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Thursday, May 7, 2015

John Carbray

John Carbray, April, 1977
It might be strange to think of a franchise that only had a life span of 7 years as having two tenures, but that was the case of the late, great Washington Diplomats. 

During their first three years of existence, the Dips struggled to present an image of a major sports franchise, playing the vast majority of their home games at Woodson Stadium, a high school facility in suburban Virginia. The man who brought the team out of the doldrums of suburbia and placed them on Washington’s biggest athletic stage is John Carbray. His conception of what soccer in the District could be, as opposed to what it had been, galvanized the franchise.
Steve Danzanky, team owner and president, knew he had found someone special in Carbray when searching for a new general manager in the autumn of 1976. “We were at Woodson (High School) and looking to move to the next step. Phil Woosnam (NASL Commissioner) told me about a guy in San Jose who was turning NASL soccer into a happening.” That guy was John Carbray, who was the GM for the San Jose Earthquakes. "We called John, he came to DC and I introduced him to some of the board members." The team interviewed more than 15 candidates during the search process. "John had a vision that if you play in a small-time venue, you give the appearance of being small-time."
Carbray left a career in
baseball for the NASL.


Team management was instantly sold on Carbray's vision. "I got the best and I'm tickled to death about it," Danzansky told the Washington Post at the time. "He (Carbray) is a pro and he believes in making sports events a fun bargain for people." Carbray, who had turned down offers from five other NASL clubs and one from the San Francisco Giants in order to transform the Dips, was equally sold on his new employers. "I decided to go with an ownership that realizes it takes talent, a good stadium and solid ownership to make a professional sport franchise really take off."

Carbray officially took the reins on Monday, October 3, 1977, and immediately set out to change the franchise's image. On December 22, the team announced it would play all home games at RFK Stadium, leaving their old humble abode in Northern Virginia. "Whatever city you're in, you've got to play in the best facility available to be truly in the major leagues," Carbray said. "It's very hard to project the image of a major league team if people ask where you play and you say at a high school." On the same day Steve Danzansky announced the team's first TV deal, in which five road games would be televised on WTTG, now known as Fox 5 Washington. A radio deal was completed with WTOP, 1500 AM, to broadcast all games.


Carbray designed the classic Dips jerseys, perhaps the team's most enduring legacy.
Aesthetically, Carbray personally redesigned the Diplomats conservative uniforms and primary color scheme from navy blue and white to a flashy red, white and black coupled with a new logo. Collaborating with Angelo Anastasio, an Adidas representative from Los Angeles, several different versions were created and scrutinized. Carbray wanted to honor Adidas and their relationship with the NASL, thus the tri-stripes across the chest and trefoil logo dotting the letter I. 

In February of 1977, Carbray officially changed the emphasis of the team name from Diplomats to Dips. The local press used the circumstance as fodder whenever they could, but it caught on instantly with fans. "It's easier to yell, 'Go Dips' as opposed to 'Go Diplomats'," Carbray reasoned.








Carbray combined an innovative sports mind with a P.T. Barnumesque flair to make the summer of 1977 the most attended season in franchise history at the time. In an era when it was unheard of for a professional sports team to televise home games, the Dips GM did just that. John Feinstein described Carbray's local broadcast of the Dips vs San Jose Earthquakes game at RFK Stadium "a major departure from professional sports tradition." This idea was the forerunner of the Comcast and MASN type networks that thrive today. 


The 1977 Dips lacked rhythm and consistency on offense. They were shutout eight times and scored a modest 31 goals in 26 games. Heading into a July 4 match against the Rochester Lancers, the team had lost seven of their last eight games, during which they only found the back of the net five times. With his genius for showmanship, Carbray turned the evening into part soccer, part exorcism (see right). How much supernatural help the team received is unknown, but the Dips won, 1-0.

Carbray continued to remold the franchise during the off-season prior to the 1978 campaign. His most important decision was hiring Gordon Bradley, who would lead the team to the playoffs each year while he was in DC, as the new head coach. The two would build the '78 roster into one that was respected league wide. Additionally, Carbray again demonstrated his creativity in promoting and enhancing the soccer experience for Diplomats fans. He implemented a multicolored field to augment the games visual appeal, painting the penalty area red, the goal box black and a ball at midfield. "When you walked into the stadium, it just looked fun already," Carbray's wife Diane recalls.


The field at RFK: The picture at left shows the pitch before Carbray's innovative and colorful modifications.



