CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

11 Expansion Teams That Just Missed the Cut

Original image
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)

Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

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)

Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

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)

Getty Images

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)

WikimediaCommons // Fair Use

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)

WikimediaCommons // Fair Use

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.

Original image
davi_deste via eBay
arrow
Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
Original image
davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

Getty Images

Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

Original image
Getty Images
How Did the Super Bowl's "I'm Going to Disney World" Slogan Originate?
Original image
Getty Images

It’s a Super Bowl tradition as recognizable as catchy commercials, lengthy halftime shows, and mounds of leftover guacamole, but how did the famous "I'm going to Disney World" and "I'm going to Disneyland" slogans make their way to (almost) every big game since 1987?

The idea for the slogan itself can be credited to Jane Eisner, the wife of former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. In 2015, he recounted the story behind the tagline to Sports Illustrated:

"In January 1987, we were launching Disneyland’s Star Tours, an attraction based on Star Wars. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, my wife, Jane, and I had dinner with George Lucas, as well as Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, who had just become the first people to fly around the world without stopping. It was late and the conversation hit a lull as we waited for our food. So I asked Dick and Jeana, 'Well, now that you’ve accomplished the pinnacle of your aspirations, what could you possibly do next?' Rutan responded, without hesitation, 'I’m going to Disneyland.' And of course I go, 'Wow, that’s cool! You made the right choice.' But my wife interjects: 'You know, that’s a good slogan.'"

Around this time, the NFL playoffs were well underway, with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos set to face each other at Super Bowl XXI. What better time to unveil this new marketing slogan than at the biggest TV event of the year? Once Eisner decided on a time and place to debut the phrase, the teams’ two quarterbacks, Phil Simms and John Elway, both received identical offers: $75,000 for the winner to say "I’m going to Disney World" and "I’m going to Disneyland" to a Disney camera as they ran off the field after the game. This would then be used in a commercial with Disney World or Disneyland being shown depending on where it aired. (This is then oftentimes followed by an actual trip to a Disney park within the next few days, where the spokesperson takes part in a parade in his team's honor). 

Simms was hesitant at first, but once he heard Elway agreed to it, he was on board. The NFL also signed off on Disney’s plan, so now it was up to the company to find a way to get their cameras on the field before all-out madness could erupt. Tom Elrod, Disney’s president of marketing and entertainment in 1987, told Sports Illustrated:

"We wanted it to be authentic, but that meant being the first camera on the field, in the most frenetic environment you could possibly imagine. We’d be competing with broadcast crews and journalists and hangers-on and teammates, just to have some guy look into a camera and say, 'I’m going to Disney World.' It’s wild if you think about it. That first year, I don’t think anyone thought that was achievable."

It’s a good thing the reluctant Simms changed his tune about Disney’s offer, because his Giants beat Elway’s Broncos 39-20. Not only was Simms awarded his first Super Bowl win and the game’s MVP award, he also got a cool $75,000 for uttering two simple sentences (though he had to say both sentences three times each, just to be sure). 

The tradition has carried on ever since, except in 2005 for Super Bowl XXXIX and in 2016 for Super Bowl 50, when no commercials aired (though Super Bowl 50's winning quarterback, Peyton Manning, went to Disneyland anyway).

The slogan now extends beyond football, having been uttered by everyone from NBA players to Olympians and American Idol contestants. And even if they don't wind up in a commercial, chances are a championship team will still be greeted by a Disney park parade, like the one thrown for the Chicago Cubs in 2016

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

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios