Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated

The Brief, Influential Life of the World Football League

Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated

December 5, 1974, was a chilly night at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, site of the World Bowl. It was a slightly warmer night in Jacksonville, Florida, the scheduled site of the first championship game of the World Football League, but when the Jacksonville Sharks folded fourteen games into the season, the idea of holding the title game there seemed a little, well, like piling on.

The night was shaping up to be a classic battle between the hometown Birmingham Americans and the Florida Blazers. The Americans had the league’s second-best record during the regular season, going 15-5 during the 20 game schedule, and the Blazers arrived in Birmingham by upsetting the best team in the league, the Memphis Southmen, in the semifinals.

Truth be told, winning was the easy part of getting to the World Bowl. Three days before the Big Game, the Americans threatened to not play because they hadn’t been paid in five weeks. The owner begged them to show up on the promise that if they won, he would give them championship rings. No mention was made of back pay, however. The Blazers, meanwhile, hadn’t been paid in four months. Throughout the season, Florida coaches had been charged with not only calling plays, but also making sure bathrooms were filled with toilet paper. Every week Florida players found themselves at the local McDonald’s for their free meal of the day.

Nevertheless, despite all the financial issues, both teams made it to 72,000-seat Legion Field, less than half of which was filled for their world championship tilt.

Game on

Tri-MVP Ceremony With Delta Burke

At halftime, the Americans had a 15-0 lead and looked to be in complete command. The first touchdown was scored by Birmingham's cruelly named running back Joe Profit.

Fans were entertained at the break by the announcement of the league’s Most Valuable Player—or, in this case, players. Running back Tommy Reamon of the Blazers, running back JJ Jennings of the Memphis Southmen, and quarterback Tony Adams of the Southern California Sun were all named Tri-MVPs. Each player received a 1/3 share of the $10,000 prize given for winning the award. Because of the financial issues throughout the season, the league thought it best to give the players cash, fearing the possible public humiliation of three $3,333.33 checks bouncing.

Helping to make the presentation at halftime was Miss Florida 1974, Delta Burke. Missing was Jennings, who, despite the risk of having a check mailed to him, chose instead to have a tonsillectomy that day. Adams was there and Reamon, who was playing in the game, had to be pulled from the locker room. He came out, took his envelope, ran to the stands, and handed it to his mom before rejoining his teammates to get ready for the second half.

Art Cantrelle Scores in the World Bowl // Courtesy of Greg Allred (

When the clock hit double zeros, the Americans had survived a furious comeback to nip the Blazers, 22-21.

As both teams made their way off the field, Billie Hayes from Florida tried to retrieve the ball. He was gang-tackled by a group of Birmingham players, who thought the ball should be theirs. After all, they did win. A fight broke out between the teams. The ball popped out, and a ball boy named Walter Bridges picked it up and started running.

Where he was going, no one was sure, but at that point both teams decided it was more important to get the ball back than it was to fight each other. En masse, they took off after him. Needless to say, they got the kid and the ball. Birmingham tackle Paul Costa handed it—the ball, that is—to team captain Ross Brupbacher who said, “The game ball goes to the city of Birmingham…and I hope they bring us back next year to play.”

Prior to the final whistle, Americans running back Jimmy Edwards had been ejected from the game. As he made his way to the locker room, he discovered Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies were waiting to confiscate the team’s uniforms, helmets, and equipment due to an outstanding balance owed to Hibbett’s, the sporting goods store that supplied the team.

Edwards ran back on the field to warn his teammates, a few of whom took their jerseys off after the game and handed them to family members. Back in the locker room, a deputy approached team trainer Drew Ferguson and asked if his shoes had come from Hibbett’s. When he said yes, he had to hand them over. And so, after a joyous celebration, the World Football League champion Birmingham Americans went home with nothing more than a title, and their trainer went home in his socks.

Said Head Coach Jack Gotta, “I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but tonight is the greatest night of my life.”

The Right Guy at the Right Time

Gary Davidson was the right guy at the right time. He was the quintessential anti-establishment guy, and his defiant heart was filled with an indomitable '70s spirit. Before the WFL, Davidson was the co-founder and president of two professional sports leagues, the American Basketball Association in 1967 and the World Hockey Association in 1971. These weren’t just rival leagues. These were the rebels with a cause, and their cause was to change the game, both literally and figuratively. The ABA had a red-white-and-blue basketball, a three point shot, a slam-dunk contest, and Dr. J. The WHA had a blue puck (Davidson was talked out of a red one), were the first to sign European players, and brought the world the professional debut of a skinny little Canadian kid named Wayne Gretzky. When the ABA and WHA both folded after 9 and 7 years respectively, the NBA and NHL each cherry-picked four of their franchises to bring into their leagues, one of which is the five-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

“Davidson was a very aggressive businessman,” says Greg Allred, a WFL aficionado. His blog,, chronicles much of the story of the Americans' championship season, and his knowledge of the league runs deep. “He understood show business and marketing, and he had an innate ability to sell a product. He was a very shrewd guy.”

