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The Stories Behind the Shirts

The Philadelphia Soul

by OldSchoolShirts Info 29 Jan 2021
Philadelphia Soul players

Philadelphia has been home to pro football’s Eagles since 1933, and few teams have as rabid a following. However, that loyal fanbase didn't stop other football teams from setting up shop in the city, most of which were quite successful, at least on the field.

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In 1965, the Bulldogs arrived from Cleveland via way of Canton, Ohio. The team had been playing in the United Football League, a minor-league circuit based in the Midwest. Upon their arrival in Philadelphia, they joined the newly formed Continental Football League. They played their home games at Temple University’s stadium and finished second in the Eastern Division that first year. They won the league championship the following season. They did not return for the 1966 campaign, though.

In 1974 and 1975, the city was home to the World Football League’s Philadelphia Bell. Not a big draw at the gate (one game drew only 750 fans), the team made the playoffs in the league’s only complete season. Also notable about this team was the fact that while most of the rest of the league’s teams struggled financially, the Bell never missed a payroll, despite their anemic attendance.

In 1983 and 1984, the Stars were Philadelphia’s other pro football team. They played in the United States Football League and are considered to be that league’s best team. Read more about the Stars here.

It was a different brand of football that arrived in Philly in 2004 with the establishment of the Soul, who played in the Arena Football League (AFL). While the league had been around since 1987, this was its first foray into the Philadelphia market.

The team’s ownership group consisted of rock star John Bon Jovi, his bandmate Richie Sambora, legendary Eagles QB Ron Jaworski, as well as businessmen Craig Spencer and Leo Carlin Jr.

The Soul played their home games in Wachovia Center (now Wells Fargo Center), except when there was a schedule conflict with the building's other two tenants, the NBA's 76ers and the NHL’s Flyers. In those instances, the Soul played in the old Spectrum (until it was demolished in 2009).

The Soul’s first season on the field was 2005, which they opened with a victory over the host Austin Wranglers 66 to 35. The team finished with a 6 and 10 record while drawing over 16,000 fans a game. Their fortunes improved as they made the playoffs each of the following three seasons, culminating in an Arena Bowl championship in 2008.

In 2009, the Soul suspended operations along with the rest of the AFL. The reorganized league returned for 2010, but the Soul did not return until the following year. Ron Jaworski and Craig Spencer became the primary owners. Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora did not return to the owner's box. They said their band's tour would prohibit them from focusing on the team.

The first year back, the team went 6 and 12, good for last in the league’s Eastern division. They went on a run after that, though, making the playoffs the next eight seasons in a row. That postseason run included five Arena Bowl appearances, two of which they won (2016 and 2017).

While the team was successful on the field, attendance had dipped since the league reformed, something that was seen league-wide. Before the reorganization, the team drew around 16,000 fans a game, rivaling many pro hockey and pro basketball teams. However, after the Soul rejoined the AFL, they saw their average drop into the 8,000-9000 fans per game range.

In 2019, the Arena Football League again found itself on rocky financial footing, due largely to a lawsuit filed against it by the insurance carrier that provided workers compensation coverage to the league from 2009 through 2012.

Played on August 11, 2019, the final Arena Bowl saw the Soul lose to the Albany Empire 45-27 at the Times Union Center in Albany. A few weeks later, league commissioner Randall Boe announced the remaining six teams, including the Soul, were ceasing operations, and the league was filing for bankruptcy.

Before the demise of the AFL, two of the league’s teams joined the National Arena League, which is still in business as of 2021. The Jacksonville Sharks joined that circuit in its inaugural 2017 season. The Orlando Predators, who had folded in 2016, were reformed with a new ownership group in 2019 with plans to join the NAL for the 2021 campaign. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the former AFL champion Albany Empire was also slated to join the NAL. Indoor football has not returned to Philadelphia since.

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