Sunday, May 14, 2017

[OC] Lost Leagues- Part II: History of the Spring Football League

It’s the turn of the century, and people are tired of no football in the offseason. People are tired of just having the NFL, and want something more. They want a spring football league that’s going to be everything that fans want the NFL to be. There would be a team in Los Angeles that plays at the LA Memorial Coliseum. There would be a team in Florida. This would be the league to revolutionize springtime football. This is the X—

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s not for another few weeks. Let’s try this again.

It’s the turn of the century, and people are tired of no football in the offseason. People are tired of just having the NFL, and want something more. They want a spring football league that’s going to be everything that fans want the NFL to be. There would be a team in Los Angeles that plays at the LA Memorial Coliseum. There would be a team in Florida. This would be the league to revolutionize springtime football.

This is the SFL. The Spring Football League.

The more famous league of the 21st century to play during the spring would come in 2001 with the revolutionary and bold XFL. But in 2000, a different spring league would emerge, called the SFL. The difference between the XFL and the SFL? You’ve probably never heard of the SFL. Heck, it was only last week that I first heard of this league through some Wikipedia searching.

Nevertheless, this was a professional football league (players received $1,200 per game) that existed and tried to establish itself as a viable spring football option. However, after just four games (two for each team), the league folded. Give the UFL credit- at least they had a few full seasons before they folded midway. The SFL? It lasted just four games. It had poor attendance. It had no coverage whatsoever. How this league ever got off the ground, I’m not entirely sure.

But, that’s what this Lost Leagues series is all about. It’s about looking at the other American football leagues not named the NFL and analyzing their existence, however memorable it was, and seeing what went wrong. There’s not a whole lot on the SFL, but from the stuff I found, you can pretty much pinpoint where everything went wrong.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the 4-game existence of the SFL.

Part I: A Quick Formation

There are some leagues that take months and years to plan out. It’s not easy to just start a football league overnight. From the time the XFL was conceived to the time it kicked off, it was roughly a year. Even that was considered ambitious and really quick, especially for a league of that magnitude. There’s a reason you don’t see expansion teams in leagues like the NFL and NHL announced and then have them see the field four months later; it takes time to plan these things.

The SFL, on the other hand, was not one of those leagues. The league was formed on March 1, 2000. Opening day was April 29, 2000. From the time the league was formed to the time the first game kicked off, it was less than two months. Already, you can tell that this league wasn’t thought out well.

Keep in mind that the XFL, which would kick off in 2001, was announced on February 3 of that year, one month prior to the formation of the SFL. The XFL had something going for it, and that was hype. It had Vince McMahon. It had a TV contract. So even if the SFL succeeded in year one (spoiler alert- it did not), it would have no chance of succeeding in year two. Had the SFL been announced in 1999 and then the XFL came along and announced their intention to play springtime football, then it’s a different story and it’s just a case of bad luck for the SFL. But here? This is just poor timing.

Before I go on, I can’t stress enough how little coverage and attention this league received. I did a Google search of “Spring Football League,” restricted my search from 3/1/00 to 6/1/00, and saw what came up. The first thing was the Wikipedia page for the league. However, if I wanted to literally any other article about the SFL, I legitimately could not find anything. Now, if I searched other teams in the league, I was able to find stuff (so I actually have some sources for this one), but there are no articles according to Google that directly mention the phrase “spring football league,” outside of those talking about the XFL, including this hysterical article saying how the USA is turning into ancient Rome, including this phrase, presented without context: “The XFL appears to be a modern-day version of women fighting dwarfs.”

The league was originally planned to have a 12-week schedule with a championship game on Memorial Day. Franchises would be placed in Birmingham, Canton, Houston, Jackson, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, and Washington DC with a 12-week schedule. Instead, it became a 4-week schedule with teams in just 4 of those cities. The guy in charge of the league was Bill Futterer, who had no experience in any league office whatsoever but was good with getting expansion teams. Additionally, you had NFL players signed on in the front office, like Eric Dickerson, Bo Jackson, Tony Dorsett, and Drew Pearson. And, the rules were identical, except for the fact that kickoffs would take place at the 20-yard line.

