B-Rich

Top 16 Pop-Culture Derived Team Nicknames

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"Pop Culture" can be defined many ways, but it generally refers to those elements shared by all; understood, recognized and often enjoyed by all; and usually widely dispersed via mass media (mostly modern mass media, meaning film, radio, television, popular music-- in general, "Show Biz").

 

Aspects of sports are also considered a form of pop culture-- certain logos over time have become iconic to the point where ANYONE (not just logo geeks like us) will know what team a logo represents.  There is also the use of team colors in everyday apparel, the wearing of replica jerseys and hats as everyday wear and as signifiers in other pop culture aspects (rap is probably the best example of this, though the trend goes back to the '70s with Linda Ronstadt wearing Dodgers jerseys and Christopher Cross wearing  Oilers jerseys on stage).  Sports team names, colors, and apparel thus becomes part of the everyday, pop culture:  'Los Angles Dodgers' as just a term or name makes almost no sense, but with mass media, nearly everyone knows it refers to a baseball team, with a distinctive underlined script jersey, usually in blue and white.

 

So sports becomes pop culture, but what about when it is the OTHER WAY AROUND?  When a sports team takes an inspiration for its name and sometimes color scheme

  • not from it being an intimidating name (Chicago Bears; Detroit Tigers;), or;
  • something key or appropriate to the locality  (San Francisco 49ers, Miami Heat)

 

but instead going to the well of pop culture ITSELF, mainly from popular things present in OTHER mass media-- movies/film, television, popular music-- show biz?

 

I noticed quite few of these over the years, and found out more about them.  It was sort of surprising how many there actually were.  So I began making a list of them, along with descriptions and backgrounds in each.  I have had this on the back burner for a while, but the recent death of Kenny Rogers brought it back in my mind, and the downtime due to COVID 19 gave me some more time to work on it.  So I'm starting it for presentation NOW. 

Here's what I included, and how I ranked them.

 

I included ONLY major professional leagues, not minor leagues or developmental leagues or colleges.  I think minor league baseball alone has enough instances which can be discussed later (we could devote a whole thread alone, in fact,  to the pop-culture trend of minor-league baseball one-offs of local FOODS, for instance).  I also avoided purely corporate names , such as the Miami Hooters and Detroit Neon of the Arena Football League.  I then ranked them generally in terms of longevity (how many years they existed, particularly as a pop-culture team) and then secondarily by the degree to which their name was obvious as a pop culture team, not just via the name, but via their league presence (an NFL team would rank higher than an Arena Football League team or an obscure  '70s NASL team, for instance).

 

Special thanks to Wikipedia, Fun While it Lasted, and the internet in general for all the info/data and some of the photos. 

 

So let's get to it with number 16:

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16. SAN DIEGO JAWS (NASL, 1976)

 

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The first team on our list is a doozy example of a pop culture nickname, but only lasted one year.  The Baltimore Comets moved to San Diego right after the success of the 1975 blockbuster movie "Jaws".  Instead of doing the basic thing and re-naming the franchise "Sharks", the owners went all-out and named the team the San Diego Jaws, complete with Shark imagery.  Like the Jaws movie frenzy, it didn't last long, and after only one year the San Diego Jaws moved to Las Vegas and re-dubbed themselves the Quicksilvers.  They returned again and lasted for quite a while as the San Diego Sockers, however.

 

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15. HOUSTON GAMBLERS (USFL, 1984-1985)

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The Houston Gamblers featured a potent offense led by Jim Kelly, a cool logo featuring a state of Texas outline cut into a red letter "G", and a nickname that seemed a bit out of place in Houston, more associated with oil and space exploration than with casinos and games of chance.  How did this franchise come up with the name "Gamblers", anyway?  The answer lies with pop culture and one of the minority owners. The team's primary owner was Dr. Jerry Argovitz, who also had several big-name minority owners.  The biggest of these was singer/actor Kenny Rogers, who had perhaps his biggest single (and album) hits a few years prior entitled  "The Gambler". 

 

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He himself also "became" the Gambler by starring in a series of made-for-television movies loosely based on the song. 

 

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Feeding off the star power of part-owner Rogers, Argovitz named the expansion franchise after his co-owner's alter ego. 

 

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As we will note later, this was not without precedent in the USFL.

 

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14. HARTFORD/CONNECTICUT BICENTENNIALS (NASL, 1975-1977) 

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In 1975, the NASL placed an expansion team in Hartford, Connecticut.  The county's two hundredth birthday, or bicentennial, was to occur the following year but fervor for it was already in full swing, with commemorative logos, minting of special coins, and informational "Bicentennial Minutes" on TV. 

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Being in one of the 13 original colonies, the owners piggybacked off of this hoopla and named the franchise the Bicentennials.  After playing two years in Hartford the team moved to the Yale Bowl in New Haven, renaming themselves the Connecticut Bicentennials for their last year.  Just as the party ended nationwide, the party ended for the franchise after the 1977 season and they were sold and relocated to Oakland where they became the Stompers.

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13. TAMPA BAY BANDITS (USFL, 1983-1986) 

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While 'Bandits" in and of itself is a pretty good sports team name and has been used several times, it is pretty much common knowledge that the USFL "Tampa Bay Bandits" came about via Burt Reynolds' minority ownership stake in the team, with "The Bandit" from the Smokey and the Bandit movies being his most iconic character.  

 

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This also led to Burt's "crew" being involved-- Jerry Reed wrote a song called "Banditball", and his then-girlfriend Loni Anderson posed for a 'cheesecake' Bandits poster.  

 

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But what many don't know is that the Tampa Bay logo, with the Bandit all in black except for a red bandanna and riding on a black horse, was actually adapted from an image in the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit -- in particular, the mural on Beau "Bandit" Darville's rig:

 

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12. L.A. KISS (Arena Football League, 2014-2016) 

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In 2014, probably the truest pop-culture based team ever arrived on the scene with the addition of the Los Angeles (always stylized as "LA") KISS (always in capital letters).  The name of course referred to the owners of the team, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, and their legendary rock group, KISS. 

 

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The team name referred to nothing else (it would not have made sense otherwise) and shared the same trademarked logo of the band itself.  The design and imagery of the uniforms were representative of the band and their shows, with colors of black, flame red, gold, chrome and white and copious amount of flames present. 

 

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Home games were themed to echo a KISS rock show; they included an electric guitar rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to open each game; loud pyrotechnics and music throughout the game; a "KISS Girls" dance-squad in black leather, and the artificial turf field was also done in a unique silver color scheme.

 

Alas, the life of the L.A. KISS was a short rocket ride.  The franchise only lasted only three seasons before folding.

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11. NEW ORLEANS JAZZ (NBA, 1974-1979) 

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Here we have another entry in a line of music-related pop culture teams, this one named after a popular type of music.  In 1974, the NBA awarded New Orleans an expansion franchise, which was then given a very unusual name -- the Jazz.  It was the first non-plural (no "s") name in the "big 4" sports leagues.  The name was obviously highly appropriate and locally reverential, but it was also another example of a tout ensemble name such as Texas Rangers or Buffalo Bills-- the place designation and nickname combined to represent a specific thing-- a particular style of music, the original New Orleans (also called "Dixieland") Jazz.  One should note that by the time the franchise came about, the term "jazz" as a musical term had grown and branched out into numerous different varieties: cool jazz, modern jazz, smooth jazz, free jazz, jazz fusion, etc.  But the New Orleans Jazz were named specifically for the original local music style, and even featured a traditional  jazz band leading the starters onto the floor and performing numbers during breaks in play:

 

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Of course, the move to Utah killed all local relevance of the nickname as well as its tout ensemble nature, and led to perhaps the worst (certainly the most mismatched), team name in all sports.

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10. NASHVILLE KATS (Arena Football League, 1997-2001 and 2005-2007)

 

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Our next team is also a musically-themed one, but in this case, it refers to a specific SONG. The first version of the Nashville Kats were founded in 1997 and were specifically named for the song "Nashville Cats" by The Lovin' Spoonful.  The song peaked at Number 8 in 1967. 

 

 

 

The Nashville Kats peaked about as high as the song did; while they often made the playoffs, in neither of their two incarnations did they make it to the league championship.

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9. CLEVELAND FORCE (MISL, 1978-1988 and 2002-2005; developmental club, present day) 

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One year after the debut of the hit movie "Star Wars" a team was founded with its name and accoutrements influenced by that movie.  The Cleveland Force was formed in 1978 as one of six founding franchises in the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League, and from its beginning, the Star Wars influence was obvious.   The team's nickname was of course a reference to the Force, a mystical power used by the Jedi Knights in the film.  The team theatrics originally included a costumed Darth Vader 'mascot' and Star Wars music, until the team faced litigation. In 1979, new owner Scott Wolstein worked out an agreement with George Lucas and a year later, the mascot and music returned. 

 

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While attendance was low in the team’s earlier years, by the 1982-83 season the team’s popularity boomed and began to far outpace the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, their co-tenants at the suburban Richfield Coliseum.  In addition to drawing large crowds, the team also had a strong sponsorship base, a booming camps program and a strong merchandise business. But the owners folded the team in 1988. It was soon replaced by a new team, the Cleveland Crunch. 

 

But after 14 years, the name returned.  In 2002, new owners of the Cleveland Crunch re-branded the team anew as the Cleveland Force.  (The “new” Force also played in a “new” Major Indoor Soccer League, which had no connection to the original MISL that folded in 1992).  The retro/nostalgia angle didn’t take; crowds remained small and the new Cleveland Force folded in 2005.

 

However, like the force ghosts of the Star Wars universe, the Cleveland Force name just won't die.  It now lives on as a developmental competitive youth soccer club serving the Cleveland area. Formerly known as CSA Impact United,  they recently changed their name to Cleveland Force SC.

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Expecting "Anaheim Ducks" to be #1.

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8 hours ago, Quillz said:

Expecting "Anaheim Ducks" to be #1.

 

My money's on "Baltimore Ravens", with "Albuquerque Isotopes" a close second.

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8. CHICAGO STING (NASL, 1975-1984; MISL, 1984-1988)

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For our next team, we once again use the movies as a source.  The Chicago Sting were founded in 1974 and competed in the NASL for the first time in the 1975 season.  The team was named in reference to the popular (and Best Picture award-winning) 1973 film, The Sting, whose action was set in Chicago of the 1930s. 

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The logo featured a slightly anthropomorphic bee or yellow jacket, wearing a 1930s era-appropriate boater hat.  Also of note was the font used in the logo, which was VERY similar to that of the movie poster and the inter-title cards used between each section of the film. That font in fact was designed to be reminiscent of that used on the cover of the old Saturday Evening Post—a popular publication of the 1930s.

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The Sting lasted to the bitter end of the NASL in 1984, then transitioned over to the indoor-only MISL later that same year, but folded four years later.

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7. MIGHTY DUCKS OF ANAHEIM (NHL, 1993-2006)

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One of the most unusual names on the list and most obviously pop-culture-derived is this one.  In early 1993, an Anaheim Arena crowd cheered Disney Chariman Michael Eisner’s decision to name the team after Disney’s  box-office hit movie from the previous year, “The Mighty Ducks.”.  The movie was also about a hockey team, in this case a struggling youth hockey team who, with the help of their new coach, become champions. 

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Eisner admitted that the name was a little different and could be ridiculed, and team general manager Tony Tavares admitted that he “begged” Eisner not to go with The Mighty Ducks as a team name, “but after seeing some of the promotions, it was fine,” he said.

 

With Disney at the helm, the team did become a clear hit in terms of merchandising.  Tie-ins also occurred with two sequels to the original movie (wherein the youth hockey team wore the same jerseys as the pro team) as well as a Mighty Ducks animated TV series about anthropomorphic hockey playing ducks.

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Over time, the hoopla died down, and in 2005 Disney sold the franchise to Henry and Susan Samueli, who changed the name of the team to the more generic 'Anaheim Ducks' before the 2006–07 season, taking away their obvious pop culture connection.

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6. PHILADELPHIA SOUL (Arena Football League, 2004-2008 and 2011-2019)

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Another in a line of music-based teams, the franchise began play in 2004, using a stylized musical note with a football (reminiscent of the St.Louis Blues and New Orleans Jazz logos).  While some may have thought the name "Soul" to be somewhat generic or even referring to soul music in general, the name "Philadelphia Soul" referred specifically to the "Philadelphia soul" music genre, (also called Philly soul, the Philadelphia sound, or Phillysound), a genre of late 1960s–1970s soul music characterized by funk influences and lush instrumental arrangements, often featuring sweeping strings and piercing horns.  Popular examples of this genre include hits by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Spinners, the Stylistics, the Three Degrees, the O'Jays, and the Delfonics; Mc Fadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stopping Us Now", the Trammps "Disco Inferno" from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and perhaps the most famous, "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" by MFSB, which was used and adapted as the theme song  for the TV show Soul Train.  

 

As such, the name is another in the tout ensemble mode, similar to the Colorado Rockies  or Florida Panthers, the place name and team name referring to a specific whole.

 

It is interesting to note  that while team co-owner Jon Bon Jovi was a famous musician, his style of pop rock bore no resemblance to the genre of music known as Philadelphia soul.

 

The Philadelphia Soul surprisingly lasted for 14 years over two iterations of the Arena Football League, ending when the league ceased operations for a second time in 2019.

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5. KANSAS CITY WIZ/WIZARDS (MLS, 1995-2010)

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Our next entry is a case of "who do you believe?" in terms of the development of the name, colors and uniforms. 

 

One of the founding franchises of the MLS in 1995, the Kansas City Wiz' s name, geography and prominent rainbow motif were obvious references to the movie (and book) 'The Wizard of Oz'.   Novelty T-shirts for sale in catalogs at the league's beginning backed this up, with a Wizard of Oz flying monkey and the phrase, "Bad Monkeys, Red Cards".  But the Wiz’s  own 1996 media guide claimed, preposterously, that drawing a connection to the classic film was “never an intention of the club”.  General Manager Tim Latta instead boasted of a “medieval, Knights of the Round Table theme” for the club’s marketing efforts.  Similarly, owner Lamar Hunt claimed "it had nothing to do with The Wizard of Oz,” says Rob Thomson, a VP who has been with the organization since 1997.  But Thomson also notes that claim from Hunt was “curious,” given the team’s ties to (Dorothy’s) Kansas and the (somewhere-over-the) rainbow color scheme that made the team’s early jerseys stand out.

 

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Why then did no one in the organization want to acknowledge the obvious reference to the Wizard of Oz?  It is mainly because in truth, they had little to do with the name, logo, color scheme and uniforms of the team when they were first developed.  From the beginning, the MLS has had a different style of ownership, with the league operating under a single-entity structure in which teams and player contracts are centrally owned by the league, and each MLS team having an investor-operator (not an "owner" in the traditional sense) that is a shareholder in the league.  Rather than individual owner efforts and asking the fans to pick their name, back in 1995 the league’s four kit suppliers – Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Puma – had been given permission by the league to design the brands for the teams they were supplying.  Adidas was tabbed to set up Kansas City’s brand identity.  And they came up with … Wiz.  Though the club’s colors were officially Carolina blue & black, the defining features of the club’s original names and look were the garish rainbow stripes on the team kits: 

 

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It should be noted that after the first year of play, legal action from New York-based electronics retailer Nobody Beats the Wiz led the franchise to alter course slightly and become the more conventional Wizards.   And that's the way they stayed until new ownership changed to the more Europhilic Sporting Kansas City in 2010.

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4. TORONTO RAPTORS (NBA, 1995 – 2015) 

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Toronto re-entered the NBA on November 4, 1993, when the NBA, as part of its expansion into Canada, placed its 28th franchise in the city (there had been an earlier team for one season, the 1946–47 Toronto Huskies).  While there was some initial sentiment in reviving the Huskies nickname, team management realized it would be nearly impossible to design a logo that did not substantially resemble that of the Minnesota Timberwolves.  As a result, a nationwide contest was held to help name the team.  Over 2,000 entries were narrowed down to ten prospects: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers.  The final selection—Toronto Raptors—was unveiled on Canadian national television on May 15, 1994.  It should be noted that the choice was clearly influenced by the overwhelming popularity of the film Jurassic Park, which was released the previous summer (1993). 

