5 Sports Franchises That Folded

Tina Thompson of the Comets shoots a free throw.
Tina Thompson of the Comets shoots a free throw.
Otto Greule, GETTY IMAGES

It's not uncommon for a sports franchise to move to another city. Before this season, for example, the NBA's Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder. But it's rare for a franchise to pack it in and fold entirely. Here are some examples of teams who called it quits.

1. Cleveland Spiders (folded in 1899)

Established in 1887, the Spiders were a respectable team for most of their existence before falling victim to their owner's brash stupidity. Unhappy with what he perceived as lousy attendance in Cleveland, Frank Robison purchased a second National League team, the St. Louis Perfectos, in 1899. Robison then transferred most of Cleveland's stars, including Cy Young, to St. Louis. The moves essentially turned Cleveland, which was coming off a fifth-place finish, into a minor league team. The result was predictable.

Cleveland finished a historically awful 20-134, 84 games behind first-place Brooklyn and 35 games behind the next worst team, Washington. Attendance was so bad at the Spiders' home games "“ an average of 179 fans per game at League Park "“ that teams refused to travel to Cleveland. As a result, the Spiders played the final 36 games of the season on the road and lost all but one of them. The Spiders were one of four teams contracted from the National League after the 1899 season. A team based in Cleveland joined the American League, which was a minor league at the time, in 1900.

2. Montreal Wanderers (folded in 1918)

The Wanderers were founded in 1903, won five Stanley Cups by 1910, and, despite facing financial trouble, joined the NHL for its inaugural season in 1917. The Wanderers won their first NHL game, but competing with the Canadiens for the attention of Montrealers, the fan turnout was poor. With only 12 players, the Wanderers lost their next three games by a combined score of 29-7 and owner Sam Lichtenhein threatened to withdraw the team from the league if he couldn't sign reinforcements. Help eventually arrived in the form of players from other leagues, but personnel issues, it turned out, would be the least of the Wanderers' problems.

On January 2, 1918, Montreal's 20-year old home rink, Montreal Arena, burned down. The team disbanded immediately. While their time in the league was short-lived, the Wanderers managed to make a bit of history that didn't involve its arena being reduced to ashes. Wanderers forward Dave Ritchie is credited with scoring the NHL's first goal.

3. Chicago Tigers (folded in 1920)

According to some accounts, the Tigers folded after their only season in the American Professional Football Association to fulfill a promise they made to Chris O'Brien, the owner of the cross-town rival Chicago Cardinals. O'Brien didn't think the Windy City was big enough for two teams, so he suggested the Tigers and Cardinals make a wager on their second meeting of the 1920 season: the loser would agree to drop out of the league. The teams had played to a scoreless tie in their previous meeting, but the Cardinals won the battle for city exclusivity, 6-3. John "Paddy" Driscoll (pictured) scored the game's only touchdown on a 40-yard run.

Some football historians question the validity of the story, as O'Brien seemed to welcome George Halas' request to move the league's Decatur Staleys to Chicago the following season. The Staleys became the Chicago Bears in 1922 and the Bears eventually drove O'Brien and the Cardinals out of Chicago. The Tigers' greatest legacy remains helping start the tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving, when they lost to the Staleys on November 25, 1920.

4. Baltimore Bullets (folded in 1954)

The Bullets, who began play in the American Basketball League, joined the NBA in 1949. They became the last and longest-tenured team to disband from the NBA in 1954, after starting the season 3-11. Former Wyoming standout Ken Sailors (who popularized the jump shot), head coach Clair Bee (who led Long Island University to two undefeated seasons), and player/coach Buddy Jeannette were three of the more notable figures in the franchise's brief history.

When the Bullets disbanded, all but four of Baltimore's players were picked up by other NBA teams. One of the four players who were left unexpectedly unemployed was the late Al McGuire, who was hired as an assistant coach at Dartmouth the next year. McGuire would go on to win a national championship as a head coach at Marquette and enjoyed a successful broadcasting career before losing his battle with cancer in 2001. Unlike the Comets, the Bullets were never the class of the NBA. They compiled a 112-244 record before "“ to borrow one of McGuire's memorable phrases "“ the carnival gates were closed on the franchise.

5. Houston Comets (folded in 2008)

The WNBA's Houston Comets disbanded earlier this month after the league decided it wouldn't be able to complete the sale of the once-proud franchise to a new ownership group by the start of the 2009 season. Houston's players were reallocated among the league's 13 remaining teams through a dispersal draft. The Comets won the first four WNBA titles from 1997-2000 with stars Tina Thompson, Cynthia Cooper, and Sheryl Swoopes, but attendance waned in recent years as the team missed the playoffs in three of its last five seasons.

* * * * *

Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?

Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT
Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT

Before anyone brings home the hardware, let's answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman's Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn't really Heisman's Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer—he consistently received rotten reviews—and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere—in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago's Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

Possibly, but Heisman didn't have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists—Vinny Testaverde won that year—and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time."

What's a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

Steve Spurrier playing quarterback in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Steve Spurrier playing quarterback for the University of Florida in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol' Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida's student government thought Spurrier's generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he'd get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World's Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman's Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn't show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren't totally clear—some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion—the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

Attention Football Fans: The Buffalo Bills Are Paying People $12 an Hour to Clear the Stadium of Snow

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are asking fans to prove just how dedicated they are following a snowstorm in western New York this week. As Buffalo News reports, New Era Field is hiring snow shovelers to clear out the stands and the field in time for Sunday's game—and it's offering free tickets as an incentive.

This Friday, workers will be paid $12 an hour to remove snow from the stadium—a $1 pay increase from last season. Shovelers who complete at least a four-hour shift will receive a free ticket to the game against the New York Jets on Sunday, December 9. They're encouraged to bring their own shovel, but tools will be provided to whomever shows up without one.

According to Weather.com, Buffalo has the worst weather of any NFL city, with intense cold, wind, and snowfall throughout the season. In November 2014, a storm buried Buffalo under nearly 7 feet of snow, with 220,000 tons of it ending up in New Era Field. Locals were also called upon to lend a hand and a shovel that time around, but as no one could leave their homes, the game had to be relocated. The Bills ended up beating the Jets 38-3 in the Detroit Lions’s indoor arena.

With a few home games still scheduled for this season, it's possible that local snow shovel owners may be asked to help out again if they miss this opportunity.

[h/t Buffalo News]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER