Salt Lake Deflated: Three Pro Football Teams That Came And Went (And Why Utah Needs Them Back)

For the 2019 Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs each had three Utah-tied players on the roster. (Kwiecinski) In total, 478 NFL draft picks, since the late 1930s, have been from Utah colleges. (Pro-Football Reference, Football Database)  Even with this long history of sending great players to the NFL, Utah does not have a professional football team.

Well, they used to. As a matter of fact, they used to have three teams: the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, the Salt Lake Stallions, and the Utah Blaze. I know there were other teams, (Utah Pioneers, Ogden Knights, Utah Catzz, you name it!) but these were the ones I believe truly captured the imagination of Utah football fans. I want to share with you a little bit about each team and why Utah needs them back soon.

Salt Lake Screaming Eagles

Team Overview

Awarding Salt Lake an Indoor Football League expansion opportunity, Project FANchise wanted to test out what a professional team would look like being controlled by fans. First, fans voted the team name to be the Screaming Eagles referencing the 101 Airborne Division's nickname. (Our Sports Central) Then, decisions were made on jersey colors, dance team members, lineups, offensive plays during the game, and condiments at the concessions stands. (Bleacher Report) Fans voted on what they wanted through the app and got a glimpse in what life is like running a team.

The Screaming Eagles played at the Maverik Center in front of an average crowd of 4,652 fans. (IFL). They had a record of 5-11 which was good enough for Fourth Place in the Intense Conference, but no playoff qualification. The team had two All-League selections in Devin Mahina and James Calhoun while Verlon Reed was the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Salt Lake Screaming Eagles Passing PlayPhoto Credit:

Notable Players

While the team only existed for the 2017 season, they did have notable names on their roster who participated in NFL play.

Devin Mahina: Played for BYU and was part of the NFL's Washington Redskins' offseason/practice squad before returning to Utah. (Barksdale) Won All-League honors with the Screaming Eagles.  

Seante Williams: Part of the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars offseason/practice squads. Participated with the Frankfurt Galaxy as part of NFL Europe.

Don Unamba: Was with the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills offseason/practice squad before playing in the Canadian Football League.

Salt Lake Screaming Eagles Catch During Inaugural Game       Photo Credit: Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News

Team Collapse

While the team had great attendance and community support, the owners only started the team as an experiment. They decided to cut ties with the Indoor Football League to form their own league (the Fan Controlled Football League), and are now focused on having all teams playing in one city. The new league is partnering with Twitch to stream games with digital venues replacing in-person spectators. (Learn More with Brad Reagan's WSJ Article)

Come Back

Even with their departure, the team should come back for some of the following reasons listed below.

  • Real-Time Play Calling: Fans choosing plays that are used on the field is fantastic. Watching old clips from the Screaming Eagles' games, I could tell how much the fans liked participating with this. While there were flaws with the technology, the idea was great and worked for fans that came.
  • Player to Fan Interaction: Giving a high-five to a player right after you call a successful play? Only the Screaming Eagles had that. At the Maverik Center, you could have "court" side seats to be right on top of the action. Never before could you get closer to professional football players than with these seats.
  • Keeping the Balls: Unlike other football leagues, if a Screaming Eagles' football was thrown or bobbled into the stands, fans could keep it. This was a great way to build rapport with fans, and we need this more among professional franchises. If you did not get your football while in the stands, you can get the official one here: Salt Lake Screaming Eagles' Official Football.
  • Fans Rushing the Field: After the very first Screaming Eagles touchdown in history, fans were able to rush the field. I have never seen anything like this except during collegiate sports. Please bring this back.

Fans Rushing the Field After First Screaming Eagles TouchdownPhoto Credit: Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News

The Screaming Eagles were a fan-controlled experiment that brought a new take to the fan experience. Utah needs them back.

