Indy’s first NFL “team” was the Lasers


You might be aware of the radio broadcast "The War of the Worlds," Orson Welles' recreation of an alien invasion in 1938. Many people who were not listening at the start of the program when it was explained what followed was a dramatizationĀ  were fooled into thinking it was a legitimate news report, and panicked.

Joe McConnell pulled off a similar stunt in the mid-Seventies when he came up with the idea of broadcasting a fake NFL game featuring the city's supposed expansion team, the Lasers. (Or maybe he spelled it Lazers in his mind, who knows?).

He had someone go to Cincinnati to record crowd noise from a Bengals game to use on the broadcast. He mock-drafted an entire NFL roster, one that would have been realistic for an expansion team. He scripted every play for the game. The Bengals were the opponent, but the team's front office allowed him to record their crowd noise with the stipulation that they win the game, so the Lasers had to loseĀ  their opener - which certainly would have been realistic. He invented a facility for the team to play in, Circle City Stadium. He recorded fake interviews with halftime guests such as Mayor Bill Hudnut, local sports editors Bob Collins and Wayne Fuson and local sports anchor Chet Coppock, all of whom played along beautifully with the gag. Bob Lamey acted as the color analyst, an odd role for him.

Although Jerry Baker read a disclaimer at the start of the broadcast, many fans who tuned in during the "game" were fooled. McConnell told me people were calling the radio station and asking where the stadium was located, not to mention wondering how in the world the city could have landed an NFL expansion team without them knowing about it.

It's impossible to imagine something like this happening today. McConnell had a lot of free time, something he explains in our One on One episode available on this site, and station manager Jim Hilliard gave approval for him to do it. That would never happen in the current corporate climate of radio ownership.

Joe invited me to his home on the south side of Indy to retrieve the reel-to-reel tapes for this broadcast, along with his broadcast of the Pacers' victory in Game 7 of the ABA finals with Kentucky. They had been tucked away in a closet in his spare bedroom, and he was happy to give them to someone willing to revive them.

He accomplished something people rarely think to do: recognize the historical value of something as it occurs. We usually don't realize that until it's too late. For example, I once asked Jerry Baker if he had a recording of his radio broadcast of the first Pacers game in 1967. He said nobody was thinking at the time about the team being around all these years later, they were just hoping to survive the first season. It would be great to have that broadcast now.

I've included segments of McConnell's Lasers (Lazers?) broadcast here.

Here's the intro and first half. Notice the mention of the "fictitious creation, a football game of the mind" at the start. If a listener had missed that, he or she would have been awfully confused when they tuned in during the game.

Here are halftime interviews with Indianapolis Star sports editor Bob Collins, Channel 8 sports anchor Chet Coppock and Indianapolis News sports editor Wayne Fuson. Coppock really hammed it up, as was his nature.

Here's the wrapup. Notice the mention of the "football game of your mind" again by Jerry Baker.

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