Franchise Spotlight July: New Orleans Black Hats

Each month, AF turns the spotlight onto one of the Association’s Registered Teams, presenting an in-depth profile of the franchise, its coach, and all of its historical accomplishments.  If you’d like to see your team profiled, the very first step is to visit the Team Registry Page.  Registering is free and only takes about 5 minutes.  Once registered, your team name and logo will be locked up, meaning no other team in an AF League or Tournament can use it, and it’ll also appear, ranked against other registered teams on the AF Team Register.

This Month’s Team:

New Orleans Black Hats

The New Orleans Black Hats have a long and winding history that pre-dates both the Association and all versions of The Dixie League that they are a charter member of.  Beginning play in 2008, they were Coach Crash‘s 2nd ever team in the world of fantasy football.  The Black Hats began their history in an unaffiliated bar league that no longer exists, playing out of a bar that no longer exists, located in a building that no longer exists.  They entered into existence with the moniker West End Rebels – named for a school that – you guessed it – no longer exists.

West End Rebels, 2008

Easily the best player on that West End team was a young Calvin Johnson, just entering his second season, and it was an explosive one – posting a line of 78/1331/12; while anchoring the running back position for the Rebels was Steven Jackson, still in the prime of his career, though unfortunately for West End, 2008 was a relatively down year for Action Jackson.  the rest of the Rebels’ squad disappointed in large part, including their quarterback, Bret Favre, who wore green and white that season and finished well behind QBs like David Garrard, Tyler Thigpen, and Chad Pennington.  The dust settled on that season with the Rebels finishing 6-8 and nowhere near the playoffs.

Louisiana Colonels -2009-11

2009 marked the inaugural season of the first incarnation of The Dixie League and the West End Rebels were re-branded as the Louisiana Colonels, named, this time for a school that actually did still exist.  The league was a concept league that marked Coach Crash‘s first foray into the world of fantasy football commissionership, and the Colonels were supposed to be the crown jewel of the new league; instead, they finished dead last with an appalling 2-12 record.  The Rebels of 2008 had regressed as the Colonels of 2009.  In 2010, however, they climbed back to a 6-8 record, however that was still only good enough to tie for 7th in a field of 10 teams and, of course, no post season.  In 2009, they went backwards again, as did The Dixie League shrinking from a 10 club league back down to an 8 team while the Colonels finished the season at 4-9, dead last again.

That year might have been the end of The Dixie, three teams abandoned their squads in mid-season of 2011, and only 1 other team besides the Colonels expressed any interest in returning when the 2012 season approached.  The league was shuttered and the Louisiana Colonels packed away a 3 season record of 12-29 for a pathetic .293 win percentage.  The Dixie did not play in 2012, and that might have been the end of the story for both the league and for the Rebels/Colonels.  But due to the relative success of several other leagues Coach Crash had started in 2012, a new and revamped Dixie league was launched in 2013.

With a new, 12 team version of the Dixie League, set up in a 3 division format, the Rebels-turned-Colonels rebranded themselves once more, changing their name to the New Orleans Breakers and abandoning the maroon and gray color scheme they had used since 2008 for the blues and white of the old USFL Boston/New Orleans/Portland Breakers.  Whether it was the name change that sparked a turn of luck for the franchise or the set-up of the new, redesigned league or just several years of fantasy experience finally paying off, but the the seasons of losing records were left behind and the newly minted Breakers finished 2013 with a 9-5-0 record, sweeping the West Division with 6 wins and capturing the Division Championship and a first ever playoff bid.

In round one of the 2013 Dixie League playoffs, the Breakers faced the Central Division Champion Tennessee Lady Vols and obliterated them 88-42, advancing to the League Championship.  In the Championship, they faced the Wild Card Charleston Spiders who had defeated the #1 seeded Eastern Division Champion Chesapeake Patriots in their semi-final match.  In that championship, the Breakers began what would become their Buffalo Bills impersonation, losing a high-scoring close one by a score of 97-114, giving Charleston the title.  It would be the first of three consecutive, unsuccessful trips to the Dixie League Championship for the New Orleans franchise.

