11 Expansion Teams That Just Missed the Cut

 Mark Brown, Getty Images
Mark Brown, 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.

Remembering Tom Dempsey, the Toeless NFL Kicker Who Set a 43-Year Field Goal Record

Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Kicker Tom Dempsey #19 of the Philadelphia Eagles kicks off against the Washington Redskins during an NFL football game at Veterans Stadium November 10, 1974 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

On April 4, 2020 former NFL legend Tom Dempsey—who set a field goal record with the New Orleans Saints nearly 50 years ago—passed away in New Orleans at the age of 73. It has been reported that Dempsey, who has been battling Alzheimer's disease and dementia since 2012, contracted coronavirus in March and his death was the result of complications from COVID-19. Read on to learn more about Dempsey's remarkable life.

 
 

Things weren't looking good for the New Orleans Saints on the evening of November 8, 1970, during a televised game against the Detroit Lions at Tulane Stadium. Though Saints quarterback Billy Kilmer had managed to connect with receiver Al Dodd on a 17-yard pass that stopped the clock, New Orleans was still down 17-16 with just two seconds left in the game. Worse yet, they were on their own 37-yard line—leaving 63 yards between them and the end zone.

Saints head coach J.D. Roberts, who had only been hired the week before, huddled with offensive coordinator Don Heinrich to quickly consider their options. There weren’t any. Suddenly, kicker Tom Dempsey, who had joined the team the year before, materialized. “I can kick it,” Dempsey told Roberts.

Dempsey would later recall that he didn’t know exactly how far the ball had to travel or that it would be an NFL record if he nailed it. If he had, he said, maybe he would’ve gotten too nervous and shanked it. But kicking the ball was what Dempsey did, even though he was born with only half of a right foot.

Heinrich sighed. There was no other choice. “Tell Stumpy to get ready,” he said.

 

Dempsey was born on January 12, 1947, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later moved with his family to California. As a student at San Dieguito High School in Encinitas, California, Dempsey appeared unbothered by the congenital defect that resulted in a partial right foot and four missing fingers on his right hand. Dempsey wrestled and ran track. In football, he used his burly frame—he would eventually be 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weigh 255 pounds—to clobber opposing players as an offensive lineman. When coaches wanted to send opponents flying, they called in Dempsey.

After high school, Dempsey went on to attend Palomar Junior College in San Marcos, California, where he played football as a defensive end. At one point, when the team was in need of a kicker, the coach asked his players to line up and do their best to send the ball in the air. None kicked harder or farther than Dempsey, who became the kicker for the team and performed while barefoot, wrapping the end of his foot in athletic tape.

Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe is pictured
Tom Dempsey's modified football shoe.
Bullock Texas State History Museum

Playing at Palomar prepared Dempsey for a dual role as both lineman and kicker. But his strength, which made him so formidable on the field, occasionally got him into trouble on the sidelines, and he would eventually be kicked off the Palomar team for punching one of his coaches. After the incident, Dempsey tried out for the Green Bay Packers but found the physicality of professional players a little too much for him to handle. Rather than get into on-field collisions as an offensive lineman, he decided to focus solely on the aptitude he seemed to have for kicking. He eventually earned a spot on the San Diego Chargers practice squad in 1968. There, head coach Sid Gillman decided to encourage his choice of position—with some modifications.

Gillman enlisted an orthopedist to help develop a special leather shoe for Dempsey to wear. The boot had a block of leather 1.75 inches thick at one end and was mostly flat. Instead of kicking it soccer-style, as most players do today, Dempsey was able to use his leg like a mallet and hammer the ball with a flat, blunt surface.

The shoe, which cost $200 to fabricate, came in handy when Dempsey joined the Saints in 1969. He made 22 out of 41 field goals his rookie year and found himself in the Pro Bowl. But the 1970 season was comparatively dismal, and the Saints were holding a 1-5-1 record when they met the Detroit Lions on that night in November.

With two seconds left, “Stumpy” (Dempsey found the nickname affectionate rather than offensive) trotted onto the field. At 63 yards, he would have to best the then-record set by Baltimore Colts kicker Bert Rechichar in 1953 by seven yards.

