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When winning doesn’t work, substitute an ostrich, a hose pipe & some fireworks

Not all sports teams have befitting nicknames.
Within our own fine state of Georgia college athletics, you will find Bulldogs, Eagles and Yellow Jackets. While fans of those higher learning institutions seem quite betrothed to them, those canines, birds of prey, and winged insects are names that honestly could have been chosen by colleges in Kansas, South Dakota and Idaho.
Although each one now has its own nostalgia, they weren’t named the Red Clay Kickers, Gnat Swarm, and Peach Fuzz.
Elon University, however, in its own way has a name that fits. The college is known as the Phoenix, a mythical sacred firebird that triumphantly rises from the ashes to be renewed.
Elon’s head coach Pete Lembo spoke last month at the Screven County High School Football Banquet. Lembo would ink Gamecock standout Ed Burns to a letter of intent a few weeks later.
Since Lembo’s arrival at Elon five years ago, he has transformed the Southern Conference program into a top-10-caliber FCS operation. To the chagrin of locals, Elon has defeated SoCon foe Georgia Southern three consecutive years.
The private school in North Carolina now is a force on the gridiron.
However, in the South over the years we sadly have become accustomed to sports teams that underachieve to the point of embarrassment.
In the 1980s, motorists seeking a little extracurricular reading while waiting at red lights may remember a bumper sticker that read “Go Braves. And Take The Falcons and Hawks With You.”
Winnersville Atlanta was not. Whinersville maybe. People may call the state capital “Hotlanta” these days, but for years it simply could have been referred to as “Notlanta.”
The Falcons recently completed their first-ever, back-to-back NFL seasons with an above .500 record and the Dirty Birds did go to the Super Bowl in 1998. The Hawks put together some 50-win NBA campaigns back in the days with Dominique Wilkins and, if anybody is paying attention, have one of the best records in the NBA this year.
And, yes, the Braves did capture 14 consecutive division titles and Atlanta’s only world championship in 1995. But have you forgotten all those antics stirred up when the Bravos were unbelievably bad just to get people’s fannies in the seats?
What you are about to read may bring back memories some of the older crowd wanted to permanently erase. For the somewhat younger crowd, these attention-grabbing attempts actually did occur. Believe it.
Former Braves owner Ted Turner could not get fans into the older Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to watch his dreadful excuse for a team on the diamond, so Turner became more of a redneck version of Barnum & Bailey to get people to click through the turnstiles.
There were the Great Ostrich races, wrestling matches after Wedlock and Headlock Day, and the Baseball Nose Push. And what ever became of the Bleacher Creature?
But it is impossible to forget – for various reasons – the Wet T-shirt contest of 1977.
At game time of the water dousing night, 27,000 fans waited out a two-and-a-half-hour rain delay before the game even started. They assuredly weren’t there to see no stinking baseball game.
After Atlanta lost 11-0 to the Chicago Cubs, people just sat in their seats and watched to see if any females would volunteer themselves for the contest. Finally, a lady got out of her seat and started down the aisle. The 27,000 gave her a standing ovation. The fans did the same for the next 42 who entered too.
“It couldn’t happen, but it did. The contest was won by a minister’s daughter. Actually, I don’t think that was inconsistent with her lifestyle, but her father later called me at home to complain that it hurt her chances to become a United States senator,” it reads in the book “We Could’ve Finished Last Without You,” which was written by Bob Hope.
No, not “that” Bob Hope. This particular Hope was the public relations director for the Braves.
Hope called the wet T-shirt contest a disgrace, but the Braves organization was a promotion machine out of control.
There also were contests for the most beautiful women in Atlanta and a Farrah Fawcett look-alike.
The Braves finished the 1977 season with a 61-101 record. The 101 losses were the most for the team since 1935 when it was in Boston and lost an abysmal 115.
So the day after the 1977 Braves season ended, Turner called up Hope to come by his office.
Turner asked Hope if he knew anything about basketball. Hope answered with an honest “No.” With that bit of knowledge, Turner then told Hope to go over and run the Hawks. Yes, that would be the Atlanta Hawks. Ted owned that team too.
“I want you to fire everybody in the team’s office, cut the team payroll in half, lose every single game, get the No. 1 draft pick, and then we’ll move the team to Charlotte,” Hope remembered Turner saying.
Hope then reiterated his lack of hoops intelligence.
“You don’t have to know anything about basketball to lose every game,” Ted answered.
And with that Hope did as he was asked. Hope was even able to get a fireworks company willing to shoot off their wares inside the Hawks’ former arena The Omni – that is with a lot of pleading with the fire marshal.
The fireworks show worked if you dismiss the facility filled with smoke and the holes in the roof that actually caused future Hawks games to be rained out. The large scoreboard above center court never worked properly again.
With it being February 2010, players for Major League Baseball organizations already have begun to report down to Florida for spring training. Sylvania’s own Macay McBride of the Detroit Tigers organization being one of those hundreds.
I know that baseball franchises are extremely upscale these days. Go to an MLB ball park this season and you can buy yourself a hot dog with approximately 7,483 different fixings for it. Heck, you even can have a server bring your order right down to your third baseline seat if you are willing to fork out enough cash.
That’s nice, but if you get an opportunity, take in a minor league game. They still have some unusual gimmicks to bring in fans. Among my personal favorites were “Jose Canseco Juice Box Night,” “Britney Spears Baby Safety Night,” and “Toilet Seat Cushion Night.”
Do you know of anywhere I can get some rental ostriches cheap for an evening?

Enoch Autry is the publisher-editor of the Sylvania Telephone.