Semi-Tough Luck

Rodriguez harbored no illusions that Jim Chambers's league was a route to the big time; to him it was more like a way of coming to terms with what he knew he'd already lost. "You have a real sense of belonging in football," he says. "Football for me is therapy. I don't have a therapist. I go out and play football."

While the Miami team continued its tryouts through the fall, Chambers set out in September, driving his 1990 Ford Tempo across the state to sell franchises in his league. Placing small ads and press releases in newspapers in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and other communities, Chambers called on anyone interested in the league to meet him in Orlando on September 15. There he rented a small conference room at a Holiday Inn, set up an easel, and posted a few charts. About twenty people showed up - nothing like Miami, but a respectable turnout all the same. Most were from Orlando, a few had come from Gainesville, and more than half a dozen had driven the 150 miles from Jacksonville to attend.

Like most salesmen, Chambers delivered a pitch that was long on promise and short on specifics. He talked about television coverage, and about his intention to expand the league across the United States. He sold the small crowd on the pride of Florida - the perfect weather and the huge pool of football talent that was going untapped.

By November Chambers had teams forming in Fort Lauderdale, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tampa. Coaches had been selected, and in most cases the head coach was also designated the team's general manager. In Miami, after he and Steve Suid selected a 45-man roster for the Storm, Chambers took the players who didn't make the cut and formed an eighth team, the Hialeah Colts.

Contracts were distributed to players and coaches, and they all agreed to defer payment until February 1993, when the league would be on sound financial footing. Until that time, under the contract, Chambers agreed to pay for travel, lodging, and food for any team that had to travel more than 100 miles to a game. He also agreed to provide uniforms and take care of stadium rentals, publicity, and the cost of hiring officials. The players had to come up with their own equipment - helmets, pads, cleats, and, if necessary, braces. They also had to provide their own insurance, so that if they were injured, the league would not be held liable. Chambers opened a central account for the league at Barnett Bank, into which application fees and ticket proceeds would be deposited. Only Chambers had access to the account.

The season would begin in December, Chambers announced, but after drawing up a schedule, he scrapped it and drafted another. That one was scrapped, as well; Chambers blamed the delay on the fact that certain teams weren't ready. There were disagreements, too, over money. Chambers complained that teams hadn't sent him the funds he was due and that players' checks constantly bounced.

Chambers had intended to rent large stadiums for his teams. He instructed T.D. Knox, coach and general manager of the Jacksonville team, to negotiate a deal to lease the 85,000-seat Gator Bowl. The city said it would require a $10,000 deposit and $5800 per game. Knox says that after Chambers told him the fee was no problem, he scheduled a press conference with city officials to announce the deal on December 28. Chambers, it was understood, would drive up from Miami and present the $10,000 check. It would be great publicity for the fledgling league.

"I had the TV stations ready to cover it," Knox recalls. "And then Jim Chambers calls up a few hours before the meeting and cancels, saying he didn't have the money. He made me look like a fool."

Restlessness was another problem, particularly in Miami, where the Storm had been working out since August. Finally, a series of what were described as "preseason" games were played in different cities on January 11, but those turned out to be nothing more than deluxe scrimmages, in which opposing teams practiced different plays against each other.

Players were becoming discouraged. Hialeah coach Joseph Montoya had taken his squad to Fort Lauderdale for a scrimmage, and had been told by Chambers to expect referees and media coverage. "When I get up there, I find out there is no media, there was never supposed to be any," says Montoya. "Their field wasn't lined - we were playing on a soccer field - and there were no referees."

Word had spread that Chambers had not been as successful in the past as he had led people to believe. Miami coach Steve Suid says he knew Chambers had been part of a Florida league in the mid-Eighties that had suspended play after only three games. Some of the players from that failed league were now on the Fort Lauderdale Shockers, and they were beginning to wonder where their application fees had gone. "All of the extravagances that were being promised were just too much for what we had," says Rick Doemel, the Shockers' coach.

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