I ran across this interesting pin while looking for old sports memorabilia, and was immediately intrigued. The only football team I ever thought called Indianapolis home is the Colts.
So who were the Indianapolis Caps?
Turns out the Caps — actually the Indianapolis Capitols — were a member of the short-lived Continental Football League. The CFL began play in 1965, five seasons after the American Football League, and folded after the 1969 season. The Caps joined the league in 1966 as the Montreal Beavers before moving to Indiana two years later.
In their first year in Indianapolis, the Caps won the Central Division with an 8-4 record. They repeated that record in the league’s final season, but managed to also win the last-ever CFL championship by beating the San Antonio Toros.
Perhaps the biggest splash the franchise ever made took place off the field, when it offered star USC running back O.J. Simpson a $400,000 contract in 1969 to play for them. Simpson, of course, opted to sign with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL instead.
The Caps, along with the CFL’s Jersey Jays, Norfolk (VA) Neptunes, and Orlando Panthers, defected to join the minor league Atlantic Coast Football League (ACFL) for the 1970 season. The CFL folded without playing another game, while the Caps ceased football operations after the 1970 ACFL season.
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What: Crazy Eddie, one of the most famous brands in the New York Tri-State area, started in 1971 with one location in Brooklyn. It was run by Eddie Antar, whose high-pressure sales techniques and accounting creativity turned that one store into a regional chain covering four states and 43 locations, and with more than $300 million in sales. The chain specialized in discount electronics, but later expanded into music sales. But more than their prices or goods Crazy Eddie was known for their advertising, which featured a hyper pitchman named Jerry Carroll. Carroll’s frenetic, absurdly comic delivery was so effective many people assumed he was Crazy Eddie.
What happened: Turns out the secret to Antar’s success was simple – he was a total crook. Almost from the beginning Antar skimmed profits, cheated wholesalers, and lied to customers. He sent his cousin, Sam E. Antar, through college to become an accountant, then hired him at Crazy Eddie to help cook the books. He tricked auditors performing inventory counts by shifting merchandise between stores and by passing empty boxes off as real inventory. And as if all that wasn’t ballsy enough, Antar decided to take his chain public in 1983. In order to make it look like store profits were increasing, he simply stole less. While actual profits from 1980-83 rose about 13% a year, reported profits rose nearly 171%. Seems reasonable enough.
Less than three years after going public in September 1984, the entire scheme was close to unraveling completely. The stock price plummeted from a high of more than $75 to $17.50, but not before Eddie cashed out almost $30 million worth of stock. The company was bought by a private investor in 1987, and the Antars were out. The entire family was soon served with subpoenas by the SEC, and the period between ’87 and ’89 was a haze of store closings and lawsuits. Crazy Eddie officially filed for Chapter 11 in the summer of 1989. There have been a few brief flirtations with reviving the brand, but none has succeeded.
Who: Bugle Boy
When: 1977 – 2001
What: Bugle Boy too had its origins in scandal, but in a different way. Founder William Mow (born Mow Chao We in 1936), who emigrated from China to the United States with his family in 1949, first made his name in the electronics industry. He invented a method to test large-scale integrated semi-conductor chips, and armed with nearly $2 million in venture capital funding started a company called Macrodata. In the mid ’70s Mow’s partner accused him of falsifying the value of the company’s inventory (sound familiar?), which led to an SEC investigation.
Mow managed to clear his name but was effectively out of the electronics business thanks to a three-year non-competition clause he signed. So he did what any troubled electronics mogul would do in a similar situation – he started an apparel company called Buckeroo International. After four years of major financial struggles, the company (since renamed Bugle Boy) caught fire in ’83-’84 thanks to a line of casual nylon twill pants adorned with zippers. You and I know them as parachute pants! Bugle Boy sold millions of parachute pants and also was quite popular with the denim jeans crowd.
But not all good things can last, alas. By the late ’90s Bugle Boy, unable to keep up with the fickleness of the youth of today, fell on hard times. They went after any market they could think of – young women, golfers, discount shoppers, t-shirts, you name it. In a desperate move they opened their own chain of retail outlets, but that just seemed to make things worse. Long story short, they barely made it to the 21st century before filing for bankruptcy in February 2001.
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For some reason I’ve always found it more interesting to see why things like businesses fail than to read about success stories. It’s not even that I take any glee in their failure, so maybe it’s an underdog thing? Anyway, in the first entry of yet another series I’ll likely abandon at some point, we will take a brief look at some of the more prominent businesses/entities to disappear from existence. Up first is one that was the premiere example of its industry at one point, and one that was probably doomed from the start.
Who: Eastern Airlines
When: 1926 – 1991
What: Begun as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in the 1920s, Eastern grew to become a dominant force in commercial aviation by the 1950s. Its first CEO was famed World War I Flying Ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who headed the company until he was ousted in 1959. By the 1970s the company was counted as one of the “Big Four” U.S. airlines along with United, American, and Trans-World (TWA). Eastern was the first of this group to add the legendary Boeing 727 to its fleet (in 1964).
What happened: Eastern struggled mightily after the airline industry was deregulated in 1978, and in 1986 was purchased by corporate raider Frank Lorenzo’s Texas Air Corporation (which took over Continental in 1982). Texas Air sold off pieces of Eastern’s holdings, one by one, as the company continued to hemorrhage money. A mechanics’ strike in 1989 was more than the fragile airline could withstand, and Eastern filed for bankruptcy in March of that year. At the time it was the largest bankruptcy filing ever for an airline. The company ceased operations in 1991, one day after the start of the Persian Gulf War.
Who: World Hockey Association
When: 1972 – 1979
What: Competing sports leagues were apparently all the rage in the ’60s and ’70s. The NFL had the American Football League and World Football League to contend with, while the NBA dealt with the American Basketball Association. The NHL’s turn came in 1972 with the formation of the World Hockey Association. Not coincidentally, the WHA was started by Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson, the founder and first president of the ABA, respectively.
The new league was never a serious threat to the established NHL, but did manage to sign some of their high-profile players, most notably Bobby Hull. The WHA also embraced the practice of recruiting European players, which is now commonplace in the NHL. Several hockey legends got their pro start in the WHA — Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Mike Gartner to name a few.
What happened: Financial instability plagued the 12-team league from day one. Franchises folded or relocated at an alarming rate, and by the end of the WHA’s final season only six remained. Four of the survivors — the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets, and New England Whalers (soon to be renamed as the Hartford Whalers) – were brought into the NHL, while the other two (the Cincinnati Stingers and Birmingham Bulls) attempted to carry on in the Central Hockey League but quickly failed.