Tackling the NFL

Bumped SI Cover

The labor agreement between the National Football League's Players Association and the NFL was up for renewal, and at the heart of the discussions was the idea of free agency. Since the NFL formalized a merger with the American Football League in 1966, the players were at the mercy of the owners—they had no alternate league to find work. Obviously, NFL owners were okay with that. There was talk of the first-ever players strike in 1974, and considering the average salary of an NFL player at the time was a little over $30,000, it seemed logical the athletes would welcome the idea of having another option.

On October 3, 1973, Davidson announced the WFL would begin play on July 10, 1974. He had worked quickly to compile a group of owners for twelve teams across the country: the Birmingham Americans, Boston Bulls, Chicago Fire, Detroit Wheels, Florida Blazers, Honolulu Hawaiians, Houston Texans, Toronto Northmen, New York Stars, Philadelphia Bell, Southern California Sun and Washington Ambassadors. Years later, Davidson was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying: “We made mistakes in ownership selection. We let people come into the league because of a time frame that we might have held back on if we have decided to start play in 1975 instead of 1974.”

Of the teams named at that first press conference, only three would ultimately keep their original city and ownership group. And while all new leagues have some degree of chaos and upheaval when they begin, the WFL took the chaos to the next level:

* The Orlando team was sold and quickly moved to Jacksonville. The owner, Frank Monaco, had enough money to make one payroll, so he borrowed money from his coach and then fired him.

* The Detroit franchise was nearly sold to a guy named Bob Huchul, who, as it turned out, had been arrested 30 times and faced more than 25 lawsuits from previous business ventures.

* The team in Washington couldn’t find a place to play, so they moved to nearby Baltimore. Unable to find a lease in Baltimore, they moved to Norfolk, Virginia. Still not able to make things work, the owner sold to someone who moved the team to Orlando and they became the Florida Blazers. The franchise moved four times before they ever stepped on the field.

* John Bassett Jr., a successful Canadian businessman and clearly the most financially solvent owner in the league, owned rights to the Toronto Northmen. Subsequently, the Canadian government stepped in and introduced legislation to ban any professional football in the country other than the Canadian Football League. Bassett promptly packed up and moved his team to Memphis, changing his Northmen to, more accurately, the Southmen. (As an aside, between 1993 and 1994, the Canadian Football League, apparently not so protective of their league and their country anymore, admitted six American teams.)

As the July kickoff approached, ownership was (somewhat) in place. Now, the league actually needed players.

They held the first round of their college draft in January and the first pick was quarterback David Jaynes of the University of Kansas.

Appreciative of the honor, Jaynes said thanks but no thanks and wound up having a short and uneventful career with the Kansas City Chiefs. They also held a pro draft and the first pick was running back Charlie Evans of the New York Giants. He also said no. Ultimately, most rosters were comprised of college kids, CFL players, some minor leaguers, and more than 300 NFL players who opted to jump.

In February, Davidson announced the league had signed a TV contract with independent network TVS to broadcast a national game of the week on Thursday nights.

In March, Memphis owner Bassett made headlines on every sports page in the country when he signed three of the biggest stars from the World Champion Miami Dolphins—Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Paul Warfield—to an estimated $3 million contract to play for the Southmen in 1975.

When Calvin Hill of the Cowboys and Ted Kwalick of the 49ers signed to play for the Honolulu Hawaiians in 1975, Sports Illustrated jumped on the bandwagon and was prepared to run an April 15, 1974 cover featuring the two players and Davidson under the headline: “Pro Football Goes to War.”

Unfortunately, while pro football went to war, Hank Aaron went to bat. When he hit his record-breaking 715th home run that week, the WFL cover didn’t make the newsstands.

Some might have called this a sign.

New League, New Game

Courtesy of Greg Allred (

Just like the ABA and WHA, Davidson and his new league weren’t going to follow the old rules. He promised an exciting, energetic brand of football, playing directly off the growing criticism that the NFL was boring.

Along with their twenty game regular season, a gold football with orange stripes, hip, modern uniforms, and the world’s largest collection of sports teams that didn’t end in the letter “S” (Bell, Fire, Southmen, Storm, Sun, Steamer), the league instituted eleven unique rules including:

* Moving the kickoff from the 40 to the 30 to improve run backs
* Moving the goalposts from the front of the end zone to the back line
* A fifteen minute overtime period to decide ties (more like soccer than sudden death)

Because there was a belief that the NFL was becoming a field goal kicker dominated league, the WFL instituted other rule changes to lessen the importance of kickers. Those included:

* Missed field goals would be returned to the spot of the miss
* No extra points. Touchdowns would be worth 7 not 6, and everyone had the opportunity to get an “Action Point” where you could run or pass your way to an extra point from the two yard line.

