I promised to cover the esoteric and mundane on this blog, and I don’t know how much more mundane I can get than to discuss professional sports team names. Have you ever asked yourself how teams get their names? Today marketing is a major factor, and owners and team management spend plenty of time and money in picking a name and logo. When the Supersonics moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City they also changed their name, making sure they made just the right choice for their new home. A long time ago names were probably chosen with a lot less scrutiny than today. In the end though, nicknames are set and it can be fun to note the peculiarities and coincidences that result. And hey, in the modern sports world of shifting rosters, changing ownership, and relocating teams, what else is a long-time fan really cheering for besides the nickname and uniforms?
Is this name as menacing as the poem that inspired it?
I’ll concentrate on the four major team sports popular in America, football (NFL), baseball (MLB), basketball (NBA), and hockey (NHL).
CitiesBaltimore’s two professional sports teams are the Ravens (NFL) and the Orioles (MLB); both bird names, a minor coincidence. The Orioles migrated to town in 1954. Before that they were the St. Louis Browns. The Ravens flew into town in 1996. Before that they were the Cleveland Browns. What are the chances of two teams with the horrible names of ‘The Browns’ relocating to Baltimore?
In Chicago there are the Bears (NFL) and the Cubs (MLB). There’s also the Bulls (NBA). Makes sense that Chicago has a stock exchange with all those bears and bulls running around. In Miami there are the Dolphins and Marlins (one a mammal and one a fish, but both majestic). Houston has the Astros (MLB) and the Rockets (NBA); they really took to the city’s space industry (the Astros are the renamed Colt 45s). I like how Detroit claimed the two biggest cats, Lions (NFL) and Tigers (MLB). In Jacksonville there is the Jaguars (NFL). Unfortunately, no team is named the Leopards. Though there are two teams named the Panthers (see below).
In Texas they are not shy about naming their teams after the state’s self-styled attributes. There are the Dallas Cowboys (NFL) and Mavericks, the Texas Rangers (MLB), San Antonio Spurs (NBA), and the Houston Texans (NFL).
I give special kudos to the cleverly named Buffalo Bills (NFL), and there is a certain symmetry to the New York (and New Jersey) Jets (NFL), Mets (MLB), and Nets. I also like the gentility of the Oakland Athletics (MLB) and the novel spelling of the Boston Red Sox (MLB) and Chicago White Sox (MLB).
The Astros really did wear these uniforms!
While we’re on a mundane topic, a quick aside about uniforms. Uniforms can be good and bad. Take a look at the Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB) or Astros (right) from the 70s to see some hideous examples. Here are the four teams, one from each sport, with the most attractive uniforms: Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Lakers (NBA), and Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL). And the four with the least attractive uniforms: Cleveland Browns (NFL), Washington Nationals (MLB), Charlotte Bobcats (NBA), and the Nashville Predators (NHL).
The Cowboys have great uniforms
In Pittsburgh each of the three teams, Steelers (NFL), Pirates, and Penguins (NHL), wear black and yellow uniforms. Ohio has the distinction of having two football teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Browns with ugly orange-themed uniform.
CategoriesThe Baltimore teams go by bird names, but so do a lot of other teams. In addition to the Orioles and Ravens, there are the Arizona Cardinals (NFL) and St. Louis Cardinals (MLB), Atlanta Falcons (NFL) and Hawks (NBA), Philadelphia Eagles (NFL), Seattle Seahawks (NFL), Toronto Blue Jays (MLB), and Anaheim Ducks (NHL). While birds seems to make good nicknames, bears are big and mean looking, so you have the Chicago Bears and Cubs, but also the Memphis Grizzlies (NBA) and Boston Bruins (NHL).
Are you as surprised as I am at the number of hoofed animals that are chosen for nicknames? You’ve got the Bills, Denver Broncos (NFL) and Indianapolis Colts (NFL), St. Louis Rams (NFL), and Milwaukee Bucks (NBA).
If your team name is going to human, it seems best to be a fighter, like the Pirates, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL), Oakland Raiders (NFL), Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA), Minnesota Vikings (NFL), Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL), and the Golden State Warriors (NBA). All these teams could use the Buffalo Sabers (NHL). I guess projecting the image of violence is useful to intimidate the other teams and their fan bases.
Elements of nature also seem to have become popular in recent years. There’s the Colorado Rockies (MLB) and Avalanche (NHL), Miami Heat (NBA) and Phoenix Suns (NBA), the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) and Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA), the San Diego Chargers (NFL), Calgary Flames (NHL), Carolina Hurricanes (NHL), Dallas Stars (NHL), and Minnesota Wild (NHL), whatever that means. More fancifully the NBA features both the Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic. What would happen if they met in the playoffs?
