The Power is Officially Out in Pittsburgh
Today, we bid farewell to arguably the most mismanaged, underappreciated, yet tremendously fascinating franchises in the history of the Arena Football League. Though the handwriting has been on the wall for weeks, the Pittsburgh Power have officially been closed for business, becoming the third team from the 2014 season to have left the league for 2015.
Football runs in the blood of so many in the great city of Pittsburgh. Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, and Curtis Martin all played their high school ball in the Steel City. Eight men currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame played their college ball at the University of Pittsburgh. Twenty-six men who were associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers are also in the Hall. Eleven National Champions and six Lombardi Trophies currently reside on the banks of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers.
Yet in this city where everyone associates with all things black and gold, a city where football literally runs through veins of every child from birth, and a city where football players are legends, the 50-yard brand of indoor football just never seemed to catch on.
Though most will be quick to point the finger to the fact that the Power never won a playoff game and only had one winning season as the reason for why fans never flocked to the Consol Energy Center, it should be noted that this is the same fan base which supported the Pittsburgh Pirates through decades of losing and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the days between Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby when times wins were few and far between. Losing isn’t an excuse for the failures of this franchise, nor is it the real reason why the Power aren't here any longer.
Mismanagement was crucial. Advertising was never truly sufficient in Pittsburgh, and the local media never helped the team out by giving it some love on sports talk radio. Though everyone in Pittsburgh knows who the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, and Panthers are, the Power were more or less just lost in the mix.
Though a lack of advertising and a lack of cooperation from the city in general didn't help, what really killed the Power was nothing that Matt Shaner, Lynn Swann, or anyone at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review could have done anything about.
The date of death on the Pittsburgh Power will read December 15th, 2014, but for all intents and purposes, that date may as well have read March 9th, 2012. On that day, the Power were slated to play in Orlando, but a disagreement between the newly formed AFL Players Union and the league came to a head on that night, and Pittsburgh was stuck in the middle of it all. The franchise was essentially thrown to the wolves and was asked to fire all of its players before the opening snap. The game was played with scabs, and #OliveGarden became a tremendous joke amongst AFL loyalists, referencing the fact that all of the players were dismissed at a pregame meal at the local Italian restaurant. Sure, the Power won 40-26, but their chemistry was finished that season when their players reconvened, and Chris Siegfried and his men never really had a chance for success.
The tumultuous season wasn't finished for the Power at that point in 2012. On June 8th, Pittsburgh picked up its second "win" of the season thanks to the labor dispute. The Cleveland Gladiators didn't show up to play that night, and the fans who traveled from the Steel City were sent home without seeing a game. To date, it is the only forfeited game in AFL history.
In games which were played by real teams that year, the Power went 3-13, and they averaged just 5,163 fans per game.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the 2013 season was a debauchery as well. Derek Stingley managed to hang onto his job for some unknown reason after he took over in 2012 for the fired Siegfried, and his choice for a quarterback in Jordan Jefferson proved to be a debacle. Four different men threw at least 59 passes that season for the Power, and they were beaten by at least 26 points in five of their eight home games, including the last home game of the year, a 78-20 blowout at the hands of the San Jose SaberCats.
Again, Shaner made the mistake of letting Stingley keep his job heading into 2014, but there was clearly a change in the mentality of the team. Tommy Grady, Prechae Rodriguez, Aaron LeSue, Rodney Wright, Hank Edwards, and Virgil Gray, all men who were All-Arena types of performers in their career, came together as free agents (or in the case of Grady, via the dispersal dra… err… "Offseason Reassignment Process") in Pittsburgh. One game into the season, a loss at home against the Cleveland Gladiators (and little did we know that they would end up going 17-1!), was the end for Stingley in what might be the first case in professional football history in which a team fired its head coach after the first game of the season. In came Ron James, who revived the Power and finished with wins in 15 of their 17 regular season games.
Interestingly enough, Pittsburgh's last official game was played in the same city where its franchise essentially fatally wounded. The Power were knocked out of the playoffs in Orlando, and the two teams that went on to play in the American Conference Championship Game were ironically Cleveland and Orlando, the two teams which Pittsburgh picked up wins against thanks to the labor problems two years ago.
The Power figured to be ArenaBowl contenders this year. They were bringing back Grady, LeSue and Rodriguez, as well as their entire offensive line and their fullback. They added Joe Hills on the first day of free agency as well, which would have given them arguably the best receiving corps in the league. The defense was set to be captained by Joe Sykes, another major signing on the first day of free agency.
But then came more of the bad luck the Power became known for. For years under the direction of Jerry Kurz, and even prior to that in the C. David Baker days, bending (or in some cases, outright disregarding and destroying) the rules of the salary cap was the norm. It was something which was and is continued to be discussed by talking heads like myself and fans from across the league. And hey, if you can't beat 'em, and you want to win? Join 'em! After all, nothing was really ever done about it to really try to stop it from happening.
The Power were fined $100,000 by the league in October for salary infractions from both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The argument could be made that the fine was the final straw for Shaner and Pittsburgh's ownership, though we'll probably never really know that answer.
Though no one can firmly prove that there have been shenanigans going on across the league, it is unfortunate that Pittsburgh was the one team which was popped for breaking the rules.
Alas, the final chapter of the Pittsburgh Power was written, and yet another market which was once full of promise has been torched to the ground due to mismanagement and misfortune.
RIP Pittsburgh Power, 2011-2014.