I came to Anaheim Arena on Tuesday night because I have seen Luis Sanchez pitch to Cecil Cooper and Donnie Moore pitch to Dave Henderson.
I came to Anaheim Arena on Tuesday night because I have seen Dieter Brock throw snowballs in Chicago and Jim Everett lose his heart in San Francisco.
I came to Anaheim Arena on Tuesday night because I have seen the Southern California Sun set, the California Surf crash, the Newport Beach Dukes bedeviled and the Anaheim Amigos befriend the loss column 53 times in 78 American Basketball Assn. games.
I came to Anaheim Arena on Tuesday night because I wanted to see something I had never seen before--and may never see again during this lifetime.
At Anaheim Arena on Tuesday night, a professional sports team from Orange County won its league championship.
Does it matter that the team plays roller hockey, or that it is called “the Bullfrogs,” or that it dusted three consecutive playoff opponents largely because it held a significant home-slab advantage?
The Bullfrogs are 1993 champions of Roller Hockey International, the little league that started up in early July in an attempt to capitalize on the in-line roller blade fad, warm some seats for Mighty Ducks ticket holders and maybe kill a few summer nights between Angel ulcers and Ram headaches.
The Bullfrogs didn’t lose a game. They went 13-0-1 during the regular season and swept through the playoffs in four games, including Tuesday’s clincher, a 9-4 victory over the Oakland Skates. They also led the league in attendance, averaging 8,419 through 11 home dates, including a happy, buoyant crowd of 8,809 Tuesday that refused to leave the building until Lord Dennis Murphy’s Cup had been hoisted.
Miracle on Cement.
It was an amazing scene, really.
Here is what happens:
With play halted with 1.6 seconds remaining, the Anaheim team begins hugging and clapping and the fans stand and shimmy in the aisles.
Soon, the final buzzer sounds and the Anaheim team begins throwing equipment into the stands.
Heavy metal music throbs from the overhead speakers.
Fans twist and shout.
A shining gold trophy is placed on a fancy stand and the Anaheim team takes turns grabbing it, kissing it, skating with it while turning laps around The Slab, which is what the playing surface is actually called, although it sounds more like the place where the Rams and Angels traditionally finish their seasons.
Amid the giddiness, a team official picks up a microphone and publicly thanks the head coach, Chris McSorley, for “winning Orange County’s first professional sports championship.”
Close, but no cigar. In truth, the Bullfrogs won Orange County’s second professional sports championship, but that truth is little known. Fact: The Orange County Stars were champions of the International Volleyball Assn. in 1977. Nobody remembers it, though, because nobody can remember attending one of their games.
Along the way, the Amigos moved to Los Angeles and finally Utah, the Sun and Surf folded and the Dukes blew the 1993 TeamTennis finals when their heavily favored mixed doubles team lost to Wichita’s. The Dukes had entered that match with a 14-1 record. Wichita was a mere 9-7.
It was a classic Orange County pressure performance.
I asked Bullfrog officials if they had any advice for the Rams and Angels, any winning tips to pass along to their competitively impaired neighbors.
Maury Silver, the Bullfrog owner, came up with an outlandish idea. He suggested spending money.
“We went after the best players,” Silver said. “Now our sport is not like those other sports; our payrolls are small and we don’t have the big, big money contracts. Our players play for prize money, basically--$48,000 for first place and up to $25,000 more if they win the championship. It works out to $900-plus a week per man.
“Still, we paid the expense of flying in players for tryouts from all over Canada and all over the United States. Chris McSorley wanted these players, about 30 of them, so we flew them in, put them up, fed them. It wasn’t cheap.
“But, it’s like anything else--if you want the good players, you’ve got to pay the money to get them.”
Bob Elder, Bullfrog general manager, advised bringing in “the best players you can and giving the person in charge total control. We gave Chris McSorley carte blanche. He didn’t like the roster we drafted so he cut them all and brought in his own players. You put your trust in the people who know.
“Maybe if the Rams did that with Chuck Knox, or the Angels with their payroll . . . Too often, high management doesn’t do what it should--give the coaching staff the talent it needs and stay out of the way. Too often, management says, ‘Gee, I don’t what to spend that much.’
“There ought to be more owners like Maury.”
One thing about these Bullfrogs: You have to love their self-confidence. Before Tuesday’s game, a Long Beach restaurant announced it would host a victory party for the “world champion Bullfrogs.” During the final period, the P.A. announcer began detailing the following day’s parade down Main Street at Disneyland.
And already, a white banner hangs from the Anaheim Arena rafters, touting the Bullfrogs’ undefeated season.
It gives the place a regal air. Not quite the Montreal Forum, but it is encouraging to learn that the curse of Anaheim does not extend north of Katella.
* BULLFROGS WIN TITLE
The Bullfrogs rolled to the league title with a 9-4 victory over Oakland. C9