Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Hot Winter Nights" - Part 1

Sorry I haven't written latelyI just plain haven't had the time lately.  I've been meaning to do a long-overdue tribute to my favorite sports franchise of all-time, the dearly-departed Kansas City Comets indoor soccer franchise.  The team that gave me my radio nickname "Captain Comet" moved to K.C. from San Francisco in 1981 and they were the hottest ticket in town almost immediately, even routinely out-drawing the NBA's Kansas City Kings at the box office.  I followed the team from the get-go, and from 1985 through their demise in 1991, I practically ate, slept and drank the Comets, and they are the only team I've ever owned season tickets for in any sport.  They actually managed to make an awkward sports venue like Kemper Arena seem like New Yawk's Madison Square Garden or L.A.'s "Fabulous" Forum, and I miss them terribly.  I will get into the team itself and players therein in a future installment, but first a little background about the original Major Indoor Soccer League and my interest thereof...

The MISL was formed in 1978 and originally fielded six teams (mostly in the Northeast) that played their games on Astroturf fields laid right over NHL hockey rinks with six-foot-high goals built into the dasherboards and pleixglas that rimmed the rink.  Each team played five-a-side with a goalkeeper and the action was lightning fast as the ball richocheted pinball-style off the players and boards.  The charter members of the league were the New York Arrows, Philadelphia Fever, Cleveland Force, Houston Summit, Pittsburgh Spirit and Cincinnati Kids (owned in part by baseball's Pete Rose, kicking out the first ball in pic).  The Arrowsfeaturing the likes of Branko Segota, Fred Grgurev, goalkeeper Shep Messing and all-time league-leading scorer Steve "The Lord Of All Indoors" Zungulwere every bit as dominant as their co-tenants at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum, the New York Islanders, winning the first four MISL Championships almost concurrently with the Islanders' glory days in the early '80s.

The league added new teams gradually during the early '80s, expanding further into the midwest and eventually the west coast, and at one time boasted 16 franchises and even some limited national TV exposure on ESPN.  The game caught on like wildfire in cities like St. Louis, Dallas, San Diego, Baltimore, the Twin Cities and even Wichita and Tacoma, but unfortunately, the owners got greedy and overpaid for star players like Tatu, Kai Haaskivi, Karl-Heinz Granitza, Nebo Bandovic, et al, and salaries spiraled out of control and one-by-one, franchises started folding like flies.  By 1988, even stalwarts like the St. Louis Steamers and Cleveland Force were gone and the league was down to seven teams.  They were replaced almost immediately by the St. Louis Storm and Cleveland Crunch, but neither team drew as well as their predecessors, and the MISL staggered into the '90s, folding for good in the spring of 1992.  A rival league, the National Professional Soccer League (originally known as the American Indoor Soccer Association) partially filled the void in the '90s by absorbing defunct MISL franchises like Wichita, Baltimore and Cleveland and replacing our Comets with the Kansas City Attack (transplanted from Atlanta), but it just was hardly the same thing.  Darn shame too, because I think indoor soccer could have become the fifth major league sport along with Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL.

I discovered the MISL the first week of June, 1979 just after school let out for the summer as I stumbled across condensed telecasts of the league's playoff games at 1:00 in the morning (when I had no bedtime) on Channel 4 here in K.C. (right after Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show) and I was instantly hooked.  I distinctly remember how every time an errant ball was kicked into the stands, the fans were expected to return it to the field (unlike in baseball), and when they did, the P.A. announcer would politely say, "Thank you!"  I also remember enjoying the fast-paced end-to-end action, which was the total antithesis of the outdoor soccer thing that I found extremely boring.  About a year later, Channel 5 here in K.C. aired a St. Louis Steamers playoff game, and I remember thinking "Man, I hope Kansas City gets a team someday..."  I got my wish in the fall of '81 when Dr. David Schoenstadt moved his financially-struggling San Francisco Fog out of Chateau de Cow (the Cow Palace) to our little Cowtown and the Kemper Corral and re-christened them the Comets.  Okay, cue the Midnight Express theme now...

No comments: