11 Expansion Teams That Just Missed the Cut

Washington Nationals.
Washington Nationals.
Getty Images

When the NFL expansion committee headed by current league commissioner Roger Goodell awarded franchises to Charlotte and Jacksonville in 1993, three other prospective teams with nicknames, logos, and color schemes already unveiled and season ticket deposits sold, were left disappointed. Here are the stories of those three (almost) teams and eight other failed expansion bids in various sports.

1. Memphis Hound Dogs (NFL, 1993)

The selection of Charlotte and Jacksonville left the prospective ownership group in Memphis, led by cotton magnate William “Billy” Dunavant, crying all the time. After Elvis Presley Enterprises, which controls the late singer’s licensing rights, became an investor, Dunavant nicknamed his prospective team the Hound Dogs. Not everyone was enamored with the idea, however. More than 70% of respondents to a poll in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal didn’t like the nickname, which was inspired by the hit single originally recorded in 1952 by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton and adapted by Elvis four years later. “We don’t see a wimpy little Hound Dog logo,” Presley Enterprises spokesman Todd Morgan told reporters. “It will be rough and tough just like Elvis. He had that element of danger about him.”

But the Hound Dogs never came to be. The city was awarded a Canadian Football League franchise in 1995, but the Mad Dogs (Presley Enterprises wasn’t an investor) folded after one season. Five years later, an American Basketball Association team called the Houn’Dawgs played a season in Memphis before disbanding.

2. Baltimore Bombers (NFL, 1993)

Baltimore was another city in the running for an expansion team in 1993. Charm City had been without an NFL team since 1983, when the Colts left town for Indianapolis. Retail executive Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass and Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer, the heads of the two prospective ownership groups of the Baltimore franchise, expressed interest in buying the Colts nickname from Indianapolis Colts owner Robert Irsay, but it wasn’t for sale. Rhinos was chosen as a replacement nickname, but the backlash from fans was so great that Weinglass and Glazer reopened the search.

While Ravens was the leading vote getter in a Baltimore Sun poll, the team feared a Ravens logo would too closely resemble the Atlanta Falcons’ logo, and ultimately decided on Bombers. “It’s a cowardly bird anyway,” Weinglass said of the Ravens nickname. “It’s a scavenger. I never read a book in my life and Edgar Allan Poe never met me.” Baltimore missed out on the NFL in 1993, but had a successful CFL team in 1994 and 1995. The NFL returned to the city before the 1996 season when the relocated Cleveland Browns franchise began play as the Baltimore Ravens.

3. St. Louis Stallions (NFL, 1993)

St. Louis was the third city that came oh-so-close to being awarded an expansion NFL team in 1993. St. Louis was considered one of the favorites to land a team and a local radio station wrote a fight song for the Stallions, who would wear purple and gold.

But the Gateway to the West, which was home to the Cardinals before they left for Phoenix after the 1987 season, missed out as the result of an internal dispute over the lease for the newly built Edward Jones Dome. After awarding one of the two expansion teams to Charlotte, the NFL delayed the announcement of the second city to give St. Louis’s prospective ownership group time to resolve its issues, but the Stallions never made it out of the stable. St. Louis didn’t have to wait long for an NFL team, though. Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere relocated the team to her native St. Louis before the 1995 season and kept the Rams nickname.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (NFL, mid-1970s)

The Hound Dogs’ unsuccessful bid wasn’t Memphis’s first brush with joining the NFL. In 1974, the city was named one of five finalists for an expansion team along with Honolulu, Phoenix, Seattle, and Tampa Bay. After Seattle and Tampa Bay were awarded teams, John Bassett moved his World Football League team from Toronto to Memphis and signed several NFL stars, including Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick. The team was wildly popular with local fans – Elvis reportedly attended a game – but the WFL folded in the middle of the 1975 season. Bassett immediately began a push to join the NFL, capping a season-ticket drive with a telethon that garnered 46,000 pledges.

The NFL wasn’t looking to add another team at the time, so Bassett filed a lawsuit against the league claiming that it violated antitrust laws by denying the Grizzlies, who were briefly known as the Southmen, entry into the NFL. By the time the courts ruled in favor of the league several years later, Bassett was owner of the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits. The NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001.

5. Hampton Roads Rhinos (NHL, 1997)

Hampton Roads, a metropolitan area in southeastern Virginia that includes Norfolk and Newport News, was one of nine candidates for NHL expansion in 1997. Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn, who led the bid, chose Rhinos as the team’s nickname and a color scheme of teal, purple, and blue. Shinn wowed the NHL expansion committee with a 14-minute video, which noted, among other things, that two-thirds of the United States population lives within 750 miles of Hampton Roads.

In the end, the region lost out, partly due to its relatively small television market. “We’re not in a position to deal with a market that size at this time, based on where the NHL is and where we need to expand in order to strengthen the league,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. Atlanta, Columbus, Nashville, and St. Paul, which were among the nine candidates, were awarded expansion franchises over the next few years.

