EPISODE #115: The North American Soccer League’s Rochester Lancers – With Michael Lewis

After more than 40 years of covering the “beautiful game,” Newsday sportswriter and FrontRowSoccer.com editor Michael Lewis (Soccer for Dummies) knows more than a thing or two about the evolution of soccer in this country.  A self-professed “Zelig of soccer,” the NYC-based Lewis has covered some of the sport’s most important events, including eight World Cups, seven Olympic tournaments, and all 23 MLS Cups (and counting) – not to mention an endless array of matches and related off-the-field activities across leagues and competitions on both the domestic and international stages over that span.  If it happened in American soccer since his start as a cub reporter at the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle in 1975, Lewis was probably there.

It was in Rochester that Lewis got his first taste of US pro soccer as the assigned beat reporter for the North American Soccer League’s fledgling Rochester Lancers – a team that literally helped save the down-to-four-team league from extinction in 1970 when owner Charlie Schiano moved the club from the regional semi-pro American Soccer League (along with the similarly-situated Washington Darts) where it had played since 1967.

The Lancers promptly won the title in their first NASL season, and featured the circuit’s first breakout star – 5′ 4″ Brazilian scoring sensation Carlos “Little Mouse” Metidieri, who nabbed league MVP honors in both 1970 & 1971. 

By 1973, however, Metidieri had been traded to the expansion Boston Minutemen, and Schiano was forced to sell controlling interest in the club to bolster its finances – and the Lancers promptly descended into mediocrity.  Though Schiano re-acquired majority ownership in late 1976, the team rarely achieved more than middling success thereafter – save for an anomalous 1977 season that saw the small-market Lancers fall one playoff game short of reaching the NASL title game, despite compiling only an 11-15 regular season record. 

The Lancers’ final seasons were also marred by internecine warfare between an increasingly cash-strapped Schiano and new investors John Luciani and Bernie Rodin – exacerbated by the team’s off-season moonlighting in the semi-rival Major Indoor Soccer League as the Long Island-based New York Arrows.  The two factions faced off in court during the 1980 NASL season, with the league terminating the franchise at season’s end.

While outdoor soccer soon returned to Rochester in 1981 with the ASL Flash, the indoor Arrows went on to win four consecutive MISL titles with much of the Lancers’ late 1970s NASL outdoor roster, including notables like Branko Segota, Shep Messing, Dave D’Errico, Val Tuksa, Renato Cila, Damir Sutevski, and head coach Dragon “Don” Popovic.

Thank you 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, Audible, and OldSchoolShirts.com for your support of this week’s show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EPISODE #99: Sports Broadcaster Bob Carpenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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!

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EPISODE #76: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Gordon Jago

We continue our march towards the upcoming 50th anniversary reunion of the North American Soccer League (as part the rechristening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX on October 19-21, 2018), with one of the coaching pioneers from the league’s heyday, Gordon Jago (A Soccer Pioneer: The Autobiography of Gordon Jago).

After a sparkling youth career with England’s Charlton Athletic and the national Under-20s, Jago quickly segued to coaching in the mid-1960s as an assistant coach with First Division Fulham – where he, during a summer exhibition in Oakland, CA, became smitten with the idea of professional soccer in the US.

Persuaded by eventual NASL co-founder (and Episode #74 guest) Clive Toye, Jago jumped the pond in  to become head coach of the newly consolidated league’s 1968 Baltimore Bays, whose beer baron/owner Jerold Hoffberger soon gave up on the team, the league and the sport by the following season.  After a brief stint overseeing the US National team later that year for World Cup ’70 qualifying, Jago returned to England to hone his coaching skills with Queens Park Rangers (who he guided to First Division promotion in 1973) and Millwall (promoted from Third Division to Second in 1976).

