As the two-time defending champions of the 2-year-old United Football League, the Locomotives are the most successful professional football franchise in Las Vegas has ever had, but they are far from the first. Most of the teams had a shelf life slightly longer than a carton of milk, with varying degrees of success on and off the field. Here’s a glimpse at the good, the bad and the ugly of Las Vegas’ gridiron past (including a team preparing to kick off its first season of play).
Las Vegas Cowboys, Continental Football League, 1968-69
A decade before Dallas’ NFL squad was dubbed “America’s Team,” Las Vegas had its own Cowboys when the CFL’s Quad Cities franchise relocated midway through the 1968 season. The CFL was formed in 1965 and grew to 22 franchises before disintegrating after the 1969 season. The Cowboys, who played at the original Cashman Field, finished 8-4 in 1969 and fell one game short of playing in the league’s championship game. While the CFL gave such NFL legends as Ken Stabler and Bill Walsh their start, the Cowboys instead had UNLV’s first-ever quarterback Bill Casey, former Cincinnati Bengal quarterback Dewey Warren and running back Bobby Burnett, the 1966 American Football League Rookie of the Year.
Las Vegas Posse, Canadian Football League, 1994
The team, founded by Cleveland entrepreneur Nick Mileti, was part of the league’s short-lived expansion into the United States, and a colossal failure. Because of size limitations at Sam Boyd Stadium, the end zones were 15 feet deep instead of 20, and the field was two yards narrower than the standard 65 yards. The team practiced on a 70-yard field in the Riviera parking lot. The Posse’s equine mascots continually crapped on the field and sidelines. Temperatures remained above 100 degrees for much of the season, contributing to poor attendance and leading the CFL to move the Posse’s final home game to Edmonton, Alberta, after the team had a league record-low attendance of 2,350 for its Oct. 14 game against Winnipeg. The Posse (5-13), which was led by former NFL and UNLV coach Ron Meyer, folded after one season. The most notable player was rookie quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who would go on to become the CFL’s career leader in touchdown passes, and also win three league championships and three CFL MVP awards.
Las Vegas Sting, Arena Football League, 1994-95
The AFL expansion team, playing at the MGM Grand Garden Arena its first year, went 5-7 before losing to Albany in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. The Sting relocated to the Thomas & Mack Center for its second season, missing the playoffs with a 6-6 record. After averaging 5,733 fans per game over both seasons, the franchise moved to Anaheim, Calif., and was renamed the Piranhas, folding following the 1997 season. But let us never forget that the team was coached by a man named Babe (Pirilli) and quarterbacked by a guy named Scooter (Molander).
Las Vegas Outlaws, XFL, 2001
The XFL, founded by pro wrestling mogul Vince McMahon, was created as a joint venture between NBC and the World Wrestling Federation. Instead of a coin toss before the game to determine which team got possession of the ball, the league had a player from each squad race 20 yards in an attempt to recover a football on the 50-yard line, and players had only nicknames on their jerseys. The Outlaws (4-6) had one of the league’s most popular players, running back Rod Smart, who wore the nickname “He Hate Me.” He became the first XFL player to appear in a Super Bowl, with the Carolina Panthers in 2004. Attendance in Las Vegas wasn’t bad, with the Outlaws averaging more than 22,000 fans per game, but overall the league failed to grab the nation’s attention and folded after one season.
Las Vegas Gladiators, Arena Football League, 2003-07
Owner Jim Ferraro, a Miami-based litigation attorney, moved the Gladiators from New Jersey to Las Vegas just weeks before the 2003 season started, but failed to produce a winning season in five years. The Gladiators went 31-49 in the regular season, including a miserable 2-14 their final year here, and lost their lone playoff game in 2003. The team played its first four seasons in the Thomas & Mack Center before moving to the Orleans Arena for its last year, averaging less than 9,000 fans per game over its duration. The Gladiators moved to Cleveland after the 2007 season and remain part of the AFL.
Las Vegas Sin, Lingerie Football League, 2011-
The LFL expansion team kicks off its first season Sept. 2 at Chicago, but its home opener is not until Nov. 11, against Los Angeles at the Orleans Arena. Now here is a team that might find an audience in Las Vegas. The LFL is a women’s 7-on-7 full-contact league with games played on a 50-yard field. Players wear little more than helmets, shoulder pads, sports bras and boy shorts, so sex appeal is just as important as the quality of play. Las Vegans got a taste of what they can expect from the Sin when the LFL played the 2011 Lingerie Bowl championship game at the Thomas & Mack during halftime of Super Bowl XLV.