This new year ushers in a new era in the CFL – one that again includes a franchise in Ottawa. Though I’ve lived in Toronto for quite a long time now (it can now be measured in decades), I grew up in Ottawa and during my childhood, the Ottawa Rough Riders were the only game in town. Despite the fact that they amassed a lowly 60-169-1 record during my time as a fan from 1984-1996 (an unbelievably pitiful 0.263 winning percentage), somehow we still loved them. We survived the ownership of the Gliebermans (perhaps a nostalgic blog post in itself), the brief reigns of Horn Chen and Bruce Firestone, and the unsuccessful rebirth as the Renegades from 2002-2005. But it is now time to rejoice, as Ottawa returns to the league with a new stadium and more stable ownership. Or is it? The rebirth of the Ottawa CFL franchise comes with one small wrinkle … no, let’s call it one BIG WRINKLE. The new franchise has a terrible name: the REDBLACKS. Though the name stems from Ottawa CFL tradition – red and black were the traditional colours of the Rough Riders – there are some key problems with it. First off, it is a made-up word, and though I am not against a little creativity, this effort is weak. Second, and perhaps more importantly, team management has put out an edict to the media: the team name is to be spelled with ALL-CAPS. So, essentially, your inner voice should be SHOUTING when you read REDBLACKS. This leads to either sounding very angry, or very annoying (just think of the Aflac Duck, and you’ll be sufficiently agitated).
Bemoaning this significant hurdle to return to Ottawa football fandom, I find myself contemplating, “just how terrible is this terrible team name?” With this question occupying my consciousness, I set out to determine the worst of the worst: the 5 most terrible team names of pro sports. Though this by nature of course must be a subjective analysis, it does not come without criteria:
1) Does it fit the standard mould of the North American pro sports franchise name? First thing to note is that I have specified North American pro sports as this will be the pool of team names I will be adjudicating. Living within the North American sports culture, I don’t feel qualified to judge the absurdity that abounds internationally. Furthermore, given the plethora of minor league and college sports nonsense, I will be sticking to teams in the MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL, CFL, and MLS (yes, the MLS is just too wonderfully awful not to include).As far as the standard mould goes, there appear to be a few basic models. First are animals (or similar creatures of the past or mythology, e.g. dinosaurs, dragons). Animals are good as they can represent ferocity, strength, speed – things that you’d like to associate with your sports team. Furthermore, some animals, namely birds, fit nicely as being symbolic of the city or region (e.g. Baltimore Orioles, New Orleans Pelicans). This idea is another founding element of the North American team name mould: being symbolic of the city or region. Team names may thereby relate to a people of the area (e.g. Edmonton Oilers, Boston Celtics), or other more symbolic representations (e.g. Philadelphia 76ers, relating to the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence). Lastly, like animals, the team name may refer to someone or something that symbolize strength, speed, power or are in some way fearsome. Notable examples include: the New York Giants, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The large majority of the team names reviewed in some way meet at least one of these criteria. That is not to say that passing this criteria gets you off the hook, but a decent attempt within this mould will likely get you a passing grade (remember, we’re just trying to identify the worst of the worst, we are not trying to find the best).
2) My second criteria involves off-the-board names. If you are going to try something a little different, you better do it right. If you’re going with an abstract concept, an entity that can’t be pluralized, or something otherwise obscure, there better be good reasoning, or a good story behind it. In terms of the latter, names with long-storied traditions like Red Sox and Browns fit an old mould or have a story, and thereby pass my test without much further scrutiny. Newer names like Heat and Magic are certainly a little different but fit well enough and I have no problem with them. As you’ll see, others don’t measure up quite as well.
3) How does it sound? This is a simple criteria for a sports team name. A big part of rooting for a team is well … rooting for a team. You actually have to be able to get the team name out of your mouth, and it should in some way sound right in a phrase like “Go Jets Go!” or “Let’s go Steelers! Let’s go!” As you can see, one or two syllables helps, though a team name that has a simple abbreviation also fills the bill well enough. Names that have too many syllables or are otherwise hard to pronounce are eyesores and earsores.
