Sunday, April 24, 2005

If There's Jazz in Utah & Penguins In Pittsburgh, Then I'm Down With The Nicknames

This man likes animal acts -- (read on)

Michigan Chances of this photo being taken in Michigan: zilch
Nickname: The Wolverine State
Number of Wolverines In The State -- Ever: Quite probably zero, according to historians.

The above example is to illustrate that what I am about to do -- slice, dice and otherwise Ronco sports team nicknames -- doesn't have to be limited to the world of sports. The world of humanity has plenty of opportunities for such an exercise. But who cares about humanity; this is a sports column, dammit. Where else can you see Ronco used as a verb?

In the beginning, sports team nicknames were borne out of function -- kind of like the original surnames. You know -- if you were a cooper, your last name was Cooper. If you were a tax collector, your last name was Paine. Same thing with sports. You played on a team that wore red socks? Then you played for the Red Sox (I guess they thought "Red Socks" wasn't as efficient a use of letters). Or it was a geography thing. Way before the Yankees were...the Yankees, they were known as the Highlanders. And it wasn't because they played at the bottom of a ravine.

Sometimes teams were even named for their owners. Baseball's Brooklyn team, before they were known as the Dodgers, called themselves the Robins, after owner Wilbert Robinson. And we all know the origin of the Cleveland Browns football name -- founder Paul Brown. Good thing his last name wasn't Krzyzewski.

The height of narcissism: naming a freaking team after yourself

Back in the Golden Age of sport, team ownership and management weren't lazy when it came to naming their teams, especially when they moved from city to city. The Baltimore Orioles, before moving from St. Louis, were the Browns (no, Paul Brown didn't own them as well). The Portsmouth Spartans football team moved north to Detroit and became Lions. Did some nicknames stay the same in a city move? Sure, but they made sense. The Athletics name survived Philadelphia and Kansas City before its current home in Oakland, but can't players be Athletics no matter where the play? An addendum to that rule is, if the nickname made no sense in City A, then it's acceptable to keep in City B. The Rams were the Rams in Cleveland and Los Angeles before their exodus to St. Louis. Call me crazy, but placing Rams after any city name other than Butte, Montana or Casper, Wyoming just doesn't cut it. The only real rams you'd see in Cleveland, L.A. or St. Louis would be courtesy of overzealous cabbies. And Braves passed thru town in Boston and Milwaukee before ending up in Atlanta. That's also 0-for-3 in terms of making sense.

All of which brings me to my pet peeve of sports nicknames and all that are wrong with them: the Utah Jazz. Read that again. The....Utah......Jazz. This violates both of the above rules: Jazz can't be jazz everywhere (i.e. Athletics), and it DID make sense in City A (re: New Orleans). Why in the world the folks who bought the New Orleans NBA team and moved them to Salt Lake City would keep the Jazz moniker simply defies logic. But wait, it gets worse. The original Jazz logo involved a sort of musical note thingy as part of the "J". Again, in N'awlins, that's wonderfully appropriate. But not only did they keep the name, they kept the logo. So now you have these basketballers running up and down a court in the middle of freaking Utah with a musical note on their uniforms. And it wasn't a Tabernacle Choir musical note -- it was a jazz note. Ahh, but my friends, it gets even worse. When the Jazz decided to, ahem, jazz up their uniforms, they redid the logo with the word "Jazz" running in an ascending fashion over a mountain ridge. Yeah, nothing says jazz to me more than the snowy whitecaps of Utah mountains. Call it insult to nickname injury.

Don't you just feel like swinging to some Count Basie when you look at this?

I've never been to Philadelphia. But I don't think I need to visit to confirm that I'm not likely to see an eagle anywhere in the greater metropolitan area.

You could play this game forever because there are examples all around us. How many penguins do you figure reside in Pittsburgh, outside of the zoo? And while were talking about the Steel City (at least they got it right with the football team's name), has piracy really been prevalent there? Apparently enough to give the baseball team a name. Here's another Jazz-like example: the Calgary Flames. And there's also some irony. Calgary is in Canada, right? And isn't hockey Canada's, like, national sport, eh? Yet the city got it right with the American football team's name (Stampeders of the CFL, which makes sense for a city that has an annual Stampede), but blew it with the hockey team. Flames worked great in Atlanta, because of the huge fire there (go see "Gone With the Wind"), but in Calgary? I know things burn there, too, but, still....

Hurry! The "C" is on fire! Oh, my!!

You want more? Okay, I got more. The Sacramento Kings. This nickname came from the old Cincinnati Royals, who moved to Kansas City and became the Kings (don't confuse this with the Royals baseball team, which does play in Kansas City and also doesn't make sense) before the trek west to California's capital. And last I checked, Sacramento still governs under a democracy, not a monarchy. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't a king.

I've never been to Philadelphia. But I don't think I need to visit to confirm that I'm not likely to see an eagle anywhere in the greater metropolitan area. Same thing with falcons in Atlanta, or devils in New Jersey (at least I hope not). I'm not sure when Buffalo laid claim to sabres, or Tennessee to titans. Heck, I don't think I've ever seen a tiger around town other than on the other side of a moat at that zoological museum at Woodward and I-696. Or, a lion for that matter. Yet there you have it.

Some nicknames are beautifully congruent. Dallas has the Stars hockey team, and the Cowboys football team has a big ole star on the helmet, and they both play in the Lone Star state. Yesssssss. Colorado's teams has all the state's natural wonders covered. The NBA's Nuggets (reference to the old west and gold diggers in the state), the NHL's Avalanche (snow), baseball's Rockies (mountains) and the NFL's Broncos (another old west, rugged thing) all make Denver the winner of the Nickname Game, as far as I'm concerned.

Denver's clean sweep of logodom

Before you even think of taking a knock at our own Red Wings as being incongruous, hold up. There is actually a very cool story behind it. James Norris, the team's owner at the time, had seen an amateur team in Montreal play, and legend has it the team utilized wings on their logo. Norris thought that looked spiffy, decided to combine it with Detroit's automobile heritage, and the famed winged wheel was born. Of course, this came on the heels of nonsensical names such as Falcons and Cougars, so Red Wings didn't have a very tough act to follow.

The coolest logo in sports, by the way.

But maybe I'm taking this whole team nickname thing too literally, which can't be good, either, now that I think about it. Back in the 1920's, when Calvin Coolidge was president, he was introduced to football star Red Grange at a White House dinner. "Red Grange, Chicago Bears," an aide whispered into president Coolidge's ear. The prez grabbed Grange's hand, shook it, and said grandly, "Oh, Mr. Grange! I always was very fond of animal acts!"

Too bad Coolidge, at that moment, didn't take his own nickname literally: Silent Cal.

1 comment:

Toad734 said...

I think with the Eagles, the reference isn't to the actual animal, but our National symbol. You know it used to be the US capitol, the declaration was written there, liberty bell etc.. I think it’s highly appropriate.
As for the Dallas stars, that is just a lucky coincidence, as you well know they used to be the North Stars from MN which was also appropriate, what’s not appropriate are people playing hockey in Dallas, TX. Star or no star.
Also a lucky move was the Fort Wayne Pistons to Detroit, unlike the unfortunate move of the Minneapolis Lakers to L.A.

By the way, I'll bet with all the mountains in L.A., there could have been rams around there at one point. Maybe it could just be a reference to what you want to do to people in traffic.