“And here comes Mugshots Bro from out of nowhere!!”

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I want to test out a lens I haven’t used in a while – my super-telephoto Soviet cadiatrophic lens, the MC MTO-11, an 1100mm f/16 piece of glass that can pick up images half a mile away.

My plan – stand at one end of the half-mile oval at Saratoga Harness (yeah, I know, it’s officially “Saratoga Casino and Hotel”, I don’t care, I’ve always known it as Saratoga Harness, deal with it), and try to capture the horses as they make the final turn toward the finish line.

Continue reading ““And here comes Mugshots Bro from out of nowhere!!””

A new adventure for a former Albany Patroon

For the past six seasons, I’ve operated as the statistician with the National Basketball League of Canada.  For the last four of those seasons, I’ve worked in one capacity or another with David Magley, a member of the 1983-84 Albany Patroons championship squad.  Two of those years were when Magley coached the Brampton (Ontario) A’s, then two years were when Magley operated as commissioner of the NBL.

Continue reading “A new adventure for a former Albany Patroon”

Get an Albany Patroon to run your sports league

I have never shied away from my love for the long-departed Albany Patroons basketball team.  Two championships, five regular-season titles, and a slew of NBA players and coaches came from our little Continental Basketball Association team.

And today I want to take a moment and salute one of those former Patroons and his successful involvement with another pro basketball circuit.

David Magley played for the Albany Patroons during their 1983-84 championship year.  The 6’8″ small forward from Kansas spent a few weeks with the Cleveland Cavaliers organization prior to his Patroons run, then he moved on to the coaching ranks.

Continue reading “Get an Albany Patroon to run your sports league”

The Trading Cards of the Albany Patroons

The Albany Patroons have always had a special place in my heart and in my sports memory.  I was a fan during their days at the Armory; I cheered for them when they moved to the Knickerbocker Arena; I cried when they moved to Hartford; I celebrated when they came back to the Armory; and I cried again when the team – and the Continental Basketball Association – bit the dust in 2009.

And within all those moments, I saved several treasures and collectibles, including some game-worn uniforms, basketballs, programs and pennants.

In today’s blog, I want to share with you a nice little collectible series from the Patroons’ years – their player trading cards.  There were several seasons where the Pats either manufactured their own trading card packs, or they were produced as part of a league set.  Sometimes these sets were given away at the game; others were purchased at the souvenir stand or through the CBA front office.

img_20161116_0001The Patroons first took the court in the CBA’s 1982-83 season, and several players from their Opening Day roster were featured on a 90-card league set.  The set, manufactured by the trading card company TCMA, featured Albany Patroons stars Frankie J. Sanders (the “J” stood for Jumpshot, in case you were wondering), Mike Davis (the first Albany Patroon to earn an NBA call-up), and Patroons head coach Dean Meminger.

img_20161116_0002Also in that trading card set was former Albany Patroons player (and two-game coach) Sam Worthen, who took over as coach when Meminger was fired, and ran the team until Phil Jackson was hired.  Recently, Sam Worthen worked as the head coach of the Washington Generals – yep, the team that has gone winless against the Harlem Globetrotters for nearly four decades.

img_20161116_0003During the 1989-90 season, the Continental Basketball Association partnered with ProCards, a company that produced team card sets for minor league hockey and minor league baseball squads.  Each CBA squad had their team cards in cellophane “team sets” packs, which were either given away or sold at the Patroons’ souvenir stands.

img_20161116_0004The lineup for the 1989-90 Patroons card set included future NBA star Mario Elie and Vincent Askew, as well as Patroons roleplayers Clinton Smith and David Popson.  Note the spelling of “ALBANY” on Popson’s jersey.  This was the Patroons’ transition season from the Armory to the Knickerbocker Arena; but it appears that most of the photos in this set were taken during an Armory contest.

img_20161116_0005Now we go to the 1990-91 Patroons squad.  Again produced by ProCards as part of cello-wrapped team sets, this Patroons series features more action shots and less “close-up” photos.  This was the squad that went 50-6 in the regular season and sent several players to the NBA.  The set includes cards for Vincent Askew and Mario Elie, as well as for former NBA player Albert King (trying to make a comeback by playing on the Patroons), George Karl (this was his second go-round as Pats head coach), and Terry Stotts (who would later become an NBA head coach).

img_20161116_0006The 1990-91 Patroons squad were the first U.S. pro basketball team to finish with an undefeated home record in nearly 50 years, as their 50-6 run included going 28-0 at the Knickerbocker Arena.  Unfortunately, a massive winning record in the CBA means that your players will get called up to the NBA around playoff time, and that’s what happened to the Pats.  Without Vincent Askew or Mario Elie in the lineup, Albany was quickly eliminated in the playoffs by Wichita Falls.  Grr.

