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8 Franchise Relocations That Fell Through

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On Tuesday night, ESPN aired Barry Levinson's The Band that Wouldn't Die, the second installment of its 30 for 30 documentary series. Levinson's film tells the story of the Baltimore Colts' marching band, a group that continued marching in Baltimore even after the team relocated to Indianapolis in 1984. While we were watching the grim tale of sports franchise relocation, we wondered what other moves almost happened, but fell through. Here are a few moves that nearly changed the landscape of sports:

1 & 2. The Seattle White Sox (or Florida White Sox)

soxThe South Siders have almost hit the road on two separate occasions during the last few decades. The first potential move came in the 1970s, after Bud Selig purchased the Seattle Pilots and moved the team to Milwaukee. While Selig's purchase wouldn't seem likely to directly affect the Sox, the sale nearly triggered a massive reshuffling of the American League. A plan emerged in 1975 for the White Sox to slide into the vacant Seattle market while the Athletics left Oakland for a new home in Chicago, a move that sort of made sense because longtime A's owner Charlie Finley was from the Chicago area.

That deal quickly fell through, but the team came even closer to leaving Chicago in 1988. After failing to secure funding for a taxpayer-supported new stadium, the team's ownership group eyed St. Petersburg as a potential new landing spot. Fans in Florida even started printing Florida White Sox shirts as it became increasingly clear the Sox would be moving to the Sunshine State. Indignant Chicago fans inundated St. Petersburg Mayor Robert Ulrich's mailbox with dirty pairs of white socks to let him know those were the only pieces of pale hosiery he'd be getting. Eventually, though, the state legislature relented in an eleventh-hour deal that saved the team $60 million in new construction costs and kept the White Sox in Chicago.

3. The Saskatoon Blues

bluesPet food company Ralston Purina bought the NHL's St. Louis Blues in 1977, but it had a tougher time marketing hockey than it did with kibble. The company lost around $1.8 million a year on the Blues during its ownership, but upper management didn't mind bleeding a little cash to keep a hockey team in St. Louis. However, following an internal power shift in 1983, Ralston Purina decided it no longer wanted any part of this white elephant and quit putting any money into the team. The Blues didn't even make any selections in the 1983 NHL Draft in Montreal; the team didn't even send a representative.

Obviously, Ralston Purina was hot to sell the team, and they found a buyer in Edmonton Oilers founder Bill Hunter. Hunter and his investment group planned to buy the team and move it to hockey-crazed Saskatoon. The NHL wasn't too keen to lose a big market like St. Louis, though, and nixed the deal. Eventually businessman Harry Ornest bought the team and kept it in St. Louis.

4. The St. Louis Patriots

Not everyone was trying to get out of St. Louis, though. In 1992, St. Louis native James Orthwein bought the New England Patriots with the hope of moving the franchise to his hometown. Orthwein, who was the great-grandson of Anheuser-Busch founder Adolphus Busch, never got his relocation act together, though, and in 1994 he sold the team to current owner Robert Kraft.

5. The Louisville Rockets

At the beginning of this decade, the Houston Rockets briefly flirted with a move to Louisville, KY. Although the move never got all that close to happening, it was memorable thanks to a rumor about the team's potential Louisville arena, a Kentucky Fried Chicken-sponsored home called "“ what else? "“ "The Bucket."

6 & 7. The Toronto Oilers and Edmonton Maple Leafs

Teams swap players all the time, but swapping cities? It almost happened in the NHL in 1980. At the time the Toronto Maple Leafs were hemorrhaging money with a lousy roster, and the Edmonton Oilers had a stacked squad that would end up winning five Stanley Cups over the course of the next decade.

According to Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, Leafs owner Harold Ballard called him up with a novel proposition: the teams would simply swap markets. The Oilers would move to Toronto and pay Ballard $50 million in cash for slipping into the bigger market, while the Leafs would take the Oilers' old spot in Edmonton. Pocklington wrote in his autobiography that he was all for the move, but Ballard got cold feet and backed out at the last minute.

8. The Memphis Hornets

The Memphis Grizzlies are right up there with the Los Angeles Clippers in the race for the dubious title of the NBA's biggest laughingstock, but they won at least one major battle this decade. On March 26, 2001, both the then-Vancouver Grizzlies and the moribund Charlotte Hornets applied to relocate to Memphis. When the NBA granted the Grizzlies the right to move to Elvis' old city, the Hornets had to scramble to find another landing place. After eyeing Norfolk, Louisville and St. Louis, the Hornets settled for New Orleans and moved to the Big Easy for the start of the 2002-2003 season.

And the Time the Colts & Rams Swapped Deeds

Who needs to swap cities when you can just swap deeds? It happened with the Colts and the Rams in 1972. Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom was tiring of owning an NFL team in Baltimore thanks to his squabbles with the local media and the Orioles' ownership. He did like owning a team, however. Rather than move the team, Rosenbloom would just have to get creative.

Enter Robert Irsay, who was considering becoming a minority owner in any deal to buy the Colts. Irsay and Rosenbloom came up with a clever way to make everyone happy: Irsay would buy the L.A. Rams. Irsay then traded the deed to the Rams for the deed to the Colts and $3 million in cash. Just like that, the teams changed hands without moving an inch. Irsay, of course, would become Baltimore's number one public enemy in 1984 when he moved the Colts to Indianapolis.

[Mayflower/Baltimore Colts image credit: Lloyd Pearson, Baltimore Sun]

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Big Questions
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

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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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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