Reviving Rhode Island's Sporting Legacy: A New Era With Rhode Island FC
Rhode Island FC will be the latest chapter in Rhode Island's deep sporting history
For over fifty years, Rhode Island has been without an unaffiliated professional sports team, but its history in professional sports is legendary.
The state has hosted teams in three of the major professional sports leagues in the United States. Several soccer teams also called it home in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
These teams experienced both triumphs and tribulations. Their stories underscore the importance of bringing professional sports back to the smallest state in the Union.
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One of Rhode Island's most notable teams was the Providence Steam Roller, which played in the NFL from 1916 to 1933. They won a championship in 1928 and were the first NFL team to play a game under floodlights, paving the way for night games in professional football. Sadly, the team folded, becoming the last inactive NFL championship team.
The Providence Steamrollers played in the Basketball Association of America (BAA) from 1946 to 1949. The BAA would go on to become the NBA shortly after the Steamrollers folded. They posted a 6-42 record in the 1947-1948 season, which to this day remains the fewest wins in an NBA season.
In baseball, the Providence Grays played in the National League from 1878 to 1885. The team won championships in 1879 and 1884, including the first World Series. Historians believe they fielded the first African-American ballplayer, William Edward White, in 1879.
Professional soccer also has a long history in the Providence area. The American Soccer League (ASL) was the first professional soccer league in the United States. It played from 1921 to 1933. The Fall River Marksmen played not in Fall River but in Tiverton, Rhode Island. They won the American Challenge Cup, the predecessor of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, several times.
The team also won the ASL championship a record six times. Other teams like the Pawtucket Rangers, Providence FC (the “Gold Bugs”), and the New Bedford Whalers competed alongside them. They experienced less success but counted a few trophies between them. These teams died out along with their league due to the Great Depression.
Despite these successes, the last 70 years have been a tale of subordination to teams located in Massachusetts. Rhode Island has relied on the patronage of major league teams outside of the state for its professional sport.
Rhode Island's teams, such as the Providence Bruins and the Pawtucket Red Sox, were farm teams for their counterparts in Boston. Rhode Island's last unaffiliated professional sports team was the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League. They affiliated with the New York Rangers in advance of the 1972 season. Their ownership relocated them to New York shortly thereafter.
Rhode Island's rich history in professional sports deserves recognition. It serves as a reminder of the importance of bringing professional sports back to our state.
Now the long wait is finally over. Rhode Island FC (RIFC) is set to become Rhode Island's first professional sports team in over fifty years which is not a farm team.
“Our team is a club for every Rhode Islander and we cannot wait to open our doors to welcome long-time soccer fans and folks new to the beautiful game into our home,” Rhode Island FC co-founder and Cranston native Michael Parkhurst said.
“Rhode Island is one of the country’s best markets for soccer and this state deserves a team it can call its own. Rhode Island FC is the only pro team in the state with a direct connection to the 39 cities and towns that make up the Ocean State,” added Brett Johnson, RIFC’s other co-founder.
According to Gallup polling, soccer is the fastest-growing team sport in the United States. Additionally, by television ratings, Rhode Island is a top 10 market for soccer. These factors, alongside Rhode Island FC's record-breaking season ticket deposit sales, show that Rhode Islanders' excitement about their team is not a fluke.
Ervin Vargas, who co-founded Defiance 1636, the supporter’s group for fans of the team alongside Joe Samayoa, spoke about the pride he has in Rhode Island’s club.
“RIFC gives me a sense of pride. People around the world support their teams because their teams support their community and that’s what this team is coming to Rhode Island to do,” he said. “Rhode Island FC gives Rhode Islanders a chance to get involved and fall in love with soccer. We have a beautiful state and we deserve the beautiful game.”
With Rhode Island FC's upcoming debut at their new stadium in Tidewater Landing slated for March 2024, Rhode Islanders will soon have ample opportunity to show their support for their local team and begin a new chapter in the state's rich history in professional sports.