img_20161116_0007The Continental Basketball Association created another league set in the 1991-92 season, again working with ProCards.  This was the Patroons team that was built for a hometown crowd, as its lineup included former Siena superstar Marc Brown.  Unfortunately, the roster went into a massive flux, and the team limped into the playoffs, only to be eliminated in an opening round “play-in” match.

img_20161116_0008This set actually includes – believe it or not – Derrick Rowland’s rookie card.  Yeah, yeah, I know, Derrick Rowland’s been an Albany Patroon for so long, the team should have been named the Rowlands.  But when Derrick entered the CBA in 1982, he was a member of the Rochester Zeniths, and was not part of the 90-card CBA TCMA set.  By the time the Patroons had trading cards again, Derrick wasn’t on the team when the photographer came around.  So in his final year as an active player – he finally gets a rookie card, which you can see at right.

The CBA and ProCards ended their partnership after the 1991-92 season, and the Patroons moved out of Albany after the 1992-93 abortive “Capital Region Pontiacs” season.  Less said about that, the better.

But the Patroons did return to the CBA in the 2005-06 season, and during the 2006-07 season a set of trading cards was produced by the team itself.  I should know, I was the photographer for those games – yep, me and my little Nikon D70 and my 80-200 f/2.8 telephoto.

img_20161116_0009The 2006-07 Patroons set featured the team’s stars from that season, so fans could acquire trading cards for T.J. Thompson, Jamario Moon, Felipe Lopez and John Strickland.  And during the time when Jamario Moon was starring in the NBA, that little trading card at left actually had some serious collectible investment value – I heard at one point the card could sell for over $50.  Today, it’s probably worth about $3.  But that’s speculation for you.

img_20161116_0010The set also included trading cards for head coach Micheal Ray Richardson, and a card for the team’s mascot – a furry panda bear named Lido.  No, don’t even ask me how the Patroons ended up with a panda bear for a mascot.  No, don’t ask me why he’s named Lido.  Go ask Jim Coyne, it was his idea.

So I thought today you might appreciate seeing some of Albany’s sporting history, as it appeared on vintage trading cards.  This is cool in and of itself.

And it brings back a lot of great memories.

 

Bye-bye, Orlando Predators

During the years when Albany had a top-level Arena Football team, the Firebirds had several “rival” opponents.  There were the Tampa Bay Storm, who never seemed to lose when they came to our building.  There was the Detroit Drive, with quarterback Art Schlichter, who would take bets on everything and anything.

But mostly, the biggest opponent and fiercest rival for the Firebirds were the Orlando Predators.

Albany versus Orlando was like printing money.  They were two teams that hated each other, and the rivalry spread from that point.  Orlando had Barry Wagner, who could score touchdowns on a whim; while we had “Touchdown” Eddie Brown, who wet Arena League records for touchdowns in a season.  Oh yeah, and he’s also Pittsburgh Steelers super-wide receiver Antonio Brown’s father.  Heck, Time Warner Cable actually created a challenge trophy for games between Albany and Orlando, that’s how powerful those matches were.

In 1999, the Firebirds and the Predators met at ArenaBowl XIII, the league championship series, with Albany hosting.  Albany won the game 59-48, with QB Mike Pawlawski throwing four touchdown strikes to Brown.  But the Predators were so good at that time, that Barry Wagner earned the “Ironman” trophy of the game, despite playing on the losing team.  Still, twelve years after that classic battle, both Eddie Brown and Barry Wagner were elected to the Arena Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

But by 2011, the Albany Firebirds were a distant memory.  The team moved to Indianapolis, a second-division Arena League team called the Albany Conquest played downtown (they were awful), and even a last-season change to the old Firebirds name didn’t help the sagging attendance.

Now comes the news that the Orlando Predators, after three decades in the Arena Football League, are suspending operations and leaving the AFL.  The AFL’s financial woes have been cited as the main reason for Orlando’s decision, but there are certainly other behind-the-scenes reasons that we’re not completely privy to.

I know.  For someone who hasn’t had a reason to follow the Arena Football League in 15 years, and who barely watched a few moments of it when it was on TV since the time the Firebirds moved away, it’s hard to understand why anyone would care.

Well, here’s why I care.

At one point in time, the Arena Football League was a viable gridiron alternative when the NFL and the college game weren’t on the schedule – i.e., during the spring and summer.  And although there were several upstart football circuits that tried to take the NFL’s thunder – the United Football League, the XFL, just to name two – there was always the excitement and unpredictability of the Arena League.

