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#40 Texas Terror / Houston ThunderBears

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The Arena Football League awarded a Houston, Texas expansion franchise to NBA Rockets owner Leslie Alexander on October 26th, 1995.  Alexander, a former Wall Street stock trader who purchased the Rockets in 1993, named the team the Texas Terror and placed them in the Houston Summit, as part of his burgeoning local pro sports empire.  (Alexander would add a founding franchise in the WNBA – the Houston Comets – to his stable in 1997).

The Terror debuted at The Summit on April 27th, 1996.  An announced crowd of 11,501 watched the Terror drop a low-scoring (by Arena Football standards) 36-24 decision to another expansion club, the Minnesota Fighting Pike.  The Terror  were non-competitive under Head Coach John Paul Young, losing their first 11 games, en route to a 1-13 record, second worst in the 15-team league in 1996.  The club lost all seven of its home games, which were played before an announced average of 9,006 fans per game.

Dave Ewart replaced Young as Head Coach prior to the 1997 campaign.  Under Ewart, the Terror improved noticeably on the field to 6-8, but at the box office the season was a disaster.  Only 3,624 turned out for the Terror’s second season debut against Kurt Warner and the Iowa Barnstormers on May 2, 1997.  Announced attendance for seven home dates plunged more than 50% down to 4,153 on average, second worst in the league in 1997.

In December 1997, Alexander and his executives scrapped the Texas Terror brand concept.  The team was not resonating, for whatever reason – losing, a “statewide” identity that didn’t speak to the Houston community, or perhaps the Terror’s cartoonish, Frankenstein-inspired aesthetic which seemed about as intimidating as a box of Franken-Berry children’s cereal.  The franchise continued under Alexander’s ownership and was re-branded the Houston ThunderBears.

New name, same problems.

The Thunderbears trotted out their new “Thunder Blue, Touchdown Teal and Electric Orange” colors on May 9th, 1998 at the Compaq Center.  (Another offseason re-branding project…after nearly a quarter century as the Houston Summit, the personal computing giant bought naming rights to the building in late 1997.).  Only 4,629 curiosity-seekers turned out to see the ThunderBears defeat the Florida Bobcats.  It was the last time the would crack the 4,000 mark all season, except for a season finale outlier crowd of 9,734, a number which would seem to have all the hallmarks of a massive discounting/comping effort.

On the field, at least, the team continued to improve under new Head Coach Steve Thonn.  The ThunderBears won the Central Division title with an 8-6 record, riding the arm of former East Texas State quarterback Clint Dolezel who threw 81 touchdown passes.  The Arizona Rattlers eliminated the T-Bears in the first round of the Arena Football playoffs in August 1998.

Under Thonn, the Thunderbears led the Arena Football League in total offense for three consecutive years from 1998 to 2000, but the club fell back to losing records in 1999 and 2000, failing to return to the playoffs.  Attendance bottomed out in 1999, when the club averaged  a  league-worst 3,022 fans.  This included an embarrassing crowd of 1,517 for a May 1st, 1999 game against the Grand Rapids Rampage at Compaq Center – the smallest announced figure in the league’s 13-year history.

Under the circumstances, it was remarkable that Leslie Alexander hung in for as long as he did.  On February 16th, 2001, on the eve of the team’s 6th season, Alexander sold the franchise back to the Arena Football League for an undisclosed sum.  The league designated the now homeless T-Bears as a travel team, barnstorming across the country to gauge interest for expansion franchises for Arena Football 2, the small market developmental league.  The T-Bears “home games” would be played in far flung cities such as Bismarck (ND), Charleston (WV), Fresno (CA), Lubbock (TX) and Madison (WI).

The ThunderBears finished their final season in last place in Arena Football’s Western Division with a 3-11 record.  Arena Football folded the club following the 2001 season.

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Forbes named former Terror/ThunderBears owner Leslie Alexander to its list of the 400 wealthiest Americans on several occasions between 2000 and 2006, with a personal net worth as high as $1.2 billion in 2006.  In December 2008, Forbes named Alexander as the NBA’s best owner.  He continues to own the Houston Rockets, although he divested himself of the WNBA’s Houston Comets in early 2007.

The Houston Summit/Compaq Center was rendered obsolete with the construction of the Toyota Center in 2003.  The former Summit building now hosts Houston’s Lakewood mega church, whose ubiquitous pastor and self-help author Joel Osteen broadcasts his sermons to more than 100 nations worldwide from the former arena.

Former Terror/Thundbears quarterback Clint Dolezel left the team prior to the 2000 season to sign with the Chicago Bears.  He was cut in training camp and returned to the Arena Football League in 2001, where he went on to establish numerous career passing records, including becoming the first player to pass for 900 career touchdowns indoors.  As of 2011, he is the Head Coach of the Arena Football League’s Dallas Vigilantes.

Sources:

Texas Terror/Houston ThunderBears Sources

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Written by andycrossley

October 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm

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