With our criteria set, on to some team name distinctions. For this we have a couple of categories before we get to the top (bottom) 5.
Category 1: “Get out of Jail Free Card” Names
These team names have been judged by some to have bad names that I’m going to give a passing grade to for one reason or another. Though this may seem like an act of mercy, if I delved deeper into my subconscious I would probably discover that this was just an opportunity to point out flaws.
1) Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz. These two oddities stem from franchise movement. The Lakers originated in Minnesota (where there are many Lakes), and the Jazz started in New Orleans (yes, a greater hotbed of jazz music than Utah). Despite the very odd pairings that these names make, somehow they have entered our consciousness as perfectly good team names. They also pass the “how does it sound” test quite well. Though I am definitely not a fan, who can argue with the rhythm and overall sound of the L.A. Lakers.
2) Toronto Raptors. I am just pointing this one out as my home team Raptors are often maligned in similar team name lists. Yes, it was conceived during the dinosaur hysteria that came from the Jurassic Park movies, but nonetheless, the Raptor represents a fearsome creature, and the franchise’s move from the old cartoonish logo to that of the basktetball claw mark was a step in the right direction. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the Raptors have the best mascot in the league! (BTW, get well soon Raptor!).
Category 2: Dishonourable Mentions
This category essentially represents the Miss America Runner-up designation for this list of dishonour … should any of the terrible team names not be able to fulfill their duties as terrible team names, one of these awful runner-ups may act as replacement.
1) Brooklyn Nets. Right. I get that “nets” have a lot to do with the sport of basketball, but really? One might give it a passing grade on the sound criteria (“Go Nets Go!” is pretty easy to manage), but would you want to root for the Atlanta Homeplates, or the Chicago Endzones? Terrible name.
2 ) Houston Texans. I know I suggested that it was good to have your team name relate to the people of the area, but this is being way to literal with that idea. Nevertheless, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky. Among other names that the organization filed for trademark prior to making final decisions: Roustabouts and Colt .45s. Oy.
The Worst of the Worst, the Top (Bottom) 5
And finally, here we go – the wonderful worst of the worst. Of course, this is presented to you in ever-exciting reverse order. Also, note that I have taken license and added running mates to a few of these designations as there are a number of these team name terrors that just belong together.
5) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. So wrong in so many ways. First off, Angels is not a great name. Unlike its counterpoint – the New Jersey Devils – it does not really instill fear in opponents. Granted, it does have an obvious link to the city name and its nickname – the ‘City of Angels’ – but in the end there is one too many Angels in there (remember, in translating it all to English, it would be “The Angels Angels of Anaheim”). However, the Angels part is not its crowning achievement in terribleness, that of course goes to the ‘of Anaheim’ qualifier. Make up your mind … Los Angeles or Anaheim! The team’s geographical title has gone from Los Angeles to California to Anaheim before becoming this monstrosity of superfluous syllables that it is now. Given how terrible this name is, it’s actually not surprising that it stemmed from a legal clause agreed to between team ownership and the city of Anaheim (back in 1997 when the city agreed to refurbishment of Anaheim Stadium on condition that Anaheim be included in the name). When Arte Moreno took over the team from Disney in 2004, he wanted to again reference the Los Angeles roots of the team, and the ten-syllabic atrocity was introduced in 2005. Sadly, by next year, we will no longer be able to mock this nonsense, as ‘of Anaheim’ will officially be dropped from the name. We can always hold out hope for a successor … perhaps the Detroit Pistons of Auburn Hills, the New York Giants of East Rutherford or better yet, the Buffalo Bills of Orchard Park and Toronto.