Think about this.  50 yard gridiron.  Eight men per side, and seven had to play offense AND defense.  Big springback nets in the end zones to corral the action.  Dasher boards on the sidelines.  A razor-thin goalpost opening to humble even the most accurate field goal kickers.  And high-scoring action.  That was Arena Football.  And it was fun, and it was exciting.

You know who else thought the league was exciting?  Rock musicians.  John Bon Jovi owned a team for a few years (the Philadelphia Soul).  Gene Simmons also owned a squad (the LA KISS).

At one point in time, the league had as many as eighteen franchises.  But this year, the league is rumored to have dropped down to maybe four teams.  Four teams.  That’s not a league, that’s a tournament.

And with the Predators out of the league, only the Tampa Bay Storm remains from the days when Albany was a part of this circuit.

I wanted to find a video clip of ArenaBowl XIII – the game where Albany dominated Orlando in an intense rivalry that never seemed to end.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online video footage of that competition.  Darnit.

I just know one thing.  The Orlando Predators were a helluva rival.

Sorry to see them go.

 

Remembering Fritz Walker

It’s November of 1989, and the Albany Patroons are about to host the Omaha Racers at the Washington Avenue Armory for the season opener.

The Pats had a new coach, former General Manager Gerald Oliver, and most of their nucleus from the 1988-89 season (Mario Elie, Vince Askew, Clinton Smith).

But before the game began, the team and fans remembered one man not in the Armory that night – Fritz Walker, the Pats’ number one fan, who passed away on November 9th.

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Fritz Walker was a huge fan of the game, in spirit as well as size. His heart and love for the Patroons was as large as his body, and the team accepted him as its own official mascot. An accomplished photographer, Fritz took pictures of every player and every play. When teams came to Albany, Fritz took their team photos. “When you think about Fritz,” Lowes Moore told the Times Union’s Tim Wilkin, “you think about him out having a good time and enjoying life. He was the kind of guy you would never think would pass away.”

Walker’s dancing brought him his greatest notoriety. During the fourth quarter, or if the Patroons were starting to lose, Fritz would step onto the field during a time out, dancing and bouncing and shaking while the public address system played “Shout!” He danced during the Patroons’ first telecast on ESPN, and Fritz’s boogie appeared on some “lighter side of sports” videotape compilations.

Depending on the opponent, he varied his dance with a prop or two, as team statistician Doug Dickinson remembered. “I will never forget in 1985, when the Puerto Rico Coquis were in the league, he came to a game dressed up with a grass skirt on, with a big sign on him, ‘WHAT THE HELL IS A COQUIS?’ It’s just the funniest thing you ever want to see.”

And Walker saw lots of Patroon games – even the ones outside the Armory. “He’d make at least one road trip a year with them,” said Dickinson. “He went on a 10-day road trip through Savannah, Georgia, Tampa, Biloxi, and he went on the road with them. When we had teams in Worcester, Bangor, Lancaster, he’d call me up, ‘Doug, let’s go.’ So we’d get in his car or my car and we’d go to the games.”

Tim Wilkin’s favorite Fritz Walker story involved the 1988 Championship Series. Down 3 games to 2, the Patroons arrived in Newark for a connecting flight to Albany. Walker was there to greet them. Gary Holle gave his gold credit card to Walker, and told him to get the Pats some dinner in Jersey, on Holle. Holle suggested the team dine at McDonald’s or a sub shop, but Walker shrewdly asked Micheal Ray Richardson (who knew the area best) to find an eatery somewhere in town.

Richardson happily obliged, and the Patroons devoured ten main courses (along with three entrees apiece) at a 5-star restaurant. When the waiter arrived with the bill (almost $800, including tip), Walker handed over Holle’s credit card without another word. Buoyed by Fritz Walker’s kindness (and by a four-course meal apiece), the Patroons won the last two games of the Championship.

For most people, there are four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter. Fritz Walker had two seasons on his calendar – Patroons season and A-C Yankees season. The A-C Yankees honored Walker’s memory by creating the Walker Cup, a trophy given to the most valuable Albany-Colonie player (past recipients include major leaguer Bernie Williams and Olympic gold medalist Dave Silvestri).

A banner was raised in the Armory – “FRITZ” was all it said. A white circle bearing Fritz’ name was painted on the floor, the spot where Walker danced for the fans.

The crowd observed a moment of silence.

Just then, the strains of “Shout” played through the speakers one more time. “A little bit softer now – A little bit softer now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now – A little bit louder now!”

“Shout!” blared through the public address system, a tribute to the man who boogied every fourth quarter of every Pats game. Some of the crowd sang along, some cheered, others clapped.

And during the game, which Albany won 110-103, many couldn’t take their eyes off the white circle on the court. Or the “FRITZ” banner hung in the rafters, in an area reserved for championship banners.

The 6th Patroon would have been proud to be included in such regal company.