The Columbus Destroyers were an Arena Football League (AFL) team based in Columbus, Ohio, with home games in Nationwide Arena. The team was founded in 1999 as the Buffalo Destroyers, based in Buffalo, New York, and relocated to Columbus in 2004. They folded along with the original incarnation of the AFL following the 2008 season, after a total of ten seasons of play.
Folded 2008; 2019
Played in Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio
|Arena Football League (1999–2008; 2019)|
|Team colors||Black, white, gray|
|Owner(s)||Arena Football League|
|Head coach||Matthew Sauk|
|League championships (0)|
|Conference championships (1)|
|Division championships (1)|
|Playoff appearances (3)|
On February 7, 2019, the AFL announced that it had placed an expansion team in Columbus and once again play at Nationwide Arena. The league announced on February 22, that the team as a re-launch of the Destroyers and revealed the new logo and Matthew Sauk as the head coach.
After the 2019 season, the AFL announced that they had suspended local business operations including the Destroyers, but were looking into become a traveling league. A month later, on November 27, 2019, the league announced that they had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and were ceasing operations.
Buffalo Destroyers (1999–2003)Edit
The Buffalo Destroyers began play during the 1999 AFL season, playing their home games at HSBC Arena (now known as KeyBank Center), and were owned by Buffalo-area businessman Mark Hamister. The team was founded, in part, because of fears that a lease expiration could have led to the demise or relocation of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, the city's largest sports franchise. Those fears were unfounded as a multiyear lease deal to keep the Bills in Western New York was signed shortly thereafter and remained in effect long after the Destroyers left Buffalo (the lease was again renewed in 2012). The name "Destroyers" came from a naming contest and alluded to the naval ship of the same name, one of which sits outside the HSBC Arena in the nearby Buffalo Naval and Serviceman's Park.
The Destroyers initially attracted high attendance levels, but a lack of winning early on caused attendance to decline, something from which the team never recovered. Among the members of the inaugural roster was former NFL kicker Bjorn Nittmo. The first head coach, Dave Whinham, was fired in the middle of the Destroyers' second season after an abysmal 1–17 record. Former Buffalo Bills player Ray Bentley was selected as his replacement; however, he couldn't lead the Destroyers to a winning season. The closest he came was in 2001, when his team started 6–3 but would end the season on an 0–5 skid to just barely miss the playoffs. The team had another 6–8 season, this time enough to make the playoffs but lost in the first round, in 2002. Bentley abruptly resigned after that season to take a job in broadcasting, and Ron Selesky, a respected personnel man was hired to replace him. Selesky's record in 2003 was a lackluster 5–11. Jerry Crafts, former Bills offensive lineman, played for the Destroyers in 2001 and served most notably as nose tackle, anchoring one of the league's better defenses.
After the 2003 season concluded, talks of a re-location began, as the Destroyers had lost $5 million over five years, went nearly unnoticed by the media (NBC had blacked out all of their games in 2003), and suffered from a lack of local support reflected in low attendance levels. At the time, Destroyers owner Hamister was also in the running, along with partner Todd Berman, to buy the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, but a deal for a state incentive package fell through and the team was instead sold to Rochester-area entrepreneur and politician B. Thomas Golisano. Shortly after the Sabres deal fell through, in September 2003, Hamister announced that he was relocating the Destroyers to Columbus, Ohio for the 2004 season.
On May 24, 2008 the Arena Football League announced that it was returning to Buffalo with a new franchise to be owned by Bills alumni Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas along with Rochester Raiders owner Bob Bartosiewicz. That team was to play in the AFL's minor league system, af2. The team was originally scheduled to begin play in 2009, but did not materialize in time for that season, and with the dissolution of the AFL as well as af2, the proposal appears to be dead, since the current version of the league has shown no interest in the Buffalo market, and the Raiders have since suspended operations.
In 2018, an exhibit honoring the 20th anniversary of the Destroyers' establishment went on display at the Buffalo History Museum. It was attended mostly by former front office staffers.
First iteration of the Columbus Destroyers (2004–2008)Edit
The Buffalo Destroyers moved to Columbus after the 2003 Arena Football League season. They played their home games in downtown's Nationwide Arena, which they shared with the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets. The last time the AFL played in Columbus was the expansion Columbus Thunderbolts back in 1991. After one season, they relocated to Cleveland.
The Destroyers were sold to John H. McConnell, founder of Worthington Industries and majority owner of the Blue Jackets, and accountant Jim Renacci. Also owning a stake in the team was NFL wide receiver and former Ohio State football standout Joey Galloway. Mark Hamister, who owned the team during the Buffalo tenure, initially stayed on as a minority owner, but would eventually sell his share.
The Columbus Destroyers, over their first two years, would often market people with the team who are also associated with Ohio State University football program, rather than the team itself. In the 2004 season, it relied heavily on head coach, former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce, and front office worker Chris Spielman. In the 2005 season, Spielman became head coach of the team and much of the Destroyers merchandise bore his name. However, as the 2006 season approached, the team appeared to have dropped marketing Ohio State personalities, instead promoting the Destroyers playing "Fast-forward football". Afterwards, the Destroyers have enjoyed more success, finishing 7–9 in 2006 and making a run all the way to ArenaBowl XXI in 2007.