After roughly half the league in that 2013 iteration of The Dixie abandoned their teams at some point in the season, the league sat idle again in 2014, but in 2015 the league was launched one more time, in the one of a kind, baseball themed format it still employs today.  It played 2015 with just 6 franchises, utilizing an all-vs-all schedule for 2015 (in lieu of double and triple header scheduling) and a baseball-type low scoring points system.  One of those six franchises was the 2013 season league Runner-Up New Orleans Breakers who, once again, restyled themselves, this time as the New Orleans Black Hats, adopting the black and gold of the NFL’s Saints and a tricky skull and top hat logo that’s actually an optical illusion of a football, jersey, helmets, and dome.  And they dominated the 2015 season.

By the end of the 11 week Regular Season, the Black Hats had amassed a  41-13-1 record (in all vs all play), obliterating the competition (the nearest competitor finished 30-25-0) and ranked #4 in the Association on the AF Top 25 and were named to the AF 2016 Pro Bowl Tournament.  Calvin Johnson led the Black Hats receiving corp (with Odell Beckham and Allen Robinson) as he had all the way back in 2008, bookends on Megatron’s illustrious career, helping the New Orleans franchise outscore the other teams in the league by 10-32% on their way to the first ever Western League Championship Series as the Western Division Championship had come to be known in the new format.  The Black Hats won that three game series against the Texas Confederates 2 games to 1 with victories of 11-8 and 12-11 in Weeks 13 and 14 after an upset 9-12 loss in Week 12.

Miami Pirates – Dixie League Champion 2015

With the WLCS victory in hand, the Black Hats were bound for the League  Championship in the second consecutive season of The Dixie, with a team much stronger than the 2013 Breakers had been and a clear favorite for the win.  Under the new format, the Championship would be a 3 game best of series dubbed the Dixie League Championship Series, and New Orleans would face the Miami Pirates.  Game 1 was a low scoring affair, even by the new format’s standards, and Miami squeaked out an upset victory, beating the Black Hats 6-7.  That made Game 2 an unexpected must-win for New Orleans.  They did not.  The Pirates pulled off another upset victory, 8-10 over the Hats to clinch the 2015 League Title.  The unnecessary Game 3 was played in Week 17, which New Orleans won 9-5 but it was too little, too late, and for the second consecutive season the club had made it to the league championship but come up short.

In 2016, the league held onto the baseball format and managed to expand to 10 ball clubs behind the success of a “Save The Dixie” campaign, and the New Orleans franchise took to the fantasy field once more as the Black Hats.  They won both the Steals Award for defensive turnovers and the Efficiency Award for committing the fewest errors all season, with just 8 INT’s, fumbles, and missed kicks committed all year, and were good enough to finish 13-6-3, tied with rival Little Rock for second place in both The Dixie and the Western League; a Week 6 head to head victory over the Radio Flyers (the pair played to a tie in two other meetings) broke the tie and gave the Hats a shot at the League #1 Andalusia Arrows (16-6-0)in the WLCS.   In a high scoring Game 1, New Orleans manged to outpace the Alabama Archers with a final score of 15-10, and in Game 2, it wasn’t even close as the Black Hats emerged victorious in a 12-4 rout to capture the Western League title for the second consecutive year.

So for an unprecedented third consecutive season, the Black Hats took the trip to the League Championship having never won the Title; they would finish that way as well.  Facing the Eastern League Champion Sanford Celeryfeds (12-9-1) who had swept the Westfield Bombers in 2 in the ELCS, the Black Hats stumbled right out of the gate, losing 6-9 in Game 1.  Then, in a stunning display of offense in Game 2 of the series, the Celeryfeds put up 23 runs – the most by any team, in any game all season – in their 23-11 dismantling of the New Orleans Black Hats.  Sanford scored an unbelievable 12 homeruns in the game, led by their quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his 5 homeruns (4 passing and 1 rushing), along with 853 yards of total offense to capture the Dixie Cup and leave New Orleans on the outside looking in for the third season in a row.

But for all their attempts to imitate the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, the Black Hats remain one of the most successful clubs in the Association.  They finished 2016 ranked #4 the association on the AF Top 25 just as they had in 2015 and currently sit at #1 on the list of AF Registered Teams when ranked by career win percentage.  2017 may just be there year……nobody’s ever lost four championships in a row, have they?