1836 does a number on Houston

The Flip Side

February 05, 2006

The Philadelphia 76ers are named after the year the Americans declared independence, and the San Francisco 49ers are a reminder of the California gold rush.

And several German soccer clubs include the year of their founding in their names: TSV 1860 Munich, Hannover 96, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC Schalke 04 and FSV Mainz 05.

So, what could be wrong with the transplanted San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer adopting the nickname Houston 1836 to honor the year the Texas city was founded? Nothing, except that the decision, announced late last month, has alienated the very fan base MLS was hoping to attract by relocating the franchise.

Turns out 1836 was the year a group of English-speaking interlopers fought a war of secession that resulted in Mexico's loss of Texas, leading to more than a century of violence and discrimination against Mexicans in the state.

Latinos account for 40 percent of Houston's population and regularly pack the city's stadiums to watch matches played by visiting clubs from Mexico.

"Clearly, not enough homework was put into this," said Paco Bendana, a Houston-based authority on marketing to Latinos. "Historically speaking, 1836 is not something we celebrate."

Rumbo de Houston, one of the city's Spanish-language daily newspapers, called the team name an "own goal."

"Do they think," asked Tatcho Mindiola, director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston, "we're going to wear a T-shirt with the year 1836 on it?"

Mr. Flip 04 suggests a tweak that could solve the problem. Change the team name to Houston 18-36, the target demographic.

No Devil worship

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays might be changing their name, too.

They could go with Tampa Bay 18-36, their likely record after 54 games, but probably will do something different, such as dropping the "Devil."

After talking with fans in focus groups, the team learned there was a "negative association" with the terms "Devil Rays" and "devil," president Matt Silverman said.

"When they liked something we did, they would refer to us as the Rays. If they were discussing a complaint or gripe, we were the Devil Rays," Silverman said.

The last time a major league team changed its nickname without moving to a different city was in 1965, when the Houston Colt .45s became the Astros.

No truth to rumors that the Astros nearly were named the .1836s.

Good nighty, Mighty

Next season, the NHL's Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, named in 1993 by then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner to promote the studio's Mighty Ducks movies, will be called simply the Anaheim Ducks.

The team's new owner, Henry Samueli, chose that name over several others, including the Anaheim Condors.

Recently, Tony Tavares, the former Disney sports chief, said he considered Eisner's flirtation with calling the baseball team the Mighty Angels of Anaheim "the second-stupidest idea I've ever heard in the history of sports," with the Mighty Ducks name at No. 1.

Sandy Litvack, Disney's corporate counsel and Eisner's chief lieutenant, said he cringed at the name, too.

"I thought it was absolutely silly," Litvack said, "but it was my boss' name, so I really liked it."

Compiled from Web and wire reports by the Not-So-Mighty Mr. Flip of Baltimore.

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