Pick a name, any name: Baltimore fans get a voice

August 15, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Got the perfect name for a Baltimore NFL team? Get in line.

In a place where oyster yields are falling, industrial jobs are growing scarce, and the once-ubiquitous Natty Boh is almost impossible to find at sporting events, there is no shortage of passion when it comes to naming a potential football team.

"If there is going to be an NFL team here, the name should have something to do with Baltimore," insists Freda Garelick of Baltimore County.

She favors the Steamers, for their connection to Maryland blue crabs, and the Stallions, because they are grown-up Colts.

"Why not call them the Kolts?" said John Unitas Jr., son of the famed Colts quarterback.

And William W. Knobloch, a vice president at the local office of Kidder, Peabody & Co. financial services firm, sent a businesslike, two-page defense of the Crabs to potential team owner Malcolm Glazer. The treatise suggests: Crab Pot stadium, head coach Art Shell and Crab Cake cheerleaders.

When the prospective owners of the expansion franchise being sought for Baltimore settled last week on Rhinos as a name, the uproar was loud enough to frighten a 5,000-pound African rhinoceros.

Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion. And that's OK with the ownership groups. Although they still like the Rhinos, they've agreed to consider submissions to The Baltimore Sun's reader survey, which begins today and will run through the week.

But entrants should keep in mind a couple of things: The final selection of a name is up to the prospective owners and the NFL, which retains a contractual right to veto a name.

The owners and league consider the name important. A good name helps a team establish itself with fans, and lends itself to effective promotions. And a marketable nickname and mascot boosts sales of NFL-licensed merchandise, a $2 billion-a-year industry. Because all teams split the proceeds of licensed goods sales, the league maintains control over names and uniform designs.

Roger Goodell, the NFL executive in charge of expansion, said a name should first and foremost fire up the local fans and help the team succeed. Selling T-shirts, he said, should be secondary.

"It's a no-win situation. We're going to do the best we can. Hopefully, everyone will love the name when we choose it and the rest will learn to love it," said Bryan Glazer, son of Malcolm Glazer, a Florida-based businessman seeking to own the Baltimore team.

The Glazers filed trademark applications on the Cobras. The city's other prospective NFL owner, a group led by retail executive Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, filed the Ravens and Bombers. Those names, and the NFL-suggested Rhinos, have to be considered front-runners at this point.

But both groups say they will consider new ideas from fans. And they also say they would like to buy the Colts name from team owner Robert Irsay, who moved them from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984, but he has indicated it's not for sale.

"No name is going to sound right the first year after the Colts. But after a while, you get used to it," Weinglass said.

League officials have established some parameters. First, the name cannot be politically or racially offensive. They've also been skittish about names with military connotations, such as the Bombers or Rockets. They discouraged St. Louis, another expansion contender, from using the Clydesdales because of the connection to Budweiser beer.

A name also should lend itself to an easily personified mascot, which rules out concepts such as the Miami Heat and Utah Jazz, according to John Flood, executive vice president of the NFL's merchandising arm.

Humans themselves, however, have proven to be a tough sell, he said. The Patriots, for example, have struggled to enhance their image and merchandise sales by scrapping the Revolutionary War soldier that has been hiking a ball on their helmets for years. They've substituted a jazzed-up symbol with a conceptualized tri-corner hat.

That pretty much leaves the animal world, which is already thinned to the point of extinction by sports teams. Four of the past six teams added to the NFL were named for animals: the Seahawks, Falcons, Bengals and Dolphins. The other two, the Saints and Buccaneers, lent themselves to easy symbols.

The four expansion candidate cities seem to have gotten the message. Backers in Charlotte, N.C., like the Panthers. St. Louis likes the Stallions. And Memphis, Tenn., is leaning toward the Hound Dogs, although organizers there are also considering the Showboats and Bombers. A city that dropped out of expansion, Jacksonville, Fla., planned on the Jaguars.

Weinglass said he wants a name that reflects the toughness of football and will inspire the players. And it wouldn't hurt if it is hip, he said.

Bryan Glazer said it's also best if the name ends in an "S" and is short so it can be easily pronounced, remembered, and repeated in headlines. "It would be a shame if we had to have a nickname of a nickname," he said.

Both say they would like a name with obvious Maryland connections, but won't accept an inferior choice just to make it local (the Colts were named for Maryland's horse breeding and racing industry).

" If we could we,we would like to have it represent Baltimore and Maryland. But I don't think the NFL would be happy if we picked a name that didn't sell merchandise," Bryan Glazer said.

One organization that is prepared for just about any name is the Baltimore Zoo. It took out ads this week in The Sun with a photo of a rhinoceros saying, "Just chose a name, Boogie. Chances are we'll have a mascot."

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