6. Orlando SunRays (MLB, 1990)

In 1990, Major League Baseball solicited bids for two expansion teams to join the National League starting in the 1993 season. The last time the league expanded was 1977, when the Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League. Orlando was one of six cities chosen as a finalist and the only one without an existing stadium for its prospective team to call home. But the Orlando bid had the backing of Amway Corp. president Richard DeVos. It also had a nickname (SunRays), color scheme (quicksilver, electric blue, and SunRay magenta), and a manager in waiting (Bob Boone.) “We’re up on everybody with the nickname and the logo,” SunRays president Pat Williams said. As one reporter noted, the logo, designed by the same advertising firm that created the logo for the Orlando Magic, was “strikingly similar to the logo used by Paramount Pictures Corporation for its recent baseball movie, Major League.”

While the shades-sporting baseball never made it to the big leagues – MLB awarded expansion franchises to Miami and Denver – SunRays was the nickname of Minnesota’s AA affiliate in Orlando from 1990-1992.

7. Washington Nationals (MLB, 1990)

Washington, DC, which had been abandoned by two franchises in the previous 30 years, was another city contending for an expansion team in 1990. The prospective ownership group announced it preferred a nickname other than Senators and asked fans to submit ideas on a postcard. (I remember my dad submitted Belters, a reference to both a batter hitting a ball and the Beltway that encircles DC.) The winning name, as selected by Washington Metropolitan Baseball President John Akridge, was Nationals. “It just came to mind,” 17-year-old Tim Stump, one of several fans to submit the winning name, told reporters. “I was thinking, ‘the Nation’s Capital,’ but you couldn’t use Capitals, because of the hockey team. So I just kept going, and Nationals just came tumbling out.” Nationals was the name of Washington’s National League franchise in 1886 and the name the team adopted when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington, DC, after the 2004 season.

8. Buffalo Bisons (MLB, 1990)

Buffalo’s 1990 MLB expansion delegation, which included New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Larry King, was upbeat about its chances to land a team after the minor league Buffalo Bisons set the all-time minor league attendance record in 1988. The Bisons drew 1.15 million fans, which was more than three major league teams, despite the fact that stadium capacity was less than 20,000. There were plans to expand the stadium to a capacity of 45,000 within 7 months if Buffalo was awarded a team. The delegation received nearly 10,000 deposits for season tickets, but the Bisons’ bid was denied.

9. Seattle Totems (NHL, mid-1970s)

In mid-1974, the NHL awarded Vince Abbey, president of the World Hockey Association’s Seattle Totems, an expansion franchise to begin play in the 1976. The WHA folded before the 1974 season and the Totems joined the Central Hockey League in 1974-1975. Abbey was scrambling to secure funding for the franchise fee that was required to join the NHL and missed a major deadline for a deposit. The NHL reneged on its offer and denied Abbey’s team an expansion bid. Abbey responded by filing an antitrust suit against the league, arguing that his team’s and the WHA’s demise was primarily the result of the NHL’s growth. The case was settled in favor of the NHL more than a decade later.

10. Los Angeles Bulldogs (NFL, 1936)

Harry Myers formed the Los Angeles Bulldogs as an independent football team in 1936 and was granted a “probationary franchise” by the NFL. Myers fully anticipated that his team would join the NFL after the 1936 season, and the Bulldogs, led by former Tulsa coach Gus Henderson, proved they were worthy by averaging nearly 10,000 fans per game and going 3-2-1 against NFL competition. The league decided to add the Cleveland Rams from the AFL instead, in part because of its concerns about the travel costs to the West Coast. The Bulldogs would take Cleveland’s place in the AFL and went undefeated in its first season in the league. The team folded in 1948, two years after the NFL’s Cleveland Rams relocated to Los Angeles.

11. Mexico City (MLB, 1994)

In 1994, Alfredo Harp Helu, the owner of the Mexican League’s Mexico City Red Devils and one of the largest banks in Mexico, submitted a bid for an expansion Major League Baseball team in Mexico City. His group planned to construct a 50,000-seat domed stadium if Mexico City were awarded a team. The following year, MLB announced the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks as its newest members. Mexico City has been an intriguing destination for expansion in several sports. “By the year 2000, we are going to have a franchise in Mexico City,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in 1994. While the NBA has played several preseason games in Mexico and the NFL hosted a regular season game there in 2005, no major professional sports league has expanded south of the border.

Saskatoon Blues and Other Franchise Relocations That Fell Through

It wasn’t exactly a failed expansion bid, but the prairie town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was prepared to welcome the St. Louis Blues in 1983. The Ralston Purina Company sold the Blues to an ownership group in Saskatchewan, but the NHL’s Board of Governors rejected the move by a 15-3 vote. Angered with being forced to remain in St. Louis, the Ralston ownership group announced it had no intention of operating the team the following season. With its future in limbo, the Blues did not participate in that year’s NHL entry draft. After filing a lawsuit against Ralston, the league imposed a deadline to sell the team to a new ownership group before it would consider dissolving the Blues. California entrepreneur Harry Ornest’s bid to buy the team was approved before the deadline and the Blues remain in St. Louis today.

