What Your Favorite Teams Were Almost Called

iStock
iStock

If you're a sports fan, you know the nicknames and mascots of every team in the leagues you follow. If you're a die-hard fan, you probably even know what the teams used to be called. ("Washington Wizards? Please. They'll always be the Bullets to me.") But do you know what your favorite teams were almost called?

When an expansion team enters a league or an existing team relocates, it picks a new moniker, ideally one that will look good on a t-shirt. The process of selecting a new name can be a protracted one, though, and the winning nickname often only gets the nod at the expense of several other less-inspired finalists. Let's have a look at some team names that fans almost got to cheer for:

1. The Toronto Tarantulas

Few team names seem quite as dated as the Toronto Raptors'. The team started play in 1995 with a mascot that was obviously a nod to Jurassic Park, which had destroyed box-office records a couple of years earlier. However, looking at the list of names the Toronto franchise could have chosen, the Raptors seems like a terrific choice. The other nine finalists were the Tarantulas, Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Scorpions, T-Rex, and Terriers. "The Hogs" makes sense since Toronto's historic nickname is Hogtown, but it lacks a certain menace and would have been catastrophic when the team picked Oliver Miller in the expansion draft. The rest of the finalists, however, look largely like they were culled from a list of things 13-year-old boys think are awesome, so kudos on picking the Raptors name. (This decision might mark the last time a franchise under Isiah Thomas' direction made a wise choice.)

2. The Vancouver Mounties

When Vancouver got an NBA team for the 1995 season, the franchise wanted to call itself the Vancouver Mounties. The name seemed like a fitting tribute to the bravery of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The plan hit a snag, though, when the Mounties, no doubt skeptical of any cultural crossovers after Dudley Do-Right, made it clear that they didn't want their name slapped on the expansion franchise. The team quickly regrouped and picked the name the Grizzlies as a tribute to the bravery of Canada's many bears. You have to commend the Mounties on their foresight for avoiding this train wreck; the team fled to Memphis in 2001 and had an abysmal .329 winning percentage entering this season.

3. The Baltimore Marauders

When the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore for the 1996 NFL season, they couldn't bring their name with them. According to the settlement the team reached with the city of Cleveland for swiping the beloved franchise, the Browns' nickname, color scheme, and history stayed put when the team bolted for Baltimore. The now-nameless squad had a series of phone polls and fan surveys to whittle its list of 17 possible names down to three: the Americans, the Marauders, and the Ravens. Over 30,000 fans then voted for the name they liked best, and "the Ravens" won thanks to the city's connection to Edgar Allen Poe. It's probably good that the fans wisely passed on "The Americans," which would have made Kyle Boller's tumultuous stint as starter a national shame rather than a regional problem.

4. The New York Borros

The New York Jets began their life as the New York Titans in the American Football League. When Hollywood honcho Sonny Werblin and oil tycoon Leon Hess bought the team in 1963, though, they decided the team needed a new name. According to a contemporary New York Times story, they considered the Dodgers, but nixed the idea after Major League Baseball didn't like it. "The Gothams" also got some consideration, but the team didn't like the idea of having it shortened to the Goths because "you know they weren't such nice people." (Yeah, but couldn't you just see Vinny Testaverde winning a playoff game, then sacking Byzantium?)

The last finalist to fall was "the New York Borros," a pun on the city's boroughs; the team worried that opposing fans would make the Borros-burros connection and derisively call the squad the jackasses. (Little did the Jets' forefathers know that their home fans would provide all of the booing and heckling a franchise could ever need.) Eventually the team became the Jets since it was going to play in Shea Stadium, which is close to LaGuardia Airport.

5. The Washington Sea Dogs

In 1995 Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin decided that he didn't want to keep fielding a team with such a violent name and decided to rechristen his franchise. A fan contest came up with five finalists: the Express, the Wizards, the Stallions, the Dragons, and the Sea Dogs. The Wizards wasn't a perfect choice since some fans thought it tied in to Ku Klux Klan mythology, but it was obviously a better choice than the Sea Dogs. One can only assume that this seafaring name got the ax when someone in the team's office realized that the District of Columbia doesn't actually sit next to a sea. Then again, they drafted Kwame Brown first overall, so maybe I'm giving the team too much credit here.

6. The San Antonio Gunslingers

When the ABA's Texas Chaparrals moved to San Antonio in 1973, the team was renamed the San Antonio Gunslingers. The team dropped this name before ever playing a game, presumably because the image was violent even by firearm-related mascot standards. Instead, the owners picked a tamer name that still tapped into the region's cowboy past: the San Antonio Spurs.

7. The Florida Flamingos
Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga told the New York Times in 1993 that he had considered naming the team the Florida Flamingos.

8. The Orlando Juice
Before the NBA's Orlando Magic had a name, the other finalists were "the Heat," "the Juice," and "the Tropics."

9. The Charlotte Spirit
The Charlotte Hornets originally had this name before switching to their insect moniker as a tribute to the city's angry resistance of British forces during the Revolutionary War.

10. The Minnesota Blue Ox
The NHL's Minnesota Wild were almost the Blue Ox, the Freeze, the Voyageurs, the Northern Lights, or the White Bears.

11. The New York Skyliners
Before the New York Mets started play in 1962, they considered a list of names that included the Skyliners, the Skyscrapers, the Bees, the Burros, the Continentals, and the Jets.

The Time Baby Ruth Sued Babe Ruth

Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1920, the Curtiss Candy Company introduced the Baby Ruth candy bar, causing a certain baseball player with a very similar name to take notice. Babe Ruth was having a monstrous year—his 54 home runs in the 1920 season were more than any other team in the American League. If you were going to misappropriate someone’s name for a candy bar, Ruth’s was a logical choice.

Sensing opportunity, the Great Bambino struck back by creating his own Babe Ruth Home Run Bar. Curtiss quickly sued Ruth’s company for trademark infringement. But what happened next was surprising: When the Sultan of Swat accused the company of using his name, Curtiss feigned shock. Its bar was named after “Baby” Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland.

For years, this has been the oft-repeated explanation, but the argument makes no sense. Cleveland had been out of office for more than two decades and dead for 12 years when the bar debuted. “Baby” Ruth herself had died of diphtheria in 1904, at just 12 years old. Although the country’s most famous baseball star would seem much more likely to have a namesake candy than a former president's departed child, the courts sided with Curtiss.

When Ruth learned of the verdict, he bellowed, “Well, I ain’t eatin’ your damned candy bar anymore!” Somehow, the Baby Ruth bar survived without his support.

10 Winning Facts about Wheaties

General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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