On July 16, 1994, the Shreveport Pirates played their first home game at Independence Stadium in front of 20,634 fans. Despite outscoring the Toronto Argonauts in the 1st quarter 20-7, the Pirates came up one point short in the end, losing 35-34. It was the second game and second loss of a Canadian Football League record 14-loss season. The season would define Canadian Football in Shreveport, and it would show what level of support Shreveporters could give to professional teams that came to the area.
Even before the first home game, the Pirates got off to a rough start in Shreveport. The coach was fired before his first game. The team president boastfully declared that the Shreveport Pirates would win the CFL Championship.
When management fumbled the job of securing a preseason training camp venue, the team was forced to hold the camp at the Louisiana State Fairgrounds. The players’ living accommodations for the camp were a barracks-style room on the second level of a building at the Fairgrounds, while animals were housed on the first level.
The whole Shreveport Pirates experiment was a mess from the beginning that turned into almost as many lawsuits as there were losses. The team owners, keeping with the over-confidence of the team’s president, had signed a ten-year lease with Independence Stadium. But soon after the second season, they tried to move the team to Norfolk, VA after defaulting on the lease agreement. Worried that some of their local assets might be seized, Pirates owner Bernard Glieberman’s attorney attempted to drive a classic car owned Glieberman off of city property, but was captured by police after her ran out of gas shortly afterward.
Let’s make one thing clear, though: With everything that went wrong, Shreveport actually did do something right. Despite the agony on the field, the Shreveport Pirates fan base was considerably strong. The team averaged almost 18,000 fans per game in 36 games, the best turnout being 32,011. The average was second only to Baltimore among American CFL teams. Given that Shreveport, a city of under 200,000 with almost 25% of its population being below the national poverty level, could bring out that many fans weekly was a commendable feat.
In the back of the minds of many Shreveport Pirates faithful, there are fond memories of the two tempestuous seasons of Canadian football in Louisiana. Names like Bjorn Nittmo, Uzooma Okeke, and Curtis Mayfield (No, not the “Pusher Man”) will forever be obscure references to those who know. Some even still hold on to those Shreveport Pirates “Starter” jackets that NO ONE wore to the games because most of them were played before October.
20 years ago today, the Shreveport Pirates lost the first home game, one of many losses to come. And while the record or the off-field circumstances are not very pleasing to the eye, we as fans showed that we will support a team no matter what. And that’s something to root for.