Despite high hopes the 2008 Destroyers weren't able to capitalize on the previous two years success and finished with a 3-13 record. It was announced at the end of the season that Destroyers ownership and Doug Kay had reached a decision that he would not return as head coach.
The Destroyers' mascot's name was Bruiser.
The Destroyers were better received in Columbus than they had been in Buffalo, as their attendance levels were some of the highest in the AFL, and they were regularly covered in the media. Home games were televised locally on Columbus Sports Network, but this coverage ceased after the network folded. All games were broadcast on their radio partner Wink 107.1 FM.
In 2009, the AFL declared bankruptcy after the owners could not agree on a new financial plan. Arena Football 1, the entity that bought the AFL out of bankruptcy in late 2009, maintained the Destroyers trademark for the next decade. When the league relaunched in 2010, it kept the brands of several of the pre-bankruptcy teams.
Second iteration (2019)Edit
On February 11, 2019, the league announced an expansion team for Columbus that would begin play the 2019 season. On February 22, at Nationwide Arena, the AFL announced that the team would be a revival of the Destroyers, with the same logo as before in a simplified grayscale color scheme, and introduced Matthew Sauk as the new head coach.
In October 2019, the league ceased all team operations, including the Destroyers, and then filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in November. The next month, the Indoor Football League announced it would expand to Columbus in the 2021 season.
Memorable Destroyers momentsEdit
- On April 30, 1999 Columbus played their first game as the Buffalo Destroyers. They lost to the New England Sea Wolves 59-26 in Marine Midland Arena in front of 13,214 fans. They finished with a 1–13 record that year, thus failing to qualify for the playoffs in their inaugural season.
First Playoff Game
- It took their second season to post a playoff position, with their only five wins coming as a five-game winning streak before dropping their season finale in San Jose. Their playoff game against the Arizona Rattlers took place on July 27, 2000 with a crowd of 9,471 at the US Airways Center (then named America West Arena, dubbed "the Snake Pit") in Phoenix. The Rattlers trumped the Destroyers with a 41–34 decision and knocking Buffalo out of the playoffs.
Last Game in Buffalo
- The team hosted the New York Dragons on May 11, 2003 in front of 6,116 at HSBC Arena. The Destroyers lost the game 49–30.
Last Game as Buffalo
- In front of 9,701 fans at the Thomas and Mack Center, the team lost to the then Las Vegas Gladiators by a score of 55–38 on May 15, 2003
Move to Columbus
- The team moved to Columbus after the 2003 season. They played their first home game against the Carolina Cobras and lost 54–53 in front of a team record 17,171 fans.
Road to Arena Bowl XXI
- On July 7, 2007 they upset the heavily favored Dallas Desperados who had a regular season record of 15–1. ESPN ranked it as one of history's top upsets.
- One week later on July 14, 2007 The Destroyers reached their first Arena Bowl after defeating the heavily favored 14–2 Georgia Force 66–56.
- On July 21, 2007 the Destroyers had a bye in the Arena Bowl playoffs, where they broke local attendance records by beating up and destroying a Ford Focus compact car. This resulted in a Columbus Dispatch front-page story on July 22, 2007 where the editors of the paper declared the team "Chevy Strong."
- The playoff run ended on July 29 when they played the San Jose Sabercats in ArenaBowl XXI. After the Destroyers played great football during the first half, they seemed to lose some momentum during the second half. In the end they lost to the Cats 55–33 in front of a sellout New Orleans Arena crowd.
|Head coach||Tenure||Regular season
|Most recent coaching staff||Notes|
|Dave Whinham||1999 – 2000||1-17||0-0|
|Ray Bentley||2000 – 2002||17-21||0-2||OC: Tony Kimbrough|
|Earle Bruce||2004||6-10||0-0||OC: Pete Costanza
DC: Weylan Harding
|Chris Spielman||2005||2-14||0-0||OC: Pete Costanza
DC: Ron Selesky
STC: Jeff Hoffman
|Doug Kay||2006 – 2008||19-30||3-1||OC: Ken Matous and Lary Kuharich (Kuharich took over after week 7)
Other Coaches: Cecil Doggette, John Churchill, John Zinser, Michael Baker, Josh Taylor
|Pat Sperduto||2009||0-0||0-0||OC: Chris Boden
DC: Doug Lytle
Line Coach: Pat Downey
Players of noteEdit
Arena Football Hall of FamersEdit
|Buffalo / Columbus Destroyers Hall of Famers|
|No.||Name||Year Inducted||Position(s)||Years w/ Destroyers|
The following Destroyers players were named to All-Arena Teams:
The following Destroyers players were named to All-Ironman Teams:
The following Destroyers players were named to All-Rookie Teams: