On the (Rhino's) Horns of a Dilemma

August 13, 1993

Could there be any doubt about the cultural and psychological importance this city, this region and this state put on regaining a football team to replace the once-beloved Colts?

Earlier this summer, when the Baltimore-based NAACP endorsed Charlotte as a good place for a new pro football team, the group felt the wrath of a region scorned. It eventually apologized to Baltimore. And just the other day, after it was publicized that the prospective ownership groups of a Baltimore team were considering "Rhinos" as a name, negative reaction was so swift and punishing the National Football League sounded a retreat.

The NFL's franchise decisions this fall will be based on cold numbers, TV revenues, market potential and stadium plans. Baltimore can compete. But the passion this area stokes for its Orioles and for an entity that could fill the black high-tops of the former Colts is indeed remarkable.

While the reaction against "Rhinos" illustrates the depths of emotions toward professional football in this region, it's not really a bad choice for a team moniker. There are sillier names out there (the new Disney-owned "Mighty Ducks" hockey team); more racially insensitive names (the Redskins), and more unsuitable names, due to franchise moves, such as pro basketball's Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers. Over time and as a team accumulates history, these names grow on their adoptive cities, whether or not they were originally embraced or intended there. Think of the wrangling this region, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Orioles owner Eli Jacobs went through over the name of the new stadium and how Oriole Park at Camden Yards now sounds as comfortable as a batting glove.

The NFL says its intent is not to cram an unwanted nickname down anyone's throat, even at the risk of not having T-shirts and caps ready for sale on Day One. The name and uniform of the team is not an insignificant issue, though. NFL-licensed merchandise hauls in $2 billion a year, and athletic clubs can make millions simply by tinkering with their emblem: Baseball's Chicago White Sox, for example, jumped from 25th to eighth in market share among baseball team paraphernalia sales after it re-designed its logo.

Consider the positives of the Baltimore Rhinos: The name easily fits in a headline and the animal's style epitomizes both the "three yards and a cloud of dust" running game and an impenetrable defense that are so often successful. Plus, it would give us one imposing mascot.

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