One of the stranger origins for a sports team in recent memory is the franchise now known as the Anaheim Ducks. Disney gained the rights to launch that team as a NHL expansion franchise in December 1992, and unveiled the “Mighty Ducks of Anaheim” name in March 1993, based on their 1992 The Mighty Ducks movie. But there were a lot of rough years for that team early on, plus some odd Disney cross-promotional efforts. However, the 2002-03 season saw them make an incredible underdog run from the seventh seed in the Western Conference all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (where they fell in seven games to the New Jersey Devils).
The Ducks would eventually win that trophy in 2007, following the 2005 sale of the franchise to Henry and Susan Samueli and the 2006 renaming of the team to the Anaheim Ducks. But their origins, Disney era and 2003 run are definitely worth examination of their own. And that’s now coming from their former corporate sibling, ESPN. The network is set to explore that period in a E:60 installment premiering June 11, titled “Once Upon A Time In Anaheim.” ESPN’s John Buccigross tweeted a trailer for that Friday:
Everyone loves an underdog.
The true story of The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the NHL franchise pulled right off the pages of a Hollywood script.
‘Once Upon a Time in Anaheim’ – @E60 premieres June 11 on ESPN & E+
The future is bright in Anaheim under Pat Verbeek.… pic.twitter.com/JfOUZ70iBJ
— BucciOT.Com (@Buccigross) June 2, 2023
There’s lots of interesting stuff in there, including a bunch of those wild early moments. Those range from duck calls at the team’s introductory press conference to a dancing candlestick (from Beauty and the Beast) to team mascot Wild Wing (who inspired a character in Disney’s later Mighty Ducks: The Animated Series) falling while trying to jump over a wall of fire and setting his costume ablaze.
There’s also a good lineup of interviewees in that trailer, including then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, star goalie Jean-Sébastien Giguère, team captain Paul Kariya, star forward Teemu Selanne, Mighty Ducks film series writer Steven Brill, and actor Shaun Weiss (who played goalie Greg Goldberg in those movies). And some of the Eisner stuff may be particularly interesting (and his “It was like a Disney movie” line here is great, given that this team came out of a Disney movie) considering some of the past stories of his obsession with the Ducks (and MLB’s Angels, who Disney owned from 1997-2005) while he was running Disney. A 2018 Sports Business Journal piece on Eisner had some great ones, including then-ESPN president George Bodenheimer talking about spending half a day with other top ESPN executives trying to set up a satellite feed so Eisner could watch a Ducks’ game from Prague:
“I remember spending half a day with Russell Wolff in international and Chuck Pagano, our engineer. We were trying to figure out where he was and how we could get a satellite feed to him so that he could watch his Ducks game in a hotel in Prague. I believe we succeeded.”
So there’s a lot of potential here. And it looks like this E:60 piece will cover everything from the early follies to that magical Giguère-led run to the Stanley Cup Finals. So there’s appeal here for a wide audience, from those curious about the days when Disney ran their own sports teams to those interested in just how the Mighty Ducks franchise spawned a NHL team to those eager to look back at that Cup run. We’ll see how Once Upon a Time in Anaheim turns out.