NFL owners and Commissioner Pete Rozelle, fearful WFL games might be more wide open and exciting than theirs, quickly adopted versions of many of these rules changes. And forty years later, the WFL seems prescient, as the NFL is now considering eliminating the extra point as well. Even Keith Olbermann recently gave the WFL some praise.

Season one for the WFL kicked off on July 10, 1974. It was a great debut.

Five opening night games totaled nearly 200,000 fans. The Philadelphia Bell outdrew the Phillies by more than 20,000. Even Elvis showed up in Memphis to watch the Southmen’s opening game.

The league was getting positive press. Life was good. And it didn’t hurt that the NFL was on strike.

The WFL had—at least for a short while—become the NFL. It was the only game in town.

Then August arrived and things started to spiral. There were revelations that attendance numbers were, to put it mildly, inflated. Of the 120,000 fans at the first two Philadelphia Bell games, more than 100,000 got in either free or for a significantly reduced price. Jacksonville was doing the same thing. Rumors started circulating that teams across the league were struggling to meet payroll. The Southern California Sun, one of the more stable teams in the league, were running away with the Western Division when their owner, Larry Hatfield, was indicted by a federal grand jury for making false statements to obtain loans—one of which was the loan for the Sun.

The Detroit Wheels ran out of adhesive tape and had to borrow it from other teams. Management of the Portland Storm appealed to the team’s booster club to help feed the players before games. At one point, Birmingham flew to Portland for a game, and when they got on the bus to take them to the hotel, the bus didn’t move. After several minutes of awkward silence, the bus driver said he needed to be paid in advance because the last time he drove a WFL team somewhere he had been stiffed. The players dug into their pockets and pooled enough money to get the bus moving.

There was also this strange event in Houston: Defensive end John Matuszak suddenly bolted the NFL Houston Oilers for the WFL Houston Texans. This was a huge coup for the league, as Matuszak was one of the biggest defensive names in the NFL. Exactly seven plays into his new job with the Texans, he was handed a restraining order on the sidelines, forbidding him from playing.

He waved the paperwork to the crowd and spent the rest of the game on the bench. The courts later ordered he couldn’t join the WFL until his NFL contract ended after the 1977 season.

Halfway through the season, the Houston Texans moved to become the Shreveport Steamers and the New York Stars moved to become the Charlotte Hornets. In early October, the WFL suspended the Detroit and Jacksonville franchises because of financial issues. Three days later, it turned out “suspension” was secret code for “You guys don’t have a team anymore.”

That first year, the league lost nearly $20,000,000 and put Gary Davidson into bankruptcy. After an internal power struggle, he walked away and never was involved in sports again. The league named Chris Hemmeter, owner of the Honolulu Hawaiians, as commissioner. Hemmeter made it clear there would be some changes, and that there would be a second season.

The question was, did anyone care?

A few days after the World Bowl, shaken, battered, and determined league officials met in New York City to concoct a survival strategy. Commissioner Hemmeter announced the “Hemmeter Plan,” a profit-sharing plan to ensure that players would be paid in 1975. It stipulated that the players would receive a percentage of the owners’ profits, and if there were no profits, the players would receive $500 a game.

The league came back in season two with eleven teams, some new, some moved, and some completely re-formed. Some teams were still looking for coaches when the season started. In July, the Philadelphia Bell named former Green Bay Packers safety Willie Wood their head coach, making him the first African American head coach in pro football history.

The new ownership group in Chicago tried to make a splash by offering a $5 million contract to Joe Namath. CBS allegedly said that if Namath signed with the WFL, they would be willing to talk TV contract. Simultaneously, Namath was offered a $5 million contract to be a spokesman for Faberge. It wasn’t too difficult a decision for Namath, who stayed with the Jets, got a big payday from Faberge and was forced to work in unbearable conditions like this:

The CBS contract rumor disappeared and the league found itself with no national TV carrier. Any TV broadcasts for the 1975 season would be local. This would prove another huge financial burden.

Nevertheless, they pushed on. Even without Davidson, the WFL continued to bring out-of-the-box ideas to the table. The league announced they would be testing a uniform change for every team during the preseason. The official press release explained:

All offensive linemen will wear purple pants, running backs green pants and receivers orange pants, while defensive lineman will be dressed in blue, linebackers in red and defensive backs in yellow. The various colors are emphasized by vertical striping. Quarterbacks and kickers will wear white.

The various colored pants are the idea of William B. Finneran, a New York management consultant who also invented the Action Point. Finneran refers to the pants idea as “color dynamics” which he defines as “the concept of implementing means whereby one’s visual appreciation of dynamic movement is significantly increased.”

