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Pro Football Teams in Michigan - An Inside Job

by Randy Snow

Original to theworldoffootball.com, Tuesday, March 27, 2007

As any pro football fan in the state will tell you, the Detroit Lions are the team that every true Michigander roots for through the good times and the bad. Unfortunately, there have been more bad times than good in recent years. But it has been our team ever since it moved here from Portsmouth, Ohio in 1934, and we continue to support them, no matter what.

But through the years, several other pro football teams have come and gone from the state, some enjoying more success on the field than others. Over the last 20 years, pro football teams that have made their home in the state of Michigan have surfaced on a somewhat smaller variety of football field. Itís the kind of football that is played indoors on a 50-yard field with eight, or even seven, players per team. Iím talking about Indoor and Arena Football teams.

But even though the size of the field and the number of players is different, pro football teams in Michigan have all had one thing in common since 1975. They have all played their games indoors!

The Detroit Lions (left) have played football indoors ever since the team moved from Tigers Stadium to the domed Pontiac Silverdome in 1975. In 2002, the team moved back to downtown Detroit with the completion of another indoor stadium, Ford Field.

The Michigan Panthers (right), of the springtime United States Football League, also played indoors at the Silverdome in 1983 and 1984. The Panthers won the USFL title in 1983 with the help of quarterback Bobby Hebert and wide receiver Anthony Carter. In 1985, when the League began to discuss the possibility of moving its season from the spring to the fall and going head-to-head with the NFL, the Panthers left Michigan and merged with another USFL team in California, the Oakland Invaders.

In April 1988, the first Arena Football League team debuted in Michigan, the Detroit Drive (left). The League had debuted the previous year with only four teams. The Drive was owned by current Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch. The Drive played in the Joe Lewis Arena and won the ArenaBowl championship in their first year. In six seasons in Detroit, the Drive advanced to the ArenaBowl championship game each year, winning it four times, in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992. Some notable players on the team included former Ohio State and NFL quarterback Art Schlichter, defensive lineman John Corker and kicker Novo Boiovic, who both previously played for the Michigan Panthers.

Ilitch sold the Drive after the 1993 season and the team moved east where it became the Massachusetts Marauders in 1994. That team lasted only one season and then went idle. It was purchased a few years later by Grand Rapids businessman Dan Devos and became the Grand Rapids Rampage (right) in 1998. The first head coach of the Rampage was former Detroit Drive quarterback Michael Trigg. In only the teamís fourth season, Trigg and the Rampage won ArenaBowl XV on August 19, 2001. The championship game was played at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids before a national television audience on ABC. The Rampage are celebrating their 10th Anniversary season in 2007.

In 1999, a new football league was founded, the Indoor Football League. It was not associated with the Arena Football League. In its second season, the IFL fielded a team in Michigan called the Flint Flames (left). The team compiled a record of 2-12 during the 2000 season and played its home games in the IMA Sports Arena.

After the 2000 season, the IFL was bought out and merged with arenafootball2, a new developmental league of the Arena Football League. Only three of the 21 IFL franchises went on to play in arenafootball2, or af2 as it is known. Unfortunately, the Flames were not one of them.  

In 2001, a second Arena Football League team came to the Motor City, the Detroit Fury (right). They played their home games at the Palace of Auburn Hills. At one time, the teamís head coach was former Detroit Lions assistant coach Mouse Davis. The Fury advanced to the playoffs in 2001 and 2003. Their only playoff win came on May 25, 2003 when they defeated the Rampage 55-54 in Grand Rapids. The team folded after the 2004 season.

In 2006, another new indoor football league, which was also not associated with the Arena Football League, made its debut. The six-team Great Lakes Indoor Football League featured seven players per team instead of eight like the AFL. The League had not one, but two teams in Michigan, the Port Huron Pirates (left) and the Battle Creek Crunch (right). The Pirates, who play their home games in McMorran Place, finished the 2006 regular season with a perfect 10-0 record. The Crunch record was 4-6, but they managed to qualify for the fourth and final playoff spot.

The Pirates and Crunch met in Port Huron for a playoff game on July 8, 2006 and the Pirates came out on top big time by the score of 74-3. The Pirates went on to host the inaugural Great Lakes Bowl on July 22, 2006 and defeated the Rochester (NY) Raiders 40-34. The Crunch, who played their home games in the Kellogg Arena, had the lowest attendance in the League in 2006 and folded after the season. 

For 2007, the Great Lakes Indoor Football League has changed its name to the Continental Indoor Football League and expanded to 14 teams. The League currently has a total of three teams in Michigan, Port Huron and two expansion teams, the Muskegon Thunder (left) and the Kalamazoo Xplosion (right). The Thunder will play their home games in the L.C. Walker Arena and the Xplosion will play in Wings Stadium.

The last pro football team in Michigan to actually play a game outdoors, other than the Lions or some womenís football teams, was the 1974 Detroit Wheels (left) of the World Football League. They played their home games at Rynearson Stadium on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. Fourteen games into Leagueís inaugural 20-game regular season, the Wheels folded with a record of 1-13 due to financial troubles.

So, while football is considered an outdoor sport, the fact remains that there has not been a pro football game played outdoors in the state of Michigan in over 30 years. However, in 2001, officials from the XFL did make a visit to Tigers Stadium and were considering it as a possible venue for an expansion team. Unfortunately, the league folded shortly thereafter.


Michigan Pro Football Teams since 1934; 

NFL Detroit Lions - 1934-present

WFL Detroit Wheels - 1974

USFL Michigan Panthers - 1983-84

AFL Detroit Drive - 1988-93

AFL Grand Rapids Rampage - 1998-present

IFL Flint Flames - 2000

AFL Detroit Fury - 2001-04

GLIFL Port Huron Prates - 2006-present

GLIFL Battle Creek Crunch - 2006

CIFL Kalamazoo Xplosion 2007-present

CIFL Muskegon Thunder 2007-present

NOTE: Helmet graphics are courtesy of www.misterhabs.com.


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