The Talons are to Tulsa what American Idol is to the rest of the nation. Both entities are extremely popular. Each has an uncanny knack for drawing in repeat business. Give either a try and you are likely hooked for the season.
A funny thing happened on his way to buy the Tulsa Oilers several years back. Henry Primeaux teamed up with Paul Ross and purchased the fledgling Talons organization four years ago.
"We bought the team and we didn't realize most of the team had signed with Oklahoma City. We bought nothing. We had a scrimmage against Wichita. When we saw our team, I looked at Paul and he looked at me. We had a high school team. Union and Jenks could have strapped it on us. That was four years ago," recalled Primeaux, co-owner of the Talons.
The organization has been the model of success since its inception. This season should mark their eighth trip in eight years to the af2 postseason. A blistering 7-0 start set the pace for this magical journey.
The Talons have sold out the Convention Center in years past. They continually pack upwards of 5,000 people in the 7,000-seat arena. This is a real catch 22.
On one hand, this is better than most sporting events in T-Town. However, this is a championship caliber team that fails to sell out Saturday nights with regularity.
"We've got a great team this year. Our pitch is come out and see them. Once you come, you'll come back. The thing we hear from people all the time is 'I had no idea it was this much fun.' It is a lot of fun," said New Orleans native Primeaux.
It was difficult to get Primeaux to sing his own praises. He constantly sent accolades to the local college athletic programs and the minor league sports franchises. He glowed even more when speaking of 'his' Talons.
"It's a family and city atmosphere. We want to be part of the city. It's the Tulsa Talons. It's not Henry and Paul's Talons. We're really proud," as he deflects credit again.
Owning a sports franchise sounds like the ultimate dream job. It's not exactly a walk through LaFortune Park, however. "If I were depending on the Talons to make a business, I'd be living under the bridge," chuckled Primeaux.
The Convention Center is being hijacked for transformation next year, leaving the Talons homeless. The easy answer would be relocation to the Pavilion for a year. Not so fast. The Pavilion would need major renovations. The cost would not be economical for a one year stopgap.
An even less appealing option has the Talons going dark next year. "You pay a fee to the league and we're just out of business next year. We'd lose our players and coaches," said the less-than-enthusiastic Primeaux.
Other alternatives include moving the team out of Tulsa for a year or to the IPE building. The arena where the Chili Bowl is staged "is all bleacher seating. Our game -- we don't know if you'd be able to see the game and participate in the game. We're examining that (venue)," said Primeaux.
"It's a tough decision, but we don't want to shut it down," he said. By the time you pick up this week's edition, the decision may have already been finalized. Hopefully, it is a beneficial one for both the team and the city.
Back to this year's squad. This may be your last chance to see certain stalwarts. Head coach Mitch Allner played for the Talons and worked his way up. He knows the arena game inside out.
Offensive coordinator Craig Strickland's resume speaks for itself. His prowess on the field under center is only matched by his football acumen as a coach.
Primeaux agrees. "Quite frankly, Strickland and Mitch have done such a fine job, we don't know how much longer they are going to be here because both of the guys are qualified to go further."
Don't think for a minute this team isn't loaded for a championship run this year. Talons' offensive specialist Donovan Morgan recently signed a NFL contract with the Buffalo Bills.
The prophetic Allner sensed in the preseason D-Mo might not be around at the end of the year. "We've got some other guys offensively who are extremely capable too. The main thing we're talking about this year is having three receivers who are threats to score on every play and any down," coach said prior to the first game.
Let's Talk BOK Center
Here is my disclaimer. I swerve back and forth on this more than Lindsay Lohan on a highway after a fifth of Jack and some coke. However, after speaking with Primeaux, I couldn't be more excited for the years to come. He's sneaky good like that. It's almost like he's a car salesman.
Once the Talons call the BOK Center home, they will immediately sell an additional 1,200 season tickets. Some Tulsa fans can be fickle.
"Our research has shown that our fans do not like (the arena) downtown. They think it is dangerous," said Primeaux. Then he counters that assessment quickly and definitively. "We have more police and security. It is not dangerous at all.
"Once we get to the new arena, I think all of that will go away because once downtown is refurbished and built up, it's going to be a pleasure to go downtown. You're going to have a quality facility to play in. We're excited about it," he said.
He voted for the arena but, like many others, isn't thrilled with the location. He also understands the arena beats what we have right now -- which of course, is zilch.
"When I first came here we were so far ahead of Oklahoma City; they've passed us. So now it is up to the citizens. We can complain all we want but now it's up to people to make it work. Let's make it work rather than have a reason for it not to work," Primeaux said.
He witnessed a similar transformation more 35 years ago. New Orleans, his home at the time, decided to build the Louisiana Superdome in the middle of a rail yard. Imagine the ire of the citizens building the gargantuan dome in the middle of nowhere.
"Now you look around it and the Superdome is surrounded by big beautiful buildings. You go there today and it's a thriving part of the community. The same thing is going to happen here.
"The only thing that could kill us is apathy on the part of the business leaders and the politicians. On the political side, I don't think we have that apathy but they can only do so much. The business community is going to have to step up and make it successful," he said.
He makes valid points. Tulsa desires a professional sports team, but how can we expect to get the NBA's attention when no one attends the 66ers' games? If the Big 12 or NCAA committees are going to consider Tulsa as a host site, perhaps our attendance numbers need to show a modicum of improvement.
This Talons team has one goal: a trip to Bossier City, home of the af2 Championship game. Even Primeaux gives the ol' one-game-at-a-time rhetoric.
You can be certain the regular season home games pack a punch. "One thing about us is we don't nickel and dime it. We try to give a lot of bang for the buck," he said of the team's more than $1.2 million operating budget.
He speaks glowingly about his staff and the job they have done. He loves what TU and ORU are doing in collegiate athletics. He compliments the Oilers, Drillers and 66ers as if they were his own.
He has no intentions of buying the "for sale" Oilers. His love for Tulsa and the Talons is contagious.
"We went to San Juan last year and we thought we'd be (playing for a championship). We really thought we were going to be in Bossier the year before. We almost made it.
"(Paul and I) have never seen a championship game before. We want to be there. We want the ring. The guys want the ring. It's the most important thing to us right now to bring a championship back to Tulsa in our last year in the arena. That's what it's all about," he concluded.
His office is littered with sports memorabilia, most of which pertains to the Talons. The team is establishing Tulsa Idol status.
The organization wants nothing more than to take home the af2 Championship. See you at the games. Visit www.TulsaTalons.com for more information.
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