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11 Athletes Who Had Their Own Cereals

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Plenty of athletes have adorned boxes of Wheaties. But only the best can take it a step further and market a brand of cereal dedicated entirely to themselves. Several athletes have used a limited edition cereal line to raise money for their favorite charities or boost their profiles -- here are 11 of the stars that managed to work their way onto the breakfast table

1. Flutie Flakes

Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Flutie released his brand of corn flakes cereal in 1998 to raise money for autism awareness in honor of his son, who is autistic. The cereal ended up being a hit, selling more than 3 million boxes (Flutie eventually branched out into other foods, including a fruit snack called Flutie's Fruities). But the Flakes were also the center of controversy when then-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson used them to celebrate a playoff win over Flutie and the Buffalo Bills. Celebrating in the locker room, Johnson slammed a box of the cereal on the ground and let his players dance and stomp on the flakes. Flutie objected, saying it was akin to stomping on his son and got Johnson to publicly apologize.

2. Votto’s

This season, Cincinnati Reds fans will be able to share breakfast with team star – and 2010 National League MVP – Joey Votto, thanks to his new cereal, Votto’s. The cereal is being sold at Krogers stores in the Cincinnati area. And the flavor? “It’s basically Cheerios,” said Votto at one promotional appearance, according to a report.

3. Fastball Flakes

With an eye towards breaking Flutie’s sales record, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander also announced this spring that he’ll be launching his own line of cereal. Verlander based the cereal on Frosted Flakes (his favorite cereal) and actually requested that the cereal be unhealthy because he likes to eat junk food before his starts. Despite his request, the cereal is fat-free.

4. Ochocinco’s

The toasted oat cereal honoring then-Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (formerly Chad Johnson) isn’t much remembered for its taste or nutritional value. Instead, the legacy of Ochocinco’s will be its accidental endorsement of a phone sex line. A phone number printed on the box was supposed to send shoppers to the main line of Feed The Children, the charity benefiting from the cereal sales. But manufacturers put the wrong prefix on the number and instead printed the bawdy number. When news of the accident broke, Ochocinco took to Twitter to say he was “bummed” about the mixup and asked “of all numbers why that one!!!”

5. Eckso’s

Eckso’s were not named after Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, but instead journeyman David Eckstein. Having won a World Series with the Angels and a second with the St. Louis Cardinals, Eckstein was a fan favorite for his scrappy play. That led to his cereal line in 2005 -- a brand of honey nut toasted oat O’s similar to Votto’s and Ochocinco’s.

6. Tommy Gun Flakes

After wandering around the NFL for years and playing in the Arena Football League and XFL, Tommy Maddox resurfaced with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001. He led the Steelers to the playoffs that year, amassing a 10-5-1 record. After that season, he was also rewarded with the launch of Tommy Gun Flakes, a play on his nickname "Tommy Gun." Maddox had a disappointing 2002 season and was soon replaced by Ben Roethlisberger, but unopened boxes of his cereal can still be found online.

7. TO’s

Before he and Ochocinco teamed up for a season in Cincinnati, Terrell Owens actually mirrored him by launching his own cereal brand. The TO’s brand came out when TO joined the Buffalo Bills in the 2009 season and features a rather cryptic picture of TO flexing his bicep around a blown-up piece of cereal.

8. Warner’s Crunch Time

While with the St. Louis Rams, Kurt Warner was a part of the Greatest Show on Turf, winning two MVP awards and a Super Bowl. His rise from the Arena Football League and ascension from backup to starting star also made him a hit with fans. To capitalize, Warner put his face on a frosted corn flakes cereal called “Warner’s Crunch Time,” with proceeds going to Camp Barnabas, a Missouri camp for disabled children.

9. Buckeye HerOes

Coming off a successful 10-2 season in which they shared the Big Ten championship and won the Fiesta Bowl, the Ohio State Buckeyes expanded their already massive brand with the cereal Buckeye HerOes. Other universities had tried the cereal gimmick before, but OSU dwarfed their efforts by producing 75,000 boxes. School officials said they couldn’t get the cereal to be in the shape of the school’s traditional block O, so instead they had to go with the traditional round O. The school has also branded several other food items from pasta to hot sauce, so it's possible for a fan to plan an entire meal around the Buckeyes.

10. Ed's End Zone O's

A three-time Super Bowl winner, wide receiver Ed McCaffrey had most of his success when paired with John Elway on the Denver Broncos. While with the team, he also released his cereal brand: Ed’s End Zone O’s, as well as putting his face on a line of gourmet mustards and a horseradish sauce. Elway would also come out with a cereal line: John Elway's Comeback Crunch.

11. Lynn Swann’s Super 88

Named after his jersey number, Lynn Swann’s Super 88 cereal was released to honor the former Steelers star on his induction to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001. The proceeds from the cereal went to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters charities, as well as to fund scholarships to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Why the ballet scholarships? Swann used to study dance.

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Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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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.

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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.

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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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