Philadelphia, PA – The CFL (that's Canadian Football League to you and me) generally doesn't get much press down here in the United States, but over the weekend it managed to wake up more than a few fans north of the border.
An eight-team league at the moment, the CFL is expanding to a ninth club for the 2014 campaign, granting a franchise to Ottawa for a third time, following the demise of the Rough Riders (1876-1996) and the Renegades (2002-05). The two previous monikers sounded sturdy and tough, befitting a physical sport, but this time around the new name has fallen flat.
With great fanfare, in front of Ottawa's CFL alumni, league dignitaries and over 3,000 fans, the team finally let the cat out of the bag and announced the new nickname: the REDBLACKS.
Huh, what? Come again ...
And while the press release stresses the name in all caps in every instance, that might just be a way to deflect attention away from just how silly it sounds.
It is supposed to be a salute to the history of sport in the region, recognizing the predominant colors of past and current Ottawa teams. It claims to be unique (oh, yeah) and even edgy (not nearly) and was met with an avalanche of criticism from social media almost immediately.
Sounds like a 5-year-old headed up a marketing firm and just babbled the first thing that came to mind. Why not call them the dirty shoes, or maybe the helmet-wearers? Hey, "Predominantly French Guys in Spandex" hasn't been taken, either, how about that one?
One person noted that Toronto may not have been happy about the name Blue Jays back in the day, but at least that mascot/logo/icon is tangible and real. Trust me, a name like REDBLACKS would never fly down here because it sounds as though it is insulting two minority groups at the same time. Just try and slip that one by Roger Goodell or David Stern.
It got me thinking about the countless nicknames we deal with in these parts, ranging from established, professional sports clubs to the hundreds of colleges and universities that dot the landscape from coast to coast.
You can have your Wildcats and Bulldogs, Tigers and Eagles, I'm drawn more to the obscure, less celebrated and, more often than not, not quite successful teams in college sport. You'll find me wearing my Idaho Vandals hat or Western Carolina Catamounts baseball T-shirt before I'd put on a Louisville Cardinals jersey. I love the image on my Northern Arizona University baseball cap, it draws quite a number of inquiries, but I still consider the school not all that far off the beaten path.
Living in the smallest state in the union prevents me from having hometown bragging rights to a major league sports franchise, but what I do have is the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a minor league baseball affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. The name has historical significance to the region and has a cool ring to it, but it's still not as catchy as the Albuquerque Isotopes or the Las Vegas 51s.
Side note: I picked up a foul ball at a 51s game in Sin City a few years back. I say picked up because I was the only person in my section and I figured I had nothing else better to do than get up and retrieve it.
But, back to the dorm rooms ...
At the Division I level, there are close to 350 colleges and universities, but there are only a handful of truly unique mascots/nicknames that are great to pull out in random conversation to show just how far off the radar you can reach. Crimson Tide is unusual for sure, but with Bear Bryant and national championships being the calling card there, it is even too familiar with us northerners.
Moving down alphabetically, Arkansas schools have some cool names, from Razorbacks to Trojans, Golden Lions to Red Wolves, but still a bit too mainstream. Down at the bottom you have the Youngstown State Penguins, but is the Buckeye State even climatically conducive for the a group of aquatic, flightless birds who call Antarctica home? Sometimes the names just don't make sense on the surface.
If you want to reach further into the abyss of wild and crazy nicknames, start trolling Division II and III institutions of higher learning.
Checking in with the state of Arkansas once again, Arkansas Tech boasts the Wonder Boys, a title that first appeared as a proper noun when the school's football team defeated Henderson State University (13-0) in November 1920. Known as the Wonder Girls and the Wonderettes then, female athletes are now known as the Golden Suns at Tech. Go figure.
I could spend almost all of my time talking about The Natural State, thanks to Arkansas-Monticello, which fields the Boll Weevils as well, but what fun would that be?
Let's see, there's the Brevard Tornados in North Carolina (not exactly in the heart of Tornado Alley) and the California University of Pennsylvania Vulcans (not home to pointy-eared Star Trek devotees).
Central State in Ohio has a menacing Marauders program, so does University of Mary in North Dakota and Millersville in the Keystone State, each of which could surely give the Fighting Scots of Edinboro (Pa.), Monmouth (Ill.) and Wooster (Ohio) a run for their money. But would any of them stand a chance against the Muleriders of Southern Arkansas or the Savage Storm of Southeastern Oklahoma State?
Simon Fraser in British Columbia could scare off more than a few opponents with its Clan, the same is probably not true for the Washburn Ichabods for which the logo is a fella in a top hat toting his books. The Texas A&M- Kingsville Javelinas sound like a cross between a sharpened, elongated weapon and a delicate dancer, but in truth the name comes from an animal that is quite possibly a mythological hybrid of pig and hippopotamus.
I wouldn't mind being known as a Battling Bishop, from either North Carolina Wesleyan or Ohio Wesleyan, but I think I will pass on being considered a Continental from Hamilton College (N.Y.) because I would probably have to have my clothes dry-cleaned, neatly pressed, and smoke a stylish cigarette more often than not.
There are herds of animals, from Bears, Beavers, Bison and Bobcats to Cougars, Falcons, Grizzlies and Lynx, with plenty of outlying family members. Don't forget the many hard working men and women who have battled to bring their mascots to the masses, from Vikings, Spartans, Buccaneers and Colonels to Cobbers, Pioneers, Quakers and Lords.
Odd, unusual, strange ... so many of those nicknames are, but two others stand out above the rest.
St. Louis College of Pharmacy, founded in 1864, is the oldest college of pharmacy west of the Mississippi River and the mascot is known as the Eutectic. Yeah, go ahead and Google it (I had to). While you're busy trying to figure out a way to mock this NAIA's sports programs with a clever slogan or chant, you'll have to know how to pronounce the word in the first place (yoo- tek-tik) and by then these brainiacs will be having their way with you.
FYI, eutectic is described as: Of, relating to, or formed at the lowest possible temperature of solidification for any mixture of specified constituents.
See Ottawa, it could be worse. All right, maybe not so much.