"Most importantly," says Finneran, “color coding is for the benefit and enjoyment of the fans. It has no significant impact on the game itself." The concept will insure easier comprehension of the game and for those sometime fans, such as women. In a sense the color grids will serve as the TV "color commentator" for the crowd at the stadium since they will help explain the action. They will also of course improve viewing on color television.

Says JJ Jennings, “The league had a lot of good ideas. That wasn’t one of them.” The pants were shelved before the season started.

Those Pants // Courtesy of Richie Franklin (

On the bright side, the WFL finally got its Sports Illustrated cover in 1975, featuring Csonka, Kiick and Warfield preparing for the season in Memphis.

This was a much “cleaner” cover than the last time Csonka and Kiick were on the cover of SI together—in 1972 when Csonka gave the one-finger salute and nobody noticed until it was too late.

Year two of the WFL kicked off at the end of July 1975 with eleven teams. By week three, that number was down to ten, as the Chicago Winds folded. By early October, with continued financial strife and poor attendance, the league held an emergency meeting and Hemmeter defiantly declared the league would survive. It did...for nine more days. On October 22, he announced the league was disbanding. In his closing remarks, Hemmeter cited the reasons for failure were bad weather, competition with the NFL, media skepticism, and the availability of star players.

Thirty two games in, the WFL was officially dead

Even today, former players agree that if you stripped away all the financial issues, the football itself was great. “We could hold our own with anybody,” says Reamon. Now a high school coach in Newport News, Virginia (he coached Michael Vick and current Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin among others), Reamon says, “I was the youngest guy on our team. We had a lot of older NFL guys and they all said the quality of the game we played was second to none.”

During the ’74 season, Reamon had made the unwise decision of having his salary deferred to the end of the year, meaning he had earned a total of $1,500 (his bonus) for the entire season, plus the $3,333.33 for sharing the MVP award. “Honestly, I have no regrets,” he says. “For me, the WFL made sense in a lot of ways. The NFL was on strike and it was a chance to show them they made a mistake by not picking me in the first round. The WFL gave me an opportunity to showcase my talents.”

After the 1974 season, Reamon’s coach in Florida, Jack Pardee, jumped ship and took the head coaching job with the Chicago Bears in the NFL. The Bears tried to work a trade to get Reamon’s rights from the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they couldn’t agree on a deal. Instead, the Bears drafted a running back named Walter Payton. Reamon was later traded to the newly-formed Jacksonville Express in '75. He played for the Chiefs in the NFL in 1976, Saskatchewan in the CFL in ’77, and retired from professional football in ’78. “No regrets,” he says. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Despite being one of the Tri-MVPs, JJ Jennings was also traded in ’75 to Philadelphia when Csonka, Kiick, and Warfield showed up in Memphis. “There wasn’t any room for me or my hair,” he says. He agrees with Reamon that the play on the field was more than solid. “Our team was a bit of an outlier in the league,” he says. “We had a great owner [Bassett]. Getting paid was never an issue, and we were a quality organization through and through. I have no regrets. We kept a lot of people working for a couple of years and the football was good. Really good.”

Richie Franklin was a 13 year old when the WFL hit his TV. Since then, he’s dedicated countless hours, energy, and emotion to keeping the spirit of the WFL alive. “I was an impressionable young kid,” he says. “I thought the ball and the uniforms were so great. I had never seen anything like this before. It’s forty years later and no one can ever take those memories away.” His site,, is the definitive source of information on the league’s history, including interviews with players and details long since forgotten by most. “It’s been a labor of love,” he says. “I just want to keep the spirit alive.”

Looking back, a league that was seemingly a blip on the football radar had a remarkable impact. The WFL created rule changes which still exist today, helped open the door for NFL free agency, created coaching opportunities for men like Jack Pardee, Marty Schottenheimer, Jim Fassel, and Lindy Infante, and launched the NFL careers of Danny White, Alfred Jenkins, Pat Haden, and more.

“Ultimately, the death of the WFL was unstable ownership and lack of a TV contract,” says Allred. “But in terms of football the way we know it today, the WFL was a very forward thinking league.”

As it turns out, too forward, too soon.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
18 Winning Facts About Bend It Like Beckham
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Five years before David Beckham moved across the Atlantic—and before anyone knew who Keira Knightley was—a low-budget movie about a Punjabi teenager living in Southall who wanted to play soccer became a bona fide international sensation.

Bend It Like Beckham was a surprise smash, earning more than $76.5 million against a $6 million budget. Although the film itself is British, both in its setting and its theme—dealing with immigrant integration in a country with a religious-like devotion to football (what we know as soccer)—it delighted critics and audiences worldwide with its quiet charm and optimism. On the fifteenth anniversary of its U.S. release, and one West End musical adaptation later, here are 18 winning facts about Bend It Like Beckham.


