Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1984-1985 Memphis Showboats

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Memphis ShowboatsUnited States Football League (1984-1985)

Born: July 17, 1983 – USFL expansion franchise
Folded: August 1986

Stadium: The Liberty Bowl

Team Colors:

Owners:

USFL Championships: None

 

The Memphis Showboats entered the United States Football League as an expansion club for the spring league’s second season in 1984. The USFL awarded the franchise to Logan Young Jr., heir to an Arkansas margarine fortune, in July of 1983. The following month, a Name The Team contest in The Memphis Commercial Appeal generated 21,052 entries. “Showboats” beat out “Hound Dogs” and “Mudcats” from the list of three finalists.

In September 1983, Young signed former UCLA and Georgia Tech head coach Pepper Rodgers to coach the Showboats. Perhaps the most dynamic and fun-loving of the USFL’s eighteen coaches, Rodgers would become a popular figure in Memphis during the Showboats era.

Logan Young Jr. lived in Memphis and attended Vanderbilt University. Despite this pedigree, he was an obsessive Alabama Crimson Tide booster thanks to a close family friendship with the late Alabama coach Bear Bryant. (Decades after the USFL’s demise, Young would earn a federal prison sentence for bribing a high school football coach to steer a star player to Alabama). Perhaps it was Young’s Crimson Tide fixation that led the Showboats to offer a $1 million contract to 38-year old former Crimson Tide quarterback Ken Stabler in December 1983. Fortunately for the Showboats, Stabler turned down the offer to stay in the NFL. The Snake would play only three more pro games. The Showboats would save their money for the 1984 college draft. And money was becoming an issue for Young.

Rudi Schiffer – Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations 1984 & 1985

Logan Young was a millionaire in Memphis who originally bought the team in 1983. But he fell on tough times and had to sell it and Billy Dunavant bought it from him. Billy was a cotton merchant known around the world.

The USFL held its college draft each year in January. Prior to the open draft, the USFL also held a territorial draft that allowed teams to protect the rights to players from local colleges. The Showboats claimed territorial rights to two defensive standouts projected to be NFL first round draft picks in April: cornerback Leonard Coleman of Vanderbilt and defensive end Reggie White of Tennessee.

Coleman elected to wait for the NFL draft in May. But the Showboats made national headlines in January 1984 by signing White to a 5-year $4 million contract.

Reggie White Memphis ShowboatsRudi Schiffer

We had a press conference at the Peabody Hotel to announce we had signed ReggieWe handed him a check for a signing bonus of $500,000. Here’s a kid who grew up poor and had no money and all of a sudden he’s got $500,000.

He promptly went over to a local store called Lansky’s for big and tall guys. And they locked the door behind him and the salesmen went to work. He ended up buying something like 60 or 70 pairs of white socks for $5,000. And somehow it ended up leaking out that Reggie got taken advantage of. A big story in the papers about Reggie being used and so on. So I went to Bernard Lansky, who was on old promoter himself. I says ‘Bernard, we’ve got a problem. I’ve got an idea if you go along with it and Reggie goes along with it. We need to defuse this.’

We got a radio station involved – Rock 103 – and Lansky’s gave us thousands of socks to give away. Pepper Rodgers was fine with it. Reggie’s sock size 15 or whatever. We made a big bundle of these socks that could twirl around his head as he came out of the tunnel during pre-game introductions. And the crowd went nuts and everything was fine – everybody was happy. And Pepper took all the credit for the promotion.

The Showboats other major college signing was quarterback Walter Lewis from the University of Alabama. Lewis ran the option at Alabama and was a more consistent runner than passer. Although he would flash brilliance over the next two seasons, Lewis never fully beat out journeyman pocket passer Mike Kelley for the Showboats starting job.

The Showboats debuted at the Liberty Bowl on February 26, 1984.  The team put up a respectable showing against the league’s eventual champions, the Philadelphia Stars, losing 17-9 before 28,098 fans. The next week saw the Showboats’ first victory, a 23-13 win over a weak Chicago Blitz team at the Liberty Bowl. But weeks 3 and 4 saw back-to-back blowout divisional losses to the New Orleans Breakers (37-14) and the Birmingham Stallions (54-6). New owner Billy Dunavant declared that he would boost the Showboats’ $2.7 million player budget by an additional $2 million to make the team more competitive.

The Showboats finished their expansion season with a 7-11 record. Off the field, the franchise began to gain momentum. In contrast to many other USFL cities, crowds in Memphis gradually grew during the 1984 season. It all culminated in a sellout crowd of 50,079 at the Liberty Bowl for the ‘Boats home finale on June 16th, 1984. It was only the second sellout in the USFL’s two-year history.

