Las Vegas Posse
|Based in||Las Vegas, Nevada, United States|
|Home field||Sam Boyd Stadium|
|Head coach||Ron Meyer|
|Owner(s)||Las Vegas Major League Sports, Inc.|
(Glenn Golenberg, Chairman)
|Colours||Black, Desert Sand, Brown and White |
The Las Vegas Posse were a Canadian Football League (CFL) team that played the 1994 season as part of the CFL's short-lived American expansion. The Posse was one of the least successful CFL teams, both on the field and off.
On the field
The Posse had notable football talent such as KR Tamarick Vanover, RB Jon Volpe, LB Greg Battle, LB Shonte Peoples, DB/QB Darian Hagan and K Carlos Huerta. They also had a rookie quarterback named Anthony Calvillo, who would later go on to become the all-time leader in passing yards in all of professional football. The franchise also had an experienced coaching staff with Head Coach, Ron Meyer who had previous coaching experiences with UNLV and in the NFL, and also had future Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Jeff Reinebold as one of their Assistant Coaches. Carlos Huerta won the Jackie Parker Trophy as the Most Outstanding Rookie of the West Division that year.
The Posse started with wins over the Sacramento Gold Miners and Saskatchewan Roughriders, but things quickly went downhill. Part of the problem was lack of familiarity with the Canadian game. For instance, during a game against the B.C. Lions, Vanover signaled for a fair catch--not knowing that there is no fair catch in Canadian football. The ball rolled into the Posse end zone, and the Lions recovered it for a touchdown. Players openly complained about the apathy of their coaches and teammates.
The Posse finished the season 5–13 and finished last in the West Division and next-to-last in the CFL.
Off the field
When the Posse started the 1994 season it was clear that CFL football would not last in Las Vegas. They were owned by a publicly held corporation whose public face was Cleveland, Ohio-based Nick Mileti (whose other sports holdings included the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and the AHL's Cleveland Barons), a man who took little direct involvement in team operations.
The team played at Sam Boyd Stadium in suburban Whitney. As was the problem at many of the other playing fields of the American CFL teams, the end zones at the stadium were only 15 yards long, instead of the usual 20 yards needed for the Canadian game. In addition, the stadium was uncovered and offered no protection from the infamous Las Vegas summer heat. Head coach Ron Meyer was seen at many practices running drills with no shirt on in the sweltering heat.
The Posse practiced on a smaller-than-regulation field (only 70 yards long) at the Riviera Casino and Resort, where a sign read "Field of ImPOSSEable Dreams." With no marketing assistance from the league and a glut of other entertainment options, local interest was virtually nonexistent.
The most memorable moment for the franchise occurred on July 8, 1994, when the team played the Sacramento Gold Miners in the first ever CFL match involving two American based teams. The Posse defeated the Gold Miners 32–26 at Sacramento's Hornet Stadium.
There were also several infamous moments. At the team's first home game against Saskatchewan, the singer of the national anthems, Dennis K.C. Parks (singing under the pseudonym "Greg Bartholomew"), had only a vague knowledge of the Canadian anthem "O Canada" and when he sang it, the song sounded similar to "O Christmas Tree". Two weeks later he was brought to a game in Hamilton where he sang it properly. On another occasion, Posse head coach Ron Meyer asked the "Showgirls" to loiter behind the bench of the B.C. Lions in an attempt to distract the opposition. The scheme did not work and Las Vegas lost the game 39–16.
The Posse's attendance figures were never good to begin with, but significantly tailed off as the summer wore on. Management unsuccessfully tried to sell tickets by employing tactics such as:
- Reducing ticket prices to US$9 for each seat. The few who bought season tickets for about US$750 (in more expensive categories) were given extra tickets to make up for the price difference.
- Advertising their scantily-clad cheerleaders, the "Showgirls", and by staging halftime bikini contests.
The Posse's penultimate home game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had an announced attendance of only 2,350 people, the lowest recorded attendance in CFL history. Many of those in attendance were fans who made the trip from Winnipeg. Just before the team's last scheduled home game, against the Edmonton Eskimos, Mileti announced the team would disband due to massive losses.
The CFL, however, does not allow teams to fold in midseason, and citing the team's meager gate takings, moved the game to Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Several Eskimo season ticket holders had already arrived in Las Vegas when the game was moved, and were forced to watch the game in a ballroom at the Imperial Palace as logistical issues left Air Canada unable to fly them back to Edmonton on such short notice. The Posse's average attendance was a dismal 8,953.
