlights a wide array of characters he met while covering the SBPA, including:

  • Founder Jim Morley , the thirty-something hustler who erroneously believed a senior league could generate cash flow sufficient to sustain his debt-ridden real-estate empire;
  • Commissioner Curt Flood, the indefatigable player’s union representativewho broke Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, but sacrificed his career in the process;
  • Pitcher Wayne Garland, the former Cleveland ace and early free-agent beneficiary who risked permanent shoulder damage by coming back to play pro ball after a five-year layoff;
  • Ex-Padres/Astros fastballer (and pioneer descendant) Danny Boone, who reinvented himself into a knuckleball specialist, and improbably made it back to the bigs with Baltimore in 1990 following the SPBA season; AND
  • A veritable who’s who of former big-name major league stars – each with their own personal reasons for returning to the diamonds:  Bobby Bonds, Joaquin Andujar, Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, Dave Kingman, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, and even manager Earl Weaver – just to name a few.

Our thanks to Podfly and Audible for their support of this episode!

Extra Innings: A Season in the Senior League - buy book here

EPISODE #29: The American Soccer League’s Cincinnati Comets with Writer/Photographer Ronny Salerno

While the meteoric rise of the United Soccer League’s FC Cincinnati franchise caught many pro sports observers by surprise, keen observers of soccer’s unique history in the Queen City note that the foundation of the team’s current success actually dates back to 1972, when an ambitious little club called the Cincinnati Comets won the American Soccer League championship in the team’s inaugural season. Cincinnati writer/photographer/native Ronny Salerno (The Extraordinary Story of the Cincinnati Comets; Fading Ads of Cincinnati) joins Tim Hanlon to delve into the curious story of this surprisingly notable squad, whose motley cast of characters included:

  • Dr. Nico “Nick” Capurro, a strong-willed Italian-born surgeon and county coroner whose passion for the sport led him to not only buy a Cincinnati ASL franchise, but also become its head coach;
  • Julio “Ringo” Cantillo, a 16-year-old Costa Rican midfield phenom who immediately became the team’s (and league’s) most valuable player – despite still being a high school student;
  • Jim Scott, the long-time king of Cincinnati morning radio, whose simple offer to help with some publicity mushroomed into the presidency of the team – and later the ASL itself;
  • Bob Cousy, the legendary basketball hall-of-famer, who Scott recruited to become ASL commissioner – despite a mixed reputation in the Queen City, and an admitted ignorance about the sport of soccer; AND
  • Lamar Hunt, the patron saint of AFL football and the then-nationally ascendant North American Soccer League, whose dogged efforts to get the Comets to move up to the NASL came up short.

Our thanks to Audible and Podfly for their support of this week’s episode!

EPISODE #28: Women’s Pro Basketball’s "Machine Gun" Molly Kazmer

The history of women’s professional basketball in the US pre-dates the modern-day WNBA by at least two decades, when inveterate pro sports entrepreneur Bill Byrne launched the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) in 1978.  Taking cultural cues from the Equal Rights Amendment movement, the adoption of Title IX, Billie Jean King’s landmark victory in tennis’ “Battle of the Sexes,” and a surprisingly strong showing by the US women’s squad in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, Byrne hustled his way into forming an odds-defying circuit that ultimately lasted three seasons with franchises that stretched from New York to San Francisco.  The first person to sign with the fledgling league also became its most prolific scorer and reliable public relations attraction – “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin.  Nicknamed by a reporter for her dazzling shooting ability (with multiple records that still stand today), the since-remarried Molly Kazmer lit up the WBL both on and off the court with equal parts athletic prowess and sexy femininity – becoming one of the true pioneers of the women’s professional game in the process.

Kazmer joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss some of the more memorable moments in her remarkable career in the WBL and beyond, including:

  • The unique playing style of Iowa high school basketball that uniquely prepared her for breakout success in the collegiate and pro ranks;
  • The public relations spectacle of signing her first pro contract in the Iowa governor’s office;
  • The wild ride (often on a bus nicknamed the “Corn Dog”) of the Iowa Cornets;
  • Life as the “poster child” of the WBL;
  • The double-standard of being a female athlete in modern society; AND
  • How the success of today’s WNBA sends mixed signals to the original WBL pioneers whose work set the stage for the modern pro game.

We love Audible and Podfly for their support of the podcast – and you should too!