There may have been some ambition at the start, but by the time the league got going, it was dramatically scaled back. For starters, the SFL had no television contract. Footage of the SFL is so hard to find that only one channel on YouTube has any footage whatsoever proving that this league actually exists. If the XFL did everything right in terms of promotion, the SFL did everything wrong. Here’s highlights of a game between the Miami Tropics and the Houston Marshalls. By highlights, I mean one play and a reporter awkwardly dancing. If you watch carefully, right around the 26 second mark, you can see how there’s nobody in the stands; granted, this is behind the end zone, but still.

There’s also footage of a practice involving the San Antonio Matadors. This seems highly illegal. In fact, there’s 2 videos of practice. You can insert your Spygate jokes here, because to be honest, I’m not sure how this operation didn’t get shut down. As you can tell, though, that’s hardly a place to practice. The field is covered with dirt. The goal posts are nowhere near what they actually are during a real game. I’ve seen middle school practice fields look nicer than this.

Anyways, this league started off with four teams- the Los Angeles Dragons (who were so popular that they don’t even have their own Wikipedia page), the Miami Tropics, the Houston Marshals, and the San Antonio Matadors. This is one of the things that I never understood about leagues that were hard-pressed for money; why would you spread all of your teams out, especially if you don’t have a TV contract? Why would you make it so that your team would have to fly to every game (except for Houston/San Antonio)?

Also, the market selection for a springtime football league with no promotion whatsoever was horrible. Having a spring team in Los Angeles when literally every other league is in play and the Los Angeles/Anaheim area has multiple teams to choose from in each league is moronic. San Antonio and Houston made perfect sense- they’re close to each other, don’t have pro football teams (the Texans did not exist at the time), and there’s not a whole lot in the pro sports market that’s happening there at this time of the year. They also played at stadiums that were not carnivorous (Alamo Stadium and Robertson Stadium). But Los Angeles and Miami? That’s just silly.

Let’s see if this league could defy the odds and actually make something work.

Part II: The 2000 Season

Here’s an interesting question- which McCown brother played in the SFL? The correct answer is Randy McCown. Here’s another fun fact- the Miami Tropics game was the last professional football game held at the Orange Bowl.

Aside from those two fun facts, there’s nothing whatsoever that was memorable about this league. Again, this league had just four teams, had no television contract, and had no real coverage whatsoever. There was also very little talent in this league; the quality of play was pretty poor. The starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Dragons was Justin Vedder. In 1998, his final season there, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns at California, and threw a grand total of 11 touchdowns in 11 games. The starting halfback for the Dragons, Saladin McCullough, was cut after just one season in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. And the leading receiver for the Dragons, Tyrone Ashley, last played an organized football game with Ole Miss back in 1991. It had been nine years.

When you combine that with the fact that the teams literally got together ten days before the season to practice, the writing was on the wall in terms of the nonexistent talent. There was no standout. There was no chemistry. The quality of football was really bad.

The first game in league history was played on April 29, about seven weeks after the formation of the league. It was between the Houston Marshals and the Los Angeles Dragons. I was able to find a website that had the schedule of games, and basically, this would’ve been a quick season. It started on April 29, and you would’ve had your championship game on May 27. I don’t know how you have a league that lasts less than a month, but that’s a tough league to get into. It was scheduled to be 29-day season. For perspective, the NBA playoffs are twice as long. Imagine if, assuming each playoff series was just one game, the Golden State Warriors had a 10-game regular season. That’s how long the SFL’s inaugural season was.

Game #1 between the Dragons and Marshalls was the best game of the season, as the Marshals won in the final 2 minutes of the game on a game-winning field goal by kicker Kyle Bryant. The Marshals won 1-0 in front of a fantastic crowd of 1,100 at the LA Memorial Coliseum, which seats 93,000. That means that a grand total of 1.1% of the seats were filled at the stadium.

Let’s have some perspective on how low this number is and how bad this actually looks. This is Winthrop’s soccer stadium. If we’re playing the attendance percentage game, then this means that exactly 1 person was in the stands. Imagine 1 person in those bleachers watching a professional sporting event. That was your attendance equivalent for the inaugural SFL game.

