With the Tampa Bay Rowdies‘ name and colors returning to the American soccer scene this season (albeit on a smaller scale), nostalgia is in the humid Florida air. Some are making tomorrow night’s first meeting between the new Rowdies and Miami FC out to be the renewal of a long-dead rivalry between the old Rowdies and their cross-state nemeses, the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. As with most things when it comes to nostalgia, there’s a bit of romanticizing and misremembering that comes along with it.
The facts are these:
- In the days of the original NASL, the Rowdies and Strikers played a total of just 23 times outdoors between 1977 and 1983 (and one of those was a mini-game tiebreaker, won by Rodney Marsh in a rainy shootout and immortalized here). They played that many against the New York Cosmos (Also 23, but no mini-games, four playoff tilts including Soccer Bowl ’78) and nearly that many against the San Diego Sockers (22, including three playoff mini-games).
- The series was as even as you can get, 11 wins apiece, with the Rowdies taking the aforementioned mini-game. Goals scored? 42 apiece in the 11 “full” games.
- Games in the heyday of the rivalry (and of the NASL itself) could draw large crowds to both Tampa Stadium and Lockhart, but by the end, when the Strikers won the last five meetings against a shell of a Rowdies organization, they could only hope to draw five figures for a game.
- The teams met 19 times in the ASL/APSL days after the NASL folded, but it was never the same. And the Mutiny and Fusion had a four-year run from 1998-2001 that was short on drama and little remembered.
- The Strikers were actually popular in South Florida (and with players like Gerd Mueller and Teofilo Cubillas, it’s easy to understand why). Where you once saw Striker Likers head to Tampa Stadium to represent, you’re fortunate if any Miami fans find their way to their own team’s stadium. If, as rumored, a couple hundred Rowdies fans bus over, they may outnumber the fans of Miami FC tomorrow.
I have said before that the new Rowdies need to embrace their history, yet not be strangled by it. And for fans and media types, trying to pump up the present by embellishing the past isn’t fair to this group of players, who will create their own memories from this point forward.