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8 Underappreciated Undefeated Seasons

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By now, you're probably aware that the New England Patriots are one win away from knocking the 1972 Miami Dolphins from their perch as the only NFL team to finish a season undefeated. If it happens, Tom Brady and Co. will also join this abbreviated list of sports history's other notable (and not-as notable) undefeated teams:

1. 1948 Cleveland Browns

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Coached by their namesake, Paul Brown, the Cleveland Browns were the model franchise of the All-American Football Conference. The Browns compiled a 52-4-3 and won all four titles during the league's existence, including a perfect season in 1948 that was capped by a 49-7 win over Buffalo. (Apparently the Bills' inability to win the big game wasn't just an early 90s fad.) The Browns' dominance actually helped contribute to the downfall of the AAFC, as the team was so good that Cleveland fans stopped coming to games. It's a wonder that Patriots games sold out this season.

An afterthought because: The NFL doesn't recognize the Browns' perfect season, or any other AAFC records.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Fittingly, Cleveland's first AAFC game was against the franchise from the city associated with pro football perfection since 1973. The Browns stomped the Miami Seahawks, 44-0.

2. 2007 Bronx Gridlock

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The Queens of Pain rolled into the City College gym seeking a third-straight Gotham Girls Roller Derby championship, but members of the Bronx Gridlock weren't about to let a royal pain get in the way of their quest for perfection. According to this incredibly detailed account of the game, the Gridlock held off a fierce rally, as the Queens of Pain made up 31 points in four jams. Ultimately, the loss of Greta Turbo, who fractured her tibia and fibula in practice, was too much for the Queens of Pain to overcome, and Beatrix Slaughter's 32 points carried the Bronx to victory. [Photo courtesy of Derby News Network.]

An afterthought because: For most people, jam is something you put on toast or do with a guitar.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: How physically brutal is roller derby? The Bronx Gridlock's perfect season consisted of exactly three bouts.

3. 1986 Texas Women's Basketball

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Jody Conradt's Texas Longhorns completed the first perfect season in women's college basketball history with a 97-81 win over Cheryl Miller and Southern California in the championship game. The Longhorns also defeated Missouri, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and Western Kentucky en route to the title in the 40-team tournament. Texas freshman Clarissa Davis was named the "Most Outstanding Player" after registering 56 points and 32 rebounds in two Final Four games.

An afterthought because: In addition to the fact that women's basketball had even fewer casual fans at the time, Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies have attained perfection two times within the last 13 years.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Clarissa Davis, who later became Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, was ejected from the inaugural American Basketball League all-star game in 1996 for punching Cindy Brown.

4. 1939 LIU Brooklyn Men's Basketball

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Legendary head coach Clair Bee led the Long Island University Blackbirds "“ or Busy Bees, as they were more often called "“ to a 31-0 record in 1939. LIU capped its perfect season with a win over Loyola of Chicago in the championship game of the NIT, which was then the premier college basketball postseason tournament. After LIU cruised to yet another win at Madison Square Garden midway through the season, Arthur J. Daley wrote in The New York Times, "The last lingering doubts about the sheer class of the Long Island University basketball team fled like chaff before the wind on Wednesday when Coach Clair Bee's Busy Bees turned back Marquette in a game of such superlative mechanical excellence that court fans are still talking about it."

An afterthought because: It's hard to shake the stigma that the NIT has developed since 1939.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Bee led LIU to a 43-game winning streak from 1935-1936 (the 1936 team is pictured above). The streak was snapped at Madison Square Garden, as Stanford's Hank Luisetti introduced a "strange new maneuver" to the sport of basketball "“ the jump shot.

5. 1992-2003 De La Salle Football

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The Concord, Calif., high school won an absurd 151 straight games and was named national champion by USA Today five times from 1992-2003 before losing to Bellevue (Wash.) 39-20. The Spartans' undoing in defeat? They couldn't stop the run, as Bellevue rushed 54 times for 463 yards. Afterward, De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur told reporters it was time for his team to lose: "I'm all for there being a lot of king of the hills, not just one." Can you imagine Bill Belichick uttering those words?

An afterthought because: It's high school football.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: De La Salle graduates in this year's Super Bowl include New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer and New England Patriots backup quarterback Matt Gutierrez, who is pictured above.

6. 1951 University of San Francisco Football

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After punctuating their perfect regular season with a 20-2 win over Loyola of Los Angeles, the 9-0 Dons waited anxiously for a bowl invite that never came. While some bowl officials claimed they passed over the team because the Dons weren't well enough known to draw fans to their games, San Francisco sportscaster Ira Blue reported that Gator Bowl President Sam Wolfson said his bowl, and at least two others, wanted to avoid teams with "Negro" players. USF boasted two African-Americans, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler, and the Dons refused to accept invites that came with the stipulation that Matson and Toler had to stay home.

An afterthought because: Without the money that a trip to a bowl game would've brought in, USF dropped football after the 1951 season.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Nine players from the 1951 USF team went on to play in the NFL, including future Hall of Fame inductees Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair, and Matson. Toler suffered a career ending injury in 1952, but later became the first African-American official in the NFL.

7. 1993 Buffalo Bandits

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One year after winning a championship in their inaugural season, the Buffalo Bandits defeated Philadelphia 13-12 in the championship game of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League to cap its 10-0 season. Buffalo remains the only team to finish a season undefeated in the history of the league, which later became the National Lacrosse League. The general manager of that team, Johnny Mouradian, will be elected into the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame later this month.

An afterthought because: You probably can't name another team in the National Lacrosse League.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Darris Kilgour, Buffalo's first ever draft pick in 1992, now coaches the Bandits.

8. 1998 Raleigh Wings

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Women's national soccer team captain Carla Overbeck and fellow UNC graduate Robin Confer helped lead Raleigh of the W-League to a 17-0 record in 1998. Confer had two goals in the tournament and garnered MVP honors for Raleigh, which defeated the Boston Renegades in the championship game.

An afterthought because: The franchise is now defunct, among other reasons.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Overbeck would go on to play every minute of every game for the U.S. National team in the 1999 World Cup. She scored the first goal of the penalty kick shootout that ended with teammate Brandi Chastain's memorable game-winner in the final against China.

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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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