For the stories of the Seattle White Sox, St. Louis Patriots and other almost-relocations, read this.

nfl

Tom Molineaux: The Ex-Slave Who Became America’s First International Boxing Superstar

George Cruickshank (NYPL), via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
George Cruickshank (NYPL), via Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Tom Molineaux found freedom with his fists.

Regarded as America's first great prizefighter, very little is known about Molineaux’s early life. The most common account, however, says that he was born a slave in Virginia sometime around 1784. The local plantation owners took amusement in pitting their enslaved people against each other in bare-knuckle boxing matches, and Molineaux showed a knack for the sport. One day, he won a match that earned his master a huge sum in bets, and was consequently granted his freedom.

(There’s an unsubstantiated rumor that George Washington, a neighboring plantation owner, might have given Molineaux a few pointers in the ring. While that is almost certainly a fabrication, Washington did in fact know a great deal about combat sports such as wrestling; Sports Illustrated called him “a master of the British style known as collar and elbow.”)

After gaining his freedom, Molineaux moved north to New York City around 1804 and began honing his bare-knuckle boxing skills. Details are scarce, but it’s obvious that the young pugilist carved out a name for himself, as he soon earned the title of “Champion of America.”

After five years, Molineaux decided to take his talents across the pond to England. “He was the first American to rise to the eminence of an international challenger,” journalist Paul Magriel wrote in a 1951 edition of the journal Phylon [PDF].

But Molineaux wasn't just hungry for new competition. In Britain, there was big money in boxing. Though the sport was technically illegal, it was well-respected and well-attended. It also had a set of well-defined rules, which Brian Phillips wrote about in a fantastic piece for Grantland:

"Bouts were held outdoors, on bare ground, in rings marked off from fields. The fighters wore no gloves, which probably made them safer. (Gloves were introduced to protect the hands, not the head, and allowed fighters to punch harder.) But rounds didn’t end until one man or the other went down. And there was no limit to the number of rounds that could be fought. After a fall, fighters had 30 seconds to return to the scratch, a mark in the middle of the ring."

Arriving in England, Molineaux had one goal: To fight Tom Cribb. Cribb, who was born near Bristol, England, was considered Europe’s best boxer and routinely drew tens of thousands of spectators to his matches. He was also incredibly tough. According to Phillips, “he reportedly trained by punching the bark off trees.”

In London, Molineaux met a fellow American boxing aficionado—and ex-slave—named Bill Richmond. Richmond, who was considered one of the world’s first black sporting celebrities, was also a highly in-demand trainer. And he agreed to take Molineaux under his wing.

The duo was a perfect fit. With Richmond’s help, Molineaux began to vanquish his opponents fight after fight after fight. In one match, he beat a man so badly that it was impossible to discern his facial features. “The amateurs were completely astonished at the improvement exhibited by Molineaux, and the punishment he dealt out was so truly tremendous, and his strength and bottom so superior, that he was deemed a proper match for the champion, Tom Cribb,” wrote Pierce Egan, a celebrated journalist of the time, in his book Boxiana.

The momentous match was arranged for December 18, 1810. Immediately, the bout's implications were freighted by racism and nationalism. “Some persons feel alarmed at the bare idea that a black man and a foreigner should seize the championship of England, and decorate his sable brow with the hard earned laurels of Cribb,” one media outlet claimed, according to the book Pugilistica.

On the day of the fight, rain poured down. More than 5000 people attended anyway, including a gaggle of the first professional sportswriters. Long before the first punch was thrown, the pro-Cribb crowd began hurling racist invectives at the black American fighter.

Molineaux seemed undeterred. Round after round, he knocked the English champion down. At one point, Molineaux held Cribb in a legal headlock, and the fight's action stalled. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of impatient fans stormed the ring. The scrum injured—and possibly broke—a few of Molineaux’s fingers.

The American continued to dominate anyway.

By the 28th round, the afternoon’s wagers—which had started at 4 to 1 in Cribb’s favor—were now even. According to Egan, “In the 28th round, after the men were carried to their corners, Cribb was so much exhausted that he could hardly rise from his second's knee at the call of 'Time.'" It was clear that Molineaux was on pace to win.

In fact, many people believe he should have already been declared the victor. In the 27th round, Cribb fell and failed to get back up after the required 30 seconds. By all means, Molineaux should have been celebrating. But Cribb’s minders distracted the refs and managed to buy enough time for Cribb to regain both his consciousness and his composure. Whether they were complicit or just clueless, the refs let the time violation slide and the fight continued [PDF].

Shortly after, the momentum shifted.

Cribb landed a few lucky punches. Molineaux, whose eyes had swollen over, began to stagger. After 44 rounds, the American quit and Cribb was declared the winner. The crowd went nuts, leading Pierce Egan to call the whole event, "[T]he most dreadful affront to British sportsmanship ever witnessed."

A few days later, Molineaux sent Cribb a letter blaming the loss on the weather and asking for a rematch. A second fight, which occurred approximately nine months later on September 18, 1811, was attended by more than 15,000 people. This time, Cribb out-trained the American and defeated Molineaux in 11 rounds.

But history had already been made. The first match had secured Molineaux a hallowed place as one of the sport’s top athletes, and in 1997, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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.

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