The Bemidji Axemen have a chance to make history on the Minnesota sports scene. Best I can tell, if the Axemen make it to the start of a third season next February, they will be the state champions for longevity in professional indoor football.
The Minnesota Fighting Pike arrived in 1996 as a member of the Arena Football League, played at Target Center, went 4-10, and went out of business suddenly and with unhappy creditors.
There were also two franchises in the original Indoor Football League (which should not to be confused with another item in Minnesota’s pro football history – the Original Whizzinator). They were the Duluth-Superior Lumberjacks, a team that lasted the two full seasons (1999-2000) of the original IFL, and the Minnesota Purple Rage, which played in Mankato in 2000.
Don’t hold me to this. For instance: It’s hard to believe Rochester has avoided an entrepreneur with a desire to lose money on indoor football.
The current Indoor Football League first played in 2009 after a merger of the Intense Football League and the United Indoor Football League (a k a, the Ultimate Football League). There have been 41 different franchises in seven seasons, including 10 this year.
The Axemen’s second ownership group – currently Roseau dentist Phil Sallberg and Bemidji business partners Nate Coffin and Dan Skaug – is firming up plans to be back at Bemjdi’s Sanford Center for the 2016 season.
The owners have hired Richard Davis, an indoor football and coaching veteran, to be the general manager and fourth head coach (including one interim) for the Axemen.
They are considering a name change, to Minnesota or Northwest Axemen, to create more of a regional appeal. Bemidji is the smallest city in the league with a population of 14,500.
“I used to be a Vikings’ season-ticket holder,’’ Sallberg said. “I starting going to indoor games in Bemidji as a fan. I fell in love with the non-stop action. I don’t have Vikings tickets anymore. If you ask me now, I say football was meant to be played on a small field in an arena, not in a big stadium.’’
PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK
Notes from Fighting Pike history:
*Art Haege left Iowa Barnstormers as an assistant to become Pike head coach. He went to one players’ tryout and sent a fax to owner Tom Scallen reading, “I’m going back to Iowa.’’
*The Pike were winless (0-7) at Target Center with Ray Jauch as coach.
*Frank Haege, Art’s son, served as Jauch’s defensive coordinator. Frank’s now headed into his 10th season as the coach of outdoor football at Augsburg.