Here is the unedited Cut version of my column that will appear in Wednesday print editions, with more in depth information about the collapse of the best Arena Football franchise in Northern California history . . . honestly, I do feel sad for the folks who loved the Sabercats and loyally attended every home game . . . but I afraid the memories alone must suffice. <a href=”http://www.saintsjerseysale.com” target=”_blank”>Cheap Jerseys from china</a> The column:
The field is just 50 yards long. Correct? In arena football, the dimensions are half as big. So when a team dissolves and vanishes would figure that it would hurt only half as much.
“I’m still having to kind of wrap my mind around it,” Arbet said. “On the phone the other day, I was in a conversation and it was like, ‘We should all be getting ready for the season.’ ”
He meant another season with the San Jose SaberCats. His team. The one he once coached for 15 years. Friday night, the 2016 Arena Football League schedule kicks off, with no Bay Area franchise. No more SaberCats. What, you hadn’t noticed?
Surely you did, even just in passing. Ever since their founding in 1995, the SaberCats had been a member of the local professional sports tribe. They won four Arena League championships. There was a loyal fan following in the thousands.
To be sure, the SaberCats were considered to be more of a carnival than a real athletic enterprise by some people, what with those crazy 88 82 final game scores and the motorcycle riders who led the players onto the field amidst fireworks. But the reality is, every modern pro sport has carnival aspects. Arena football just had a lot more Tilt A Whirl elements than the rest.
And you can’t deny that the SaberCats were quite a Tilt A Whirl to witness, right through last summer. The team posted a 17 1 regular season record, then won the league title again in a game that was moved to Stockton because (irony alert) the actual circus was booked at SAP Center for that same Saturday night in August.
A few evenings later, there was a victory celebration banquet at the Sainte Clare Hotel. John Fry gave every indication the team would return for 2016, better than ever. As late as Nov. 5, the team’s website was posting news releases about roster moves. But on Nov. 13, the league announced that the SaberCats ownership had decided to cease operations. What happened?
Arbet was surprised along with everyone else, even if the bottom line had been subsidized by the Fry organization for years. He has refused to be angry about it. The Stockton native took his first arena football job in 1992 at age 25. In 1999, Arbet became head coach of the SaberCats and never left the franchise, despite offers to join NFL or college staffs.
Even when the SaberCats took a two year hiatus in 2009 10 after the original Arena League collapsed, Arbet stuck around so he could still be head coach again in 2011 when the current Arena League was formed.
“They were all great years for me,” Arbet said. “I can’t say enough good things about the Frys. They took me in, almost as a family member, treated me well and the players well. How can I be mad at them? They made sure I would be okay when this was over with.”
The Fry family has never officially explained its reasons to abandon the SaberCats. Last October, the company also dropped its backing of a PGA Tour event in Napa. Were both decisions part of a corporate strategy to eliminate sports sponsorships?
Frys spokesperson Manuel Valerio said the company continues to have no comment on the SaberCats’ exit. However, Valerio noted that Frys executive Kathy Kolder’s recent statement that the corporation hopes to resume sponsorship of the golf tournament when the Frys owned Institute Club in Morgan Hill can complete its long delayed clubhouse and the event can be moved there.So this was just a football pullout by Frys, apparently. There were rumors and speculation that the SaberCats ownership disagreed with other owners and league executives about the Arena League direction moving ahead. But that all speculation. The League won’t say anything on the matter, although commissioner Scott Butera continues to say he’s looking for new ownership of a San Jose franchise.
“We very much like the market,” Butera said in a phone interview. “We want to be in that market. We were sad to see the SaberCats leave. They were good to the league. But we respect their decision. We are actively seeking new ownership in that market.”
Fair enough. Except . . . what does “actively” mean? Has Butera been beating the bushes for new investors? Has he visited internet dating sites to find a potential match? Has he spoken with anyone specific?
“All those talks are confidential,” Butera said.
Confidential? Or insubstantial? Arbet guesses it’s the latter.
“After last November,” Arbet said, “I personally went to Sacramento and Stockton and other places to meet with heavy hitters financially. No one wanted to take the team.”
Arbet would like to coach again, if the opportunity arises. For now, he continues to run his popular youth football camps and manage the rental properties he owns. He’s also doing some television work for ESPN 3, the network’s broadband streaming platform. Most of his SaberCats assistants and players have found other work, the majority of them in the football business. (Not sure about the SaberKittens cheerleaders.)
Terry Malley, a SaberCats staff member for many years who has also coached at Santa Clara and San Jose State, admitted he was “disappointed” at last November’s news but said: “It’s hard to do anything but be appreciative of the Frys for what they did over the years with the team.”
Malley then reminisced about the better days, such as in 2007 when the SaberCats won the Arena Bowl in New Orleans.
“There were a lot of people walking on the streets wearing Sabercats shirts and jerseys,” Malley said. “I said to my wife, ‘You know, I think we are getting over the hump.’ ”
Yet the Arena League always seemed to be on shaky financial footing, even as the SaberCats drew home crowds of 10,000 or more. That may always be the case. There were 12 franchises in the league last season. This season, there are eight, with three other teams exiting along with the SaberCats. Arbet is not sure how many arena games he will tune in during the 2016 season.
“It might be hard for me to watch it,” Arbet said. “Eventually, I probably will.”
Meanwhile, the Arena League championship cup it’s a traveling trophy will sit in Arbet’s office at the Frys corporate offices on Brokaw Road until a new champ is crowned. The SaberCats’ longtime practice headquarters in Sunnyvale, the former Palmer College of Chiropractic campus where a 50 yard arena field had been built on a parking lot, is once more abandoned.
“I run into SaberCats fans who tell me they’re they’re sad,” Arbet said. “They were great. I’ve run into people who tell me they first came to SaberCats games when they were five years old and say they have a picture of me or a player signing an autograph for them. And they still remember. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Arbet said he will always be proud of his four championship rings and the fifth ring he received after his Arena Football Hall of Fame induction a few years ago. His ambition to make the SaberCats as popular as the A’s or Giants in the summertime was never reached. He’s hurting, but also at peace. He cherishes memories of that last SaberCats game, which took place not far from the gritty Stockton neighborhood where he grew up.