Cincinnati’s Lost Indoor Football Teams

May 26, 2020 8 Comments

Cincinnati Marshals indoor football

A few months ago, we ran a popular post on the old Cincinnati Rockers of the Arena Football League. That team played for two seasons, 1992 and 1993, at Riverfront Coliseum (now Heritage Bank Center). Popular their first season, they made the playoffs and drew 13,000 fans a game. The following year, they struggled on the field, attendance fell, and the team folded. 

However, that wasn’t the end of indoor football in Cincinnati, though it would be another decade before another team took the field in the Queen City. Indeed, in the early 2000s, five area teams would come and go.

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Cincinnati Swarm (2003)

In 1999, the Arena Football League formed AF2 as a farm league and as well as a way to bring the sport to mostly smaller markets. Cincinnati joined up in 2003 with the Swarm  who posted a 7 and 9 record in their only season.

They drew an average of 4,222 fans at U.S. Bank Arena, just below the league avg 4,623 for the 2003 season. 

Cincinnati Marshals (2005-2006)

The Marshals first took the turf in Waco, Texas, in 2004 as members of the National Indoor Football League (NIFL). The NIFL was a minor league operation founded in 2001. Most of its member clubs played in cities that did not have an Arena Football League (AFL) franchise or in AF2. Gradually, though, the NIFL moved into bigger markets.

As a part of that effort, the Marshals moved to Cincinnati in 2005. Their home field was what is today called Heritage Bank Arena. The team featured former Bengals and Titans running back Ray Jackson. Several former UC Bearcats were on the roster as well, including quarterback Deontey Kenner, receiver George Murray, defensive back Anthony Thomas, and offensive linemen Jon Perron and Matt Mercer. Dan Breech, son of former Bengal Jim Breech, was the kicker. Former Bengals star Ickey Woods was the running backs coach.

In 2007, the team moved to Dayton because the AF2 had granted an expansion franchise, the Jungle Kats, to Cincinnati, leaving the Marshals without a home. In Dayton, they were known simply as The Marshals and folded with the rest of the NIFL mid-way through the 2007 season.

Cincinnati Jungle Kats (2007)

Playing in the more financially sound AF2, the Jungle Kats boasted several high-profile owners. The group included Cincinnati Reds medical director Dr. Timothy Kremchek, Reds then right fielder Ken Griffey, Jr., and Sam Adams who, at the time, had just completed a season with the Bengals and was about to head to the Denver Broncos for his final season.  

The nickname was partially a nod to the Bengals and also a recognition of the tiger conservation efforts of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Despite a record of 1 and 15, the team drew an average of 3,565 fans to the riverfront, slightly below the league average of 4,695 for that year. 

Tied for the worst record in the league, along with the Laredo Lobos, the team folded in November 2007.

Cincinnati Commandos (2010-2011, 2013 CIFL. 2012, UIFL)

The city next welcomed the Cincinnati Commandos of the Continental Indoor Football League in 2010. Unlike the Marshals and the Jungle Kats, the Commandos played their home games at the Cincinnati Gardens. The league, founded in 2006 as the Great Lakes Indoor Football League, changed its name a year later. Throughout its nine-year run its teams were based in the Midwest and Northeast. 

The Commandos were by far the most successful indoor team to play in the area, at least on the field. In their inaugural season they posted a 9 and 1 record and captured the league title, Cincinnati’s first-ever football championship. They followed that up with an undefeated run in 2011 and another title. In 2012, they moved to the United Indoor Football League, winning that league’s championship before returning to the CIFL in 2013. However, they suspended operations before the start of the season. They never returned, and the entire league went out of business after the 2014 season.

Northern Kentucky River Monsters (2011, UIFL. 2014, CIFL)

Indoor football wasn’t confined to the city of Cincinnati; Northern Kentucky also had a team. The River Monsters were charter members of the United Indoor Football League in 2011. The team’s GM was former UK star signal-caller Jared Lorenzen, who had also spent four seasons with the New York Giants. He stepped down from his front office duties before the start of the season to be the team’s starting QB.

The River Monsters made the playoffs, clinching home-field advantage throughout the tournament. However, their number one seed was revoked when it was discovered they were paying their players above the league maximum, an odd occurrence in a new football league to be sure. The Monsters were eliminated in the first round by Saginaw. The team left the UIFL and suspended operations. They joined the CIFL for that circuit’s final season, going under with the rest of that league in 2014.

Aftermath

Indoor football’s top-tier league, the AFL, went out of business in 2019 after 32 seasons. However, there are still five leagues in existence as of 2020, with around 45 total teams competing. The Indoor Football League, founded in 2008, is the longest-running and seems poised to take over as the sports top-level league. 

While many traditional indoor football markets have teams in one of the five leagues, it seems unlikely Cincinnati will field another such team anytime soon. 




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Kenny Ozz
Kenny Ozz

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Hey. I just ordered a few. How come there is no Marshals shirt?

Tony Geinzer
Tony Geinzer

May 27, 2020

How come is it Arena Football does not have long term success? I feel like had we had the Original and Arena 2 by now, we would have had Promotion/Demotion or Expansion through Arena 2, if not a painfully unpleasant rebranding. Could Arena Football be like a Summer League in the Future where if they had to have another NFL Training Camp Outlet or a way to make the team?

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