The Best Team Is One That Can’t Hurt You Anymore
8:55 AM EDT on August 3, 2023
We have checked in on the deeply hopeless Edmonton Elks before, here and more recently here, so we break no news here when we report that they lost their 21st consecutive home game last weekend, 27-0 to the British Columbia Lions.
But here's why we dredge up the underpowered Wapiti-By-Another-Name again. The reports from the game included this delightful bit of historical magic: "The loss surpassed the longest run of consecutive home losses held by Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Browns, who lost 20 straight in 1953." The St. Louis Freaking Browns!
The Browns, you see, are the greatest defunct team in a high holy days litany of defunct teams, because they have been defunct for 70-plus years now, and are famous mostly for being the worst team in MLB history by virtue of championships won (zero), championships contested (one, in 1944 when they had the wisdom to sign the largest number of players who had deferments from serving World War II), winning percentage (last), players with two full arms (everyone but Pete Gray), and players with a height of greater than four feet (everyone but Eddie Gaedel).
They are, in short, whatever the direct opposite of the platinum standard for sports franchises is, in that they were always understaffed, almost always the second team in the town in which they played, even in their single World Series appearance, and even took the leftover name of St. Louis’s better team when it changed its name to Cardinals.
And they remind us that defunct teams are always the best ones, because they can no longer do the slimy/creepy/dodgy/mendacious/Snyder-y things that current teams can. Defunct teams have goofier nicknames (Tonawanda Kardex), weirder backstories (Tonawanda Kardex), briefer histories (Tonawanda Kardex), and are more fun to say than anything that exists now (Utah Jazz). They weren't owned by billionaires, and in fact were usually woefully underfunded, and their team logos were at best preposterous and at worst blasphemous.
And before you get all up in your I-don't-want-to-google feelings, the Tonawanda Kardex was a member of the precursor to the National Football League, named after an index card manufacturer, and lasted one game in 1921, which they lost, 45-0. They were previously a semipro team whose first game ever had been a loss to the spectacularly named Lancaster Malleables, and died because it couldn't find other teams to schedule and because the league entrance fee for 1922 rose from $50 to $1000, or .0000002 of the price of the Denver Broncos sold.
There are lots of Kardex stories. The 1950–51 Denver Nuggets of the NBA finished 11-51 and died like rats, only to win an NBA title 72 years later with no links to anything or anyone. There were Dallas Texans while Harry Truman was President, quitting after going 1-11 in their only season. There were Baltimore Bullets who got hooked after 14 games in 1954 and they were so hooked that their records no longer exist, and neither do the teams that played them.
But the most truly defunct teams died as parts of dead leagues, like any of the dozens of soccer leagues that predated MLS. Indeed, the last team to actually roll over and die without any attempt at resuscitation from a league that still exists was Chivas USA, a stepchild of Mexican team Club de Guadalajara that began as MLS's 13th team but was killed by the league itself in 2014 after years of crackpot ownership. The World Hockey Association died in 1979 and folded three entire countries' national teams—the Soviet Union, Finland, and Czechoslovakia, and if you want to talk defunct, you've hit the mother lode here. Czechoslovakia is as defunct as the Holy Roman Empire, the original home of Notre Dame.
Now here's where the definition of defunct gets elastic—when teams move. Not that this is a new phenomenon, mind you. The Chicago Bears began as the Decatur Staleys in 1920, when George Halas was only in his late 60s. The Los Angeles Rams began not in St. Louis or Los Angeles before that but in Cleveland in 1937. The Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks both began from the mutant seeds of the California/Oakland/California Golden Seals/Minnesota North Stars/Cleveland Barons. The St. Louis Browns were the MIlwaukee Brewers before they became the Baltimore Orioles, and the Brewers were the Seattle Pilots. The Kings were once the Royals, and Sacramento was Kansas City, and before that Omaha, and before that Cincinnati, and before that Rochester. The Dodgers were the Atlantics before they begat the Bridegrooms, who begat the Grooms, who begat the Bridegrooms again, who begat the Superbas, who begat the Robins, who begat the Superbas again, who begat the Dodgers (from Trolley Dodgers) and then moved to Los Angeles because Walter O'Malley wanted a new stadium and thought Brooklyn had too many brown people. Yay history.
But defunct is where the heart is, because the one thing we know about defunct teams is that they cannot commit any more fiscal or political crimes, because they're dead. Nobody can blame the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons for the way the Detroit Pistons play because Fred Zollner, who made pistons and owned the team, relocated to Uncle Billy's farm in 1982. The Cincinnati Kelly's Killers were named after team captain King Kelly, whose Wikipedia page included the citation "Kelly and his killers found themselves in jail frequently as a result of attempting to play baseball on Sundays." Those are such better stories than "the Denver Broncos were sold to semi-evil members of the soul-sucking Walmart empire."
The nicknames were also better back in the days before any of us were disturbing leers in our parents' eyes. Maybe this is just anti-modern-marketing bias, but there isn't a nickname of a team founded since 1950 that hasn't been marketer-washed and doesn't stink. The Boston Celtics stole their nickname from the Original Celtics, who played out of New York, which also housed the little-noted football team the New York Philadelphians. The Knickerbockers are named after a family who left New York in the 18th century. More teams, more stupid backstories—those are the rules.
And while we await the next two to eight teams in the MLS endless expansion plan (Every City Above 80,000 Population By 2027, And All Of Them Named FC, Real, Borussia or Shakhtar), our most earnest hope is that the next new team will soon be among us. And no, we're not talking about the Las Vegas A's, who should be relocated to the surface of the sun, owner first, before they leave Oakland, and even the fans from their most hated rivals believe that.
We speak of course of the Atlantic Schooners of the Canadian Football League, who have existed, kind of, since 1982 and still haven't played their first game because they haven't actually been formed yet. The city of Halifax has taken the absurdly Trotskyite step of declining to build a gigantic stadium for the nonexistent team that would house more fans than the team will ever see. Its first coach, John Huard, never coached a game, and was later hired by the CFL expansion Shreveport Pirates and was fired in June before they ever played a game, making him almost certainly the first coach to compile a record of 0-0 with two teams.
Now that's a defunct team, the kind you can back forever because as much as they might have shamed you at the time, they can never shame you again.
In other words, your favorite team should always be one that has either died nobly (Seattle SuperSonics), died for being too ethnic (Toronto Metros-Croatia), pretends to be from everywhere (NWSL franchises Angel City, OL, Bay), has pissed away mad money on old people to get you to notice them (Inter Miami, the New York Jets) or hasn't begun to break your heart (our beloved Schooners).
That is, haven't begun to break your heart yet. Remember, you naive lardheads, you're all only a rapacious, vindictive shitheaded billionaire away from hating the team you've got now, so live with that redundancy as long as you can. If you can't wait for the return of the New St. Louis Browns, and you think the Schooners are still new newfangled, let us introduce you to the Rat Portage Thistles, who competed for five Stanley Cups in the early 20th century. The name, which translates from the Ojibway to "the road to the country of the muskrat," absolutely trips off the tongue in ways that the monochromatic failure of the Brooklyn Nets never did, has, or will. Somewhere there is Rat Portage merch, and it must be acquired because you want your friends and workmates to know you get what the best fandom really is—the kind where the last investment you have to make is in the hoodie.