Black Flag - "Rise Above"
While writing the last post about the USFL, I started to think about the various alternate/weirdo/legitimate threat leagues that have arisen in my lifetime to oppose/compliment/force mergers with the establishment professional sports leagues. Too many that I care to list, but certain ones have stuck in my mind over the decades. My earliest memory of an alternate sports league was the American Football League (AFL) of the sixties. I don't truly remember watching any games, but my dad and brother have suggested I was in the family room when AFL games were on TV. I do remember quite a few on our block being depressed after the Vikings suffered their (first) Super Bowl embarrassment to the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. (Me, I was too young to grasp what was going on. I doubt I even watched the big game. I just now know I miss Hank Stram.) I did absorb some major AFL knowledge in the seventies though via quite a few Scholastic books. Gotta admit I get a little giddy when the original AFL franchises wore throwback jerseys in honor of the league's fiftieth anniversary. Heck, even the original Denver Broncos' road whites were cool. Did I make reaching AFL references during the 1996 presidential campaign when former Buffalo Bill Jack Kemp was on the GOP ticket? Probably.
The American Basketball Association (ABA) is one of those oddball things from my childhood that I have glombed onto. My family lived in Denver 1972-76 and my dad took my brother and I to two ABA games: One was the Denver Rockets, one was the Denver Nuggets. I barely remember the first game (Rockets), I was probably seven. For the Nuggets game, I was probably ten and all I pretty much remember are players David Thompson and Dan Issel, and coach Larry Brown. What especially attracted me to the ABA as a kid was that it had a three-point line, long before the NBA or NCAA had three-pointers. It also had a red-white-and-blue basketball, which seemed really cool. I've followed and cheered for Larry Brown since then. (Bandwagon fan of the Detroit Pistons in the mid-aughts? That was me.) I proudly tell today's youth when the conversation turns to hoops: "I'm so old I attended ABA games!"
During that mid-seventies era when my family lived in Denver, there also existed the World Football League (WFL). This was a big deal only because I remember seeing Walter Conkrite give updates on it. But those were probably only in regard to its financial woes. But if Walt decided the WFL needed attention, well more power to 'em.
The World Hockey Association (WHA) moved four teams to the NHL after it folded. This was the original home of Wayne Gretzky. I guess I'm supposed to pay lip service to the Minnesota Fighting Saints, but I didn't live in the Upper Midwest during their existence and only knew of them from my rod hockey game, which while featuring all the same generic players as every other rod hockey game of the era, was uniquely a WHA Rod Hockey game because it had all the team logos on the side of the game. Sweet! (Sadly this game was lost in a family move at some point, I woulda been a hero to many roommates over the years for bringing this game into our dorm rooms or living rooms.)
I even did the books for a team in an alternate league for a couple of weeks twenty years ago. That was the Minnesota Fighting Pike, a short-lived franchise (one season, playing in the Target Center) in the still-ongoing Arena Football League (another AFL). Months afer their season was over, my temp agency sent me to the offices of the owner of the Fighting Pike high up in the IDS Center. It was simple and quiet work, entering and reconciling bank and credit card statements. The view out the office window from way up there was spectacular. Pike quarterback Rickey Foggie stopped by the front desk once, though I barely saw him from my office. In my second week I met the owner, an older gentleman named Tom. He asked me into his office, which was filled with photos and memorabilia from the Harlem Globetrotters, the Vancouver Canucks, and The Ice Capades. I found out years later that he had previously owned these franchises as well. Tom was a heck of a nice guy and while I was nervous after I handed him a financial report that showed that the team lost money, he smiled and said: "Great, this is exactly what my accountant needs. Thanks!" It dawned on me later that the loss would likely help reduce Tom's overall taxable income. We proceeded with small talk about my background. This was rare, as I found out during temp life that you didn't always meet people who were genuinely interested in you outside of someone who occupied space in a cubicle. Tom died a few years ago, I read his obituary and smiled, thinking: There was a genuninely nice rich guy.