If you want to a bit of Salt Lake Screaming Eagles' history, I recommend you check out our collection that has official footballs, signed pieces, and promotional products used by the team. (Click here)

Salt Lake Stallions

Team Overview

As part of the Alliance of American Football, the Salt Lake Stallions were one of eight expansion teams set to prove that a spring football league could work. The league saw potential from other spring leagues, like the XFL in the early 2000s, and started play with the hopes to becoming a NFL minor league affiliate. The AAF had different rules including no kickoffs, no extra point conversion kicks, both teams getting a chance to score in overtime, and a new sky judge official. (Bleacher Report)

In 2019, Salt Lake City was selected as an expansion franchise. The Stallions played at Rice-Eccles Stadium where under head coach Dennis Erickson, they went 3-5 and finished last in the Western Conference. The team attracted an average of 9,068 fans during their home games. Unfortunately, the team's season was cut short when the AAF folded in late March 2019.

Salt Lake Stallions Football Team Running Out Onto the FieldPhoto Credit: Brandon Judd, Deseret News

Notable Players

While the team only existed for a few months, the Stallions had the greatest number of players who participated in the NFL. Below are some of the most recognizable members.

Terron Ward: Played two seasons for the Atlanta Falcons where he had over 280 rushing yards. (Pro Football Reference)

Jordan Leslie: Saw NFL playing time with the Cleveland Browns (Pro Football Reference) and was on the offseason/practice squad roster for the Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, and Denver Broncos. Played local collegiate ball at BYU, 40 miles south of the Stallions' stadium.

Brian Tyms: Was on the active roster for the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, and New England Patriots. He made headlines with a huge catch to propel a Patriots' victory in 2014. (ESPN)

Sealver Siliga: Started Super Bowl XLIX when playing for the New England Patriots. Played collegiate ball at the University of Utah. (SB Nation)

Matt Asiata: Played five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings where he became the first NFL player to have three, three-touchdown games for his first nine career rushing touchdowns. (Bleacher Report) He played collegiate ball at the University of Utah

Branden Oliver: Played three seasons for the San Diego Chargers where he rushed for over 700 yards. (Pro Football Reference)

*Countless of other roster members were on active lineups and offseason/practice squads for the following NFL teams: Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Salt Lake Stallions Jordan Leslie and Brian Tyms CelebratePhoto Credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Team Collapse

In Salt Lake, the team was struggling to pull in respectable revenue with low admission and high costs for renting out Rice-Eccles Stadium. I spoke to a few team executives at the time wondering why admissions were so low. They said that consumer perception thought the team was an arena football or lingerie team and with less time and marketing budget, people did not know who the Stallions were. The snowy/cold weather also kept people from coming out to support. Salt Lake ended up with the league's lowest attendance numbers.

With Salt Lake's struggles, the entire league was facing financial hardships. Tom Dundon, league majority owner, decided that with no new investors coming in, he was losing too much. He shut down the league mid-season in 2019, and the Stallions ceased to exist overnight. 

Come Back

Even with their departure, the team should come back for some of the following reasons listed below.

  • The Branding: The Stallions' name references horsepower found in racing cars that have set and broken world land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. While the name references great history, I like the blue color scheme more that nods to the blue sky over the Great Salt Lake and the silver tips of the Wasatch Mountains. (Salt Lake Tribune) Out of all three teams on this list, the Stallions have the best branding that I want back.

Salt Lake Stallions Football Logo

  • The Football: While the arena teams are very entertaining, the Stallions brought the best professional football level to the state. They had more than 25+ players on the roster who had NFL practice or active squad experience which is more than the Blaze and Screaming Eagles combined. For bringing the best level, the state needs them back. 
  • Second Chances: Many of the roster members were former BYU, University of Utah, and Utah State alumni. Some of them had time playing on NFL rosters, but many were out of the league. The Stallions provided another shot for players to show they deserved an NFL contract. I think that if the state wants to continue to develop players with local ties, they need the Stallions back to give players more opportunities.