Memphis Showboats USFLAs the Showboats’ focus turned to the 1985 season, owner Billy Dunavant made good on his earlier promise to boost payroll to put a winner on the field. The Showboats went after the top two defensive backs drafted in the May 1984 NFL Draft, Mossy Cade (#6 overall) from the University of Texas and Leonard Coleman (#8 overall) of Vanderbilt. Memphis picked Coleman in the USFL territorial draft in January 1984, but he decided to wait for the NFL at the time. Now both Cade and Coleman were contract holdouts in the NFL. The Showboats swooped in and poached both players.

The USFL shrank from 18 to 14 teams for the 1985 season. A major factor in the contraction was the league’s controversial plan to switch from spring football to a fall schedule beginning in 1986. Dunavant was one of the backers of the fall switch. When the passed in the summer of 1984, it set of a wave of moves and mergers as other USFL clubs fled NFL markets. The contraction put 200 players on the market and the Showboats plucked many of the best ones. Linebacker John Corker, the league’s 1983 Defensive Player-of-the-Year, came over from the Michigan Panthers. Running backs Tim Spencer and Harry Sydney revitalized what had been an anemic rushing attack in 1984.

Finally, just a few weeks before the 1985 opener, the Showboats inked NFL free agent left tackle Luis Sharpe to a 4-year, $2.3 million contract. Sharpe was one of the finest young lineman in all of pro football. His February 1985 deal with Memphis was arguably the last significant defection in the USFL-NFL wars. The 1985 Showboats now featured five players (Sharpe, White, Cade, Coleman and Spencer) who were actual or projected 1st round picks in the prior three NFL drafts.

The Showboats opened the 1985 season 3-0, including a victory over the defending champion Baltimore Stars. But the team dropped five of the next six to reach the midway point at a disappointing 4-5. Pepper Rodgers benched Walter Lewis in favor of Mike Kelley for the season’s second half. It was an odd move on paper. Lewis was the top quarterback by rating in the USFL in 1985, with 16 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions. As a running threat, he averaged an eye-popping 9.1 yards per carry with 5 more touchdowns. But it worked.

The Showboats caught fire in the second half of 1985. The team reeled off victories in seven of its final nine games to make playoffs with an 11-7 record. One of the Showboats few late season losses was a 17-7 loss to Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals at Giants Stadium. But Memphis claimed an important scalp in the game. Reggie White cracked the collarbone of New Jersey’s prized rookie Doug Flutie, sending their Eastern Conference rivals into the postseason with a back-up quarterback.

Mike Kelley remained under center for the Showboats postseason debut on June 30th, 1985. By seeding, the game should have been played at Denver. But the Denver Gold’s attendance cratered in 1985 and league broadcaster ABC prevailed upon the league to switch the game to the Liberty Bowl where the crowd would look better on television. The Showboats crushed the Gold 48-7 to advance to the semi-finals.  Once again, the Showboats hosted at the Liberty Bowl despite being the lower seed. But this time they lost, bowing the the USFL’s best regular season team, the Oakland Invaders, on July 6th, 1985. It proved to be the final Showboats game.

Memphis prepared for the 1986 USFL fall season as one of the just eight remaining franchises. But after a crushing jury award in the league’s anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, the USFL folded operations in August 1986.

 

Memphis Showboats Shop


Showboats Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

Showboats White Logo T-Shirt by Papas Tees

Just published! One of FWIL’s Top Sports Books of 2017

 

Memphis Showboats Memorabilia

 

Showboats Video

Showboats vs. the Baltimore Stars at the Liberty Bowl on March 9th, 1985.

Behind-the scenes clips of Memphis Showboats football from The Pepper Rodgers Show


In Memoriam

Linebacker Rod Shoate (Showboats ’84) died on October 4, 1999 at age 46.

Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White (Showboats ’84-’85) passed away on December 26, 2004 of a cardiac arrhythmia. White was 43 years old. New York Times obituary.

Showboats founder and part-owner Logan Young was found dead at his home on April 11, 2006. Initially described as a likely homicide by Memphis police, investigators later announced that the 65-year old died of an accidental fall.

Defensive back Doran Major (Showboats ’84-’85) died of cancer on June 11, 2012 at age 51.

Former Memphis State running back Terdell Middleton (Showboats ’84) died on April 3, 2015 at age 59.