In 2002, studio executives at Fox Searchlight were concerned that Americans wouldn’t know who David Beckham was, and wouldn’t understand what it meant to “bend” a soccer ball. Fortunately they changed their minds before the film was released after writer-director Gurinder Chadha objected.


Chadha said that her initial idea to write a film about “the evolving concept of Britishness” came about when she saw an image of Ian Wright, a black player, wearing the Union Jack flag at the Euro 96 championship.


Chadha relied on her co-writers to fill in the blanks of what she didn't know, writing “jargon jargon football jargon,” instead of actual content, into the Beckham script.


“I put them into three months solid football training and they had a coach and every day they would in and train," Chadha told "They worked really hard at it. Keira, who plays Jules, got concussions a few times. Parminder really damaged her toes and was too scared to [kick] the ball in case she broke one. They really had to go through the pain barrier like other athletes in order to excel. It’s only when I said, ‘We could always use doubles, don’t worry about it,' when the two of them said, ‘No way! We’re definitely going to go for it.’ And they did.”


According to Simon Clifford, the coach who trained the lead actresses to be believable footballers, by the end of training, Knightley "could do things some Premier League players can't do ... If I'd trained her from the age of 10 or 11, without a shadow of a doubt, Keira could have been a pro.”

It's particularly impressive considering Knightley's soccer experience had been fairly limited up until that point. “I was captain of the girls' team in primary school, but we never actually scored a goal,” Knightley told Interview Magazine. "We only kicked people.”


While Nagra and Knightley were cast for their acting ability and learned how to play soccer for the role, the rest of their team, the Hounslow Harriers, was made up of professional players. “All the other girls in the film play for various London clubs except one, Shaznay Lewis. She’s part of the music band All Saints, which is really a popular band," Chadha said.

As it turns out, the actresses, pro players, and musician worked incredibly well together. "We literally had become a really solid team,” Nagra said. "We got so into it once that Gurinder stormed across the pitch, shouting, 'Cut! Cut! Have you forgotten this is a movie?'”


Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Although she had already made several small television appearances and a brief appearance in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Bend It Like Beckham was Knightley’s breakout role. One year later, in 2013, she appeared in Love Actually and Pirates of the Caribbean, cementing her place as a Hollywood A-lister.


In the film, Jules encourages Jess to pursue her dream of playing soccer professionally, telling her that in America women can play with the WUSA. Although that was true at the time, the organization folded in 2003.


Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nagra was worried that the scar on her leg would prevent her from getting a part in a film that required her to wear shorts for much of her character’s screen-time. Instead, Chadha wrote the scar into the script, lifting the story about an accident making beans on toast as an eight-year-old straight from Nagra’s life.


After creating a 1989 documentary about the lives of young British Asians, Chadha made her feature directorial debut with Bhaji on the Beach, a film which went on to earn a BAFTA nomination for "Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film" in 1995. Eight years later, in 2003, Bend It Like Beckham was nominated for the same award.


Kim Jong-il screened the girl-power flick at the Pyongyang Film Festival in 2004, where it was seen by 12,000 people. In 2010, Bend It Like Beckham became the first western-made film ever to be broadcast on television in the country, as an event marking 10 years of diplomatic ties between the U.K. and North Korea. The 112-minute film was edited down to just an hour long.


Jules wears number nine, which is Mia Hamm's number. Both characters had the corresponding player’s poster hanging in their room.


Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

“He was originally English,” Jonathan Rhys Meyers told the Irish Examiner, “but I had to read with Parminder—who plays Jess—and during the screen test we did the scene where she complains that someone called her a Paki, and I just shouted back, ‘Listen, I’m f*cking Irish and what’s your problem?’ It made sense that the Irish being a minority in England as well, Joe would have an empathy with Jess on that level. And the director just loved that, so Irish he remained.”


"I thought it was going to be terrible!" Rhys Meyers told Marie Claire. "For months and months and months, I refused to tell anybody that I'd been in a film called Bend It Like Beckham. Even in the beginning I was like, 'I don't want to do this.' But I spoke to my brother and he said, 'Do the film. Everybody's going to love this.' It's one of those girly, guilty-pleasure movies. It's on that shelf with Dirty Dancing, Footloose, and Beaches."


The musical, which ran at London's Phoenix Theatre, was also written and directed by Chadha. It closed in March 5, 2016, when the original actors' contracts were up.

Chadha initially had serious doubts that Howard Goodall and Charles Hart, the men who composed and wrote the show's music, would be able to capture the heart of a story about female empowerment and the immigration experience. “I thought, how will these two middle-aged English blokes get on with this material?” Chadha told The Telegraph. “Then I met them and it was job done, marriage made in heaven. Both of them are a particular kind of Englishman that I really love and respect.”


In an interview with The Guardian, Chadha said that Bend It Like Beckham became something of a tribute to her father, who passed away before the film was edited.

