Sports movies love a ragtag team of goofballs because that's precisely what a sports team in real life is not. Real teams are big businesses full of highly paid professionals, and leagues have no tolerance for craziness beyond the occasional player adopting a wacky nickname. It wasn't always like that, though. Every sport has an "anything goes" period in its history when insanity was just par for the course.
#5. One Pro Football Team Was Started Purely to Sell Dogs
When the NFL was taking its first baby steps in the 1920s, football had not yet become the multibillion-dollar beast we know today. Fans at the time were thus treated to small town franchises like the (awesomely named) Tonawanda Kardex. There was none of the commercialism or product placement that ruins the purity of pro sports today. But all this changed with the Oorang Indians, a team that was less about gridiron excellence and more about selling dogs.
The Oorang Indians were all about promoting Airedale hunting terriers. This was their logo:
Their rivals were sponsored by Vicks.
The team was the brainchild of Walter Lingo, owner of Oorang Kennels, and on paper, the lineup wasn't bad, which only makes the rest of this that much sadder. (They were helmed by all-around sports legend Jim Thorpe and had another future Hall of Famer, Joe Guyon.) You see, while the Indians did play games just like any other team, the real action for them was always during the pregame and halftime, when they burst into elaborate live-action advertisements featuring Lingo's Airedales.
In their defense, that dog led the team in interceptions.
The dogs gave trailing and retrieval performances, up to and including chasing a live bear up a tree. (Yes, the players had to haul a live bear with them. Yes, they also wrestled said bear during halftime, because why not?) The players gave shooting exhibitions, dance performances, fancy tomahawk shows, and even goddamn re-enactments of World War I scenarios. Then the halftime show ended and the same guys who'd just spun axes and wrestled wild animals while the other team was recuperating went right back to playing again.
This not only gave them the dubious honor of pioneering the modern halftime show (thanks for that shitty Black Eyed Peas Super Bowl medley, dudes!), it also guaranteed that as an actual football team they spent most of their time getting teabagged. 62-0 defeats weren't unheard of. Lingo pulled some strings to ensure that the Indians played almost all of their games on rival turf, and thus in front of fresh audiences. This constant touring, together with Lingo's indifference toward their performance on the gridiron, meant that the team devoted quite a lot of time to partying, and often performed hung over or even drunk.
Back in those days, the Redskins would have been considered the height of racial understanding.
The Indians disbanded in 1923 after two seasons of subpar performance. Say what you want, but we're maintaining healthy respect for anyone who plays football, juggles axes, and wrestles bears while bombed out of their skull.
#4. Las Vegas Posse Proves Why Major Leagues Shun Vegas
For the uninitiated, Canadian football is a pretty big deal in its native land, playing second fiddle only to the NHL. In the mid-1990s, the Canadian Football League noticed an opening south of the border: Several large American cities had no NFL team and were thus sorely lacking in prime football entertainment. So, the CFL decided to expand their league in the U.S. to see if these cities would be interested in a store-brand version. This resulted in the Las Vegas Posse.
The first batch of these had to be destroyed due to an unfortunate typo.
There are many reasons why major leagues steer clear of Las Vegas, all of which boil down to one thing: The City of Sin prefers lounge-y entertainment and showmanship over athletic competition.
The Las Vegas Posse proved a perfect demonstration of this, as they dove into the CFL pool with all the grace and motor control of a wildly gyrating Tom Jones. The team's hilarious ineptitude became apparent almost instantly, possibly having to do with the fact that their training field was far smaller than an actual playing field. The rest of the team quickly found that the Nevada desert shockingly doesn't provide optimal conditions to play an extremely physical sport outdoors while wearing tons of padding and a dark helmet. At this point, their coach attempted to turn their luck not by changing strategy, but by sending a scantily clad showgirl squad to "hang around" the opponents' bench. Even the pre-game anthem singers jumped on the Fuck It Train by accidentally singing the national anthem of Canada to the tune of "O Christmas Tree," a masterful move in a league governed entirely by Canadians.
An example of Canadian anger.
The Posse's complete lack of success, talent, and common sense soon sent their attendance numbers dwindling. They tried to fight their imminent demise by staging stunts such as halftime bikini contests, but when even boobies proved powerless, they decided to fold. And we mean they actually quit during the season, with one game still to play.
The CFL politely reminded them that they could not, in fact, do that. Then they forced the already belly-up Posse to fly to Toronto and have their last "home" game there, with the CFL paying all the expenses. Incidentally, the CFL pulled the hell out of America the following year. They have not been back since.
#3. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles Were Forced to Play a Season as the "Steagles"
If you have a favorite sports team, chances are you also have plenty of opinions about their rival team -- the sports equivalent of that asshole neighbor who never returned the lawnmower you're certain he borrowed from you all those years ago. These rivalries are made worse by proximity -- this is why the Bears and Packers hate each other, and why the two NFL teams from Philadelphia -- the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles -- have a long-standing rivalry.
Now imagine a sports movie where, due to some contrivance, the "good" team of scrappy underdogs is forced to merge with the "evil" team from the next town over. And imagine that the head coaches of those two teams hate each other, but are forced to work together. This "too stupid even for a sports movie" plot actually occurred.
"Someone call my agent ..."
The Steelers and Eagles were for one season forced to play as a hybrid team dubbed the "Steagles." That's because in 1943, the constant stream of young men heading abroad for World War II left everyone short on manpower on the homefront. Team owners realized that their rosters didn't have enough players to take the field anymore, so some teams withdrew completely, and it seemed like the entire season would have to be cancelled. NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden, however, wasn't having any of that. He contacted the Steelers and Eagles -- who had only six and 12 players left, respectively -- and suggested the unthinkable.
