Two Former AFL Teams Should be Considered for the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame
Recently, Pete Spivak, Jr. appeared on a Detroit television station to talk about a team that many people may have forgotten about, the 1983 Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League. His late father was a part owner of the team as well as the league’s first commissioner. Spivak is on a campaign to get the 1983 Panthers into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. But there are a couple of other teams, from the Arena Football League, that I feel should be considered for that honor as well.
The Michigan Panthers won the USFL championship in the league’s inaugural season by defeating the Philadelphia Stars 24-22 at Denver’s Mile High Stadium. The Panthers were led by quarterback Bobby Hebert and wide receiver Anthony Carter. After the Panthers’ 37-21 playoff win over the Oakland Invaders at the Pontiac Silverdome, earning a spot in the championship game, many of the 65,000 fans in attendance rushed onto the field and tore down the goalposts.
The Panthers were in existence for two seasons, 1983 and 1984. Their final game ever was a 1984 playoff game in Los Angeles against the LA Express, who were led by quarterback Steve Young. It is still the longest game ever played in pro football history. It took nearly three complete overtime periods for LA to come away with a 27-21 victory. In 1985, the Panthers merged with the Oakland Invaders.
A few years ago, I was at a sports card shop in Kalamazoo to see Anthony Carter, who was there signing autographs. Everyone there had something for him to sign from either his days at the University of Michigan or the NFL Minnesota Vikings. And then there was me, holding a Michigan Panthers mini helmet. When I handed it to him, I asked if he had signed many of these before. He said, “You’d be surprised at how many of these I have signed.” That made me feel pretty good.
I followed the Panthers for both of their two seasons and feel that they are truly deserving of a place in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
But after watching Mr. Spivak on TV, I got to thinking about a couple of other teams from my home state that I also feel should be considered for induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. For starters, there is the Detroit Drive of the Arena Football League. They played in Joe Lewis Arena where the NHL Detroit Red Wings play. The Drive were in the AFL for six seasons (1988-1993) and made it to the championship game every year. They won four AFL titles in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992. AFL Hall of Fame coach Tim Marcum coached the Drive for five of those six seasons. The Drive even featured a couple of players from the USFL Panthers; linebacker John Corker and kicker Novo Bojovic. The Drive is one of just two teams in AFL history to win three consecutive titles. The other team is the Arizona Rattlers (2012-2014).
Yet another AFL team that I feel is worthy of consideration for the MSHOF the Grand Rapids Rampage. They won the AFL title in 2001 with a 64-42 win over the Nashville Kats. The 2001 Rampage were led by quarterback Clint Dolezel, who has been the head coach of the Philadelphia Soul since 2013. The Rampage head coach in 2001 was Michael Trigg. He also played quarterback for the Drive in 1989 and 1990. Ironically, Trigg and Dolezel both played quarterback in college at East Texas State. Trigg was the head coach of the Rampage from 1998-2003 and also for the Soul in 2004 and 2005. I was a season ticket holder from 2001-2008 and was in attendance when Grand Rapids won ArenaBowl XV in 2001. It was one of the greatest events ever of my football life.
In 2014, the 2001 Rampage team was inducted into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame. Today, there is a plaque honoring the team at the Van Andel Arena, where they played for 11 seasons from 1998-2008.
In my opinion, the USFL Panthers, the AFL Drive and AFL Rampage all deserve consideration for induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. Between them, they have eight title game appearances and six championships at the highest level of competition. All three brought pro football championships to the state of Michigan and will forever be remembered by their many fans.
Now, only one question remains to be answered; How long will it take until he current pro football team in Detroit finally get its act together and wins a league championship? Only time will tell. The last time they did that was back in 1957, and that was almost 60 years ago.