The Stallions were a spring league team that had great branding, second chance stories, and the best level of professional football in the state. Utah needs them back.

Utah Blaze

Team Overview

In the state, the Utah Blaze are the longest-storied professional football franchise with seven seasons in the Arena Football League. Attracting on average 10,337 fans to Energy Solutions Arena (now Vivint Smart Home Arena) and the Maverik Center (played one year in 2010), the Blaze were very competitive. They made the playoffs in four seasons with a trip to the conference championship in 2012. The organization also won the the league's Commissioner Award in 2006 and the Support Staff of the Year award in 2006, 2007, and 2011. (Arena Fan)

Why the Utah Blaze Need To Come Back Photo Credit: Kyle Goon, Salt Lake Tribune

Notable Players

With all the team accolades, the Blaze had various players who are in the Arena Football League's history books and played in some NFL capacity.

Tommy Grady: Most decorated member of the Utah Blaze. He set AFL records in passing yards in a season, passing completions in a season, passing attempts, and touchdown passes in a game. He won AFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 2012. (Arena Fan) As a former player from the University of Utah, Grady was also on the Miami Dolphins practice squad at one point.

Mario Urrutia: Was on the offseason/practice squad for the NFL's Cincinnati's Bengals, New York Jets, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He received the 2013 AFL Rookie of the Year award. (Our Sports Central)

Maurice Leggett: Played three seasons with Kansas City Chiefs where he was awarded the Mack Lee Hill Award for the team's Most Outstanding Rookie. First undrafted rookie to win such an award. (Arrowhead)

Huey Whitaker: Played on offseason/practice squads for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars. Named first-team All-Arena Football in 2008. Was also one of three players to have 1,500 receiving yards in the same season for the Blaze. (Deseret News)

Aaron Boone: Played on offseason/practice squads for the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, and Carolina Panthers. Also played for NFL Europe and is Utah Blaze franchise leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. (KSL) Born in Provo, UT.

Utah Blaze Arena Football LeaguePhoto Credit: Sarah A. Miller, Salt Lake Tribune

Team Collapse

While the team lasted longer than any other Utah football franchise, the Blaze were eventually brought down due to finances. Shortly after the team was sold to a new owner, Energy Solutions Arena evicted the franchise for not paying their venue rent. The team was on a lifeline getting support from the league, and with this eviction, permanently went under. Debts were too massive and promising investors did not come through to save the team. (Sports Business Daily)

Come Back

While the team folded, the Utah Blaze need to come back for the reasons below.

  • Most Competitive: While the Screaming Eagles and Stallions had less than a season to prove they could compete in their leagues, the Blaze made the playoffs 57% of the time. They were also the closest to winning a championship among these teams (2012). If they did, they would have been the first professional Utah team to do so. We need them back to see if they could win the state some glory. 
  • Great Atmosphere: The Utah Blaze were great at engaging the community. They had the highest average league attendance in their first year and continued having high attendance throughout their existence. The fans were also very passionate and made the games more entertaining to watch. We need to bring those passionate fans back out.

Utah Blaze Fan Atmosphere - Why Utah Needs Them BackPhoto Credit: Boxscore News

  • Second Chances: Like the Stallions, the Blaze had talent that played at local Utah colleges. This team was a great way for them to make money doing what they love and showcasing their talents for potential higher tiered suitors. With the Blaze back, these players could continue to develop and get chances to play for bigger teams.

The Utah Blaze were a competitive, fun, and homegrown team. Utah needs them back.

Will Professional Football Ever Return?

While the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, Stallions, and Utah Blaze were fun teams to support, is it likely that Utah will ever get another professional football team? Passionate collegiate fan bases alone seem to give reason that Utah has the appetite, but is it enough to support a team?

Utah needs these teams back. They provide more entertaining sporting options for the state to enjoy. They can give players second chances to display their talents and prolong their careers. Fans have shown they are willing to support teams if given the opportunity.

The question is, when will that next opportunity be?

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