The Hartford Whalers last game. (Courant File Photos)

The Hartford Whalers last game. (Courant File Photos) (March 14, 2014)

The team played on land leased from Elizabeth Colt, on Wyllys Street next to the Church of Good Shepherd. The Hartfords, as they were called in The Courant, were 47-21-6, finishing in third place.

But the team was sold and moved to Brooklyn after one season.

"The trouble has been in Hartford that too many people have volunteered their advice as to the management of the club, and a certain class have been displeased, as a matter of course, because their suggestions have not been adopted," The Courant's story said.

So despite what Bulkeley described as good crowds, Hartford was painted as a bickering small town that was unable to support a vast major league operation.

In 1926, Hartford was back in the big leagues when the sports promoter George Mulligan's Hartford Blues football team joined the NFL. The Blues played at the East Hartford Velodrome, but the team finished 3-7 and attendance was stifled by a bad weather throughout the season.

Mulligan was unable to pay his coaches and players — foreshadowing Hartford's other under-financed owners — and the team was dropped from the NFL after one season.

It would be almost 50 years before Hartford returned to the major league stage. The city had an array of minor league franchises in the ensuing years, but there wasn't a word about big-time team sports staking a spot in Hartford because the city lacked a major league facility.

But after decades of talk about building a minor league baseball stadium or an arena, city voters approved financing to build a downtown facility in 1968. As the Civic Center was being constructed, city and state leaders pursued a major league tenant and the fledgling American Basketball Association was the leading candidate.

In 1971, commissioner Jack Dolph — a Greenwich resident — publicly identified Hartford as a potential ABA market. Dolph talked about a regional team playing games in Hartford, Springfield and New Haven.

Over the next few years, the ABA-to-Hartford rumors were strong. West Hartford's Dan Doyle, then basketball coach of Kingswood-Oxford, was the face of an effort to land a franchise and was frequently quoted in The Courant, talking about the New York Nets playing part of their schedule in Hartford or the city landing an expansion franchise.

The franchise in St. Louis was said to be interested in Hartford before the ABA-NBA merger, but the Celtics strongly opposed the move. Ultimately, the Celtics agreed to play a few games in Hartford each season starting in 1975 as a way of blocking the ABA from moving a team into the Civic Center and Boston's trips to Hartford continued until 1995. Larry Bird, who made some highlight-reel shots in Hartford, said he didn't like the trip because the sun was in his eyes the entire westbound bus trip.

There also was a story that surfaced in the early 1970s that Charlie Finley was interested in moving his Memphis franchise to Hartford. The deal never materialized, but it caught the attention of Baldwin. His WHA franchise in Boston needed a home and Baldwin was not interested in moving his young family out of New England.

Knowing little about the market — Baldwin actually flew from Boston to Hartford for a meeting — he toured the city and met with business leaders known as the "Bishops." Baldwin said there was a clear, unified vision from the business and political community.

"They wanted us to succeed," he said. "The minute we stepped foot in Hartford ... we knew we were welcomed. Not only from a corporate standpoint, from a political standpoint. From the governor to the mayor to the corporate people, it was the warmest welcome one could possibly get. They can make a huge difference. They did in the '70s and the late '60s, and I haven't seen it since. It's too bad because it can happen again. It can be done but it takes perseverance."

Baldwin, of course, represents bookends in Hartford sports history. He presided over the Whalers' shift to Hartford and the franchise planting roots in the community through the 1980s. He left in 1988 — nine years before the franchise was relocated to North Carolina — and returned to run the city's American Hockey League franchise in 2010, a tenure that ended when the New York Rangers took the business operation of the team back.

The Whalers, famously called the "Green Bay of the NHL" by former general manager Emile Francis, enmeshed themselves into the community and provided Hartford with a sports identity. Remember, this was before the Tate George shot and UConn's ascension to national prominence as a men's basketball program. It was before Geno Auriemma turned Connecticut into a women's basketball state and long before the construction of Rentschler Field elevated the UConn football team.

Baldwin's team survived the collapse of the Civic Center roof, which forced it to play home games in Springfield. The franchise lost more than $2 million in its first three years in Hartford, yet the region's corporate community chipped in to keep the team financial viable.

That cooperation, Baldwin said, enabled the Whalers to forge an identity.

"When we played the Rangers and Bruins after we first got in the NHL, there was as many Rangers and Bruins fans as Whalers fans," Baldwin said. "By the time we left, that was flipped on its ear and people became Whalers fans. Honestly, we never worried about New York or Boston. We were Hartford's team."

For five consecutive seasons, the Whalers missed the playoffs. The made a run to Adams Division final in 1986, won their division in 1987, and were playoff qualifiers through 1992. Regardless of the performance on the ice, though, the team represented Hartford and that was significant for the market.