Musically speaking, the summer of 1978 in America belonged to Andy Gibb's Shadow Dancing and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. In Dips country, however, it was a Carbray tune that ruled the airwaves. Elliott Dannenberg's ad agency created, at Carbray's behest, a jingle that was heard on local radio ads and Dips games as the team took the field, Get Your Kicks With the Dips



The franchise continued its ascent under Carbray during the 1979 season. The addition of Don Droege, Joe Horvath, Bob Iarusci and the return of Alan Green, who remained in England during the 1978 season, helped the Dips achieve a club best 19-9 record. In just three years Carbray transformed the Dips from an afterthought on the DC sports scene to a NASL contender and source of pride and entertainment for tens of thousands in the national capital area.

The relationship between Carbray and the Danzansky family was instrumental in this transformation. Joseph Danzansky, father of team president Steve Danzansky, took Carbray "under his wing," without intruding on his role as GM. In turn, Carbray "respected how the Danzansky's were, and still are, giants in the community." Steve Danzansky describes Carbray as, "a great guy with a big heart. I have nothing but respect and admiration for John and his family."


Grateful thanks to the Carbray family and 
Steve Danzansky for their help with this piece.









Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mike Bakic: Man of the Match

On Sunday, April 16, 1978, the Dips hosted the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in a nationally televised match on the TVS network. Mike Bakic scored one goal and assisted on two others, which earned him Man of the Match honors. See the goal here: Bakic Goal vs Strikers
"The photo you see there of me and the trophy, that was taken after the Washington Diplomats defeated the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers 4-1 on April 16, 1978. I scored a goal and was voted man of the match. The men I’m surrounded by are Henry Kissinger who was a huge soccer fan and since he was a well known American politician, he was invited by the league and awarded me with the trophy. The other two are NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam and a representative of the Happy Days tobacco company who made a donation to charity in my name." -Mike Bakic
Photo and caption quote provided by
RedNation, Canada's Online Soccer Magazine
Djuradj Vujcic, Author, 4/30/12 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Time Well Spent With Paul Cannell

Presented from the archives of the Capital Soccer Show is this link to an episode devoted to Paul Cannell and his days in Washington, and the NASL, featuring many stories told by the legend himself. I cannot recommend his autobiography, "F'n Hell It's Paul Cannell, heartily enough. If you have not purchased a copy, it is well worth the time.
Listen to Paul's inspirational, heart-wrenching journey to overcome his demure manner around women. ;)
Click here to listen to interview

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Sonny Saga, Volume I


Team President
 Steve Danzansky
In October, 1978, the Diplomats were purchased by Madison Square Garden Corporation, a subsidiary of Gulf & Western. The visionary at the helm of MSG was Sonny Werblin, who had developed a reputation for having the Midas touch after decades of success in the business world. Just 26 months later, in December, 1980, Werblin pulled the plug on the Dips and the franchise folded.


Over a series of four posts entitled “The Sonny Saga,” this blog will look back at what lead to MSG purchasing the franchise to its ultimate demise under Werblin’s watch. This first post will deal with the chaotic end to the 1977 season and conclude with the purchase by MSG.

As the Diplomats prepared for the 1977 season, management pondered a major change in venues. For the previous three seasons, the franchise had slowly built a loyal fan base while playing at Woodson Stadium, a high school field in suburban Virginia. Newly hired general manager John Carbray and team president Steve Danzansky decided the time was right to move all home games to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, in southeast Washington, D.C.

Local soccer demographics revealed encouraging statistics that made such a move logical. 45,000 local youths were playing soccer in organized leagues located in Northern Virginia and Maryland. This mass of potential customers would become larger when parents were taken into consideration. League wide, attendance had risen 34.7% from 1975 to 1976.

That optimism would be short lived. Viollet was fired after a 6-9 start, and the team finished 10-16. In their analysis at seasons end, The Washington Post’s Donald Huff and John Feinstein were brutally honest in their assessment. “The 1977 soccer season, which started with high hopes from the Dips, has ended in total failure. Mediocre players were signed, although good ones were available.”

The news was not as disheartening at the turnstile, but rather a mixed bag. “With their 10-16 record, the Diplomats easily broke their attendance records, drawing an average of 13,058 per game…although many tickets were given away or sold at discount prices.” A September, 1979, article stated that during the ’77 campaign, “less than half of… (those) tickets were paid for.” Huff and Feinstein concluded, “On the field, the team has gone backwards this season. Turning it in the right direction is going to be a difficult task.”

