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The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Two: Just Plain Suck

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Two: Just Plain Suck

These are the names that don’t quite betray the ideals of good sports team naming, but which are nonetheless irredeemable all the same. Some come from bad trends, others lack originality, but all of them are inexcusable.

115: Florida Panthers, NHL
You’re an ad executive in the 90’s who needs a name that screams “XTREME!!! SPORT COMIN’ YOUR WAY!” and since you live in sun-drenched Miami, you laid on the beach and let it go until an hour before the presentation. So you need a ferocious animal now, but all the good ones are taken. What do you do? You pick out the name of a big cat which doesn’t even really exist (what most people call the black panther is just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill leopard with black fur). The panther is the little black dress of professional sports team names. It’s the go-to for those who either can’t do something better or those who need to throw on the quick emergency backup because they’re trying to get back out the door in a hurry. In other words: No matter how much resonance the panther may hold to the metro area, you never, ever, ever name your team after it.

114: Carolina Panthers, NFL
Okay, I don’t think there is a pair of teams on this ranking list so similar to each other. Both the Florida and Carolina Panthers were created in the early-to-mid-90’s. Both have an appearance in their respective sports’ finals amidst very nondescript existences. Both have names and logo designs with deep roots in 90’s advertising hubris. Honestly, I could have re-posted my bullet point from the other Panthers team or switched these two around, and it wouldn’t matter one bit. So why does Carolina get the slight nod? Because the Florida Panthers infect my favorite sport, while the Carolina Panthers infect my least favorite.

113: Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL
Another team created during our love affair with all things XTREME!!! during the 90’s, the Jags at least have a small bit of an edge over the Panthers and the, uh, Panthers by merit of the fact that they managed to avoid using Panthers as a name. I’ll give them credit for also avoiding use of the name Wildcats, that ubiquitous name for little league teams from sports movies. I can also credit it for a decent ring, featuring a duo of place and name which both start with the same syllable, with accompaniment by a series of short sounds which make the JA poppy. It still doesn’t change the fact that Jaguars are strictly rainforest animals from South America, not Florida. Or the fact that Jaguars are difficult to brand because they constantly get forgotten in all those other big cat names.

112: Nashville Predators, NHL
This is the kind of shit you get when you make the logo before thinking of a decent name for the team. I’ll admit this is probably about the best the Preds would be able to do with the image they were given, that of a roaring sabertooth tiger. But it should also make you wonder who would ever try such a naming technique, especially in a city nicknamed “The Athens of the South” and “The Music City,” both of which are quite capable of offering better, more memorable alternatives. It shows no respect for the city of Nashville whatsoever, and it ruins any shot at branding because the only people likely to remember it are transplants from the north who are only interested when the teams they cheered for north of the Dixie Line come to town. Again, it’s pointless 90’s hubris named to capitalize on a trend, and with the Preds always topping the lists of NHL teams likely to move, you have to wonder how much the name had to do with it.

111: Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL
Out of ferocious, XTREME!!!-style animals to name your sports team after? Time to turn to ferocious, XTREME!!!-style weather phenomena! The Lightning once claimed they were named in a fan contest, which would explain a lot, but former owner Phil Esposito later came out with the true story: He thought it up himself one night upon seeing a particularly vicious lightning bolt during a storm. While Esposito wrote of Tampa being the lightning capitol of America, it doesn’t excuse the fact that it happens everywhere, even in the desert. So again, no regionalization, no real respect for Tampa or its people, shitty branding which gets lost in a sea of other things which were more about fierce imagery than substance. At least the balance works: Two syllables, one syllable, two syllables. The city and team names both turn on hard syllables, and the “Bay” is a punchy word which adds oomph to the nickname.

110: Winnipeg Jets, NHL
Well, Winnipeg was once considered the cultural capitol of Canada, so if the Jets name is something there to imply modernity, it has that going for it. Unfortunately, how many non-hockey fans have ever heard of Winnipeg? Yeah, this particular cultural capitol is overshadowed by Canada’s other, more famous cities, not to mention a certain other Jets team south of the border which is a much better fit for its home. It was the second team in North America called the Jets, which destroys all tries at either originality or branding. It’s aesthetically terrible – three syllables to one, none of which have anything in common with each other. And even its regionalization – the only thing this name has going for it – is loose at best because of, again, a certain other team that lives in the United States.

109: Memphis Grizzlies, NBA
This name was a casualty of a relocation. When the Grizz were first created in the mid-90’s, they were located in Vancouver, where the name made a hell of a lot more sense. There are grizzly bears in British Columbia, after all. There aren’t grizzly bears running around in Tennessee, which wipes out any regional premise. Also, Memphis has a softer name than Vancouver. In Vancouver, the long “ooh” in the middle of the city name was a nice, very subtle compliment to the hard Z in the middle of “grizzlies.” Every other part of the Memphis name has a soft, quick sound, and it makes the audio aesthetic a really lousy pairing of words.