"It had a profound effect on me. And it's sort of funny really; when he died, it was absolutely gut-wrenching ... but it was like that fantastic Powell and Pressburger film, A Matter of Life and Death; suddenly time stopped still and went into color. When he died, there was this real sense of loss and tragedy, but at the same time, there was a sense of appreciation. It made me very impatient with people who throw life away. It was an epiphany. And I didn't know this at the time, but when I was making Beckham, I was totally grieving. That's why that film is so emotional and so raw, especially the scenes with the dad. It's a film that was made in grief."


Parminder Nagra in Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Chadha related the idea of “bending” a ball to the way women strive to achieve their goals in male-dominated industries. “We can see the goal, but we too, like David Beckham, need to approach it in such a way where we twist and turn and bend our way into it," she explained. "My film is about bending the rules to get what you want instead of breaking the rules.”


The Magnus effect is defined as “the force exerted on a rapidly spinning cylinder or sphere moving through air or another fluid in a direction at an angle to the axis of spin.” In other words, when a ball is spinning, it’s also causing the air around it to spin. If the ball is spinning and moving forward at the same time (in the case of a good soccer kick), the pressure difference from the air around the ball and the air rushing past it will cause a difference in pressure that will make the ball “bend,” or move in a curved path.

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
The Origins of All 30 MLB Team Names
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

With the Major League Baseball season on the horizon, here's the breakdown of how the league's 30 teams got their names.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Norm Hall/Getty Images

In 1995, the expansion franchise's ownership group asked fans to vote from among a list of nicknames that included Coyotes, Diamondbacks, Phoenix, Rattlers, and Scorpions. Diamondbacks, a type of desert rattlesnake, was the winner, sparing everyone the mindboggling possibility of a team located in Phoenix, Arizona, called the Arizona Phoenix.

Atlanta Braves

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Braves, who played in Boston and Milwaukee before moving to Atlanta in 1966, trace their nickname to the symbol of a corrupt political machine. James Gaffney, who became president of Boston's National League franchise in 1911, was a member of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party machine that controlled New York City politics throughout the 19th century. The Tammany name was derived from Tammamend, a Delaware Valley Indian chief. The society adopted an Indian headdress as its emblem and its members became known as Braves. Sportswriter Leonard Koppett described Gaffney's decision to rename his team, which had been known as the Doves, in a 1993 letter to the New York Times: "Wouldn't it be neat to call the team the 'Braves,' waving this symbol of the Democrats under the aristocratic Bostonians? It wouldn't bother the fans." And it didn't, especially after the Braves swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1914 World Series.

Baltimore Orioles

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When the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore in 1954, the franchise was rebranded with the same nickname of the Baltimore team that dominated the old National League in the late 1890s. That team, which featured the likes of Wee Willie Keeler and John McGraw, was named after the state bird of Maryland. The orange and black colors of the male Oriole bird resembled the colors on the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore.

Boston Red Sox

The team that became known as the Red Sox began play "“ wearing dark blue socks, no less "“ as a charter member of the American League in 1901. With no official nickname, the team was referred to by a variety of monikers, including Bostons and Americans, as in American League. In 1907, Americans owner John Taylor announced that his team was adopting red as its new color after Boston's National League outfit switched to all-white uniforms. Taylor's team became known as the Red Sox, a name popularized by the Cincinnati Red Stockings from 1867-1870 and used by Boston's National League franchise from 1871-1876.

Chicago Cubs

Norm Hall/Getty Images

Chicago's first professional baseball team was known as the Chicago White Stockings. When the team began to sell off its experienced players in the late 1880s, local newspapers began to refer to the club as Anson's Colts, a reference to player-manager Cap Anson's roster of youngsters. By 1890, Colts had caught on and Chicago's team had a new nickname. When Anson left the team in 1897, the Colts became known as the Orphans, a depressing nickname if there ever was one. When Frank Selee took over managerial duties of Chicago's youthful roster in 1902, a local newspaper dubbed the team the Cubs and the name stuck.

Chicago White Sox

Jon Durr/Getty Images

In 1900, Charles Comiskey moved the St. Paul Saints to the South Side of Chicago. The team adopted the former nickname of its future rivals (the Cubs) and became the White Stockings, which was shortened to White Sox a few years after the club joined the American League in 1901.

Cincinnati Reds

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The Cincinnati Red Stockings, so named because they wore red socks, were baseball's first openly all-professional team. In 1882, Cincinnati's entry in the newly formed American Association took the same name and retained it after moving to the National League in 1890. Red Stockings eventually became Redlegs, and Redlegs was shortened to Reds. Before the 1953 season, club officials announced that the team would once again officially be known as the Cincinnati Redlegs. Around the same time, the team temporarily removed "Reds" from its uniforms. As the AP reported in 1953, "The political significance of the word 'Reds' these days and its effect on the change was not discussed by management."

