Thursday, September 22, 2011
A History of Hartford Fly By Night Sports Teams
Last month to little fanfar, the Hartford Colonials announced they were "suspending operations" for the 2011 UFL season. While the Colonials maintain that they hope to be back in 2012 and we wish them well, we all know that it is very unlikely that we will see them in Hartford again. The fold of the Colonials brought back memories of the many various Hartford teams in rogue, fly-by-night leagues. In fact Hartford's most beloved team, the Whalers were originally members of what is perhaps the last true rogue league, the WHA.
Unlike most of the other leagues that have fielded "lesser leagues" not intended to compete with the established professional leagues in their sport, the WHA competed directly with the NHL and hired away some of the NHL's biggest stars including Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent, and Gordie Howe. A 17 year old Wayne Gretzky also made his debut in the WHA. Originally known as the New England Whalers, the Whalers were the leagues first champion. In 1979 the WHA folded and the NHL accepted four WHA teams; the Whalers, Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, and the Winnipeg Jets. Only Edmonton remains in the same city, but Winnipeg will get their NHL team back due to relocation this season, giving a glimmer of hope to all those who pine for a return of the Whalers.
What about some of the lesser known Hartford sports franchises? We decided we'd delve into some research and remember some of these memorable and some not so memorable Hartford teams of years past.
The Hellcats basketball team came to Hartford as members of the CBA by way of Albany, NY. The CBA was a long running professional basketball league that had sent players to the NBA and would employ former NBA players. Former NBA players that played for the Hellcats included former NBA lottery pick Bo Kimble and former Celtic Charles Smith. While even hardcore basketball fans may be hard pressed to remember Charles, he was convicted of vehicular homicide from a hit and run accident and was later shot in Maryland, where the police searched his home the following day and found a large quantity of cocaine.
The Hellcats seemed to experience some moderate early success in Hartford. A 1994 New York Times article pegged them at averaging 4,000 fans per game at the Civic Center. A paragraph that reads more cryptic now then it probably did at the time the article states:
"No one expects the Hellcats to outdraw the Whalers, who average about 9,000 fans a game. But the Hellcats did just that on opening day, Nov. 20, against the Columbus Horizon, when, playing on a Saturday afternoon, they drew a record C.B.A. crowd of 11,762. That was 559 more than the Whalers attracted that night at the Civic Center."
CONNECTICUT PRIDE 1995-2001
After the 94-95 season the Hellcats were rebranded (sound familiar?) as the Connecticut Pride. The name was selected from a student entry into a contest to rename the team. The team won a CBA championship in the 1998-99 season. After a long existence the CBA quickly collapsed in 2oo1 after being purchased and under the deft leadership of sports managerial titan Isiah Thomas. When the CBA folded, some teams, including the Pride, moved onto the IBL for the rest of the season. At this point the Pride was playing in the State Armory and averaging just over 1,000 fans per game. When the IBL and CBA reorganized to start the 2001-2002 season, there was no Hartford franchise.
The Pride's lasting mark on Hartford was no doubt the catchy, yet non-sensical jingle that many still remember to this day. "C-Town baby on the rebound baby, it's going to be live, woo Connecticut Pride!"
Hartford also fielded basketball teams called the Capitols and Downtowners in a league called the Eastern League and the Hurricanes in the American Basketball league. We really couldn't find anything on them.
CONNECTICUT CRUSHERS 2001-Present?
Originally named the CT Crush, we thought this team was long defunct. We were wrong. This women's football team started in the National Women's Football Association. In 2009 the team moved to the Independent Women's Football League and changed it's name to Crushers. Home games are played at Dillon Stadium. The franchise's all time record through 2010 stands at 37-39. The Crushers were inactive in 2011 due to financial considerations, but the IWFL website states that they will return in 2012. Although the Crushers are not listed as an active team on the IWFL's website, there is a listing for the expansion Connecticut Wreckers out of Danbury and they are holding tryouts this Saturday.
NEW ENGLAND NIGHTMARE 2010-Present
Who knew Hartford had/has so many women's football teams? The Nightmare play in Women's Football Alliance and also play their home games in Dillon Stadium. In two seasons of play their record stands at 2-14.
CONNECTICUT CYCLONES 2006-2009
Another women's football team, the Cyclones were slated to join the Women's Football Alliance after moving from Hartford from West Haven in 2009. They did not play in 2009 and 2010 and it appears that they will never actually play in the WFA.
NEW ENGLAND SEA WOLVES 1999-2000
The Sea Wolves were an Arena League football team that lasted two seasons in Hartford after coming here from New York. The Sea Wolves played at the Civic Center and had the franchise's first ever winning record in 2000. The team was a failure financially and was sold to new owners who moved the team to Toronto where the team folded after two seasons.
Hartford was also home to a professional soccer team, Hartford S.C. from 1964-1968.
HARTFORD BICENTENNIALS 1975-1976
The Bicentennials played two seasons at Dillon Stadium in the North American Soccer League. Oddly enough, Hartford already had the Connecticut Yankees in the same league also playing at Dillon Stadium. This lead to dilution in attendance as the Bicentennials averaged only 3,700 per game. This wasn't helped by the fact they were also one of the leagues worst teams. In 1976 the Yankees moved to West Haven, which helped the Bicentennials attendance. After 1976 the team was moved to New Haven and Hartford, which had two teams in 1975, had none in 1977.
Sad City friend Gerry Brooks first told us about the Bicentennials. Apparently the went by the shortened name of "Bi's" while in existence. Seriously.
Gerry says he has a shirt somewhere. We would love to see that. The whole"Bi's" situation reminded us of when we asked someone a little older how it was possible that everyone didn't know George Michael was gay in the 80's, "it was just a different time back then."
Ed. Note: Thanks to Sad City reader Tony who left the link to this mind-boggling highlight package below.