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June, 2012, Page 49
Photo courtesy Douglas Towne
Can a sports team fail because of too much success? Of all things, an undefeated inaugural season helped doom the Phoenix Blazers semi-professional football team – a squad so dominant, fans simply tired of seeing them.
The Blazers’ sizzling debut on August 14, 1971 attracted 13,439 fans, then the largest crowd to attend a professional sporting event in Arizona. The roster featured many former Arizona State University players, including quarterback “Spaghetti Joe” Spagnola, who the previous year had led the Sun Devils to an undefeated season capped by a victory in the Peach Bowl. The Blazers didn’t disappoint, routing the Pasadena Chiefs 44-0 en route to a perfect 15-0 championship season in the now-defunct Western Football League. Still, life was hardly wine and roses for the team. The Blazers endured exhausting travel conditions (such as nine-hour bus rides to away games), and team flights were so daunting that some personnel opted to travel on their own dime via commercial airlines rather than fly in the team’s bargain-basement chartered planes.
Unfortunately, the Blazers’ football dominance didn’t translate into financial success. After the home opener, attendance plummeted because of easy victories, hot weather, and fading novelty. Despite cash-flow problems, the Blazers were kept afloat by new investors who hoped to have an inside track should the National Football League (NFL) expand to Phoenix. After three tumultuous seasons in which the team played in a different stadium each year, the Blazers finally went bankrupt. The NFL wouldn’t arrive in the Valley until the St. Louis Cardinals relocated in 1988.
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