Cleveland Indians

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Cleveland's baseball team was originally nicknamed the Naps after star player-manager Napoleon Lajoie, so when the team cut ties with Lajoie after the 1914 season, it was in the market for a new name. Club officials and sportswriters agreed on Indians in January 1915. The Boston Braves' miraculous World Series triumph may have been part of the inspiration behind Cleveland's new moniker.

Colorado Rockies

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When team officials announced that Denver's expansion team would begin play in 1993 as the Colorado Rockies, some fans couldn't help but question why the team was adopting the same nickname as the city's former NHL franchise, which averaged an abysmal 19 wins per season from 1976 to 1982. "I think for us to compare a failed hockey franchise 10 years ago is nonsense," Rockies CEO John Antonucci said. "We feel very strongly that Colorado Rockies might be one of the strongest names in all of professional sports." According to surveys conducted by Denver's daily newspapers, fans preferred the nickname Bears, which had been used by Denver's most famous minor league team. "The name we picked—it's strong, enduring, majestic," Antonucci said.

Detroit Tigers

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Detroit's original minor league baseball team was officially known as the Wolverines. The club was also referred to as the Tigers, the nickname for the members of Michigan's oldest military unit, the 425th National Guard infantry regiment, which fought in the Civil War and Spanish-American War. When Detroit joined the newly formed American League in 1901, the team received formal permission from the regiment, which was known as the Detroit Light Guard, to use its symbol and nickname.

Houston Astros

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Houston's baseball team was originally known as the Colt .45's, but team president Judge Roy Hofheinz made a change "in keeping with the times" in 1965. Citing Houston's status as "the space age capital of the world," Hofheinz settled on Astros. "With our new domed stadium, we think it will also make Houston the sports capital of the world," Hofheinz said. The change was likely also motivated by pressure from the Colt Firearms Company, which objected to the use of the Colt .45 nickname.

Kansas City Royals

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When Kansas City was awarded an expansion franchise in 1969, club officials chose Royals from more than 17,000 entries in a name-the-team contest. Sanford Porte, one of 547 fans who submitted Royals, was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the All-Star Game. Porte submitted the name because of "Kansas City's position as the nation's leading stocker and feeder market and the nationally known American Royal Livestock and Horse Show. Royalty stands for the best—that's another reason." Coincidentally, Kansas City's Negro League team was nicknamed the Monarchs.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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Los Angeles gained a second major league team in 1961 when the Los Angeles Angels entered the American League. The nickname had been used by Los Angeles' Pacific Coast League team from 1903-1957. The team was renamed the California Angels in 1965 and became the Anaheim Angels after the Walt Disney Company took control of the team in 1997. While the team's lease with the city requires that Anaheim be a part of the team name, owner Arte Moreno changed the team's name to include Los Angeles in 2005 in hopes of tapping into the L.A. media market. The result is one of the most absurd names in all of professional sports.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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The Dodgers trace their roots to Brooklyn, where the team was known as the Bridegrooms, Superbas, and, beginning in 1911, the Trolley Dodgers. The Dodgers nickname referenced the pedestrians who dodged the trolleys that carried passengers through the streets of Brooklyn. While the team was known as the Robins from 1914 to 1931, in honor of legendary manager Wilbert Robinson, the nickname switched back to Dodgers when Robinson retired. When Walter O'Malley moved the franchise to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, he elected to keep the name.

Miami Marlins

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The Marlins take their name from the minor league Miami Marlins that called South Florida home from 1956-1960, 1962-1970, and 1972-1988. Owner Wayne Huizenga hoped to give his expansion team, which entered the league in 1993, more regional appeal by including Florida in the name. However, when the Marlins moved into their new baseball-only stadium in 2012, they became the Miami Marlins.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers nickname, a nod to Milwaukee's beer industry, was used off and on by various Milwaukee baseball teams during the late 19th century. When the expansion Seattle Pilots relocated to Milwaukee after one failed season in 1969, the team adopted the traditional Brewers nickname under the ownership of Bud Selig.

Minnesota Twins

Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are separated by the Mississippi River and collectively known as the Twin Cities, argued for years over where an expansion team in Minnesota, should one arrive, would call home. When the Washington Senators moved to Minneapolis in 1961, club officials settled on Twins as the team nickname and unveiled an emblem showing two baseball players with hands clasped in front of a huge baseball.

New York Mets

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Team officials asked fans to choose a nickname from among 10 finalists when New York was awarded an expansion National League franchise in 1961. The finalists were Avengers, Bees, Burros, Continentals, Jets, Mets, NYBS, Rebels, Skyliners, and Skyscrapers. The team received 2,563 mailed entries, which included 9,613 suggestions, and 644 different names. Mets was the resounding winner, followed by two nicknames that weren't among the team's 10 suggestions—Empires and Islanders. As the New York Times noted, "what the fans will call the team when it begins play, of course, will depend in part on how it performs." One of the reasons that team officials chose Mets was because "it has a brevity that will delight headline writers." Another reason was the nickname's historical baseball association. The New York Metropolitans, often called the Mets, played in the American Association from 1883 to 1888.

