Greg Cote

A ghost tour of Miami sports’ graveyard: Of 1946 Seahawks, Floridians, Screaming Eagles and Sol

This lone palm has stood sentinel over the right-field wall for decades and still stands as the last remnants of Bobby Maduro Miami Baseball Stadium is leveled June 29, 2001, to make room for affordable housing.
This lone palm has stood sentinel over the right-field wall for decades and still stands as the last remnants of Bobby Maduro Miami Baseball Stadium is leveled June 29, 2001, to make room for affordable housing. adiaz@miamiherald.com

It can be enriching to mine the memories of those of an esteemed age (by which I mean older folks), because their minds can surprise you. Jack Nicklaus, for example, can describe in detail a round of golf he played four decades ago. Which brings me 'round to a recent conversation I lucked to have with the great Miamian G. Holmes Braddock.

He gave an eye-witness account of the night Joe Namath, in Miami, uttered his famous Super Bowl “guarantee” that helped make the man mythic and that still resonates almost 50 years later.

Mr. Braddock, now 91, spent 38 years guiding the Miami-Dade School board, is a Hurricanes super-fan who has only missed 12 UM home football games since 1946, and is the only continuous member of the Miami Touchdown Club civic group since its founding in 1959.

That night in January 1969 Braddock was an insurance man who'd given the invocation as the Touchdown Club, then a big deal, met at Miami Springs Villas. At his elbow at the head table, about to speak, sat a cocky quarterback with a crooked grin.

“Before he spoke people would come up and ask him for his autograph,” Braddock recalled. “They kept saying, 'I hate to bother you.' And he kept saying, 'Well if you hate to bother me, why'd you bother me!?'” (Then he'd sign, grinning).

When finally Namath stood at the mic – his Jets were 18-point underdogs to Don Shula's Colts – he said, “'I guarantee you we're going to win,' and he was very emphatic,” Braddock tells it. “You could tell everybody was shocked and some chuckled. Of course he'd been drinking. Everyone thought it was the whisky!”

Braddock remains sharp but, as Stephen King wrote, “Everything's eventual.”

They demolished the 5th Street Gym, and the Orange Bowl, and Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium. Edwin Pope died. Shula is 87 and Broadway Joe, 73. Sunday should be the final round of the World Golf Championship at Doral, except that after a 55-year marriage, the PGA Tour left us.

Speaking with Braddock – with living history – made me recall the things in Miami sports that have died, and that would disappear completely if not resuscitated as memories.

Would you take a quick walk with me through the boneyard of our most notable defunct teams? Let us visit the oldest graves first. No whistling, please ...

▪ Twenty years before the Dolphins, the Miami Seahawks played the inaugural season 1946 in the AAFC (All-America Football Conference), a short-lived challenger to the NFL, before folding. The team went 3-11 at Burdine Stadium, later called the Orange Bowl. Star player Marion Pugh from Texas A&M passed for 608 yards and five TDs.

▪ The original Miami Marlins were a professional minor-league team in the Triple-A International League in 1956-60. The infatuation withered, but that first season the Marlins were second in league attendance, fueled by a crowd of 57,000 at the OB to watch former Negro League star Leroy “Satchel” Paige, then in his 50s, pitch for Miami.

▪ The Fort Lauderdale Yankees were a Class A Florida State League fixture from 1962-92. (I was the team's official scorer while in my teens in the mid-'70s, at $7 a game, $12 for a doubleheader).

▪ The Miami Floridians, later simply The Floridians, bounced the red, white and blue basketball of the ABA from 1969-72, giving us pro hoops nearly 20 years before the Miami Heat arrived. Anybody else remember Mack Calvin?

▪ More than 20 years before the NHL and Florida Panthers brought hockey to the tropics, Miami had a franchise in the rival WHA in 1972. Well, sort of. The Miami Screaming Eagles even signed a star, future Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent, but the franchise was stillborn and never played after plans for a new arena fell through and the only other venue available, the old Hollywood Sportatorium, was deemed unsuitable for hockey.

▪ The Fort Lauderdale Strikers were a fixture in the once-credible North American Soccer League from 1977-83, after beginning as the Miami Gatos (part-owned by Garo Yepremian in 1972) and Miami Toros (1973-76). Those Strikers in their Ray Hudson-led heydays at Lockhart Stadium were the most successful South Florida pro sports team outside of the current Big Four.

▪ Baseball's Inter-American League began in April 1979 and had folded by summer, but it's blink-of-an-eye existence included a Miami Amigos team at Miami Stadium managed by former Orioles star Davey Johnson.

▪ The Miami Americans of the American Soccer League lasted one season at Tropical Park, 1980, in a case of revenge gone bad. Coach Ron Newman, fired by the Strikers in '79, bought the Americans to get back at the Strikers. It didn't work. (Miami had another ASL team, the Sharks-turned- Freedom, in 1988-89).

▪ Miami had a USFL football franchise, for a few weeks, anyway, in 1984. Woody Weiser planned to relocate the Washington Federals to Miami and hired Howard Schnellenberger away from UM as coach, but the deal collapsed. Howard was out of a job, and Miami out of the USFL before ever playing.

▪ The Miami Beach Breakers, its early players including rising star Gabriela Sabatini, played in Billie Jean King's World Team Tennis league at various locations in 1985-91.

▪ The unfortunately named Miami Hooters were an Arena Football League team in 1993-95, later playing as the Florida Bobcats from 1996-01 in West Palm Beach then Sunrise.

▪ You are a certifiable alt-sport nut if you recall the Miami Matadors played at Miami Arena in the East Coast Hockey League in 1998-99.

▪ The Major League Soccer franchise David Beckham is trying to realize in Miami would be the region's second. The Miami Fusion were an MLS team in 1998-01 at Lockhart Stadium, eventually doomed more by shaky ownership and a bad stadium deal than by lack of support.

▪ Anybody recall the short-lived Spring Football League? The Miami Tropics played one season in it, in 2000. Head coach was ex-Dolphin Jim “Crash” Jensen. Distinction: Tropics played last pro football game ever in Orange Bowl.

▪ The Miami Sol (Spanish for “sun”) were a WNBA team in 2000-02, coached by Ron Rothstein, before folding for financial reasons. Thanks for the memories, Ruth Riley!

▪ The Boca Raton-based and awfully named magicJack (named for the owner's phone-service company) played in 2011 in the Women's Professional Soccer League before folding due to dysfunctional ownership. Team deserved better, with players including U.S. stars Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

Now we leave the reverie of our graveyard tour behind and shift back to the present. We await Marlins season and the Dolphins draft as we see if the Heat and Panthers will make the playoffs.

But remember all of those teams and failed dreams that came before them – teams turned to ever-faint memories, but as real as that night G. Holmes Braddock heard Joe Namath and the whisky talking.

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