Ownership groups play NFL name game: How does Baltimore Cobras strike you?

March 06, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer Assistant chief librarian Jean L. Packard contributed to this article.

Hey fans, how 'bout them Baltimore Cobras?

Prospective owners of new NFL franchises so far have filed trademark applications on 13 names for their teams, ranging from the Memphis Hound Dogs and Jacksonville Sharks to the St. Louis Archers.

Aside from a few off-beat ideas, most borrow heavily from the tried-and-true animal kingdom. Sundays in front of the television set could soon include a few new cats, a deadly snake, an oafish dog, a work horse or even a man-eating fish.

All three of the Baltimore investment groups say their first pick is to buy the Colts name from the team that moved it to Indianapolis. If that fails, two of them have filed the Cobras and the Bombers.

"To be honest with you, all of the good names are already taken," said Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, one of three ownership groups vying for a team in Baltimore.

Mr. Weinglass, whose ownership group includes filmmaker Barry Levinson, said he considered the Ravens, a sort of Edgar Allan Poe "oriole," the Claws and even the Bees. He really liked the Animals, and even the Gorillas, but the NFL didn't. So he filed the Bombers, something he says speaks of the region's rich military aviation history.

Mr. Weinglass, chairman of the Merry-Go-Round chain of clothing stores, said he's still working on uniforms, including one with a silver helmet with rivets and a bronze-colored jersey. Watch for leather Baltimore Bomber flight jackets at an Inner Harbor boutique near you.

The Baltimore group led by Florida-based investor Malcolm Glazersubmitted the Cobras. Joel Glazer, his son, said the NFL has "strongly" asked him not to talk about names. But he said several are under consideration and he hopes to let fans assist in the final selection.

The Cobra, of course, is a venomous snake found in Africa and Asia. It was also a group of Northern European expressionist painters active in the 1950s. Neither seems to have much connection with Baltimore, but NFL research shows fierce animals fare best in the all-important sale of T-shirts and other paraphernalia.

Tom Clancy, a Maryland-based author leading another Baltimore group, is the only prospective owner nationwide who won't submit a name until the league picks the winning cities and investors.

"First you buy the house and then you put up the wallpaper," Mr. Clancy said.

The league says it hopes to name two new franchises this fall, with teams beginning play in 1995. Five cities are contending: Baltimore, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.

All the investment groups were asked to submit their proposed names to the league by late last year, and the league filed them with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Filing for the trademark is a strong indication -- though not a guarantee -- of the final franchise name.

In several cases more than one name was picked, leaving the groups with more than one option. The league treats the matter like a national security secret and won't even discuss the names, but a review of trademark records shows the following applications as of early this year:

The Carolina Panthers; the St. Louis Stallions, Scouts, Rivermen, Archers or Stokers; the Jacksonville Jaguars or Sharks; the Memphis Hound Dogs, Bombers or Showboats.

The names represent months of work, involving teams of marketing specialists, artists and lawyers. The league and its 35-person creative department in Los Angeles has been part of the process and had a contractual right to veto a name deemed unacceptable or unmarketable.

The league's interest is obvious. The names and symbols are integral to the $2 billion a year in sales of caps, jackets and other officially licensed goods. The proceeds are split evenly between all league teams.

NFL Properties, the NFL's unit in charge of licensed products, suggested a few guidelines: Avoid the overtly political or racially insensitive, seek something unique to the region but adaptable to a personified mascot. And a ferocious character is preferred over a wimpy one.

So six of the nine names represent animals, and all but one of those ferocious (whoever met a mean Stallion?). The local connections areobvious in most cases. Sharks swim off the coast of Florida. Hound Dogs are synonymous with Memphis' most famous resident, Elvis.

The Bombers is the only name picked by two cities. Memphis and Baltimore both have a connection to wartime aviation, Baltimore as home to generations of military contractors and Memphis as the namesake for the "Memphis Belle," one of the most famous bombers of World War II.

The Stallions are corporate cousins of Clydesdales, mascot of Anheuser-Busch. Executives of the beer company head St. Louis' proposed ownership group and had suggested the Clydesdales as a name, but the league waved them off, fearing too close an association with alcohol, according to one league official.

But the group still filed five names, the most of all the applicants.

"We can't make up our minds," said Jerry Clinton, an investor in St. Louis' ownership group.

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