Name game fits us like a plate of crabs

March 14, 1996|By John Eisenberg

The new pro football team in town is going to have a nickname in a few days or weeks or whenever.

What are we going to do then? What are we going to talk about?

We have been talking about football names for years around here. The debate has become almost as indigenous to the area as a cold Natty Boh in the bleachers.

Almost from the day the Colts left in 1984, there have been rumors about various teams bringing pro football back to town. And attached to each rumor were name questions firing hot debate.

Did we like the name? Did it make sense? Could we change it to (fill in the blank)? Could we get the Colts name back?

Talk shows have devoted hundreds of hours to the name game, maybe thousands. Local colleges have offered courses on it.

OK, local colleges haven't offered courses on it. But it long ago became a civic obsession, that's for sure.

For years now, if you locked any dozen people from here alone in a room and asked them to debate the eating habits of yaks standing on a mountainside in Tibet, they would eventually wind up debating pro football nicknames.

Any dozen people!

Such has been the gravitational pull of the name game, inevitably sucking conversations to it.

Over the years, The Sun has received thousands of letters suggesting names and inspired packets containing possible logos and designs for everything from T-shirts and helmets to commemorative toilet seats.

A recent letter to this desk, from a group of chronically name-addicted souls, contained 128 possible names, including Biohazards, Goons, Warlocks and my favorite: Beast(s).

A Sun nickname poll held three years ago, at the peak of expansion fever, drew almost 22,000 votes enough to finish fourth, not far behind Steve Forbes, in last week's Republican presidential primary.

We have been out of the closet as name fetishists for years.

But now the debate is nearing an end. We have a team at last: The team formerly known as the Cleveland Browns. And they're zeroing in on a name.

Actually, the party animals at NFL Properties are doing most of the work. Convening focus groups. Contemplating logos. Drawing cartoons. Eating green eggs and ham. Whatever it is they do.

What'll the name be?

Me, I'm pulling for an old favorite, Boogie Weinglass' contribution to the debate from a few years ago:

Baltimore Rhinos.

Big, meaty, tough, fast a perfect football name.

Alas, Rhinos is going to suffer the same fate as that other Boogie institution, Merry-Go-Round.

Among the more conventional choices, I like the Baltimore Americans. What can I say? I am one.

I also like the Baltimore Ravens. Those who feel it is inappropriate because of Edgar Allan Poe's drinking obviously haven't spent a Sunday afternoon in an NFL stadium.

The most appropriate name, of course, would be Baltimore Pickpockets. That's what they're doing to us.

The choice that would please fans the most is, naturally, the Baltimore Colts. But the name apparently isn't for sale unless Art Modell ponies up a fortune, enough to pay Jimmy Irsay's inheritance taxes on his father's estate. Irsay all but admitted this in the newspaper yesterday.

Me, I say, "No, thank you." It was bad enough that the Irsays moved our team to Indianapolis. Is it necessary that we pay their taxes, too?

Of course, Modell could probably raise that kind of money if he sold permanent name licenses. For a one-time fee, you could help bring the Colts back to Baltimore and, say, also receive a free iron-on logo.

Such a deal. But you know what? The idea would probably fly in our name-crazed town.

Anyway, the deal is coming down on the name game real soon, and it's not up to us or even to Modell, it seems, even though he owns the team. Marketing dweebs are driving this wagon.

When the name is announced, if it isn't Colts, this is what will happen: A third of the people will like it, a third of the people will hate it and a third of the people will say they don't love it but they can live with it.

And all of the kids will love it if the mascot turns out to be a fuzzy purple dinosaur or a big orange rabbit.

After a few years, everyone will be used to it.

The name debate will vanish from the landscape like an extinct animal.

We'll have a huge void in our lives.

What will we argue about?

Why, the name of the new football stadium, of course.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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