The Pittsburgh sports franchises that were | Sports News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Pittsburgh sports franchises that were

The Pirates were hot, and the city figured all it needed now was some indoor lacrosse

If at first you don’t succeed, cut your losses and move on. That’s a lesson learned by seven unsuccessful sports franchises who are the historic complements to Pittsburgh’s ultra-sucessful teams. This week, we take a look back at these epic fails, as the kids say these days. You might still see some of the team logos worn ironically by hipsters in a soon-to-be-gentrified part of town.

click to enlarge Mike Wysocki - CP FILE PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
CP file photo by Heather Mull
Mike Wysocki

The Pittsburgh Maulers. Owned by the same family that owned Century III Mall. The DeBartolos were successful; they just didn’t have an eye for the future. The United States Football League had owners like current presidential hopeful Donald Trump, and yes, this organization went bankrupt as well. Not easy going up against a behemoth like the National Football League. The USFL lasted four years, just like the Confederacy. It remains to be seen whether people will be flying USFL flags on their porch 150 years from now. The Maulers mauled nobody, going 3-15 in their only season, in 1984.

The Pittsburgh Bulls. The early ’90s were a new heyday for the city. Stonewashed jeans, creepy mustaches and freshly combed mullets took the Steel City by storm. Barry Bonds and the Pirates were hot, and the city figured all it needed now was some indoor lacrosse. Enter the Bulls. They won the hearts of dozens of fans in their four-season tenure. A 10-24 record gets you very few bandwagon-jumpers. 

Pittsburgh Pipers/Condors. This team was founded from the ashes of the Pittsburgh Rens basketball team. The Pipers pulled a Grover Cleveland and served two non-consecutive terms as lessees of the Civic Arena. In 1968, the Pipers even won it all, defeating the hated New Orleans Buccaneers. The Pipers then became the Condors and never equaled that success. In the 1970-71 season, it got so bad that the team offered free tickets; attendance hovered around 2,000 per game. Only 8,000 showed up to that freebie in the then 13,000-seat arena. After the next season, the Condors went extinct.

The Pittsburgh Triangles. Let’s face it, the 1970s were pretty weird — lots of hair, ’ludes, disco, short shorts and professional tennis teams. Tennis had a surge of popularity after the Battle of the Sexes match, in which Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs, and the unfairer sex was roundly defeated. Unlike the other teams that folded, the Triangles were pretty good. They won it all in 1975, but went bankrupt the following year.

The Pittsburgh Spirit. In the 1983-84 season, the Major Indoor Soccer League’s Spirit actually outdrew the NHL’s struggling Penguins in fans. Then came Mario Lemieux, and things changed. Much like the band Huey Lewis and the News, the team peaked in 1984 and wound up holding on for two more unsuccessful seasons.

The Pittsburgh Power. Football fans in Western Pennsylvania love high school, college and professional football. Every Friday night and weekend afternoon is spoken for from September through January. But what about football in the spring? That’s what the owners of the Power were hoping for — year-round pigskin. The Power was the reincarnation of the Gladiators, one of the original four teams of the Arena Football League founded in 1987. The Power went out after just three seasons. In 2012, the team released its entire roster but still beat the Cleveland team, who forfeited a game because it couldn’t afford it. The Power’s best season was 2012, when it beat its bitter rival, the Jon Bon Jovi-owned Philadelphia Soul. Fans of the Power did not have their faces rocked that night. 

The Pittsburgh Hardhats. Great name, not a great sport. The Hardhats were a men’s slow-pitch softball team. This is a sport that usually has guys polishing off a beer while on first base. Surprised it didn’t last longer. The Hardhats slowly won a following during their 1977-1982 existence. Then fans caught on that this was not the sport of the future. An upstart rival, the Pittsburgh Champions, even tried to loot their roster. The Hardhats survived that upheaval but eventually went the way of the Atari 2600. Here we go, Hardhats, here we go!

Other franchises will come and go. That just makes us appreciate our stable teams even more. All the seats to these games were cheap, I assume. Perhaps, in the case of the Condors, they were too cheap. Rest in peace friends, and thanks for the mediocre memories.

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