No one appeared to think this was within the realm of possibility—you could almost hear a chuckle in CBS commentator Don Criqui's voice when he announced that Dempsey would be attempting the feat. Even the Lions seemed apathetic, not overly concerned with attempting to smother the play.

The ball was snapped by Jackie Burkett and received by Joe Scarpati, who gave it a quarter-turn. Dempsey remembered advice once given to him by kicking legend Lou “The Toe” Groza: Keep your head down and follow through. He took a step toward the ball and swung his leg like a croquet mallet, smashing into the football with a force that those on or near the field compared to a loud bang or a cannon. It sailed 63 yards to the goal post, which at the time was positioned directly on the goal line, and just made it over the crossbar.

Below, the referee threw his hands in the air to indicate the kick was good, punctuating it with a little hop of excitement. Dempsey was swarmed by his teammates and coaches. Don Criqui’s attitude in the booth quickly switched from amusement to incredulity. The Saints had won, 19-17.

“I don’t believe this,” Criqui exclaimed.

Neither could fans. In an era before instant replay, ESPN, or YouTube, you either caught Dempsey’s game-winning play or you heard about it at work or school the next week. Owing to its fleeting existence in the moment, schoolyards and offices filled with stories about how Dempsey’s boot may have somehow been augmented with a steel plate or other modification to boost his kicking prowess.

No such thing occurred, though that didn’t stop criticism. Tex Schramm, an executive with the Dallas Cowboys and chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, thought the shoe was an unfair advantage that allowed Dempsey to smash the ball like a golf club hitting a dimpled target. In 1977, the NFL instituted the “Tom Dempsey Rule,” which mandates that anyone and everyone has to wear a shoe shaped like a full foot. There would be no more allowances for special orthopedic shapes.

Dempsey appeared to take it all in stride. Shortly after his victorious kick, he received a letter from President Richard Nixon congratulating him on his inspirational demonstration. Immediately after the game, police officers went in to congratulate him by handing him cases of Dixie beer. Dempsey's girlfriend (and future wife) Carlene recalled that he didn’t come home for days due to rampant partying. When he finally settled down, they got married.

 

Dempsey spent a total of 11 years in the NFL, playing for the Saints, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Oilers, and finally the Buffalo Bills. In total, he made 159 field goals out of 258 attempts. For the next several decades, he would work as a salesman in the oil industry and manage a car lot before retiring in 2008 and settling down back near New Orleans. Over the years, Dempsey made several appearances at autograph shows, where he was regularly peppered with questions about the one kick that defined his career.

Almost as amazing as the kick was its attrition in the record books. While several other men managed to tie Dempsey’s record, it wasn’t until Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos kicked a 64-yard field goal on December 8, 2013, that it was finally broken—almost 43 years to the day. Some observers note that most of these notable field goals took place in Denver, where the air is thin and presumably more hospitable to kicking for distance. Dempsey managed it in New Orleans—and without toes.

Curiously, Dempsey’s legendary play was actually foreshadowed one year earlier. On October 5, 1969, he kicked a 55-yard field goal in Los Angeles. That was just one yard shy of the record he would obliterate the following year.

6 Times the Olympics Have Been Postponed or Canceled

Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sander van Ginkel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo have been officially postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to push the start date back to 2021 after Canada, Australia, and other countries announced they would not send athletes to the Summer Games this July.

The Summer Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, typically bringing more than 10,000 athletes from dozens of countries together every four years, The New York Times reports.

It's extremely rare for the Summer or Winter Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Since 1896, when the modern Olympic Games began, it has happened only six times—and it usually requires a war.

The Olympic Games were canceled during World War I and World War II. The 1940 Summer Games, scheduled to take place in Tokyo, were postponed due to war and moved to Helsinki, Finland, where they were later canceled altogether. The current coronavirus pandemic marks the first time the competition has ever been temporarily postponed for a reason other than war. Here's the full list.

  1. 1916 Summer Olympics // Berlin, Germany
  1. 1940 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan and Helsinki, Finland
  1. 1940 Winter Olympics // Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  1. 1944 Summer Olympics // London, United Kingdom
  1. 1944 Winter Olympics // Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
  1. 2020 Summer Olympics // Tokyo, Japan

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