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Phantoms Not The First AFL Team To Challenge CFL

Padraic Meehan
Sunday November 12, 2000


On October 17th it was officially announced that Hartford’s New England Sea Wolves would be moving to the Air Canada Center in Toronto under their new identity as the Toronto Phantoms. New England’s relocation made them the first Canadian team in an American-based football league since the World League of American Football’s Montreal Machine of the early 1990’s. The franchise will no longer be in the clumsy hands of Cablevision but rather to Rogers Communications, owner of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Phantom officials have said their advertising may “Shock the common person,” which reminds many AFL fans of the Los Angeles Avenger 1999 campaign that coined such colorful phrases as “12 Men will go both ways,” and “69 won’t be out of the question.”

Despite Robert Godfrey’s vow not to have home games the same night as the Toronto Argonauts, the relocation from Hartford has the Canadian Football League furious. Recently, CFL officials have said they will be working with Vince McMahon’s XFL, an inevitable threat to the AFL, to bring a franchise to Toronto. However, in a recent online chat, future CFL President Michael Lysko stated, “In terms of the XFL, I am not aware of any definite plans they have to expand into Canada.” Representatives of the Argonauts, who see the Phantoms as a direct threat, have revealed they are devising a Canadian Indoor Football League to rival the AFL that is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2002. Arena Football tried to work out a deal that would bring indoor football to Canada without competing with the CFL, and the CFL Board of Governors shot it down, despite its endorsement by now-exiting CFL prez John Tory.

Although this is easily the most publicized, it certainly is not the first clash the 50-yard war has had with the 110-yard war. The year was 1994, Canada’s failed attempt to sell their game to America was just beginning and three American teams began play. One of these organizations was CFL-USA’s biggest failure, the Las Vegas Posse. The Posse of the CFL competed alongside the Las Vegas Sting of the AFL for the attention of Sin City and what resulted was a draw. Although the teams weren’t equally matched they both fell well below expectations. The Sting managed to perform on the field, making the playoffs in their first year, however, despite their on-field success; they joined the Posse in averaging less than 10,000 fans a game. In fact, the Posse’s crowd was so bad that their final home game was moved to Edmonton. These teams played in a city with too many other distractions and their homes were far from the more popular sections of the Vegas Strip.

Even the grounds themselves weren’t suitable. The Thomas & Mack Center where the Sting played was designed primarily for basketball, not hockey, the ideal playing surface for Arena Football. Sam Boyd Stadium, where the Posse battled, wasn’t much better. It was 40 yards shy of being an official Canadian Field, which are normally 110 yards. The XFL’s Las Vegas Outlaws will be playing at this venue beginning this February.

One year later, the Posse failed in moving attempts to Jackson, Mississippi and Miami, Florida. The Sting hung onto one more year in Vegas before moving to Anaheim., The CFL had not yet abandoned hope that teams south of the border could prosper. This time, the battleground was Memphis, Tennessee. The Memphis Mad Dogs from Canada and the Memphis Pharaohs from the Arena Football League would clash this time around. Although the Mad Dogs managed to draw a somewhat decent crowd early on, (including a franchise-high 20,183 against Toronto in August 1995,) when the college football season began, citizens of Memphis forgot about the team most of Memphis never really knew about, and the Mad Dogs became another casualty of Canada’s experiment.

Which brings us to the year 2000. Why is this getting so much more press than before? Could it be because Arena Football has shed the image as a gimmicky, cheap, athlete graveyard that was once held? Could it be that the league has stepped into the ring with Canada’s team, their Dallas Cowboys, during their own post-Jimmy Johnson years? The Arena Football League has grown into a mainstream sport that is widely accepted and shows it by paying their athletes handsomely and bringing in crowds Jim Foster never could have dreamed of when he sketched a field on that infamous manila envelope in the early 1980’s. The Toronto Argonauts suffered through a miserable 2000 season. With a 7-10-1 record and an average attendance of 16,394, they are showing every sign of a CFL USA team and for the Argos and the CFL in general, it could not have come at a worse time.


 
Padraic Meehan was a writer for ArenaFan Online from 2000 to 2001.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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