There was a time when the Racine Raiders used to open their season in early July and play into November or even December.
Older Raiders fans likely remember Nov. 26, 1988, when Racine won the American Football Association national championship with a 5-3 victory over the Brooklyn Mariners. A crowd estimated at 6,300 was on hand during that rainy night at Horlick Field, when Steve Schonert connected on a game-winning 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Those days are over, at least for the foreseeable future. The 2019 Raiders schedule, which was released this week, continues a trend of the season being played during the summer. And it’s even leaner this year.
After playing a total of 13 preseason and regular games last season, the Raiders have 11 on their schedule this season. The Raiders’ first game is June 1, compared to May 19 last season, and the Mid-States Football League playoffs should be wrapped up in early September.
“A lot of teams have a hard time getting players to commit after when college football starts,” Raiders president Matt Nelson said. “A lot of teams have players who coach on college and high school teams, so they prefer to be done when high school and college start. About half the league feels that way.”
Another issue is that most teams use high school fields, which have far more limited availability once the high school season starts.
Nelson, who is doubling as president of the MSFL this season, is not happy about those restrictions. As a tight end for the Raiders, he remembers those muddy, rainy showdowns in October and November, which he considers real football.
“I prefer the old school when we used to start in July and play through August, September and October, when high school, college and the NFL was being played,” Nelson said. “That’s how I feel about it. All of the owners in the league know that.”
There will be a different look to the MSFL schedule beyond fewer games.
Gone from the league are the Rockton Rush, Door County Destroyers and Quad City Raiders. Coming aboard will be the Southern Lakes Blue Devils, Fox Valley Force and Manitowoc County Mariners.
There has also been a realignment with the 14 MSFL teams. All seven Wisconsin teams will be placed in the Richhart Conference and the seven Illinois teams will be in the Thomas Conference. The one new team in that conference is the Midway Marauders.
Raiders longtime broadcaster Don Wadewitz singles out a stretch when three consecutive road games following what could be a difficult home encounter against the Force July 13 may define the season.
“That stretch after the Fourth of July weekend is going to be a particularly interesting one,” he said. “Fox Valley was always a good team in the Northern Elite Football League. You have the Manitowoc County Mariners, who won the Wisconsin State Football League, and they really wanted to step up their competition.
“The (Rock County) Rage made the playoffs last year in their first year in the MSFL and really showed that they can hang in there. And then you have the (Wisconsin) Hitmen, who were the runners-up in the league last year and were the champions the year before.
“I think that’s going to determine where the Raiders’ season goes in the conference.”