Tampa Bay Outlaws 1992 (Almost)
In September 1991, plans were announced for another attempt at starting up a spring football league. The Professional Spring Football League (PSFL) would try to succeed where the United States Football League (USFL) had failed. Considering the Tampa Bay Bandits were one of the most successful franchises in the USFL, which played three spring seasons from 1983 to 1985, it is not surprising that the new league wanted a team in Tampa Bay.
Also announced in that first press conference was a franchise fee of $250,000. The league would own the teams, so it was more like a licensing fee. Player salaries were expected to average $45,000. The PSFL planned to consider the regional appeal of players to fill 45 man rosters. To break even in the first year, the league would have to average 20,000 in attendance and ticket prices were expected to be around $15.
The Professional Spring Football League was founded by Vincent Sette. His background was in computer sales and consulting, so he got some people with football experience to help start the league. PSFL Chairman Peter Spivak was one of the organizers of the USFL. Commissioner Rex Lardner was an executive with Turner Broadcasting and general manager of the Goodwill Games. Director of Football Operations Walt Michaels spent six seasons as the New York Jets head coach and coached the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. Lardner said, "Our objective is to be a fan-oriented league." Sette said of the Tampa Bay team, "I think this could be one of the strongest markets we have. History shows you like spring football here."
In October, additional information became available about the Tampa Bay PSFL team. The majority owners were Eric Gitter and Rich Fried of the Kayo Card Company in East Rutherford, New Jersey. There were also some other limited partners. Kayo was a sports card manufacturer and had originally approached the league about doing football cards. As Gitter put it, "We went to the league looking to get their sports card licensing contract and ended up getting a franchise."
On October 1, it was announced that the team nickname would be the Tampa Bay Outlaws and home games were planned for Tampa Stadium. Eric Gitter said he wanted the team to take on the attitude of the then Los Angeles Raiders. While sky blue and scarlet were eventually selected, Gitter said he was considering the Raiders' silver and black colors for the Outlaws. "That's exactly what we're looking for," Gitter said. "We want to promote that kind of feeling and tradition." He also defended the PSFL. "This is not triple-A ball," he said. "We're a lot of guys' second chance at playing pro football. This is not a joke league."
In November, the league schedule came out showing the Outlaws would open at home on February 29 against the Utah Pioneers. At that time, owner Richard Fried talked about emulating the area's USFL team. "A lot of people talk about how great the Bandits were. As you can tell, by using the name Outlaws, we're trying to develop that association."
On November 25, the team hired Terry Bledsoe as general manager. Bledsoe had worked for several NFL teams and was the GM for the Buffalo Bills from 1983-85. Bledsoe said of working for the Outlaws, "This is exciting to be able to build from scratch."
On January 7, 1992, the team announced the hiring of a head coach. Boyd Dowler is probably best known for catching forty touchdown catches and helping the Green Bay Packers to five NFL titles under Vince Lombardi in the 1960s. He was an assistant coach in the NFL for fifteen years, with five different teams, and worked for George Allen, Paul Brown and John McKay. Dowler took a job with the Buccaneers in 1980 and had lived in the Tampa Bay area since that time. His last coaching job was as the Bucs pass-offense coordinator in 1984. He had been working as a financial planner. Dowler said, "I intend to be here in the Tampa Bay area for the rest of my life, so this is a great opportunity for me. It's an attractive situation. Spring football has proven it will work in the Tampa Bay area. I'm excited about the challenge of working with the Outlaws."
The Outlaws opened training camp on January 27 at the Northeast Complex. Seventy-four players came out to a converted baseball facility in St. Petersburg. The roster featured numerous players from Florida colleges. The most well known names were former Florida State and Tampa Bay Storm quarterback Chip Ferguson, long time Bucs defensive lineman John Cannon, former Bucs kicker Donald Igwebuike, former Buccaneers linebacker Keith Browner and one time UF wide receiver Willie Snead. Boyd Dowler said of the first practice, "We didn't overwork them. A few of them weigh too much, but I thought for the first day their concentration was pretty good."
There were same recognizable names dotting the rosters around the league. Vince Abbott, Charlie Brown, Tony Collins, Lorenzo Hampton, Major Harris, Bobby McAlister Scooter Molander, Bernie Parmalee, Dan Sileo, J.T. Smith, Tim Smith, Barry Wagner, Luis Zendejas and Marty Zendejas are names familiar to football fans. Tampa Bay Storm fans will recognize names such as Les Barley, Andre Bowden, Sylvester Bembery, Anthony Howard, Ian Howfield, Cedric McKinnon and Lynn Rowland. Name coaches included Steve Grogan, Craig Morton and Darrell Rogers. Roman Gabriel was the general manager of the Carolina team.
A couple weeks into the training camp, and before the players got their first paycheck, things looked grim. Many involved in the PSFL thought the league had millions in escrow, however, there was limited financing and only a plan to sell shares in the league to raise additional capital. There were investors that pulled out and without an infusion of money the PSFL was in jeopardy. Commissioner Rex Lardner explained, "The situation at this point is that we need cash. We have to meet the payroll, one way or another, or it's going to be tough to keep going." Speaking of spring football he added, "Our investors felt this venture was too high-risk for them, and the history of these is that they have not done well. A lot of people are very interested, but they're waiting for us to kick the football. If we can just kick off, I think we'll have it made."
Boyd Dowler talked about the mood at training camp. "We had some very concerned, very depressed football players here. From the beginning, the players knew if they wanted to be here for the first year of this league, that there was no guarantee. That's the way first leagues are." Outlaws co-owner Rich Fried admitted, "All along, I always knew there was a risk the league would never kick off. We've overcome many obstacles to get within 18 days of a kickoff. Now I hope we can get over this hurdle."
On February 13, and eighteen days into training camp, the PSFL suspended operations for one week and canceled the first two games of the season. Commissioner Rex Lardner said, "We've asked the players to go home from camp and we're trying to get the funding to pay them." Outlaws GM Terry Bledsoe released a statement saying, "It's unfortunate that we have to suspend football operations, but it is the only prudent thing to do at this time." Rich Fried added, "It's a desperate situation, no doubt about that. The sand is running out of the hourglass." On the $250,000 franchise fee for the Tampa Bay team, Fried admitted, "When I wrote the check I said to myself, 'It's gone.' When we started, I figured the odds were one in five. Now they're much longer. One in 25? One in 50? I don't know."
The next week, the league announced a ten game schedule was still possible if the needed cash was raised by March 3. Rex Lardner stated, "What we're trying to do is buy ourselves two more weeks to see if we can come up with some financing." Rich Fried commented, "I don't have a lot of hope at this point."
On March 2, as expected, the PSFL cancelled the 1992 season. League founder Vincent Sette said the league would try to play in 1993. Rich Fried said, "I want to believe that. I think there's a possibility it could occur."
In 1993, there were claims of a new corporate structure resulting in a resurgence of investors. That was the last word heard from the Arkansas Miners, Carolina Cougars, Miami Tribe, New England Blitz, Nevada Aces, New Mexico Rattlesnakes, Oregon Lightning Bolts, Tampa Bay Outlaws, Utah Pioneers and Washington Marauders.
Outlaws co-owner Rich Fried reflected on the PSFL. "Maybe what we needed was a sugar daddy, someone with big bucks. There wasn't a Lamar Hunt from the 60s, a Donald Trump from the 80s, someone who would have stood there and dispensed dollars until it worked. Maybe we should have called this the Poor Man's Spring Football League."
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