The Orlando Predators were a professional arena football team based in Orlando, Florida and member of the Arena Football League (AFL). The team was most recently owned by Orlando Predators LLC, a company owned by David A. Siegel, and played its home games at Amway Center.
The team was founded in 1991 as an expansion team of the AFL. The team advanced to the playoffs 19 consecutive seasons between 1992 and 2011, becoming the ArenaBowl champions in 1998 and 2000 during that span. The team suspended operations after the 2016 season. A new organization led by former Predator Kenny McEntyre obtained the Predators branding and relaunched the team in the National Arena League for the 2019 season.
The Orlando Predators franchise was awarded by the AFL to Davey Johnson, Tracy Allen and Mike McBath on February 14, 1991, and began play that same year, the only year until 2012 that the franchise missed the playoffs. In just their second season however, they advanced to ArenaBowl VI, only to fall to the Detroit Drive, who won their fourth title in five years. Annually among the league-leaders in attendance, they qualified for the playoffs in 18 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the original AFL. One noted administrator for the Predators was Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman, Jack Youngblood, who came to the Predators in 1995 as vice-president and then later, president of the organization. He was with the team through the 1999 season.
For much of their existence in the original AFL their head coach was Jay Gruden, younger brother of prominent National Football League coach Jon Gruden and now coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins. Jay Gruden was formerly an outstanding Arena Football quarterback, leading the Tampa Bay Storm to four ArenaBowl championships, and then served one year as offensive coordinator for the Nashville Kats prior to becoming head coach of the Predators. Jay was the first quarterback in the AFL Hall of Fame. Orlando won the ArenaBowl in 1998 and 2000 under Gruden's coaching. He then attempted a comeback as a player, but subsequently returned to coaching following the death of his head coach replacement, Fran Papasedero, in a car accident.
The Predators were undoubtedly one of the premier franchises in the history of the original AFL, and had a legendary rivalry with Tampa Bay, who moved to Tampa the same year the Predators formed. They have met twice in the ArenaBowl, with Tampa Bay winning in 1995 and Orlando winning in 1998. The rivalry, nicknamed the "War on I-4" after the interstate that connects the two cities, intensified when Gruden took over as Orlando's head coach.
Orlando and Tampa Bay each lasted longer in their markets than any other AFL franchise have, As of 2019. The Predators are unique in that they had played in their previous venue, Amway Arena, for 18 seasons in the AFL, longer than any other team. Amway Arena was often nicknamed "The Jungle" during Predators games due to the hostile environment from the fans, harsh smoke that filled the arena during the players intro, and a Guns N' Roses song which "welcomes" other teams followed by their impending death. They shared Amway Arena with the Orlando Magic of the NBA and the Orlando Titans of the NLL. The 2010 season was the Predators' 19th and final season at Amway Arena. The team moved to Amway Center, the new arena in Orlando, for the 2011 season. A Predators game was the final sporting event ever performed at Amway Arena.
The Predators played in the ArenaBowl a total of seven times, more than any other current team. If you include the Pittsburgh Gladiators' two ArenaBowl games before they moved to Tampa Bay, the Storm is the only team that has more (eight; six as the Storm).
During the 2007 season, the Predators inaugurated the "Predator Fan Hall of Fame". The inaugural inductees were Nancy Morris and Richard Grabe. Morris, who has been a superfan for over 20 years, is known to most of the team and the front office as "The PredMom", and was the president of the Orlando Predator In Your Face Fan Club. Grabe, who has been a superfan since 1991, is the creator of the "PredHeads" that were seen being worn by a select group of fans that sat in section 113 of the old Amway Arena. They're also known for their tailgating parties on "Predator Island" (located in the northeast corner of lot 4 of the centroplex). After moving to the new Amway Center, the majority of "PredHeads" sat in section 114, and tailgated under I-4 in lot 9.
The Predators maintained their organization and web presence after the AFL suspended operations in August 2009. On September 28, 2009, the Predators announced their return to play for the 2010 season as a member of the new Arena Football 1 league, until that league purchased the AFL's assets and assumed the AFL's history. With Jay Gruden obligated to the UFL by his contract with the Tuskers, eventually becoming the team's head coach, they hired former quarterback Pat O'Hara as their head coach for the 2010 season. When the schedule for the league's season was announced on December 31, 2009, the Predators were slated to return to action on April 9, 2010. In the 2010 season, the Predators finished with an 8–8 record. They qualified for the playoffs, but lost the conference championship to the Tampa Bay Storm by a single point as a last-second field goal attempt was unsuccessful.
