Do you remember the Salt Lake Golden Eagles? How about the Utah Catzz?
Those are the names of bygone professional sports teams that called Utah home.
On Tuesday, the Utah Archers lacrosse team became the state’s newest pro franchise. It will play in the revamped Premier Lacrosse League starting in 2024. Through its first five seasons, the league operated on a touring model where its eight teams did not have a geographic affiliation. Now, teams will be based in cities from Boston to Los Angeles.
The team was previously known as the Archers Lacrosse Club.
That got me reminiscing about the names and teams that have come and gone in the state over the years. And with Salt Lake City in the running for a major league expansion franchise, I started thinking about what the team might be called. Salt Lake Crickets anyone?
Some team names over the years had a historical or cultural connection to Utah, but many did not. With the Jazz (no connection whatsoever) in town, new teams that came through Utah latched onto the double z for some reason — Pioneerzz, Catzz, Starzz. It didn’t really stick, and neither did the teams. (Full disclosure, I coached a baseball super league team called the Heaterzz.)
Growing up in Utah playing youth league baseball, Ute Conference football, county rec basketball, not to mention just playing in the streets or the schoolyard with friends, sports were a big part of my childhood in the ’60s and ’70s. I attended at least one, if not many, of the games of the professional teams that paraded through the state, regardless of sport.
Before I could drive, my mom usually dropped me, my younger brother, Ron, and our friends off at the arena or stadium. Rarely, if ever, did a parent go to a game with us. We watched the games intently, but we also ran around a lot and tried to stay out of trouble. Getting on the field after a game was always a goal.
Here’s a not-exhaustive list of those past-and-gone teams, and a personal memory from each.
The Stars played in the American Basketball Association from 1970 to 1975, winning the ABA championship in 1971. Unable to meet payroll, the team folded just before the 1975-76 season.
Memory: Wilt Chamberlain coached the San Diego Conquistadors. My friend and I tried to approach him on the bench before a game at the Salt Palace for an autograph. We were standing right behind him when a security guard shooed us away. We also attended the 1973 ABA All-Star game, featuring the likes of Julius Erving and Dan Issel.
Salt Lake Golden Eagles
The Eagles played in the Western Hockey League, Central Hockey League and International Hockey League from 1969 to 1994 as a minor league club for 10 different NHL teams. Larry H. Miller sold the team to Detroit interests where it became the Vipers.
Memory: In elementary school, my brother and our friends followed the equipment manager carrying broken hockey sticks to the trash. We took them home, taped them up and used them for our street hockey games. In high school, we watched the Golden Eagles hoist the Adams Cup after winning the CHL championship.
Utah Golden Spikers/Utah Pioneers
Long before Real Salt Lake took to the pitch, Utah had a professional soccer team in the American Soccer League. The team played one season in 1976 at the Utah State Fairgrounds and Rice Stadium, changing ownership and names midyear before folding after a playoff loss.
Memory: My brother and our friends sidled up to players after games asking for shin guards or whatever else they might want to give us. We were never successful. What scrounges we were.
The Pros, as they were called, were a sort of stopgap between the ABA and the NBA. The team played one season at the Salt Palace in the Western Basketball Association in 1978-79.
Memory: I went to a game, I think.
Salt Lake Angels, Gulls, Buzz, Stingers
Salt Lake City has had a Triple-A baseball team off and on, mostly on, for decades. The name has changed over the years. It has been the top minor league club for the California Angels, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins. Now known as the Bees, the team is affiliated with the Los Angeles Angels.
Memory: My brother and I liked to sit by the bullpen at Derks Field in hopes of getting a ball. One time a player — and I still remember his name, Gulls outfielder/second baseman Kim Allen — offered my brother a ball if he bought him a hot dog at the concession stand. My brother no longer has the ball. Allen played 42 games in the majors with the Seattle Mariners.
Salt Lake Trappers
A rookie league team with no major league affiliation, the Trappers played at Derks Field from 1985 to 1991. They are best known for a record 29-game winning streak in 1987.
Memory: Part owner Bill Murray popped out of the dugout during a game late in the streak that friends I attended. Huey Lewis and the News sang the national anthem that same night.
Salt Lake Sting
The team played in the American Professional Soccer League for most of two seasons in 1990 and 1991. It folded before the second season ended. Home games were played partially on infield dirt at Derks Field, a baseball stadium.
Memory: None really.
The Catzz lasted almost one season in the United States Professional Indoor Football League in 1998, forfeiting its final game. The home arena was the then-named David O. McKay Event Center at what is now Utah Valley University.
Memory: Fans could keep footballs that went into stands, and it happened often. In the one game I attended, the teams were out of game balls long before the final whistle and were forced to use practice balls. Fans had to throw back the practice balls to keep the game going with a promise they would receive a ball afterward.
The Blaze played in the Arena Football League from 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2013. After the AFL suspended operations, it played the 2009 season as the Utah Valley Thunder in the American Indoor Football Association.
Memory: I could never really get into arena football, and it wasn’t because I didn’t get a ball at the Utah Catzz game.
The independent minor league team played three seasons from 1999 to 2001 in St. George as part of the Western Baseball League. The team won the league championship in 2000.
Memory: Other than the name, not much. St. George is a long drive.
The Starzz played six seasons in the WNBA before being sold and moving to San Antonio and later Las Vegas, where the team is now known as the Aces. The Aces have won back-to-back WNBA championships the past two seasons.
Memory: We somehow had front-row seats for one game. Natalie Williams was a great player.
Provo Angels/Orem Owlz
The Anaheim Angels affiliate in the rookie Pioneer League played its first four seasons in Provo starting 2001. It moved to Orem in 2005 where it played at UCCU Ballpark at Utah Valley University until moving to Pueblo, Colorado, in 2020.
Memory: Arriving in the late innings of an Owlz game but early enough to catch Fourth of July fireworks.
The pro soccer team played five seasons in the USL Pro Select League at Rice-Eccles Stadium and at BYU’s soccer field from 2000 to 2004, winning two championships and drawing good crowds along the way. The team dissolved to make way for RSL in 2005.
Memory: A blitz on the radar screen.
Salt Lake Stallions
The team played eight games of a 10-game schedule at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2019 before the league filed for bankruptcy.
Memory: More of a thought. Can we get an NFL team?