EPISODE #27: Jim Thorpe’s Oorang Indians with NFL Films’ Chris Willis

At the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, the National Football League was a mere footnote in the American sports scene, when matchups were played on dirt fields by vagabond athletes who would beat up or punch out their opponents for fifty bucks a game.  But one team during that era was different – the Oorang Indians.  Founded by an ambitious dog breeder, comprised only of Native American players, and coached by a national multi-sport superstar (and charter pro football Hall of Famer), the Indians barnstormed their way through the NFL in 1922-23 – becoming an instant hit in virtually every city they played.  NFL historian Chris Willis (Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL's Most Famous Traveling Team) joins Tim Hanlon to recount the story of this unique franchise and curious forgotten chapter of professional football history, including:

  • How a publicity-hungry dog kennel owner named Walter Lingo convinced the country’s greatest athlete Jim Thorpe to join him in hatching a pro football team in a league barely two years old;
  • How tiny La Rue, Ohio (population: 747) became (and remains) the smallest town ever to house not only an NFL franchise, but any professional team in any league in the United States;
  • How Lingo used the spectacle of the Olympic-famous Thorpe and his all Native-American squad to help advertise his kennel and sell his pure-bred Airedale Terriers;
  • Why halftime entertainment was more important to Lingo than winning or losing on the field; AND
  • Why players like Long Time Sleep, Joe Little Twig, Baptiste Thunder, and Xavier Downwind never saw NFL action again after the Indians folded in 1924.

Thanks to Podfly and Audible for their sponsorship of this week’s episode!

Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL's Most Famous Traveling Team - buy book here

EPISODE #26: The TVS Television Network with Producer/Director Howard Zuckerman

On January 20, 1968, a frenzied crowd of 52,693 packed the Houston Astrodome to witness the #2-ranked University of Houston Cougars nip the #1 (and previously undefeated) UCLA Bruins in a college basketball spectacle that legendarily became the sport’s “Game of the Century.”  In addition to the record-sized gate, it was the first-ever college game to be televised nationally in prime time – and it was sports entrepreneur Eddie Einhorn’s scrappy little independent network of affiliated stations called the TVS Television Network that brought it to millions of TV viewers.  Calling all the shots from the production truck was veteran TV sports director Howard Zuckerman – who quickly became the backbone for the fledgling ad hoc network’s subsequent coverage of not only college hoops, but also two of the most colorful pro sports leagues of the 1970s – the World Football League and the North American Soccer League.  Zuckerman joins host Tim Hanlon to recount some of his most memorable (and forgettable) moments in TVS history, including:

  • Surviving a power outage in the middle of the WFL’s first-ever national telecast from Jacksonville;
  • Managing a motley crew of rotating guest commentators for WFL broadcasts, including the likes of George Plimpton, Burt Reynolds and McLean Stevenson;
  • Hastily reorienting weekly WFL production travel plans as teams suddenly relocated or folded;
  • Faking on-field injuries during NASL telecasts to allow for ad hoc commercial breaks;
  • The origins of the specially-composed TVS theme song and its orchestral big band sound; AND
  • Post-TVS work, including the Canadian Football League’s Las Vegas Posse, and the worldwide music landmark event Live Aid.

Thank you Audible and Podfly for supporting this episode!

EPISODE #25: Early Pro Football’s Memphis Tigers with Author Wylie McLallen

The Memphis Tigers professional football team of the late 1920s and early 1930s never played a down in the National Football League, but that didn’t stop them from becoming one of the era’s most successful clubs – including laying a legitimate claim as the sport’s national champions in 1929.  Author/historian Wylie McLallen (Tigers by the River: A True and Accurate Tale of the Early Days of Pro Football) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the story of the Tigers’ exploits in the Depression Era world of “independent” gridiron competition – as well as the team’s sizable role in helping shape the early years of organized American professional football, including:

  • Becoming one of the first competitive pro squads to emerge from outside the sport’s traditional Northeast and Midwest strongholds;
  • Notching signature 1929 wins over the NFL’s formidable Chicago Bears and previously undefeated champion Green Bay Packers;
  • Declining an offer to subsequently join the NFL in 1930, as team owners struggled to keep the team financially alive;
  • Leveraging their on-field success into forming a challenger (and decidedly Southern) “American Football League” in 1934; AND
  • Succumbing to macroeconomic realities in 1935, but enduring for future generations as the officially designated nickname for the University of Memphis’ athletic teams.

We love our friends at Audible and Podfly – and you should too!

Tigers by the River: A True and Accurate Tale of the Early Days of Pro Football - buy book here