May 31 – False Start

Legendary Leagues

Most leagues fail within their first year of operation. If they survive long enough to hand out their inaugural championship, then they usually face other elements of strife, such as low attendance, trouble landing a TV broadcasting deal, and teams folding or relocating. The waters are rough, but if a leagues treads long enough, it just may endure. Here are the top 5 defunct sports leagues and their intriguing stories:

#5: X Football League

Because the NFL just wasn’t fun enough, along came the XFL from World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Vince McMahon. Ironically, while most believe the ‘X’ stood for eXtreme, this is not actually the case and the ‘X’ was never defined. In partnership with NBC, the league only lasted one season. With a few rule changes that were meant to spice up pro football, the eight-team league was dogged by the stigma attached to professional wrestling and what many thought was an inferior quality of play. Ratings were initially strong, but dropped in half from week one to week two and continued to decline over the course of the year. The XFL fizzled out following the season-ending Million Dollar Game and closed up shop on May 10, 2001. Both McMahon and NBC reportedly lost $35 million each in the joint venture.

XFL

#4: SlamBall

A sport with trampolines and full body contact… sounds like a recipe for success to the Sip Advisor and the one time in my life I was mildly interested in the sport of basketball. When TNN (now Spike TV) was making strides to change its image from a country music station to a network geared towards male viewers, one of their early experiments was SlamBall. Unfortunately, the league only ran seasons in 2002, 2003 and 2008, but did hold an international tournament in 2012, in China. Created by Mason Gordon, SlamBall grew from six to eight teams for the 2003 season, but a disagreement between Gordon and Warner Bros. ended with the league being dissolved. The 2008 season returned to a six-team format and the winning coach was Samuel L. Jackson… er, I mean Coach (Ken) Carter.

#3: Roller Hockey International

The early 90’s were a wonderful time and part of that amazing period was the advent and popularity of rollerblades. So, along comes the RHI, hoping to capitalize on that fad. Games were even broadcast on ESPN2 during the early years, showing the potential popularity the sport could have harnessed. The high-scoring (RHI averaged 16.7 goals per game, compared to the NHL’s seven at the time) league played from 1993-97 and also in 1999. Played 4-on-4, a number of NHL alum also strapped on the blades, including Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier. Unfortunately, a planned Super Nintendo video game never materialized, although that fact probably saved me hours in front of the TV and instead, I was outside playing roller hockey! RHI folded operations for good in 2001, despite some of the best team names ever seen in sport.

RHI SNES

Sadly, it never came to be!

#2: United States Football League

Looking to compete with the NFL and offer fans an alternative to fill their growing football needs, the USFL may not have succeeded, but many of the innovations they brought to the game, as well as markets they used for franchises, would eventually be adopted by the NFL juggernaut. Backed by Donald Trump and others with deep pockets, the league produced a number of stars who also enjoyed success in the NFL, as well as two future wrestling World Champions in Lex Luger and Ron Simmons. The crushing blow to the USFL came when they filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, claiming it had established a monopoly. Despite expecting a substantial windfall, the USFL was awarded $1 (that’s not a typo). Heavily in debt, the league ceased operations. The ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary Who Killed the USFL? examines the league’s brief existence.

#1: World Hockey Association

Launching in 1972 with 12 teams, the WHA made an immediate big splash with the signing of NHL star Bobby Hull to a 10-year, $2.7 million contract. In all, 67 players jumped ship from the NHL to the WHA for the inaugural season. Sadly, the league was plagued with difficulties, including financial struggles, arena issues, teams relocating, and franchises folding. Four WHA franchises still exist in today’s NHL: the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets (moved to Phoenix), Quebec Nordiques (moved to Colorado), and Hartford Whalers (moved to Carolina). The league’s legacy also lives on via European stars coming to North America, higher salaries, and a lower draft age. For an in-depth look at the WHA’s seven tumultuous seasons, check out Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.

Super Saturday Shot Day: False Start

False Start Shot

  • 0.4 oz Cider
  • 0.4 oz Bourbon
  • 0.4 oz Brandy
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Garnish with an Apple Slice

Honourable mentions include the American Basketball Association, which was loosely spoofed in the Will Ferrell film Semi-Pro, and the Arena Football League, which cancelled their 2009 season, but has since been resurrected under new ownership. Which defunct sports league do you miss?

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
This shooter went down very easy and was fun thanks to the bubbles of the Cider. The Bourbon and Brandy flavours do play a role, but not too aggressively. That makes for a couple good Cider recipes for me in the last little while and I might be experiencing a change of heart as far as the beverage goes!

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July 4 – Firework Fizz

Home of the Brave

Today, we salute our neighbours to the south (unless you’re from the UK… why would you salute the French!? Oh okay, they do make a fine guillotine…article to come on July 14th!) as they celebrate their Independence Day (no, not the movie, you knucklehead). Here are the pearls of wisdom I learned about American patriotism from watching years of professional wrestling, where many of life’s great lessons can be learned!

#1) You want to be a good guy? Wear the red, white and blue.

