If you don’t know Ed Tepper, you should because if it wasn’t for him you wouldn’t be reading this article now. The Major Indoor Soccer League is not around anymore, but the 2017/18 MASL season will be the 40th winter of professional indoor soccer, and the sport owes Tepper a great debt of gratitude.
As the story goes, Tepper attended a Philadelphia Atoms and Soviet Red Army game at the Spetrum on February 11, 1974 and fell in love with indoor soccer’s potential as a sport. He and Earl Foreman would go on to create the MISL together.
Fate can be a tricky thing. Tepper wasn’t even there to see the game that night in Philadelphia. At the time he owned the Philadelphia Wings team in the original National Lacrosse League.
Tepper recalls, “I was up in Toronto for box lacrosse and (Philadelphia Flyers owner and Comcast Spectacor chairman) Ed Snider called me and said, ‘If you can catch a plane there’s an indoor soccer game at the Spectrum and I want you to see the turf.’ I didn’t go to see the game. Box lacrosse was played on wood and this was astroturf so I flew in and saw it and said, ‘This could be a great sport.'”
Tepper, whose primary career was (and still is) residential real estate, needed a crash course in the soccer business. “One of the things I did, I got myself involved with the NASL just to find out what soccer was like and the business of soccer,” said Tepper. “I ran the Philadelphia Atoms for a group out of Guadalajara for one season and I found out the NASL was just dysfunctional and there was no great following for outdoor soccer, plus there was no opportunity for the American player.
“We wanted all American players and what happened is they were used to outdoor soccer so in the games in the early years they would take a shot and hit it into the third deck, but they got better.”
“Putting that together I needed someone to do it with and Ed said, ‘Why don’t you contact my brother-in-law Earl Foreman and see if you can convince him to do it?’ So I went to Washington and we spoke and we met with Ed, and Ed came up with the idea that we would go and tie up the arenas because that’s the real estate.”
The NASL had been playing indoor soccer exhibition games and had their own plans for an indoor league. When Tepper was tipped off that the NASL was going to delay their indoor launch another year, the MISL group acted quickly to beat them to market.
Snider was an instrumental player in the formation of the MISL, but never owned a team himself. “Ed Snider’s whole life was the Philadelphia Flyers,” said Tepper. “What Ed did for us when Earl and I came up with the idea we wanted to meet with the arenas, Ed set up a meeting at Madison Square Garden with the six arenas, plus a few others.”
Tepper and Foreman were already acquainted before they partnered on the MISL. “His whole family knows my family,” Tepper said. “We were at all our social functions together.”
The game Tepper saw in Philadelphia in 1974 was not the same game that is played today. “The goals were 4′ x 16′ then. Walt Chyzowych was in my office and I hired Walt to be a soccer consultant. I told Walt, ‘We gotta get the scissor kick into the game.’ I said, ‘The goal has to be raised up,’ and he said, ‘Do you have a tape measure? Let’s make it the size of the wall behind the desk.’ Anybody who says they were involved in indoor soccer, indoor soccer was only when the goals became 6′ 6″ x 12. That’s what made indoor soccer.”
Tepper remembers the beginning of the MISL fondly, “We had good owners and people who would work with Earl and I. We were like a family and we all wanted to see it happen so somehow we got it off the ground.”
The MISL made an early splash by signing goalkeeper Shep Messing to the league’s first contract.
“Earl and I went after the number one American player and signed him,” Tepper says. “We signed him to a contract and later gave the contract to the New York Arrows, but Shep was terrific for the league. He was absolutely great. Earl and I sat down with him and his dad. We paid him $50,000. That was a lot back then The idea was we could make an announcement that Shep Messing is going to play indoor soccer in the MISL and that sort of took the Cosmos and New York and the NASL and it was something they weren’t happy about. We were at war and he was a trophy.”
The MISL kicked off on December 22, 1978. Foreman was the league’s first Commissioner and Tepper was Deputy Commissioner. “We didn’t flip a coin. Earl was older than me, that’s how he got it,” Tepper says with a laugh. “We worked like brothers. He was the best. He was well-respected and he did a great job.”
“As Earl said, ‘There’s no pride in authorship’. We loved each other. Earl would say, ‘If you didn’t have the idea it would have never happened.’
Bob Wussler, one-time head of CBS sports was a friend. “Bob got us on something called the Hughes Sports Network. They would take our games and sell them around the country. When people saw this sport on TV they would contact the office and they had an interest in buying a franchise.”
The MISL grew from six teams in 1978/79 to 12 teams by its third year and Tepper stepped out of the front office. “I had the rights to a franchise and I took Meadowlands,” he says, referring to the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey. “At that point if you ask someone about Meadowlands, that was going to be bigger than Madison Square Garden and the Spectrum. I thought that was going to be good for not only me, but the league.”
The New Jersey Rockets lasted only one season (and were later sold and moved to Dallas, where they became the Dallas Sidekicks franchise, debuting in the 1984/85 season) and they did not have the arena to themselves because, in what would seem preposterous today, the arena also leased dates to the NASL’s New York Cosmos that season.
“The NASL decided to get teams together to stop me and Earl. It was like a war,” Tepper says. “They got the Cosmos to play indoor. At that point the Cosmos were soccer in the United States. They had Giorgio Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto playing, so that didn’t work out (laughs).”
“I went home and did what I know best, I bought apartment buildings. But I always kept my finger on the sport and there was a time I went to a league meeting and saw this thing was falling apart and I called Earl, I said, ‘You gotta come back.’ He said, ‘Will you come back with me?’, I said ‘No (laughs). My kids are used to seeing me, my wife likes me, I can’t do it again.'”
The MISL folded in 1992, but Tepper would eventually get back into the sport in 1995 when he started the Philadelphia KiXX in the National Professional Soccer League.
Tepper, who has three sons and six grandchildren, is contemplating writing a memoir about his life in indoor soccer.
One story that needs further exploring is one he tells about how NFL owners Al Davis and Carroll Rosenbloom met with him about indoor soccer. They were planning to get all the NFL owners to each have their own indoor team to “stick it to Pete Rozelle” who forbade NFL owners from also owning sports teams in other leagues. Tepper was leery about their plan, but kept the door open until Rosenbloom shockingly drowned in 1979.
He has led an interesting life, meeting everyone from Dr. Jerry Buss to actor Gabe Kaplan, to Donald Trump. He considered former New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin a mentor.
Tepper lost two of his best friends within a year. Snider died on April 11 last year and Foreman died on January 23 of this year. “I spoke to Earl two weeks before he died,” Tepper said. “He told me he loved me and I loved him. The bottom line is I couldn’t have done it without him and he says he couldn’t have done it without me but I think he could have (laughs).”
Tepper, now 79, has graduated to a walker while recovering from back surgery. He was voted into the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame in 2014 and regularly follows the MASL on Facebook from his Philadelphia home.
He recently flew out to Las Vegas as a guest of the Legends, who hosted the Mexican National Futbol Rapido Team on July 1. Tepper kicked out the first ball and was enormously grateful to be remembered. Indoor soccer is his “baby.”
“All the kids that play the game now are as important as the pro leagues,” Tepper says, referring to the thousands of indoor soccer facilities that have sprung up in North America, where as many as five million people play the sport annually.
He thinks highly of Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale, who he knows from the NPSL days.
“I think the league now is doing a lot of things right,” Tepper says. “I want to get more involved to know the people. I’m not going to get back in it, but it makes me feel good to know that it’s around.”