But it was the US for good when Tampa Bay Rowdies owner George Strawbridge came calling in 1978 to replace the recently absconded Eddie Firmani as the successful Florida NASL franchise’s head coach – a team he promptly led to back-to-back Soccer Bowl championship games with perennial league all-stars like Rodney Marsh, Oscar Fabbiani, Steve Wegerle, Mike Connell, and John Gorman.

It was also there (actually, St. Petersburg’s cozy Bayfront Center) where Jago got his first taste of the professional indoor game (including an NASL indoor championship in 1980) – experience that would later serve as foundation for a nearly 20-year coaching and management career leading the formidable Dallas Sidekicks, netting league championships across the MISL (1987), CISL (1993), Premier Soccer Alliance (1998), and World Indoor Soccer League (2001).

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EPISODE #71: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Al Miller - Part Two

We conclude our conversation with National Soccer Hall of Fame coach Al Miller, who shares a wide array of additional recollections, anecdotes, musings, and insights from a legendary career across US outdoor and indoor soccer, including:

  • An historic February 11, 1974 indoor game at Philadelphia’s Spectrum between Miller’s NASL champion Atoms and Moscow’s Red Army – generally acknowledged as the true genesis of the Major Indoor Soccer league four years later;
  • The positives and the negatives of the New York Cosmos “superteam” that dominated the NASL in the late 1970s/early 1980s;
  • Trading the Dallas Tornado’s cozy downtown confines of SMU’s Ownby Stadium for the major league bigtime of Irving’s Texas Stadium;
  • The only-in-the-NASL saga of the one-year Calgary Boomers;
  • Reuniting with Lamar Hunt via the 1983 Tampa Bay Rowdies; AND
  • Helping the city of Cleveland end a 30-year pro sports championship drought with the 1993-94 NPSL season-winning Cleveland Crunch.

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EPISODE #70: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Al Miller

In February 1973, the suddenly ascendant North American Soccer League hurriedly awarded a new franchise to Philadelphia construction magnate Thomas McCloskey, despite the league’s fast-approaching season start date of May 1st.  The result of some Super Bowl VII arm-twisting by Kansas City Chiefs (and NASL Dallas Tornado) owner Lamar Hunt after helping McCloskey secure last-minute tickets, the team that would soon become the Philadelphia Atoms had only three months to move from birth to first game. 

In desperate need of a head coach, McCloskey and GM/soccer novice Bob Ehlinger turned to a bright young Hartwick College coach named Al Miller to hastily assemble a roster and a playing style, which Miller quickly achieved with a handful of English lower-division journeymen married with a bevy of hungry, underappreciated American players from the college ranks – rapidly gelling into an NASL championship team that stunned the pro soccer pundits (including the editors of Sports Illustrated), and became a Philly fan sensation.

The immediate success of the Atoms and its decidedly American-style approach to the world’s game quickly thrust Miller into the US soccer coaching spotlight and set in motion a standout pro career that traversed the NASL, MISL and indoor NPSL (not to mention a brief stint helming the 1975 US Men’s National Team), and, ultimately a red jacket into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2008.

In the first of a two-part interview, Miller joins host Tim Hanlon to reveal some never-before-heard stories from the front lines of his pioneering coaching career, including the Atoms, the Dallas Tornado, the one-year Calgary Boomers, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the MISL Cleveland Force, and the three-time NPSL champion Cleveland Crunch.   

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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.  

Our sponsors for this week include: Audible, Podfly and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com.

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 #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 #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!

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EPISODE #24: Soccer “Renaissance Man” Dr. Joe Machnik

Fox Sports soccer rules analyst and newly minted National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Joe Machnik (So You Want to Be a Goalkeeper; So Now You Are a Goalkeeper) has done just about everything across the American soccer landscape in his 60+ year career.  As a player, coach, referee, administrator, match commissioner, and soccer camp (No.1 Soccer Camps) pioneer, “Dr. Joe” has had a direct hand in helping achieving some of the sport’s major milestones in the US at virtually every level – amateur, collegiate, professional, and international.  Entwined within that legacy were memorable stops in oft-forgotten places like the original Major Indoor Soccer League, the scrappy American Indoor Soccer Association, and the chaotic early days of Major League Soccer – all of which host Tim Hanlon obsessively grills Machnik on in this episode, including his:

