SAN ANTONIO GUNSLINGERS
Central Division, Western Conference (1984)
Western Conference (1985)
Alamo Stadium, San Antonio, Texas
Regular Season Record
1984: Gil Steinke (7-11-0)
1985: Jim Bates (3-9-0, resigned)
1985: Gil Steinke (2-4-0)
When talking about the various franchises that were part of the three year history of the United States Football League, few would argue that the worst team in terms of on-field performance was the Washington Federals/Orlando Renegades. Some might meanwhile make a case that the 1983 Arizona Wranglers/1984 Chicago Blitz would earn that distinction; while yet another group could make a case for the one-season wonders that were the 1984 Pittsburgh Maulers.
But when it comes to a discussion of which of the league's 18 franchises were most inept in terms of its business operations, you'll end any and all debate on the subject by merely uttering the words "San Antonio Gunslingers."
A Mistake From The Outset
The San Antonio Gunslingers were the 17th USFL franchise and the fifth to be awarded during the 1983-84 off-season. Granted to south Texas oil baron Clinton Manges, the Gunslingers (along with the Memphis Showboats, which came days later to round out the league at 18 teams) were born almost solely out of a need to collect an additional $6 million franchise fee to keep the league's original franchises afloat. Having done little to no vetting of Manges or his plans, USFL owners approved his admission without realizing just what they were getting in Manges... or how quickly he would ruin the reputation of the USFL as a professionally run football enterprise.
In the early 1980's San Antonio was seen as a fertile market for spring football, but not considered viable by the USFL due to its lack of a modern, suitable stadium to host games. In true Texan style, Manges proposed to remedy this by taking an existing San Antonio high school stadium (Alamo Stadium, not to be confused with the Alamodome built a decade later) and upgrade it to league standards.
Built as a WPA project in 1940 the league questioned how feasible Manges proposal was, but a promise to "bring the seating capacity up" to 30,000 by March 1, 1984 and 62,000 no later than March 1, 1986, together with promising to pay $4.75 million of the $6 million franchise fee within 18 months assuaged the concerns.
Unfortunately when the expansion agreement was drafted, the league wasn't terribly specific on how seating capacity was to be raised to 30,000; when league dignitaries arrived for the team's inaugural game against the New Orleans Breakers, they were mortified - Manges had supplemented the base capacity of the stadium (around 18,000) with over 15,000 folding chairs. It mattered little, however, as only 18,233 fans would be in attendance; the team would only crack 20,000 fans once, in a Week 14 matchup against the Denver Gold.
Did I mention Manges was cheap? While original USFL franchises were supposed to be capitalized with a minimum of $6 million, Manges ran the Gunslingers like one would run a fly by night starving artists sale. The team didn't even have offices, operating out of a double-wide trailer parked outside the stadium.
Initially Manges paid team expenses out of pocket as they arose, which had worked fine in 1984. But when oil prices plummeted in early 1985, the owner's finances were tapped like a dry well. Ineptitude and bizarre situations were hallmarks of the San Antonio Gunslinger organization:
- Prior to their first game against the New Orleans Breakers, league Director of Operations Peter Hadhazy took a call from a Gunslingers staffer, inquiring as to the hat sizes of all the visiting players. When asked why this information was sought, Hadhazy learned that the staffer thought the team was responsible for providing each game's visiting team with helmets.
- Prior to another game, a player was declared "out" for what was described as a "groin injury." Upon inquiry by a staffer at the league office (as groin injuries don't usually result in a player being taken off the active roster), it was revealed that the "groin injury" occurred as the result of the player in question getting his penis caught in a closing foot locker.
- Paychecks bounced like racquetballs, on on the rare instances where they were issued, players and team staffers would take their lives into their own hands, outracing one another to the one bank that would cash them.
- Players who weren't lucky enough to make it to the bank in time often traded blocks of Gunslingers tickets for food, even moving in with fans because they couldn't afford to pay the rent on their own apartments.
- In one instance, beseiged by players in search of payroll checks, Gunslingers team president Bud Haun would make his escape by bailing out a window of the team's double-wide "offices."
- Jim Bates, named the Gunslingers head coach for 1985 to replace the retiring Gil Steinke, advised players that he'd quit if they hadn't been paid by the team's Week 12 game against Orlando. When they weren't paid, he walked, forcing Steinke to return and coach the rest of the season.
Meanwhile the team on the field would hardly be confused with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys or Houston Oilers, for even the Houston Gamblers, for that matter, winning precisely one-third of the 36 games played during the team's two year run.
One Final, Dubious Distinction
By the end of the 1985 season everyone had pretty much seen enough of Clinton Manges and the San Antonio Gunslingers.
Having defaulted on payments owed to players, to front office staffers and to the league itself, and for failing to operate the franchise at anywhere near the level the USFL had expected of all its teams, at the conclusion of the 1985 season the league took the extraordinary step of revoking the Gunslingers franchise - a process which has been initiated by a major sports league only once since (the NBA doing so against Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014), and never actually invoked.
The Official Timeline of the San Antonio Gunslingers
(from a corporate perspective; possibly incomplete)
- April 20, 1982: South Texas Sports, Inc. organized by Clinton Manges in Texas.
- July 11, 1983: South Texas Sports awarded franchise for San Antonio.
- July 19, 1985: Following failure to pay league assessments, franchise fee payments and player salaries, franchise is revoked.
- March 6, 1986: District judge Rose Spector orders the assets of South Texas Sports, Inc. be sold on the courthouse steps of Bexar County, Texas, by Sheriff Harlon Copeland.