Roger Simmons | Sports Editor
5:18 PM EDT, October 18, 2012
With the return of the Orlando Solar Bears this week -- taking to the ice here Saturday for the first time in 11 years -- it's a good time to look back at some of the many professional teams that once called Orlando home.
Central Florida isn't just a place tourists love to visit -- it's also the landing spot for just about every wanna-be professional league in every sport. Indoor soccer? Check. Roller hockey? Check. Football? Oh, yeah – check, check, check.
Some won championships for Orlando. Some were popular locally but saw their leagues fold. Many were here only a season or two -- barely long enough for anyone to notice them before they were gone.
How well do you know Orlando sports history? See if you can remember the teams and what sports they played on this “Sweet 16” list of Orlando’s former professional teams.
OK, think you know the answers? Read on to see how well you did.
1. ORLANDO MIRACLE (women’s basketball, 1999-2002): Owned by the Orlando Magic, the Miracle were added to the WNBA in the second season of the WNBA. Carolyn Peck was the team’s first coach and general manager, leaving in 2002 to go coach the Gators women’s basketball team. Former Magic player Dee Brown then took over as coach. The Miracle’s second season was their best, as the team reached the playoffs and lost in the Eastern semifinals to the Cleveland Rockets. Top players on the team were Nykesha Sales, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Shannon Johnson. The team relocated to Connecticut in 2003.
2. ORLANDO WAHOOS (women’s softball, 1997-98): The Wahoos were the 1997 and 1998 champions of Women’s Pro Softball League (which changed its name to Women’s Professional Fastpitch for the ’98 season). Despite their on-field success, the Wahoos were not a hit at the box office. The team drew only about 300 to 400 fans for its games at Alfond Stadium in Winter Park.
3. FLORIDA BLAZERS (football, 1974): You have to go way back for the Blazers. They were Orlando's World Football League team and played at the Tangerine Bowl. Jack Pardee was the coach of the team, which was beset with myriad financial problems (just like all the other teams in the WFL). Still, the Blazers made it all the way to the inaugural World Bowl, where they lost to the Birmingham Americans, 22-21. Read about that championship game here. Read about that championship game here.
4. ORLANDO RENEGADES (football, 1985): If it wasn't for the Renegades, we wouldn't have Lee Corso here. And if it wasn’t for Donald Trump, we might have an NFL team. The Renegades were Orlando's USFL team in 1985. The USFL’s Washington Federals were supposed to move to Miami, but when that deal fell though, the team ended up in Orlando with Corso as coach. They played one season before the league folded – because Trump convinced fellow USFL owners to take on the NFL in court. The USFL won the lawsuit but only received $3. Click here to watch a video clip from a Renegades game against the San Antonio Gunslingers. Click here to watch a video clip from a Renegades game against the San Antonio Gunslingers.
5. ORLANDO SUN RAYS (minor-league baseball, 1990-92): Ah, another story of what might have been. The Sun Rays were supposed to turn into Orlando's Major League Baseball team. Pat Williams and the Orlando Magic were trying to help land an MLB expansion team for Orlando in 1990. They acquired the Orlando Twins, renamed them the Orlando Rays and battled against groups from Miami and St. Pete to get Florida's first MLB team. Well, you know how that worked out.
6. ORLANDO RAYS (minor-league baseball, 1997-2003): After the Magic realized they weren't getting a MLB team, they sold the Sun Rays to Orlando Sentinel owner Tribune Co. – then-owner of the Chicago Cubs. Tribune renamed the Sun Rays the Orlando Cubs in 1993. Once the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were selected as a MLB expansion team, they bought the Orlando Cubs, and in 1997, they became the Orlando Rays. The Rays stayed around until 2003 when they moved on to become the Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits. Read a history of the Sun Rays, Cubs and Rays here. Read a history of the Sun Rays, Cubs and Rays here.
7. ORLANDO JUICE (seniors baseball, 1989): Just as the Senior PGA Tour was gaining popularity in the late 1980s, someone came up with the idea of having a Senior Professional Baseball League. Seriously. And the Orlando Juice, with manager Gates Brown, were born. They played for one year at Tinker Field. Click here to read about the Juice and the SPBL. Click here to read about the Juice and the SPBL.
8. ORLANDO TWINS (minor-league baseball, 1973-89): One of the longest-lasting sports franchises in Orlando history, the Orlando Twins were the Class AA affiliate for the Minnesota Twins. Believe it or not, the big-league Twins used to hold spring training at Tinker Field – where the O-Twins played. The team won the Southern League championship in 1981.
9. ORLANDO JACKALS (roller hockey, 1995-97): The Jackals were another championship team for Orlando. They were the champs of Roller Hockey International, winning their league in 1996. Believe it or not, the Jackals were Orlando’s second roller hockey team.
10. FLORIDA TUSKERS (football, 2009-10): Yet another pro football team that called Orlando home, this time in the United Football League. The Tuskers were “shared” by Orlando and Tampa Bay in their first season – when the reached the UFL championship game. Former Orlando Predators coach Jay Gruden, took over in their second season – which ended with the UFL announcing the team would relocate to Virginia.
11. ORLANDO PANTHERS (football, 1966-1970): The Orlando Panthers of the Continental Football League were the city's first pro team, arriving in 1966, winning the league championship a year later and staying in town until 1970. The team is noteworthy for having a woman player, Patricia Palinkas. She was the holder on extra points and field goals for her husband Steve, who was the Panthers kicker.
12. ORLANDO THUNDER (football, 1991-92): The Thunder were part of the NFL's minor-league WLAF (World League of American Football), which had teams in the USA, Canada and Europe. The Thunder played two seasons here (1991-92) and are probably best known for their fluorescent lime-green jerseys. Take a look at this video clip of the Rage taking on the fearsome Frankfurt Galaxy. Take a look at this video clip of the Rage taking on the fearsome Frankfurt Galaxy.
13. ORLANDO RAGE (football, 2001): The Rage were part of WWE's wrestling-inspired XFL, which lasted one season. The Rage were pretty good, reaching the league semifinals before losing to the San Francisco Demons. Here's a video clip of the Rage against the Memphis Maniax. Here's a video clip of the Rage against the Memphis Maniax.
14. ORLANDO SEALS (hockey, 2002-04): The minor-league hockey Orlando Seals have the distinction of winning championships in two leagues while calling Orlando home. The team won the championship of Atlantic Coast Hockey League in 2002, and followed up the next year by winning the title in the World Hockey Association 2. From 2002 to 2004, the Seals played at TD Waterhouse Center (aka Amway Arena) -- then moved to Kissimmee and finally folded.
15. ORLANDO ROLLERGATORS (roller hockey, 1994-95): Remember the Jackals? Well, when Roller Hockey International first came to Orlando, the Jackals were known as the Roller Gators.
16. ORLANDO SHARKS (indoor soccer, 2007-08): Before Orlando City, Orlando had a pro soccer team. The Sharks were our team in the Major Indoor Soccer League -- playing games at Amway Arena in the 2007-08 season before joining the long list of teams that came and went. Watch the Sharks take on the California Cougars here.
Roger Simmons is the executive sports editor for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@rogersimmons. Become a fan of the Orlando Sentinel Sports Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/orlandosentinelsports
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