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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Buckle up for our sophomore excursion into the legendary World Hockey Association, as we chat with the passionate founder and meticulous curator of the short-lived but influential league’s official Hall of Fame, Tim Gassen.
Physically ensconced inside the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, MN, as well as an expansive online digital presence, the WHA Hall of Fame is the undisputed historical authority on the brief seven-season life and wild times of the iconic 1970s-era challenger league that kicked the staid National Hockey League in the butt and reinvigorated the pro game in the process.
Gassen joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the:
Soccer America columnist (and Episode #6 interviewee) Paul Gardner summed up this week's Hall of Fame guest in his May 2015 commentary:
“The debt owed by American soccer to Clive Toye is a vast one. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say, flatly, that without Toye’s blind faith in the sport in the 1970s, pro soccer in the USA would have withered and died. Yes, Phil Woosnam and Lamar Hunt and Bob Hermann were there too. But in those unpromising years it was Toye’s voice -- it came in a steady flow of ridiculously optimistic press releases and grandiose plans for a future that few others even dared to ponder -- that called loudest.
“The New York Cosmos general manager credited with turning that league’s fortunes around when he signed Pele to a contract in 1975. Toye, who was born in England and came to the United States in 1967 at the age of 33, was president of three North American Soccer League teams – the Cosmos, Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard – and general manager of the [original National Professional Soccer League and subsequent NASL] Baltimore Bays. [He] was an official of the NASL in helping it through its crisis year of 1969 and in its final months in 1985 – and helped to found the third American Soccer League in 1988.
“There has always been the spirit of a showman in Toye, and surely it was that spirit that enabled Toye to overlook the virtual collapse of the old North American Soccer League and to see instead a glittering future for the sport in the USA, even to declare to anyone who was listening -- and not many were in those days -- the preposterous notion that the USA should begin preparing to stage the World Cup.
“And when the NASL, by the skin of its teeth and by the mad devotion of Toye et al., did survive, it was Toye who gave the reborn league its glittering image with his invention of the Cosmos, with his canny maneuvering and dealing, who brought Pele and Beckenbauer to New York. Showmanship indeed.”
Toye (A Kick in the Grass: The Slow Rise and Quick Demise of the NASL; Anywhere in the World) joins host Tim Hanlon for a lyrical and anecdote-filled journey through the pro league that he helped create, later put to rest, and which ultimately shored up the long-term foundation of the “beautiful game” in America.
Professional baseball was barely into its adolescence in 1884 when a hard-playing, hard-drinking minor league club out of tiny Wilmington, Delaware―the Quicksteps―got the opportunity of a lifetime.
Led by prototypical early era stars like loud-voiced outfielder/team captain Tommy “Oyster” Burns (aka the “Wilmington Growler,” who sold shellfish in the off-season), and Canadian-born curveball pioneer Edward “The Only” Nolan (who was briefly blacklisted from the National League for lying about missing a game to attend a funeral when he was, instead, out drinking) – the Quicksteps attacked opponents with a spike-sharpened, rough-and-tumble style befitting the major league style of the era.
Managed by a cricket-playing New Yorker and bankrolled by a cigar-chewing sporting goods dealer who ran illicit gambling rings by night, the Quicksteps were the talk of the town and the East Coast baseball establishment – accruing an .800 winning percentage in the minors and holding their own (and occasionally winning) in exhibitions with big league clubs.
The National League was less than a decade old then, and the American Association, which had been established two years earlier, was nipping at its heels. But when a maverick millionaire named Henry Lucas established a third major league that year―the Union Association―the pro game erupted into chaos.
When the ensuing battle for players and fans overwhelmed the upstart circuit’s Philadelphia Keystones midway through its inaugural 1884 season, the Quicksteps were invited and abruptly promoted to the Union Association to take their place in a single mid-season fell swoop. Their arrival in the majors, however, was anything but a dream come true.
Author Jon Springer (Once Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball's Wilmington Quicksteps) joins the pod to describe the story of the briefly major league team loaded with colorful characters, highlight plays, comical misfortune, and behind-the-scenes drama that, for a tumultuous and remarkable summer, was driven and ultimately destroyed by its own dream of success – while yielding a virtually unassailable record for baseball futility.
Thanks to our new friends at OldSchoolShirts.com sponsoring this week’s show!
This podcast could use a review! Have anything to say about it? Share your thoughts using the button below.Submit Review