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“Raptor” is a shortened form of velociraptor, a swift, medium-sized, particularly vicious dinosaur; one that is thought to have operated in “packs” or “teams”.  It was heavily featured in the 1993 movie. 

 

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Prior to that movie being released, the name “Raptor” was rarely a part of the daily lexicon and was not nearly as well-known as a type of dinosaur, particularly when compared to larger examples such as the brontosaurus, T-rex, triceratops, etc.  More often than not, when the term was used it was used as an alternate form to describe “birds of prey”.  The 1993 movie (and its sequels) changed all that, and no doubt the use of the Toronto Raptor dinosaur logo over the following nearly twenty years also pushed the dinosaur/Raptor connection deeper into the public psyche.  However, the move to drop the dinosaur and move to the "clawed ball" logo has effectively separated the name's link to the pop culture origin of the team.

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3. ST. LOUIS BLUES (NHL, 1967-present)

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Founded in 1967, the St. Louis Blues are one of the six teams from the 1967 NHL expansion that doubled the size of the league.  The team was named by owner Sid Saloman Jr. after W.C. Handy's popular tune, "St. Louis Blues." 

 

 

 

Other names under consideration were Mercury and Apollo as the space capsules with those names were built in St. Louis.

Despite color changes over the years, the team logo, a stylized musical note, has remained rather constant.

 

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2. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (NFL, 1967-present)

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One of the lesser know fact about the New Orleans Saints name is that it comes not from the area's Catholic heritage, and not just as a generic name, but instead from perhaps the most popular New Orleans Dixieland jazz standard, "When the Saints Go Marching In".  Though the song began as a Christian hymn and a black spiritual, it was later adopted as a jazz standard and became more famous as such.  The song (often with adaptation of the lyrics) is often used as a fight song by many other sports teams around the world.

 

 

Also not as well know was the fact that despite the presence of a "name the team" contest after the franchise was awarded to the city (fittingly, on All Saints Day in 1966) the name 'Saints' for the franchise was essentially a fait accompli.  As far back as the early 1960s, local business man and entrepreneur Dave Dixon had been leading the charge to acquire either an NFL or AFL franchise for the city-- dealing with league officials and owners, pushing local and state elected politicians, setting up exhibition games, etc.  In various items in print during those time, he always referred to the prospective team as the New Orleans Saints, well before a franchise was formally awarded:

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1. BUFFALO BILLS (All-America Football Conference, 1947 to 1949; American Football League, 1960-1969, NFL, 1970- present). 

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The original AAFC Bills were named after spending one year as the “Bisons" which had been the traditional nickname for many Buffalo teams.  Owner James Breuil held a name-the-team contest in hopes of choosing a more distinctive nickname; and the winning choice was "Bills", which was a play on the name of the famed Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody:

 

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When Buffalo was awarded a franchise in the new American Football League in 1960, owner Ralph Wilson revived the name “Buffalo Bills”, a name which continues on to this day. 

 

Many people know of Buffalo Bill Cody as a famed Wild West figure, and while in his youth he HAD been a scout, pony express rider, and a bison hunter, what many do not know was that he was most of all a showman, an international celebrity, and an American icon who helped popularize Western culture via his shows.  

 

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He founded "Buffalo Bill's Wild West", a circus-like attraction that toured annually not only in the US but across the world-- not just for several years, but for decades (1883-1906).  He and his show played before millions of common folk as well as luminaries such as Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II and the future King George V. 

 

Larry McMurtry, along with historians such as R.L. Wilson, asserts that at the turn of the 20th century,  Buffalo Bill Cody was the most recognizable celebrity on earth.

 

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That list is crap - the Hitmen are the best example there was, the best example there is, and the best example there ever will be.

 

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14 hours ago, BringBackTheVet said:

That list is crap - the Hitmen are the best example there was, the best example there is, and the best example there ever will be.

 

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It IS a great example, but as I stated in the criteria, "... not minor leagues or developmental leagues or colleges".

 

If I were to include minor/development leagues, off the top of my head, this would obviously be one, as would the Albuquerque Isotopes and the Capital City Go-Go.

Any other ideas, suggestions or comments welcome. 

 

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