Over the weekend, the Ogden Raptors accomplished something most professional teams that currently or previously called Utah home have failed to do.
Yep, win it all.
Though on a different stage and in a different sport, the Ogden organization’s Pioneer League championship is one more title than the St. George Roadrunners, the Saints (Salt Lake City and Utah versions), the majority of the double-z teams — sorry, Starzz, Buzz, Catzz, Freezz and, oh, yeah, Jazz — and the majority of other teams that’ve come and gone have combined to win in the history of their respective franchises.
Utah hasn’t been completely devoid of championships, though.
While Utah hasn’t won a title on its biggest sports stage — darn that Michael Jordan — the Beehive State’s pro teams have hoisted quite a few trophies over the decades.
With apologies to fans of football, volleyball and rugby — the state is still waiting for a pro championship in those sports — here’s a look at titles this state’s professional squads have won over the years:
Pacific Coast League: Unfortunately, Salt Lake City has had as many baseball stadiums as championships — and even more team nicknames.
Over the years, Community Park, Derks Field and the oft-renamed Smith’s Ballpark — all built on the same plot of land on 1300 South — have been home to the Angels, Gulls, Buzz, Stingers and Bees in Class AAA and the Trappers, Giants, Skyscrapers and the original Bees of the Pioneer League.
Only three of those ballclubs that have played on baseball’s second-highest level have won all the marbles in their league, though. The Salt Lake City Bees (1959), the Angels (1971) and the Gulls (1979) each claimed PCL pennants.
Pioneer League: The Raptors finally won their first championship after relocating from Pocatello, Idaho, 24 years ago, but they joined a big club of Utah teams to have won all the rookie league marbles.
Three different teams from Ogden have won Pioneer League crowns: the Reds (1940, ‘41), the Dodgers (1966-69) and now the Raptors (2017). Salt Lake City has had its share of championships at this level: the Bees (1946, ‘53) and the Trappers (1985-87, ‘91).
That 1987 Trappers team was best known for two things that had nothing to do with championships:
1. They won 29 straight to set an all-time win-streak record for pro baseball, a run that captured national attention, including a Sports Illustrated story. Memorabilia from that Trappers’ team can be found in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
2. Beloved actor Bill Murray owned a 5 percent stake in the team.
The Provo Angels won in 2004 and continued to succeed after moving and rebranding as the Orem Owlz. Orem has taken it all four times: 2005, '07, '09 and '16.
Western Baseball League: Back in the double-z nickname heyday (or nadir, you choose), the Zion Pioneerzz took southern Utah by storm. The independent minor-league team won the Western Baseball League championship in its second season (2000). The club changed its name to the St. George Pioneerzz in 2001, but it then folded after reportedly losing $2 million in its three-season run.
Utah-Idaho League: The 1928 version of the Salt Lake City Bees (this nickname got around) won this short-lived Class C league, beating out the likes of the Idaho Falls Spuds, Boise Senators and Logan Collegians.
American Basketball Association: Before the Jazz were a twinkle in New Orleans’ eyes — and eight years before the NBA franchise relocated to SLC — the Utah Stars (formerly the awesomely named Anaheim Amigos) brought a high-level basketball championship to the Beehive State thanks to the likes of Zelmo Beatty, Willie Wise and Ron Boone.
The late Dan Pattison, who was the Utah Stars beat writer for the Deseret News, captured the moment in May 1971:
“The greatest sports story that the state of Utah has known unfolded in the Salt Palace arena and the Utah Stars' dressing room Tuesday night. It was the locker room of champions. It was the Utah Stars' locker room.
“Amid the bedlam of a champagne shower, the Stars were crowned American Basketball Association Champions, ousting Kentucky, 131-121, Tuesday night before 13,260 fans (700 fans above capacity, 12,224), who jumped into hysteria with :37 remaining in the game.
“It was a ‘Miracle on West Temple Street.’”
Five years later, the ABA pulled the plug on the financially struggling Stars, paving the way for the Jazz to move west and introduce the NBA to this town in 1979.
Jazz fans painfully recall how close they came to celebrating an NBA championship before losing to MJ and the Chicago Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 Finals.
Major League Soccer: Real Salt Lake didn’t have a great regular season in 2009, and barely qualified for the playoffs after getting some help elsewhere and crushing Colorado 3-0. But its MLS Cup run was magical, culminating in a championship celebration.
“The playoffs have been a wild ride for Real Salt Lake, so it's only fitting that Sunday's MLS Cup ended in the most dramatic fashion possible — a shootout. That always favors a team with Nick Rimando,” Deseret News sports writer James Edward wrote.
“The RSL keeper is arguably the best in Major League Soccer when it comes to stopping penalty kicks and not surprisingly he came up big again. Rimando saved a pair of penalty kicks in the shootout as Real Salt Lake defeated the L.A. Galaxy 5-4 on penalties to claim the MLS Cup in just its fifth year of existence.”
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman: "I thought we played our hearts out tonight. We played our style of soccer. When we play our style of soccer it's pretty fun to watch and it's pretty fun to play.”
Real came oh-so-close to winning again in 2013, but the club fell just short in the MLS Cup final, falling to Sporting Kansas City on penalty kicks, 7-6.
USL Pro Select League/National Premier Soccer League: The year 2004 was a good one for Utah soccer fans. Not only did the state win two pro soccer championships — the Utah Blitzz in the USLPSL and the Utah Salt Ratz in the NPSL — but Salt Lake City was also awarded a Major League Soccer franchise.
Both of the lower-tier soccer teams opted to dissolve following their 2004 titles to allow RSL to flourish at the sport’s highest level in the U.S.
The Blitzz also captured a championship in 2001. Head coach Chris Agnello joined Real as an assistant in its early years.
Central Hockey League: The Salt Lake Golden Eagles turned Salt Lake City into a hockey town before basketball took over as the preferred pro sport. The Salt Palace-based Golden Eagles won five different championships, including three Adams Cup-acquiring seasons in the CHL (1975, 1980-81).
International Hockey League: The Golden Eagles’ other two titles were in the IHL, as they hoisted the Turner Cup trophy in 1987 and ‘88 while sharing the Salt Palace with a couple of guys named Stockton and Malone.
In an unpopular but financially sound move, the late Larry H. Miller sold the Golden Eagles in 1994. The franchise relocated and rebranded as the Detroit Vipers.
That opened the door for the IHL’s Grizzlies to move to the other side of the Rockies from Denver to Salt Lake City in 1995. The team fared as well in its inaugural season in Utah as it had in its final season in Colorado.
From the Deseret News’ game story (written by yours truly):
“It was an amazing way to end what has been an incredible inaugural season in Utah.
“For well over three hours the Utah Grizzlies had taken their 17,381 screaming, broom-waving, trout-tossing fans on an emotional roller-coaster ride at the jam-packed Delta Center.2 comments on this story
"And then, late-season acquisition Marc Rodgers finally gave the largest crowd in the franchise's and Turner Cup Finals' history the euphoric moment they had been waiting for as he scored a rebound goal 8 1/2 minutes into the sudden-death overtime as the Grizzlies clinched their second straight IHL championship with an incredible 3-2 victory.”
A champagne-soaked Utah coach Butch Goring was elated after a third overtime win over Orlando: “This is unbelievable. It was really, really sweet.”
The Grizzlies have changed owners and leagues since then, but they’ve never been able to duplicate that championship achievement.