 

Downloads

2012 Fun While It Lasted interview with former Showboats VP of Marketing & Public Relations Rudi Schiffer

 

Links

United States Football League Media Guides

United States Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

November 27th, 2017 at 4:08 am

1980-1982 Salem Raiders

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Salem RaidersEastern Hockey League (1980-1981)
Atlantic Coast Hockey League (1981-1982)

Born: 1981 – The Utica Mohawks relocate to Salem, VA
Re-Branded: 1982 (Virginia Raiders)

Arena: Salem-Roanoke County Civic Center

Team Colors:

Owners:

EHL Championships:
ACHL Championships: None

 

The Salem Raiders were a minor league hockey club that operated in the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia in the early 1980’s. The Raiders played, at first, in the Eastern Hockey League and the roster consisted mostly of minor-league lifers. There were a few exceptions. Raiders Pierre Lagace and Bruce Greig both saw time in the World Hockey Association in the late 1970’s. Greig also had a cup of coffee with the NHL’s California Golden Seals. Raiders head coach Pat Kelly was the head man for the NHL’s Colorado Rockies in 1977 and 1978.

After the 1980-81 season, the EHL re-organized itself as the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. The ACHL endured a brutal debut season. Two of the league’s seven franchises folded during the first month of the season. A third, the Cape Cod Buccaneers owned by World Wrestling Foundation mogul Vince McMahon, withdrew after 39 games.  The four remaining clubs voted to cut short the 1981-82 regular season and move directly to the playoffs. Salem had the best record in the league at the time at 32-15. The Raiders lost to the Mohawk Valley Stars of Utica, New York in the championship series.

The team returned to the ACHL and the Salem Civic Center in the fall of 1982 with a new name (Virginia Raiders), new owner and new colors. The franchise eventually folded in August 1983.

 

In Memoriam

Bruce Greig (Raiders ’80-’82) died in a car accident in Nanton, Alberta on May 24, 2008 at age 55.

Robert Payne of Utica, New York, who owned the Raiders from their arrival in 1980 until February 1982, passed away on October 25, 2012 at the age of 98.

 

Links

Eastern Hockey League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

November 26th, 2017 at 3:45 pm

1947-1955 Rock Hill Chiefs

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1953 Rock Hill Chiefs ProgramTri-State League (1947-1955)

Born: 1947
Folded: 1955

Stadium: Municipal Stadium

Major League Affiliations:

  • 1947-1949: None
  • 1950-1951: Chicago Cubs
  • 1952-1953: None
  • 1954-1955: Washington Senators

Owners:

Tri-State League Champions: 1950

 

The Rock Hill Chiefs played in the Class B Tri-State League for eight seasons from 1947 until 1955. The Tri-State League featured teams from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The Chiefs won the Tri-State League crown in 1950, besting the Asheville Tourists 4 games to 3 in a best-of-seven series.

By 1955 the Tri-State League was on its last legs. The circuit started the season with just four clubs in the Carolinas: Asheville, Greenville, Rock Hill and Spartanburg. The Chiefs themselves were in severe financial straits. The club held several emergency fund drives to meet payroll. During one game in August 1955, the penniless team simply left ticket booths unmanned and left buckets around Municipal Stadium for fans to make donations. The Chiefs and the Tri-State League both closed up shop at the end of the 1955 season.

Pro baseball returned to Rock Hill eight years with the formation of a Western Carolinas League franchise that played from 1963-1968.

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Written by Drew Crossley

November 25th, 2017 at 4:33 am

1979-1993 Greensboro Hornets

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Greensboro HornetsWestern Carolinas League (1979)
South Atlantic League (1980-1993)

Born: 1979 – Western Carolinas League expansion franchise
Re-Branded: 1994 (Greensboro Bats)

Stadium: World War Memorial Stadium

Major League Affiliations:

  • 1979: Cincinnati Reds
  • 1980-1984: New York Yankees
  • 1985-1987: Boston Red Sox
  • 1988-1989: Cincinnati Reds
  • 1990-1993: New York Yankees

Owners:

Western Carolinas League Championships: None
South Atlantic League Champions: 1980, 1981 & 1982

 

The Greensboro Hornets joined the Class A Western Carolinas League in 1979. Larry Schmittou owned the Class AA Nashville Sounds, along with a coterie of country music stars including Conway Twitty, Cal Smith and Richard Sterban of the Oak Ridge Boys. Under Schmittou’s management, the Sounds became one of the most popular and financially successful minor league baseball franchises in the country in the late 1970’s. Schmittou and his group turned their sights next on Greensboro, purchasing the Hornets as an expansion club for $25,000.

Schmittou, who remained in Nashville, installed Tom Romenesko as General Manager and the duo set out to replicate the Sounds success. The team ran promotions virtually every night in 1979. A Used Car Night drew 8,215 fans to World War Memorial Stadium. A visit by Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Feller attracted 5,000. On August 22, 1979, the Hornets broke the stadium attendance record when 12,602 fans showed up for a game.

Change was afoot in 1980. The Western Carolinas League re-branded itself as the South Atlantic League. The New York Yankees replaced the Cincinnati Reds as the Hornets’ parent club. The Hornets won the first of three consecutive South Atlantic League titles that summer. A Yankees prospect named Don Mattingly led the circuit with a .358 batting average.