New York Yankees

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In 1903, the original Baltimore Orioles moved to New York, where they became the Highlanders. As was common at the time, the team, which played in the American League, was also known as the New York Americans. New York Press editor Jim Price coined the nickname Yanks, or Yankees, in 1904 because it was easier to fit in headlines.

Oakland Athletics

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The Athletics nickname is one of the oldest in baseball, dating to the early 1860s and the Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia. In 1902, New York Giants manager John McGraw referred to Philadelphia's American League team as a "white elephant." The slight was picked up by a Philadelphia reporter and the white elephant was adopted as the team's primary logo. The nickname and the elephant logo were retained when the team moved to Kansas City in 1955 and to Oakland in 1968.

Philadelphia Phillies

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Founded in 1883 as the Quakers, the franchise changed its nickname to the Philadelphias, which soon became Phillies. New owner Robert Carpenter held a contest to rename the team in 1943 and Blue Jays was selected as the winner. While the team wore a Blue Jay patch on its uniforms for a couple of seasons, the nickname failed to catch on.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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After the Players' League collapsed in 1890, the National League's Pittsburgh club signed two players, including Lou Bierbauer, whom the Philadelphia Athletics had forgotten to place on their reserve list. A Philadelphia sportswriter claimed that Pittsburgh "pirated away Bierbauer" and the Pirates nickname was born.

San Diego Padres

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When San Diego was awarded an expansion team in 1969, the club adopted the nickname of the city's Pacific Coast League team, the Padres. The nickname, which is Spanish for father or priest, was a reference to San Diego's status as the first Spanish Mission in California.

San Francisco Giants

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The New York Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957 and retained their nickname, which dates back to 1885. It was during that season, according to legend, that New York Gothams manager Jim Mutrie referred to his players as his "giants" after a rousing win over Philadelphia.

Seattle Mariners

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Mariners was the winning entry among more than 600 suggestions in a name-the-team contest for Seattle's expansion franchise in 1976. Multiple fans submitted the nickname Mariners, but the team determined that Roger Szmodis of Bellevue provided the best reason. "I've selected Mariners because of the natural association between the sea and Seattle and her people, who have been challenged and rewarded by it," said Szmodis, who received two season tickets and an all-expenses-paid trip to an American League city on the West Coast.

St. Louis Cardinals

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In 1899, the St. Louis Browns became the St. Louis Perfectos. That season, Willie McHale, a columnist for the St. Louis Republic reportedly heard a woman refer to the team's red stockings as a "lovely shade of Cardinal." McHale included the nickname in his column and it was an instant hit among fans. The team officially changed its nickname in 1900.

Tampa Bay Rays

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Vince Naimoli, owner of Tampa Bay's expansion team, chose Devil Rays out of more than 7,000 suggestions submitted by the public in 1995. The reaction was not positive. "So far, I've fielded about 20 phone calls protesting Devil Rays, and most of the callers have described themselves as Christians who are upset about the word devil," a Tampa Tribune columnist told a reporter less than a week after the nickname was announced. Naimoli reportedly wanted to nickname his team the Sting Rays, but it was trademarked by a team in the Hawaiian Winter League. The team dropped the "Devil" after the 2007 season and the curse that had plagued the franchise for the previous decade was apparently lifted, as Tampa Bay made a surprising run to the World Series the following season.

Texas Rangers

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A second franchise named the Senators left Washington in 1972, this time for Arlington, Texas. Owner Robert Short renamed the team the Rangers after the Texas law enforcement agency that was formed under Stephen F. Austin in the 1820s.

Toronto Blue Jays

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More than 30,000 entries were received during a five-week name-the-team contest. A panel of 14 judges, including 10 Toronto media members, selected 10 finalists. From that list, the club's board of directors settled on Blue Jays. "The Blue Jays was felt to be the most appropriate of the final 10 names submitted," according to a statement issued by the board's chairman, R. Howard Webster. "The blue jay is a North American bird, bright blue in color, with white undercovering and a black neck ring. It is strong, aggressive and inquisitive. It dares to take on all comers, yet it is down-to-earth, gutsy and good-looking."

Washington Nationals

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Washington's original baseball team was interchangeably referred to as the Senators and Nationals, or Nats for short, for most of its time in the District before relocating to Minnesota in 1960. Washington's 1961 expansion franchise was known almost exclusively as the Senators until it moved to Texas after the 1971 season. When the Montreal Expos relocated to the nation's capital in 2005, the team revived the Nationals nickname.


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