4) Washington Capitals. Perhaps this is one that you might not have thought of, but c’mon, when you really look at it, it’s rather stupid. Granted it doesn’t sound that bad (especially when shortened to “Caps”) and it of course relates to the capital-ness of Washington itself, but in the end, it doesn’t make any sense. Dictionary.com defines a capital as “the city or town that is the official seat of government in a country state, etc.”, so though this is referring to the capital of the United States, they’ve actually pluralized it. So, are these players representing various world capitals or something? Just nonsense. Many teams diverge from the mould of animals or people and such, but some of those work quite well (I actually like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Orlando Magic, and even the Minnesota Wild). Capitals just doesn’t cut the mustard. Washington’s baseball team has a similar problem – not a fan of “Nationals” – but isn’t quite as bad as the absurdity that is the Washington Capitals.
3) Real Salt Lake. Full disclosure – I am not a fan of the MLS. I actually do watch some soccer when there is the drama and intrigue of the major international tournaments, but I have never fallen in love with the “beautiful game” at the club level. That being said, part of that problem may be the consistent lameness of MLS franchise names. To be honest, though the winner of the 3rd place distinction in this list is Real Salt Lake, this honour is truly shared by around half of the teams in the MLS. It ranges from the utter lack of imagination in Toronto FC and FC Dallas, to the blatant commercialism that is the New York Red Bulls, to the lame UEFA copy-catting that is Sporting Kansas City. Despite these poor efforts, Real Salt Lake stands out to me. Clearly just mimicking the world renown Real Madrid, the name just really doesn’t fit Salt Lake or Utah at all. Real is of course Spanish for royal, and the Madrid team adopted that name in the 1920s in honour of the Spanish King. What that has to do with Salt Lake City, I don’t know. Leniency is given to Chivas USA (which has always been associated with the Mexican club of the same name), but Real Salt Lake took on the name with no real association with the original club, only developing a tenuous relationship with the storied club after the fact. Real Salt Lake, you are the winner of the MLS terrible name derby!
2) REDBLACKS. I’ve already stated my case against this name, but let’s make another point on this one. When referred to in French, this team will actually be known as the Rouge et Noir, a term that is made of real words, and sounds much like Laval University’s Rouge et Or (red and gold). The University of Ottawa’s sports teams also falls under this mould (Gee-Gees is actually short for Garnet and Grey). Though not a fan of the “___ and ___” mould, this is certainly passable in my books. Why they decided to go further off-the-board with this goofy name just doesn’t sit well with me. You’ll also note that I have complied with the over-the-top juvenile request that the team name always be spelt with capital letters to further accentuate its terribleness. EDGY? No. CREATIVE? Not really. LAME? Yes, very lame indeed.
1) Washington Redskins. Over the last few years, the debate about Washington’s football moniker has gained more steam. One can argue that other team names in the same vain are meant to honour Native Americans (e.g. Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Edmonton Eskimos), but you can’t really argue this on behalf of the Redskins. Let us note the online definitions for the term from oft-used sources:
Slang: Often Disparaging and Offensive. A North American Indian.
usually offensive. American Indian
(it also adds in its Learner’s Dictionary “The word redskin is very offensive and should be avoided”).
The often maligned owner of the franchise, Dan Snyder, has strongly defended the team name, but his arguments fall short with me and many others. A fairly lengthy Wikipedia page has outlined the significant opposition to the team name. In a notable development, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan both declared that they would no longer print the name “Redskins” in the writing of their articles. It doesn’t help that the Washington Redskins franchise has the worst record of racial intolerance relating to the inclusion of African American players dating back to the early years of the NFL (see this great article from CNN for more details). Some may feel that it is wrong to wash away the “proud” tradition of the franchise by dropping the team name. I’m sorry, but when the name has its origins in bigotry and racial slurs, that is clearly nothing to be proud of. Terrible, terrible name.
So that’s my rant — do you have any thoughts? What’s your favourite (least favourite) terrible team name?