  • Instrumental role in crafting and codifying the professional indoor soccer rulebook for the MISL;
  • Championing of the MISL’s novel move to hire full-time professional referees;
  • Indisputable memory of the 1981 MISL All-Star Game at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and its role in helping birth Arena Football;
  • Coaching travails with the once-mighty New York Arrows, depleted by major player trades and an ownership change;
  • Frequent bus rides in the decidedly minor league AISA; AND
  • Fortuitous friendship with an AISA arena owner in Rockford, IL that led to a pivotal role in stabilizing the launch of Major League Soccer.

Thanks to Audible and Podfly for their support of the podcast!

EPISODE #19: American Soccer “Superstar” Kyle Rote, Jr.

National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee and three-time ABC-TV “Superstars” champion Kyle Rote, Jr. joins Tim Hanlon from his home in Memphis for an in-depth and wide-ranging conversation about his trailblazing journey as America’s first true native-born professional soccer star. 

Along the way, Rote, Jr. reveals:

  • How a fortuitous heart-to-heart with his famous football star-father helped convince him to choose soccer over football for his pro career;
  • How a standout Rookie of the Year season with the 1973 Dallas Tornado helped thrust him into the North American Soccer League’s national marketing spotlight;
  • The remarkable impact of winning a made-for-TV athletic competition against the biggest stars of the “traditional” sports world;
  • The unique relationship he developed with the New York Cosmos’ international legend Pelé,  and the public relations narrative the NASL built around them;
  • How lucrative marketing endorsements made up for embarrassingly low-paying player contracts;
  • The serendipitous story of how he helped rescue an MISL team from the “hell” of Hartford; AND
  • The unmistakable higher power that continually guided him through the ups and downs of professional athletics – both on the field and off.

This week’s episode is brought to you by our friends at Audible!

EPISODE #16: National Soccer Hall of Famer Rick Davis

National Soccer Hall of Fame legend Rick Davis joins Tim Hanlon direct from his family-owned/operated Ellsworth Steak House in Ellsworth, KS for a revealing conversation about his pioneering career as one of America’s first pro soccer superstars.  Among the many highlights, Davis discusses:

  • The circumstances that vaulted him from AYSO youth soccer in Claremont, CA to international fame with the NASL’s star-studded New York Cosmos;
  • The priceless on-field, in-game tutelage of world-class players like Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto;
  • The challenges of balancing the often-conflicting demands of both club team and the US Men’s National Team;
  • The double-edged sword of the indoor game; AND
  • The NASL's controversial “Team America” experiment in 1983 that helped hasten the demise of the league - and cost Davis at least one friendship in the process. 

This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Audible!

EPISODE #15: MISL Memories with Michael Menchel

This week, Tim Hanlon buckles up for a wild ride through the tumultuous early years of the original Major Indoor Soccer League with sports PR veteran Michael Menchel, in our longest and most anecdote-filled episode yet!  Menchel takes us on a head-spinning audio journey across some of the most memorable (and forgettable) franchises in professional indoor soccer history – including stops in Long Island, NY (the Arrows trade for Pete Rose!), New Jersey (scoring champ Fred Grgurev’s unique approach to car maintenance!), Houston (the “Summit Soccer” borrows its name from the arena it plays in and its players from the NASL’s Hurricane!), Baltimore (the marketing genius of Tim Leiweke!), and Hartford (what the hell is a “Hellion”?).  Plus, Menchel:  hits the road with Frank Deford;  spends a year outdoors among the Caribou(s?) of Colorado;  has a bad day in Rochester, NY;  and “settles down” in St. Louis wondering when and where the NFL football Cardinals will move next.  Thanks to Audible for sponsoring this week’s episode!