A countless number of wrestlers, including Lex Luger, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, the Patriot, and Hulk Hogan (as his Mr. America character), have donned the American colours as part of their wardrobe. I have to ask, though, is it really being patriotic to have the American flag cradling your junk? Regardless of whether this is actually more damaging or not to the country’s shades, it’s an instant identifier that you are, in fact, to be cheered.

Torrie-Wilson

I’m okay with this kind of patriotism!

#2) The flag must never be desecrated.

With the jury still out on the crotch cover issue, one thing is for sure: the American flag is off limits. You can’t even break the pole holding the flag in half or your life is in serious jeopardy. If you lay the flag over a fallen foe, that is practically sacrilegious. Wrestlers have threatened to stage a live burning of the stars and stripes, only to be attacked en masse. Other flags can be defiled without issue, such as when Shawn Michaels stuffed the Canadian maple leaf up his nose during the early D-Generation X days.

#3) Every foreigner is a bad guy.

Well, we all knew this! The easiest way to draw heat onto a heel in wrestling is to make him a foreigner. They don’t even have to despise the good ol’ U.S. of A. at first, as long as they eventually get there. Even if the foreign character is simply being as patriotic towards their own country as any American hero would be towards his nation, the crowd will turn on them in a heartbeat. The ironic thing is that many of the greatest foreign heels were actually played by Americans. Nelson Simpson from Minnesota portrayed Nikita Koloff, who marched to the ring wearing the U.S.S.R. colours and competed in Russian Chain matches. The dastardly Yokozuna, a Japanese sumo wrestler, was depicted by Samoan-American Rodney Anoa’i. And the list goes on and on!

yokozuna

#4) If that foreigner converts, they become lovable.

When Nikita Koloff joined forces with longtime foe, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes, he became one of the company’s most popular stars in an instant. Similarly, as the Berlin Wall fell to the ground and the Cold War ended, Nikolai Volkoff went from U.S.S.R. anthem singing baddie to a man who embraced the coming together of the two rival countries, even wearing a jacket that featured both nation’s flags.

#5) Turncoats are worse than foreign bad guys.

When Sgt. Slaughter began empathizing with Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi side of the Gulf War, he was hated so much that WrestleMania VII had to be moved from the outdoor Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the indoor L.A. Sports Arena because of security worries, including death threats against the former G.I. Joe character (although most insiders contend that poor ticket sales were really to blame). Other Benedict Arnold’s, if you will, include staunch American flag waver Jim Duggan, who joined a Team Canada faction for a time and looked out of place flapping the Canadian maple leaf and wearing a red and white tracksuit, sans the blue.

#6) Canadians are anti-American.

It has been done countless times in wrestling, where a group of Canadians have banded together to take on the entire and overwhelming American roster. A Team Canada unit existed in both WCW and TNA, while WWE hosted the pro-Canadian Hart Foundation and the Un-Americans. While I’m all for Canadian patriotism myself, it is usually only seen in the realm of hockey. I have to give credit to the Canadian mat stars that align together in the name of our country… sadly, they always wind up on the losing end of things.

Lance Storm

#7) Politics makes strange bedfellows.

When there aren’t enough members of one nationality challenging an American troupe, odd groupings can result. At the 1993 Survivor Series, the team of Japanese monster Yokozuna, Finnish strongman Ludvig Borga, and Canadian tag team The Quebecers, did battle with the All-Americans, putting to end a number of feuds that had lasted throughout the year.

#8) The “U-S-A, U-S-A” chant is devastating to foreigners.

This seems to be a foreign heel’s kryptonite. They can take ample amounts of physical punishment from their opponent, but if the crowd revs up and starts chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” it sends the bad guy into a panicked rage, searching for relief by manically covering his ears, violently shaking his head, and searching for all ways to relieve the stress of being chanted at. Ironically, I’ve even heard the U-S-A chant directed at a bad guy while he was facing a Canadian grappler.

#9) Forgive and forget.

I have to give credit to the Americans, when a wrestler wants to make amends for his evil deeds and return to his patriotic roots, he is accepted back into the fold without hesitation. For example, after his Iraqi sympathizer stint, Sgt. Slaughter was featured in a series of vignettes, demanding his country back. Similarly, turncoat Jim Duggan has gone back to his flag waving ways and shouting “U-S-A,” sending crowds into a frenzy of patriotism, as they eat up the decades old act, once again.

Drink #185: Firework Fizz

Firework Fizz Drink Recipe

  • Muddled Peeled Ginger and Blackberries
  • 1.5 oz Vodka (I used Bols, infused with grape powder)
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • Top with Ginger Ale
  • Garnish with Ginger-Wrapped Blackberry

The most patriotic Americans seem to be wrestlers. There was even a wrestler named The Patriot, who wore an American flag-themed mask and tights, wrestled as part of a tag team dubbed Stars and Strpes, and incorporated finishing maneuvers like the Uncle Slam and Patriot Missile. Only in the world of wrestling!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (4 Sips out of 5):
The Muddled Ginger is certainly an interesting flavour to have in a cocktail. The blend of Ginger and Blackberries is good and Ginger Ale has still yet to fail me. The original recipe calls for Grape Vodka, but personally I have been unable to find it in any of the liqour stores in Canada. Despite this fault, the Grape Powder Infused Vodka worked pretty well, if I don’t say so myself!