The team was born at the Super Bowl. Philly construction tycoon Tom McCloskey was in LA for the 1973 Super Bowl with 8 friends, but couldn’t find a ticket. Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt heard about McCloskey’s dilemma and scrounged him up 9 tickets. Hunt, an NASL owner as well as NFL owner, then persuaded McCloskey to buy an North American Soccer League team and put it in Philly.
Other than the Flyers,Philadelphia’s pro franchises at that point were a joke. The 1972-73 Sixers were wrapping up a 9-73 season, the worst in NBA history. The Phillies were coming off that famous 1972 season, where Steve Carlton recorded 27 of their 59 wins. Over the previous 5 seasons, the Eagles had gone a combined 17-49-5. So Philadelphians were excited by the prospect of a potential winner, and a league record 21,700 attended the team’s home opener. The team would finish the season averaging over 11,000 fans per contest, by far the best in the league. The fans delighted in the scrappy play of the squad, particularly the 5’5″ sparkplug Andy “The Flea” Provan and stingy rookie goalkeeper Bob Rigby. Coach Al Miller led a fast moving offense that was fun to watch, and the Atoms went 9-2-8 on the season, good enough for 2nd in the league after the Dallas Tornadoes.
The Atoms knocked off the Toronto Metros 3-0 in the playoff semifinals, then took on Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornadoes in the championship game. Bill Straub, a Philly native who was pressed into action after not playing for the team all season, scored a goal, Dallas kicked another one into their own net, and Bill Rigby shut down the powerful Dallas offense. Philadelphia was NASL champion in their first season of existence, and Rigby became the first soccer player to ever be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You can watch highlights of that game here.
It was a rapid rise to the top, and an equally quick fall. They would never make the playoffs again, and after a promising start, the team folded in 1976. A new NASL team, the Philadelphia Fury, would begin play in 1978.