The Connor Tanner Chronicles
Edition I: Bad Beats
It was a day that will live in infamy. As news broke and rippled through the league, reactions ranged from shock to fury to sadness. Talking heads had a new topic to yell at each other about, fans debated what the causes could’ve been, and the Head Office cracked down - hard. But no matter our disparate opinions and reflexive responses one thing binds us all together: we all remember where we were when the Las Vegas Legion mass retired.
Newer NSFL members may not remember the Legion but they were part of the first NSFL expansion, along with the Philadelphia Liberty, and led by RFFO. The two expansion teams took very different approaches - as the Liberty wheeled and dealed to load up on draft picks and build for the long haul, the Legion sought a riskier approach in an attempt to win immediately. In their first entry draft, the Liberty selected nine times before Las Vegas had their first selection at the top of the 6th round and four more times before their second pick. In addition to swapping picks for roster players, they made a huge splash in free agency, signing Josh Bercovici to a 5-year, $33 million contract and touting him as their franchise quarterback - that contract violated the guidelines in the CBA, though, so it was amended to a 3-year, $21 million deal.
When the dust settled, Las Vegas had traded away - as best as I can tell:
S2 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th.
S3 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th (from YKW), 7th, and 8th.
S4 1st and 3rd.
Arby Krimlaw, Romeo DeVitt, Josh Cameron, Isaiah Rashad, and D’Brickshaw Ferguson.
In exchange for receiving:
S2 6th (YKW) and 7th (ARI).
S3 3rd (SJS) and 3rd (ARI).
Tim Tebow, Stormblessed, Brady Stropko, Isaiah Rashad, Jonathan Shaloiko, Saggitaruitt Jefferspin, Jordan Weal, Vinny Cox, Jack Stats, Gabriel Tenzini, RFFO Mademe, Vick Bowers Jr., Ardie Savea, D’Brickshaw Ferguson, Sinjin Flimjollywop, Alexander LeClaire, Mark Ramrio, and Matthew Peterson.
With all their offseason moves, which included flipping multiple players, the Legion surged into the season hoping to make some noise. In their first ever regular season game they hosted the Baltimore Hawks and squeaked out a 16-10 victory. The Hawks had finished last in Season 1 but looked much improved so this was taken as a good sign. Meanwhile, the Liberty were beaten soundly 31-16 in San Jose.
In the end, though, the Legion struggled mightily. They didn’t win another home game and finished the season 3-11, good for last place in the league. The Liberty, who had started so slowly, rebounding from their 0-4 record to finish 5-9 and ahead of both Las Vegas and San Jose. Season 3 did not bode any better for the Legion as they slipped to 2-12 as they watched the Liberty make the playoffs. Las Vegas had gone all-in but came up not just short but woefully short. Changes were needed.
In the Season 4 entry draft the Las Vegas Legion made their first ever 1st round pick - Blackford Oakes. They then followed this up with Trey Lonzac, Andreas Waiters, and Shawn Ariel as they owned half of the first round. Unfortunately, the team could not catch a break as their timing couldn’t have been any worse. With the introduction of the NSFL’s developmental league, the DSFL, the Season 4 class will go down as the worst draft class in NSFL history both by volume and by impact. The team finished 3-11 again that season.
Throughout Season 4 and heading into the offseason with the Legion seemingly on a more sustainable path morale was at an all-time high as the discord was extremely active and friendly with teammates playing games together and chatting at all hours of the day. One man couldn’t abide that.
Connor Tanner entered the league ahead of Season 3 and despite thinking he would go in one of the first two rounds, fell all the way to the 6th where the Legion used their second selection to pick him up. He was a fast, strong tight end and in his 4-game DSFL career he racked up 179 yards and a touchdown before getting the call up to the big club. He continued his strong performance there and posted 315 yards and 5 touchdowns in 10 games and was selected to the ASFC Pro Bowl team, one of just 5 Legion players to make the cut.
He soon joined the management team and played an instrumental role in many of the trades made ahead of Season 4, including the one to acquire Blackford Oakes, as well as having a large role in the day-to-day operations of the team. Mere weeks after the Season 4 draft, he was promoted to oversee the NSFL’s football operations and work closely with the Head Office. That is when disaster struck.