Pro Football Hall of Fame
If you listen closely, you can hear Philly and Pittsburgh readers vomiting in unison.
The teams reluctantly agreed to the arrangement, which enabled the league to limp through the season. They originally agreed on calling the hybrid team either "Phil-Pitt Combine" or "Eagles-Steelers" without the city prefix, but the media quickly dubbed them the Steagles, and that was that.
Neither team's head coach -- Philadelphia's Greasy Neale and Pittsburgh's Walt Kiesling -- would agree to be demoted, so they served as co-head coaches. This proved difficult: They had radically different coaching methods, and, oh yeah, also hated each other with the nuclear fire of a thousand colliding suns. The risk that every game could devolve into a screaming contest led to them dividing coaching responsibilities -- one would coach offense, while the other took care of defense. Of course, even if they'd agreed on everything, they would've been cracking a pretty impossible nut: The Steagles had been frankensteined together from the unfit-for-active-duty scraps of two of the weakest teams in the league, and could only train at night because the players had to spend their days working in defense plants.
Courtesy Urban Archives, Temple University Libraries
One of these men was involved in the Manhattan Project.
Yet somehow, the Steagles ended up performing like a boss. Although the hybrid team creaked at the seams, the players were motivated, and the feuding coaches' inability to work together had accidentally invented the positions of modern offensive and defensive coordinators. They finished the season with a very reasonable 5-4-1 and were heading full gear toward the 1944 season ... until the Army released its NFL players.
Now, if this were a movie, this would be when the teams realize that they have more in common than they thought and try to stick it out together and win the whole thing. This was not a movie, however, and despite the fact that the NFL still needed a hybrid team (they had an odd number otherwise), Philadelphia emphatically told Pittsburgh to suck it, and the Steagles disbanded in the blink of an eye. The Steelers were forced to play yet another hybrid season with the Chicago Cardinals. They didn't win a single game.
#2. The Worcester Worcesters Con Their Way to Greatness
1879 was a hectic year for baseball executives. The Syracuse Stars of the National League had folded, and they had to find a replacement fast. Who could have guessed that the replacement team, called the fucking Worcester Worcesters, would turn out to be a ridiculous slapdick operation? Hell, this minor league team from Massachusetts already had the problem of its city not having enough residents to meet franchise requirements, and the league got around this by basically redrawing the town's boundaries so that it became populous enough. They probably shouldn't have bothered.
Here's how disorganized things were at the time: It's hard to pin down if "The Worcesters" was even their name. History books refer to them alternately as Worcesters, Brown Stockings, or Ruby Legs, at least two of which sound like old-timey disease symptoms.
Then there were the money problems: Once in the league, the Worcesters/Stockings/Legs turned out to be almost bankrupt. In an attempt to raise money, the team went to the citizens' pockets. They did literally anything to score cash: sold shares, hosted walking races, and held benefit concerts and "dramatic performances," which is clearly code for tearful stories about sick grandmothers. Sadly, history books don't explicitly state whether the players were operating a shell game on a street corner.
After the team went off to lose their cash again on a highly publicized exhibition trip to Cuba, they actually had some success in the league. Soon, though, the Worcesters were spiraling down in the rankings. Getting kicked out seemed imminent, so the team decided that drastic measures were needed. If the league was insistent on kicking out the worst franchise, then they had to stop being the worst. Clearly the only way to do this was to prove that someone else sucked more than they did. Fortunately, they found that the Cincinnati Reds were selling alcohol at their stadium, and immediately spilled the beans to the National League. The league promptly kicked the Reds out, which secured the Worcesters' place for a little longer. Success!
However, the Reds made a comeback a couple of years later, and this time the Worcesters were truly screwed. Their bad performances and league-induced removal of key team members for "crankiness" had taken their toll (thank God the world doesn't still consider this a fireable offense). Ironically, their folding paved the way for future MLB legends the Philadelphia Phillies, whose presence helped stabilize the league and turn it into the global sports standard it remains today.
#1. The St. Louis Browns' Slow Descent into Madness
For 50 years, there was one Major League Baseball team you could always count on to occupy last place: the aptly named St. Louis Browns. They sucked their way through the league from 1901 until well into the 1940s, and their only World Series appearance was in 1944, when most of the league was fighting in World War II and they were left behind because they were unfit for duty.
Of course, they lost even that -- to local rivals the Cardinals, no less. After that, the team started a slow, deliberate descent into madness. They sifted through players and coaches like you'd leaf through a magazine in a waiting room. The players they hired got stranger, too -- take Pete Grey, a one-armed outfielder. Granted, he did hit over .200, so at this point they might have still had some semblance of sanity.
In 1950, a new owner called Bill Veeck ushered in a new era and threw "reason" and "logic" out of the window.
Writings on Subjects
Well of course, what else would you do with it?
Under Veeck, the team finally left the remainder of their senses. They hired a 3-foot 7-inch player, Eddie Gaedel (player number: 1/8), and started to ask fans (the last people you actually should ask) for coaching decisions via signs they'd hold up from the stands. Neither of those things is a joke.
The final vote was ruined by the dyslexic guy in back.
The Browns ousted the lunatic and got new owners. Then, they changed their name and moved to a different state. You know, just in case (they became the Baltimore Orioles).
Veeck, however, was far from done. He went on to purchase the Chicago White Sox and became one of the most famous owners in history, driving attendance through a series of publicity stunts that ranged from the now-standard fireworks after a home run to the disastrous "Disco Demolition" night in 1979 when a plan to explode a pile of disco records on the field as a publicity stunt somehow went wrong.
When not wondering how Los Angeles does not have an NFL team yet, Evan V. Symon can be on Facebook. Why not friend him?