What this is about, is a look back at the repeated attempts to have a pro football team in Orlando. For UK fans the one of most interest may be the Orlando Thunder of the WLAF that later became NFL Europe.
The CFL never attempted to place a team in Orlando. The closest they ever got to a team in Florida was the mooted idea of the Miami Manatees. A relocation for the now legendary Las Vegas Posse that never materialized.
I have found a short list of defunct pro football franchised from Orlando.
There may be more, contact me and tell me if I’ve missed any!
Orlando Panthers: Continental Football League
The Continental Football League (COFL) ran from 1965 to 1969.
The Continental Football League was formed with the ideas of being a “minor” league counterpart to the major leagues at the time, the NFL and AFL.
The Panthers had previously been the Paterson Miners and Newark Bears of the Atlantic Coast Football League (ACFL) before joining the COFL in 1965.
In four COFL seasons they posted an impressive 43-9 record and won 2 championships. However 1969 was the league’s last season. Poor average attendances and a lack of a TV contract was too much to overcome.
Orlando Panthers: Atlantic Coast Football League
The Atlantic Coast Football League (ACFL) was a minor league the ran from 1962 to 1973. For a brief period it acted as a farm league for a number of NFL & AFL teams.
When the above mentioned COFL folded the Panthers moved across to the ACFL. Along with them came the Norfolk Neptunes, Jersey Jays and Indianapolis Capitols.
In 1970, the Orlando Panthers signed husband and wife, Steven and Patricia Palinkas , as a kicker and holder respectively. Patricia was as far as I know the first female professional football player.
The Panthers finished 4-8 in their one season in the league. Players quit over unpaid wages and the Panthers were suspended by the ACFL for the 1971 season. They never played again.
Orlando Renegades: USFL
The UnitedStates Football League (USFL) played for three seasons, from 1983 through to 1985. At its conception it was designed to be a pro league that would play in the summer, when the NFL and college football were in their off-season.
The death knell for the league came when a group of owners led by a certain Donald J Trump opted to move to an Autumn schedule and take the NFL head on.
The Renegades played one season, and folded in 1985. Prior to that the franchise had been based in Washington DC as the Washington Federals. A team once likened by their owner to a bunch of trained gerbils!
The Federals had gone 7-29 over two seasons and had annual attendance slip from just under 14,00 per game in 1983 to just under 7,700 per game in 1984.
With that behind them perhaps we should view the Renegades going 5-13 and averaging around 24,000 fans per game as something of a success!
The Renegades were one of eight teams selected to continue operations in the 1986 season, when the USFL planned to switch to an Autumn schedule, but the league collapsed before any games were played in 1986.
Orlando Thunder: World League of American Football
The World League of American Football (WLAF), later NFL Europe was backed by the NFL. It was a developmental league for the NFL and lasted from 1991 to 2007 in various formats.
The Thunder played in thee WLAF in 1991 and 1992. They went 5-5 in their first year and 8-2 in their second. They lost World Bowl 92, falling 21-17 to the Sacramento Surge before 43,789 fans at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
The Most distinctive thing about the Thunder was their fluorescent green jerseys. In fact in 2006, readers of ESPN’s Uni Watch voted the team’s jersey 2nd worst football jersey of all-time.
However they voted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers creamsicle kit as the worst ever so clearly they were poor judges!
Orlando Rage: XFL
The XFL played only one season in 2001. It was a joint venture between the WWE and NBC. Much as the AAF is now it was meant to follow the conclusion of the NFL season.
The XFL is projected to return in 2020. This time with much less connection to the world of professional wrestling.
The Rage finished their only XFL regular season with an 8–2 record. This was the best in the league. They also had some of the best attendances. However they were upset in the first round of the playoffs.
The XFL plans to return to Florida in 2020. Because of the Apollos being in the Orlando market however they will be based in Tampa Bay.
Florida Tuskers: United Football League
The United Football League ran from 2009 to 2012. It variously had 4 or 5 teams at any one time. It also had 6, 8 and 4 game seasons.
Playing in 2009 and 2010 the Tuskers finished 1st and second in the regular season respectively with records of 6-0 and 5-3. On both occasions they would lose close championship games to the Las Vegas Locos.
On January 12, 2011, the league announced that the Tuskers had ceased operations in Orlando and moved to Virginia.
So what now?
We have seen a variety of leagues attempt to have a franchise in Orlando. We noted early on that the AAF reminded us of pro football in certain cities.
So where does that leave the Apollos? We don’t know. We don’t know if they or the league will succeed. History suggests not looking at all these defunct franchises.
Just because it hasn’t worked before doesn’t mean it won’t ever work.
As ever it will be intriguing to see how it all plays out.
Banner image from BellyUpSports.