Yet, the organization did just that. In the fall of 1977 Gordon Bradley was hired as the Diplomats third head coach. He came with a reputation as a proven winner with a tireless work ethic. When Bradley was announced as the team’s new coach, it was regarded as “the first move the Dips made in months that was applauded by soccer people not only here but around the league.” An NASL insider stated, “If Gordon Bradley can’t get the job done in Washington, then there probable isn’t anyone who can.”

Bradley got the job done. The Dips won their first 5 matches and eight of their first 10, exponentially increased their offensive production (scoring 55 goals as opposed 1977s total of 31), and made the playoffs, losing a sudden death heartbreaker to the Portland Timber. One would think that team management would have been jubilant.

A prominent headline in the July 29, 1978, Washington Post sports section announced, “Dips Confirm Heavy Loss, May Be Sold.” The adjoining article detailed how the team had amassed financial losses of more than $500,000 for the second straight year. Despite the overall upgrade of on-field personnel, despite the vastly improved offense, despite the fact that the team was a winner and obviously playoff bound, attendance had dropped an average of roughly 2,000 persons per game.

The 1978 Dips are introduced before a home game at RFK Stadium.

Team President Steve Danzansky confessed he was “baffled” by this reversal. It was disclosed, however, that management had drastically reduced the number of complimentary tickets provided during the 1977 season. This was a calculated, and sound, business decision aimed at determining genuine fan interest. “Our expenses were higher this season (1978) but we have a much better team,” Danzansky explained to The Post. Optimistically, he noted that paid attendance had doubled since the previous season.

Speculation about the team’s financial status swirled the remainder of the summer and into early fall. On October 5, 1978, news broke that Madison Square Garden Corp (MSG) had purchased the franchise for $1.5 million (roughly $5.4 million in 2015). MSG was chaired by Sonny Werblin, who helped the American Football League take on and merge with the NFL a decade earlier.

MSG was a subsidiary of Gulf & Western, whose eight groups of companies made upwards of $4 billion in sales the previous fiscal year (Roughly $14.3 billion in 2015). It was, in Werblin’s words, “in the business of purchasing sports franchises and operating them.” Steve Danzansky would remain as team president, and both he and his father Joseph were “substantial minority investors.”

A letter of agreement, signed by the Dips, MSG Corp and the DC Armory Board, which over saw RFK Stadium, stated that the team would stay in Washington for at least 5 years, with options to extend the team’s lease at RFK for 15 years.

At the October 6 press conference introducing the new owners, Werblin stated MSG wanted “to make the Diplomats the best soccer team in the world as soon as possible.” He continued, “I can assure you, that whatever we decide, Gordon Bradley will be in charge of putting this team together.” The two were friends when Bradley coached the Cosmos, so much so that Werblin referred to Bradley as his “soccer mentor.” Publicly, Werblin was saying everything the D.C. soccer community wanted to hear. There may have been more in what he was not saying.

Originally, Werblin envisioned buying the Diplomats and moving them to New York’s Shea Stadium to compete against the Cosmos, who played at the Meadowlands in northern New Jersey. The Cosmos demand of a $12 million indemnity fee and the desire of the NASL to have a team in Washington kept this plan from becoming reality. This revelation would later serve to cast Werblin, in the words of Washington Post columnist Dave Kindred, as a “pinstriped carpetbagger.”

Team President Steve Danzansky presents Sonny Werblin with a ceremonial Dips jersey. After receiving number 79, Werblin would 86 the team within two seasons.
Next time in "The Sonny Saga," mixed messages add up to a firm confirmation of a definite maybe regarding the Diplomats long term status in Washington, or as an entity.



Saturday, March 7, 2015

"You are about to witness a crime."

No, it's not video of a 1970s NASL referee. But seriously, much of the fun in watching old Dips games comes from the vintage commercials that aired during that time period. One such classic was for American Express Travelers Checks, in which Karl Malden would don his "Streets of San Francisco" attire and warn of the perils of carrying cash while on vacation. Of course, the debit card has all but made travelers checks a relic from a bygone era.



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

It's Hard To Be A Real Football Club In A (NFL) Football Town

I have lived the entirety of my nearly 50 years in the Washington, DC area. All the professional sports teams that have made the national capital their home, no matter how short or long their stay, have found that if their name wasn't Redskins, they were never going to be the top sporting interest in town. The Bullets, now Wizards, and Capitals have long played second fiddle to Dan Snyder's inept attempt to build a competent, let alone, winning franchise. All Diplomats fans had to deal with this frustration, especially when it came to finding Dips merchandise in local stores.