In the end
After the season, Mileti entered talks with a group from Milwaukee looking to move the Posse there. A group led by singer and business mogul Jimmy Buffett attempted to buy and relocate the franchise to Jackson, Mississippi. Buffett had gone so far as to begin assembling a front office (led by general manager Eric Tillman) and coaching staff (led by John Payne), and the CFL included the Jackson team in its 1995 draft schedule. Buffett's first managing partner, William L. Collins, had a sale contract written up before the Posse's board of directors unexpectedly raised the price of the team, prompting Collins to drop his bid. The CFL considered revoking the franchise and awarding a new expansion team to Collins, only to be threatened with a lawsuit from the Las Vegas board of directors. Another investor for Jackson, Norton Herrick, offered an even higher price than Collins but backed out when he could not secure the money to fund the team through its expected losses. As it was, the league, then seeking a U.S. television contract, was uncomfortable placing one of its franchises in one of the smallest and poorest media markets in America.
The league then voted to suspend the Posse's franchise and give the team until December 1995 to sell the team. A dispersal draft was held for its players in 1995. Defensive end Derrell Robertson, who had been killed in a December 1994 car accident, was included; the league was unaware of Robertson's death and included him in the pool of potential draftees, and the Ottawa Rough Riders selected him. Only after attempting—and failing—to find Robertson did the Rough Riders (and the league) realize that Robertson was dead. According to Riders coach Jim Gilstrap in a June 1995 Sports Illustrated article, "the league didn't know he was dead until we told them, and we didn't know until we couldn't find him."
The failure of the Posse also affected the team's geographically closest rival, the Sacramento Gold Miners. Before the Posse's arrival, the Miners had been nearly 900 miles away from their nearest opponent. The Posse's failure meant that the Gold Miners again faced the prospect of traveling extremely long distances for away games. This, along with dissatisfaction with Hornet Stadium, prompted the Miners to become the San Antonio Texans for 1995.
After the dispersal draft another group from Miami tried to purchase the remains of the Posse and move the team to Miami. The deal was that the franchise would return for the 1996 season as the Miami Manatees. In order to introduce the Miami fans to the CFL game, a pre-season game was played at the Orange Bowl between the Baltimore Stallions and the Birmingham Barracudas in 1995 (Baltimore won the game by a score of 37–0 in front of 20,216 fans). Unlike the Mississippi proposals, the Manatees would have retained the services of Ron Meyer as head coach. However, the deal fell apart when the CFL ended its American experiment after the 1995 season. The last active player from the Las Vegas Posse (or any American CFL franchise) was quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who last played for the Montreal Alouettes in 2013.
After the Posse
Despite the Posse's failure, the Posse was the first attempt by one of the major professional sports leagues in North America to place a team in Las Vegas proper. The city only grew to major size in the 1980s, and even after that most major leagues traditionally avoided it due in part to Las Vegas's gambling reputation. Future professional football leagues would emulate this, with the XFL's Las Vegas Outlaws, the Arena League's Las Vegas Sting, Las Vegas Gladiators and Las Vegas Outlaws, and the UFL's Las Vegas Locomotives all residing in the city. The XFL Outlaws and Locomotives did somewhat better drawing fans to Sam Boyd Stadium than the Posse did, although both experienced steep declines as the years went on (to the point where the Locomotives were drawing fewer than the Posse by the end of their run). They also had better on-field performance, particularly the Locomotives, who played in all three championship games and won two of them. Las Vegas was also briefly considered by Major League Baseball as a potential new home for the Montreal Expos (who were soon to relocate) but in the end they would move to Washington to become the Washington Nationals, in 2016 however Rob Manfred (current Commissioner of the MLB) said the city was a "viable alternative" for a potential expansion team.
Major league sports interest in Las Vegas would ultimately culminate when the National Hockey League 21 years later would award the city an expansion team to begin play for the 2017-18 NHL season, and the NFL's Oakland Raiders were approved to move to Las Vegas where a new stadium (that will replace Sam Boyd) will be constructed for the team to begin play in beginning in the 2020 NFL season.
Players and builders of note
- CFL USA all-time records and statistics
- Comparison of Canadian and American football
- 1994 CFL season
- Murray, Ken (April 18, 1995). "CFL's fumbles raise credibility question". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- "Las Vegas Loses Its CFL Team". New York Times. 1994-10-22. Retrieved 2009-03-14.
- Kantowski, Ron. Grey Cup stirs memories of Posse. Las Vegas Sun, 2009-12-02.
- Rick Romell, Tom Haudricourt. Milwaukee top pick for Canadian football. The Milwaukee Sentinel, 1995-01-04.
- Murray, Ken (April 5, 1995). CFL suspends Posse, won't move it to Miss. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved April 5, 1995.
- NHL expansion to include Toronto, Quebec City, Seattle and Las Vegas: Report. Toronto Sun, 2014-08-27.
- Michael David Smith (March 27, 2017). "Raiders' move to Las Vegas approved". Profootballtalk.com. Retrieved March 27, 2017.