Attendance in this league was pretty poor, as you could imagine. According to this website, no team averaged more than 1,500 fans per game, and the Miami Tropics got a grand total of 650 fans for their game at the carnivorous Orange Bowl. The league also had an identity crisis. Here are all of the SFL logos ever. The Dragons were originally named the Stars, but once they realized that their logo looked like something you’d see on a Jump Rope for Heart tee shirt, they changed their name to the Dragons.

As for the Marshals, that was their third name. Remember, the league was formed in March and began play in April. By the time the league started, the Houston team had gone through 3 different names. The first name was the Houston Mavericks, which is just terrible naming, seeing as one of the two biggest rivals that the Houston Rockets of the NBA have are the Dallas Mavericks. It’s the equivalent of naming a team the Boston Yankees. Then, they changed their name to the Houston Orbits, but again, that’s extremely similar to the Houston Astros, so that would cause some confusion. They finally settled on the Houston Marshals. To recap, half the teams had changed their name before the start of the season, despite being formed about a month earlier. Even the league changed its logo before the start of the season, changing it from something you’d find on a castle to something you’d find as a menu logo for a PS1 game.

Here’s the very few pictures available of the SFL. Keep in mind that the website that this is from has not been updated since 2002. Having the name of the website on the 50-yard line is only the second most awkward writing on a field from 2000. What the Ravens were thinking that year, I don’t know, but if you win a Super Bowl, I guess that makes everything forgiven, even if it meant an awful end zone for a year. Notice the distinct lack of fans. This league never had a chance.

Part III: Demise & Legacy

I will give the league credit where credit is due- they actually paid their players. Unlike the UFL and other failed leagues/teams, the SFL, despite their horrible management, actually paid players their contracts, including the bonuses they received for winning games. Having said that, paying the players was about the only good thing that the SFL did.

You might be wondering how I can already be talking about the demise of the league when I only talked about one game so far (Marshals/Dragons). Am I skipping over anything? Nope. That game between the Marshals and Dragons was 25% of all games played in the league.

That same week, the San Antonio Matadors beat the Miami Tropics at the Orange Bowl by a final score of 16-14. On May 6, the Marshals beat the Tropics 40-10, and the Matadors beat the Dragons 21-8. Then, the league folded. They only got 4 games in. They had a 4-week season, and couldn’t even finish that before they called it quits. Houston and San Antonio were declared co-champions, and that was a wrap on the very short 2000 season.

The league tried to come back in 2001 with eight teams, but couldn’t do it, especially with the XFL. There was no need for 2 pro spring football leagues, especially when the SFL absolutely bombed in 2000. Festival 2000, as the inaugural season was called for some reason, was the lamest festival of all-time, and that includes the Fyre Festival.

This was a league that was not even remotely planned out, as shown with the identity changes and quick formation. The executives involved were so preoccupied with whether they could put on a spring league that they didn’t stop to think if they should. Turns out, they couldn’t even do the first part right. A four game season is downright laughable, and to not even play half of those games shows how bad the league was. This is one of the few leagues I can think of that actually folded midway through their first season. It was that bad, and nobody remembers the SFL.

One year later, there would be a spring league that actually looked for a brief moment like it had a fighting chance. But we’ll get to that later.

Next Sunday: We’re going back to the fall, as earlier this decade, the FXFL was created as an unofficial minor league to the NFL. How did that league hold up?

Lost Leagues (Sundays) Record Watch- Offense (Mondays) Draft Scratchers (Tuesdays) Record Watch- Defense (Wednesdays) One Hit Wonders (Thursdays) Weird Stat Threads (Fridays)
Part I: United Football League Part I: Passing Yards Part I: Roger Vick (NY Jets, 1987) Part II: Sacks Part I: Derek Loville (San Francisco, 1995) Part I: NFL vs. Eurovision
Part II: Spring Football League Part III: Receptions Part II: Tyson Alualu
Part III: Fall Experimental Football League

Submitted May 14, 2017 at 10:25AM by JaguarGator9
via reddit

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