With a 4–14 record in 2012 under first-year head coach Bret Munsey, the Predators missed the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural season in 1991. Following the end of the season, Munsey was released as head coach.
Under Doug Plank for the 2013 season, the Predators lost their first five games of the season. It was then that the team acquired veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia in a trade with the San Jose SaberCats. The Predators went on to win seven of their remaining thirteen games following the trade to finish the season with a 7–11 record, which was good enough to clinch a playoff berth. However, they were eliminated in the conference semifinals by the Philadelphia Soul. With two weeks remaining during the regular season, Brett Bouchy sold his controlling interest in the team to The Pearsall Holdings LP for an undisclosed amount. Plank retired following the season.
The Predators moved to CFE Arena on the campus of the University of Central Florida in 2014, after the Amway Center informed the team that they had defaulted on their lease for failing to meet attendance requirements. On December 25, 2013, the Predators announced that Rob Keefe would become the seventh coach in franchise history. In May 2014, it was announced that majority owner David Pearsall had sold the team to an undisclosed ownership group, but the team was taken over by the AFL. In July 2014, reports began to surface that David A. Siegel had purchased the franchise with the intent to move the team back into the Amway Center. On July 15, 2014, Siegel confirmed his purchase of the Predators.
On December 8, 2014, the Predators suspended head coach Rob Keefe with pay while an investigation was ongoing by the Orange County Sheriff's Office into accusations of domestic violence. The charges were since dropped.
During the week of June 18, 2016, the entire Arena Football League, including the hometown Predators, displayed patches and stickers "ORL" as a remembrance of the victims killed in the Pulse Nightclub massacre.
On October 12, 2016, the Orlando Predators announced they had suspended operations due to the reduced number of teams in the AFL and other pending disagreements with the league.
The Predators made Arena Football League history in consecutive weeks during the 1992 season:
- On June 13, 1992, the team defeated the San Antonio Force 50–0. San Antonio kicker Matt Frantz missed six field goals. This is the first game shutout in the history of indoor football. Although there have been shutouts in af2 and other indoor football leagues, it proved to be the only shutout ever recorded in the original AFL.
- On Friday, June 19, 1992, in a Week 4 road game against the Detroit Drive, quarterback Ben Bennett and the Predators trailed 42–32 with only 49 seconds left. In a miraculous feat of strength, Wide receiver / Defensive back Barry Wagner would catch two touchdown passes, get two two-point conversions, recover an onside kick, and made a game-ending tackle. With a safety added in, Orlando would win, 50–49. The comeback would become known as "The Miracle Minute". On the AFL's 20 Greatest Highlights Countdown, this comeback ranked #1.
The following Predators players were named to All-Arena teams:
- QB Ben Bennett (2), Joe Hamilton (1)
- FB/LB Paul McGowan (2), Rick Hamilton (1), Rupert Grant (1)
- WR T. T. Toliver (1), Greg Carr (1), Brandon Thompkins (1)
- WR/DB Barry Wagner (6), Bret Cooper (1)
- WR/LB Cory Fleming (2)
- DL Greg White (1), Daryl Cato-Bishop (1)
- OL/DL Webbie Burnett (1), Rusty Russell (1), Victor Hall (1), Rich McKenzie (1), B. J. Cohen (1), Ernest Allen (3), Jermaine Smith (1), E. J. Burt (1), Henry Taylor (1)
- LB Marlon Moye-Moore (1), Tanner Varner (1), Terence Moore (2)
- DB Kenny McEntyre (2), Rayshaun Kizer (2), Varmah Sonie (1)
- K Jorge Cimadevilla (2), Jay Taylor (1), Carlos Martinez, Mark Lewis (2)
- DS Durwood Roquemore (3), Chris Barber (2), Kenny McEntyre (6), Damon Mason (2)
- OS/KR Herkie Walls (1)
- KR Dominic Jones (1), Brandon Thompkins (2)
The following Predators players were named to All-Ironman teams:
- FB/LB Marlon Moye-Moore (2)
- WR/DB Barry Wagner (1)
- WR/LB Barry Wagner (1), Cory Fleming (2)
- OL/DL B. J. Cohen (1), Reggie Lee (1)
The following Predators players were named to All-Rookie teams:
- QB Craig Whelihan
- FB Odie Armstrong
- FB/LB Rick Hamilton
- WR/DB Javarus Dudley
- WR/LB Thabiti Davis
- OL/DL Connell Spain, E. J. Burt, Greg White
- OL Bobby Harris
- LB Lance Mitchell
- DB Rayshun Reed, Ahmad Carroll
- OS Siaha Burley, Travis McGriff
- K Nick Gatto, Jay Taylor