Let’s not overlook patriotic or nationalistic names. The New England Patriots (NFL), New York Yankees (MLB), Washington Nationals and Capitals (NHL), Philadelphia 76ers (NBA), Montreal Canadiens (NHL), Ottawa Senators (NHL), and Vancouver Canucks (NHL). And I’m throwing in the Blue Jackets as well, the north won the Civil War after all.
I’m glad that there’s the heavenly New Orleans Saints (NFL), Los Angeles Angels (MLB), and even San Diego Padres (MLB), to offset the evil New Jersey Devils (NHL).
There was some controversy years ago about the teams named after Native American stereotypes; Washington Redskins (NFL), okay that could be offensive. But surely not the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL), Cleveland Indians (MLB), Atlanta Braves (MLB), or Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)?
I have to like it when a nickname is a job or related to work, frequently associated with the industries of the city the team plays in. To wit, the Green Bay Packers (NFL), Milwaukee Brewers (MLB), Seattle Mariners (okay maybe that’s not a big Seattle occupation) (MLB), but they certainly could use the Los Angeles Clippers (NBA). Of course there is the Detroit Pistons (NBA) and Edmonton Oilers (NHL). The Indiana Pacers (NBA) got their name from the pace cars at the Indianapolis 500. Oh, and let’s not forget the San Francisco 49ers (NFL). What? It was a job, sort of, a long time ago.
And finally, you have to appreciate nicknames that honor the heritage of their home city (this is where the 49ers really fit). The New York Knick(erbocker)s (NBA) and Islanders (NHL), Philadelphia Phillies (MLB), and Portland Trail Blazers (NBA), think Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail.
The Same NameDespite there being only 122 teams in the four major sports, some nicknames are used more than once. Seems unnecessary, but we have the Carolina Panthers (NFL) and the Florida Panthers (NHL); the New York Giants (NFL) and the San Francisco Giants (MLB); the Arizona and St. Louis Cardinals; the Sacramento Kings (NBA) and Los Angeles Kings (NHL); the Texas Rangers and New York Rangers (NHL). What’s worse, both Giants teams were once in New York and both Cardinal teams were once in St. Louis! There should be a rule: Once a team establishes a nickname, no other team can use that same name. There are a million words in English, we can certainly find a unique name for each professional sports team.
A Sense of PlaceHow come some teams represent states or regions instead of cities? There is the Arizona Cardinals (NFL) and Diamondbacks (MLB) who play in the same place as the Phoenix Suns and Coyotes (NHL). They are the New Jersey Nets and Devils, but they both are located just outside of New York. Apparently if you play in Minneapolis you represent the entire state like the Minnesota Vikings, Twins (MLB), Timberwolves (NBA), and Wild. They’re the New England Patriots, and they play just down the road from the Boston Red Sox, Celtics (NBA), and Bruins. It’s the Denver Broncos and Nuggets (NBA), but the Colorado Rockies and Avalanche. The Miami Dolphins and Heat, but the Florida Marlins and Panthers. The Tennessee Titans (NFL) but the Nashville Predators. The Texas Rangers but the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks, and Stars. The Indianapolis Colts but the Indiana Pacers. Tampa has no teams, instead the Buccaneers, Rays (MLB), and Lightning represent Tampa Bay. And worst of all there is the Golden State Warriors…you better know which is the Golden State.
That Nickname Doesn’t WorkWhen teams move cities they should change their names. Otherwise you get incongruous pairings like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz (NBA). There are no lakes in L.A. but there are a lot in Minnesota where the Lakers came from. Perhaps Salt Lake City is a hot bed of music, but I doubt it. Certainly nothing like the great music city of New Orleans, original home of the Jazz. Then again, I don’t think the St. Louis Blues (NHL) came from anywhere else…is St. Louis a music town? The Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB) moved from New York to L.A., but it didn’t matter because the name has no real meaning no matter where the team plays.
Some names are just plain bad like the Atlanta Thrashers (NHL). San Jose Sharks (NHL); the city isn’t close to the ocean. The Toronto Raptors (NBA), who chose their dreadful moniker right after Jurassic Park was a hit book and movie. The Detroit Red Wings (NHL) are hugely successful, but what is red wing? For that matter, when the Cincinnati Reds (MLB) shortened they’re name from Red Stockings, it lost all meaning. And Philadelphia Flyers (NHL) is similarly meaningless. The Kansas City Royals (MLB) could be a good name, but it seems vaguely anit-American. And finally, the high-school like name of the New Orleans Hornets (NBA).
So that’s enough discussion about team names. Another long post could be written about college mascots, but that will have to wait until another time.