Column: Dreaming of a professional major sports franchise in Connecticut

Conencticut hasn't had a real professional sports team since the Whalers left. Many people want to bring them back. (Doug Kerr/The Daily Campus) 

As a lifelong fan of all sports, the one thing I have really missed in my 20 years living in the state of Connecticut is a professional major sports franchise to cheer for through the best of times and through the worst of times. I would’ve cheered for that team like no other team before.

Of course, Connecticut has had a professional team in the past – the Hartford Whalers, an NHL franchise that left in 1997 to relocate to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they would become known as the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2006 and that is as close to a championship as any professional “Connecticut” team has ever been.

Although the Whalers no longer exist, their fan base remains strong. As of 2015, the team has the highest sales of any defunct franchise and Whalers’ merchandise is actually still quite popular, selling better than some poor-market franchises still in existence. Some people (including Snoop Dogg) see it as a cool vintage look, while many nostalgic fans still proudly sport their old and new Whalers gear. Personally, my Whalers’ jacket is extremely special to me and leaves me clinging to the dream that one day a team – hopefully the Whalers themselves – will come to Hartford and be Connecticut’s team.

The Hartford Whalers weren’t Connecticut’s only chance at a professional franchise, however. The New England Patriots, forever in the hunt for a Super Bowl, almost came to Hartford in 1999 but current Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, along with current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, made some deals behind the scenes to keep the team in Massachusetts.

Obviously moving to Hartford had its flaws, with a giant steam plant in the way of a new downtown stadium and a significantly smaller market than Boston as the primary obstacles. But even then, it was Kraft’s decision to opt out of his contract with Connecticut just six days left before that it became permanent was the nail in the coffin for fans of Connecticut sports. The Whalers had just left and then the Patriots decided not to come, leaving Connecticut without a professional franchise to this very day.

While this story made me hate the Patriots and become a New York Jets fan (a decision that I don’t regret even with the massive success New England and the New York Giants have enjoyed), I still maintain a hope that Connecticut will once again – hopefully soon – be the home of a franchise in one of the four major sports. It is very unlikely, admittedly, but I do have hope. Both the NBA and NHL are expected to add expansion teams in the near future with Las Vegas as a target city and other potential options as well.

Hartford probably isn’t No. 1 on the leagues’ lists for expansion or even relocation, especially given the fact that the city lies between two of America’s biggest markets, New York and Boston. And with as many as three teams in the region in each of the four major sports, people argue that there might not be any fans left to cheer for a fourth team in the area.

Yet there is talk that an NHL franchise, whether it be the Arizona Coyotes, the New Jersey Devils or the Carolina Hurricanes, could decide to relocate in the next few years. And why not bring back the Whalers? The fan base is most definitely still here. The nostalgia alone would keep people coming to the XL Center for at least a few years, while the team climbs to a competitive level. Plus, the ownership group that brings the Whalers back would be made legendary in Connecticut history. Given the money that then Gov. John Rowland threw at Kraft in the attempt to bring the Patriots to Connecticut, I assume the compensation given to said prospective ownership group would be enticing as well.

I understand how unlikely it is that my dream comes true. There are so many obstacles, so many risks, so many reasons for an owner not to come to Hartford. But Connecticut deserves a franchise in one of the four major sports. The fans of this state have suffered for far too long without one. UConn sports have done a fantastic job of carrying the mantle for our state and the hockey program is on the rise, making up for the lack of the Whalers.

However, until we have another professional team in Connecticut, there will always be the lingering feeling that something is missing. I just hope some group decides to step up and fill that void, bring a professional team back to Connecticut.  Until then, the only time I hear the Whalers’ iconic anthem, Brass Bonanza, is at UConn hockey games.


Chris Hanna is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu. He tweets @realchrishann