As Season 5 approached, Connor Tanner was nowhere to be found. The NSFL Head Office made a very public and very vocal search for him as they revamped the football operations division to avoid being left in a lurch like this again. He had gone dark, nobody had heard from him in weeks. What was he doing? Why did he go MIA? The NSFL universe had many questions but no answers. On the 7th of December rumors started being bandied about. Las Vegas was going make an announcement concerning Tanner the following day. Was he returning to management? Would he reprise his role in football operations? The talking heads speculated endlessly but the NSFL insiders couldn’t get a scoop - everything was being played very close to the vest. The world would have to wait for noon to get their answers.
It was unseasonably cold in Las Vegas on the 8th of December. Despite average temperatures in the high 50s to 60s, it was near freezing as seemingly everyone who was anyone in sports media descended on the Las Vegas Legion executive offices where a makeshift podium had been set up. The reporters shivered and speculated as they waited… and waited for the announcement.
30 minutes passed.
Then an hour.
The crowd grew restless. They were cold and ornery. Had they been baited? Was this some sort of practical joke? They had come here for what would likely be the story of the season but now some of them began to pack up and go home. It was too cold, too windy, too unbearable to put up with this disrespect - even if it meant losing a chance at being there live for… whatever this was going to be.
90 minutes passed.
Finally there was some life. Just beyond the pair of sliding glass doors that served as gate for the Legion’s offices there was movement. The reporters stirred to life and television programmers across the country went live. For minutes that seemed like hours, all anyone saw was a group of people, about a half dozen in number, in suits huddled together talking. Their faces couldn’t be made out but that didn’t stop the assembled media from speculating.
“Is that Ardie Savea? I think I see… Dermot Lavelle? No way, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m really good with faces. That’s 100% Wallace Stone addressing the group now. What are they talking about?”
“The Cox brothers have been spotted but it’s unknown who they are talking to.”
Finally, the group of six emerged from the building to a cacophony of camera shutters and reporter exclamations. Leading the way was none other than Connor Tanner, making his first public appearance in weeks. Following him were Wyatt Fulton, Philippe Carter, Jimmy Cox, Vinny Cox, and Jon Ross. As they made their way to the podium and assembled behind Tanner their faces laid expressionless. Tanner tapped the mic a couple times softly and leaned down, his hulking body towered over the small podium.
“Uh, hello. Is this thing on? Great. On behalf of the Las Vegas Legion I am thrilled to make a major roster announcement here today…”
Across the world, blissfully unaware of anything football-related, Geoff Biscuit was laying on a Brazilian beach - clothes optional, of course - with a pink drink in one hand. It had been a very trying few seasons for the Legion owner as his team had won just 8 games in 3 seasons and even worse he was hemorrhaging money. It seemed like every decision he made for the team failed. The 50 year TV contract with CMN was supposed to bring stability and a regular audience to the team but due to ambiguous wording CMN was able to finesse 90% of all ad revenue from Legion content. The 10 year deal with Golden Nugget Casino to advertise on stadium tarps was supposed to be a crafty way of creating revenue while covering up - literally and figuratively - the attendance problem the Legion had, instead they became the subject of countless late night TV punchlines.
Resolved to avoid being taken advantage of in the future, Biscuit accepted bids from several dozen construction companies to work on the stadium’s parking lot renovations and chose the cheapest bid - a savvy business decision - from El Vaquero, LLC. He was so impressed by their bid that he went a step further and gave them exclusive rights to all future stadium renovations. The next day the Las Vegas Review-Journal broke the story that El Vaquero had one just full time employee. Once again Biscuit and the Legion were a laughingstock.
With all the attendance issues and as it became clear that the parking lot renovations were never going to progress, Biscuit sold 69% of the lot space to Super Clean Energy, Inc. as part of an effort to make the Las Vegas Legion more environmentally-friendly. After a major media blitz and advertising regiment, which included a brief dalliance with changing the Legion to a predominantly green color scheme, Super Clean Energy built a large trash-burning energy plant on the land, covering the stadium in a foul stench.
