"It’s a great day, Let’s Play Two!"
by Steven M. Brainerd
That was Ernie Banks catch phrase and does apply here.
Semipro football has seen a number of interesting occurrences when it comes to games played. Teams have often played Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday (particularly the Seattle Cavaliers) although no one has ever done a weekend triple play, but it might be that it is yet to be discovered. Teams have played as many as seven games in a month (in October 1963, the South Boston Chippewas did that). More about them later. However no one had ever done what the 1986 Terre Haute Thunder did - by accident.
The Thunder were a new team in the Midwest Conference in the Tri-States League (with teams only in two states) of the National Amateur League. The club had a game scheduled with the Henderson (KY) Flash on August 10th however, early in the day, the commissioner called and said that the Flash would not be coming to the scheduled game and Terre Haute would be awarded a forfeit victory. The team’s general manager anticipated a good crowd Saturday night and would hate having to refund all that money. He called several teams in the Chicago area Metro League and the Chicago Chargers agreed to come to Terre Haute for a game plus a couple hundred for the bus.
About 6:30 p.m. Saturday,the Chargers bus arrived and 40 odd players stumbled out of it and into the girl’s locker room, at the high school, to get taped, dressed and ready to rumble with the Thunder. The Chargers gear looked remarkably like the San Diego Chargers right down to the lightning bolt on their hats, but more about that at another time.
About 7:30 p.m., the gates opened for an 8 o’clock start and a crowd of about 1500 showed up to watch history. The two teams were out on the field, warming up when another bus pulled into the parking lot. The Thunder GM hoped that it was a busload of Chicago fans, but no - the license plate was from Kentucky. Out rolled the Henderson club. The Flash had come up with the cash to overcome the trash of their folding to make a dash for their clash with Terre Haute. What to do about this Thunder Blunder.
The coaches got together and decided that the games should commence. Chicago and the Thunder played first with the Chargers winning 21-7. This game ended about 9:30 and after a short break, the Chargers joined the crowd and watched an unprecedented event at any level of football at any time. Terre Haute and Henderson started the Thunder’s second game of the evening with the Thunder triumphing over the Flash 43-27.
This event was so unusual that USA TODAY for the first time reported on semipro football. Not only in the paper, but on the front page of the sports section.
Terre Haute Thunder didn’t have much success in 1986, finishing a poor 2 and 4. The Tri-States League ended the team with a court order forbidding the clubs coaches from coaching. It had to do with who owed what to who and how much.