The Hornets Major League affiliation shuffled several times during the rest of the 1980’s. Both the Reds and the Yankees would return for second stints in town. Schmittou’s group sold the Hornets for a reported $900,000 in 1989 to Raleigh, North Carolina businessman Steve Bryant.

Around the same time, the Hornets got embroiled in legal disputes with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and their owner George Shinn over the use of the “Hornets” moniker. Bryant appeared to prevail in a legal settlement in 1991 that allowed Greensboro to continue to use the name. Nevertheless, the team re-branded itself in 1994 as the Greensboro Bats.

By the dawn of the 1990’s the Yankees were back as Greensboro’s Major League sponsor. A teenage Derek Jeter appeared briefly for the Hornets in 1992 and then played the entire summer in Greensboro in 1993. Jeter made an astonishing 56 errors (!) for Greensboro at shortstop in 1993.

The former Hornets franchise remains in Greensboro and continues to play the South Atlantic League. The team moved into a new ballpark in 2005 and is known as the Greensboro Grasshoppers today.

 

Links

Western Carolina League Programs

South Atlantic League Media Guides

South Atlantic League Programs

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1995 Birmingham Barracudas

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Birmingham BarracudasCanadian Football League (1995)

Born: January 11, 1995 – CFL expansion franchise
Folded: February 1996

Stadium: Legion Field

Team Colors:

Owner: Art Williams

Grey Cup Championships: None

 

The Birmingham Barracudas were the final American expansion team awarded during the Canadian Football League’s failed incursion into the United States during the mid-1990’s. The CFL arrived in America in 1993 with a single club in Sacramento, California. Expansion teams in Baltimore, Las Vegas and Shreveport, Louisiana followed a year later. For 1995, Sacramento moved to San Antonio, Las Vegas folded, and Birmingham and Memphis became the last American cities to join the CFL. Life insurance mogul Art Williams purchased the Birmingham expansion rights in January 1995. Oddly, he chose the nickname “Barracudas” for his landlocked Alabama franchise.

The Barracudas tabbed former Houston Oilers head coach Jack Pardee to run the team. Pardee was a pioneer of the Run and Shoot offense during his time with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL and later with the University of Houston and the Oilers. Two-time All-CFL quarterback Matt Dunigan signed as a free agent and led the ‘Cudas high-scoring offense.

The Barracudas debuted at 75,000-seat Legion Field on July 15, 1995 with a 51-28 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The opening day crowd of 31,185 marked a strong debut by CFL standards. Crowds stayed strong for the next two Saturday nights as well. 25,321 turned out for a 24-14 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on July 22nd and 30,729 for a 36-8 loss to the Baltimore Stallions on July 29th.

The Barracudas were high-scoring and competitive. But attendance crashed in September and October once high school football and the  Auburn and University of Alabama college schedules got under way. Barracudas executives anticipated the problem. The CFL traditionally played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Williams got an exception for the Barracudas. Birmingham would play home games at Legion Field on Saturday evenings in July and August, but would be allowed to play on Sundays once college and high school football got under way after Labor Day. It didn’t matter. On Sunday October 1, 1995 an announced crowd of just 6,317 showed up for a home win against the Shreveport Pirates. The following Sunday was no better – 6,859 for a divisional contest against the San San Antonio Texans. For all intents and purposes, the Barracudas were done in Birmingham.

The Barracudas made the Grey Cup playoffs with a 10-8 record. But Matt Dunigan broke the index finger on this throwing hand in the season’s penultimate game. He would miss the Barracudas’ November 5, 1995 playoff game against the San Antonio Texans. Kelvin Simmons, with one pro start to his name, couldn’t move the offense. The Texans blew out the Barracudas 52-9 in the Alamodome. It was last game the team would ever play.

In January 1996 Art Williams reached an agreement in principle to unloaded his CFL membership to a group from Louisiana for a reported $750,000. The group hoped to move the Barracudas to Shreveport to replace that city’s own outgoing CFL team, the Shreveport Pirates. But the Louisiana group was unable to complete the deal by the CFL’s January 31, 1996 deadline. CFL owners to disband what remained of the CFL’s American franchises in February 1996.

Art Williams purchased the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 1998. He lost a reported $20 million on the team in 9 months before selling it at a further loss, thus bringing his pro sports adventures to an end.

Barracudas quarterback Matt Dunigan earned election to the Canadian Football Hall-of-Fame in 1996.

 

Birmingham Barracudas Shop


End Zones & Border Wars: The Era of American Expansion in the CFL by Ed Willes

 

Birmingham Barracudas Memorabilia

 

Links

Canadian Football League Media Guides

Canadian Football League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

November 23rd, 2017 at 5:00 pm

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