Increasingly desperate for money to renovate the stadium, Biscuit symbolically sold 49% of the Legion’s ownership shares to the city of Las Vegas for $1 in hopes of securing city funding to cover the renovations. Needless to say, no public funding came.
After misstep after misstep, Biscuit decided to take a long European vacation to unwind and decide where to go from there but first he needed to go somewhere warm and beachy, hence Brazil. There had been rumblings in the Nevada state senate about seizing the team under eminent domain and before he left there had been an urgent message from payroll in his inbox. Enough was enough, it was draining being the owner of a professional franchise.
As he lounged on the beach eyeing the passing mademoiselles his phone started vibrating. Ignore. It started buzzing again a few minutes later. Ignore. It was nearly time for dinner and whoever it was surely didn’t have anything important to say. What could possibly be important during the offseason? Again his phone went off. Biscuit angrily threw it into the ocean and gathered his things. He would have his disconnected vacation and everyone else would just have to suck it up.
“Without further adieu, I’m pleased to announce that Wyatt Fulton, Philippe Carter, Wallace Stone, Connor Tanner, Jimmy Cox, Vinny Cox, and Jon Ross will be retiring following Season 5!”
As the stunned press looked on, the players behind Tanner stepped to the microphones one by one and said simply “I retire” before stepping aside to let someone else come forward.
Fans of the league, fans of sports in general, and simply fans of drama were glued to their television sets to watch this spectacle. No one could remember so many members of the same team retiring in tandem like this - and not just retiring in tandem but retiring in tandem a full season in advance.
We didn’t know this at the time but 80% of the Legion’s front office staff quit that day. They were tired of being part of a laughingstock franchise yes, they were concerned about the future of the team yes, but above all else they were tired of getting paid late, if at all. Payroll had been in shambles for nearly the entire duration of the Legion franchise and those at the top had stuck their head in the sand. Empowered by the players’ symbolism, the team’s staff was gutted.
The feeding frenzy commenced. For a solid hour it seemed nothing else was discussed in the country. Above all all the din, though, one question could not be answered: why?
“Hello, thank you for coming. I have an urgent announcement to make.”
For the second time that day, the media that had descended upon Las Vegas were summoned to a surprise statement.
“It has come to my attention that my name was included in the recent retiring of Las Vegas Legion players. That is not true, I have no intention of retiring. I love this team and cannot stress enough that I am not retiring.”
The words were spoken by the Legion’s quarterback of the future, Wallace Stone, who had been mentioned at Tanner’s announcement earlier but was not in attendance. This was a wild twist in an already bizarre story and of course conspiracy theories reigned supreme.
Polin Poward was in his Boston studio preparing to go on air for his 3 to 7pm time slot when he saw Stone’s announcement and more importantly, saw an opportunity. Poward is and was a particularly ignorant radio personality but had carefully cultivated an incredibly loyal fan base who saw him as a breath of fresh air in a media landscape that was carefully controlled and manipulated by the NSFL head office. Most right thinking football fans disregarded what he had to say out of hand but this day would be different.
“Hello and welcome to another great episode of ‘What's the Word? With Polin Poward’ and boy do we have a juicy show today. As I’m sure all of you have, I’ve been following this Las Vegas Legion story and I have to tell ya, the more I dig the more bizahh
,” the carefully placed Boston accent was crucial to his persona, “it becomes. And this latest revelation that Stone isn’t retiring after all. Whoa what a bombshell that was. The Legion would’ve been dead in the water without their young quarterback… mighty convenient isn’t it?”
And with that he was off. Diving into specious and incredibly thin evidence that the head office had bribed, blackmailed, and otherwise cajoled Stone into unretiring in order to make the team more attractive because their plan all along was to force Biscuit to sell the Legion, and they wouldn’t be able to command the same fee for a quarterbackless and hapless franchise. Tens of thousands of football fans across the country listened intently and were swayed by Poward. What had the NSFL promised Stone? Was the integrity of the league damaged now?
They would soon have their answer.