108: Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL
So you live in a blue collar, hard workin’ steel city and this is the best name you can come up with for your hockey team? I know penguins are speedy and graceful underwater, but they’re also antarctic creatures, which means they’re also covered with plenty of blubber. They waddle, an image unbecoming of a hockey team. The aesthetic doesn’t quite work as well as it should. While both are two-syllable words beginning with P, the city name jumps back up twice with a pair of hard syllables, while the team name turns on a smooth U. The best thing that can be said is that the branding is unique, but that’s mostly because no other team would ever call itself the Penguins.

107: Houston Texans, NFL
I wonder what Houston is trying to do. Sponge fans off of geographic rival Dallas by evoking the name of the state? This has the same problem as the Canucks up there: They’re trying to mobilize a fanbase by appealing to a sense of regional pride that expands way further than it should. What’s a Texan? Someone who lives in Texas. You know who also lives in Texas? Fans of the Dallas Cowboys. I should point out that while Texans may hold their state to their hearts, we have an increasingly open political world which is starting to attach a lot of negative connotations to Texas from the outside. Calling your team the Texans is an invitation for mockery by people who are buying into the view of Texas as a state full of uneducated, illiterate hicks, rednecks, and ultra religious bozos who hate common humanity and common sense and are so stupid and gun-happy they would cure a headache by shooting themselves in the head. Also, it’s a direct lift of the old AFL’s Texans, who were pushed out of the state altogether and became the Kansas City Chiefs. You know what city those Texans were based in? Dallas. I don’t know how anyone in Houston who’s in the know about the AFL Dallas Texans could possibly live with cheering for a team called the Houston Texans. At least the war is staying on the gridiron. So far.

106: Cleveland Browns, NFL
Would any Clevelanders like to explain to me exactly why they keep making fun of the Baltimore Ravens name? Their team name is the associative color of shit, dirt, and possibly Lake Erie when Cleveland managed to light it on fire. I’ll grant the association makes it quite the apt colloquialism for the way the Cleveland Browns have been playing since their return, but even the team’s real name association can’t save it. Even rudimentary football fans know the Browns were named after Paul Brown, the team’s first and greatest coach and one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. Basically, the Browns were named after a guy who, at the time of their naming, hadn’t done anything with them yet. So it hits a number of bad places: It’s a color with negative associations, and a man who meant nothing to Cleveland outside of football before he ever did anything. The latter at least suggests why Browns fans are so famously rabid: By branding the team after Brown himself, it closed itself off to anyone who isn’t in the know, and therefore the symbolism is related only to football and has nothing to do with civic pride. Therefore the team name may not even be capable of rising above its medium. Even Paul Brown himself hated it.

105: Washington Wizards, NBA
In the late 90’s, the owner of the NBA’s Washington Bullets grew a little uncomfortable with owning a team called the Bullets in the murder capitol of America, so he changed the name. I’m a little up in the air about accusing this of 90’s hubris; fantasy wasn’t where it is now, but the Harry Potter series appeared around the time the Bullets renamed themselves the Wizards. The branding was probably more unique in hindsight than it is right now, when we conjure wizards for everything. After that, this is another case of disbelief that Wizards was the best anyone could come up with in America’s capitol and one of its most historic cities. I guess the name does make sense in its way, though: The way Congress is able to constantly throw money away while doing jack shit suggests there’s black magic at work somewhere in The District. But who would ever want an association like that?

104: Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Although this name wasn’t taken in the 90’s, it’s definitely of the 90’s. The 90’s saw a period of sports team expansion in all four major leagues on a level that hadn’t been precedented for a long time. All four leagues had stabilized, the economy was up, and I guess all the leagues decided they had nothing to lose by rolling the dice. Unfortunately, the naming problem stems from the fact that too many admen got caught up trying to sell the public more on the XTREME!!! culture than on trying to create a connection with sports fans. Nearly a decade after the fact, the residue of the 90’s remains, stuck on yet another generic weather name which, like the Lightning, is even found in the desert. It’s another mass originality failure getting lost in generic ferocity. Ironically, it doesn’t roll especially well when you say it.

103: Carolina Hurricanes, NHL
XTREME!!! 90’s ferocity? Check! Regionalization? Uh… Does localized to the Eastern Seaboard count? Branding? Hey, fierce sports team names are in style forever! Right? Memorability? Sure, just like all the other ferocious weather names! Ferocity and balance? Okay, that I can legitimately give. 90’s! XTREME!!! The great shame here is that the Canes are a relocated team which had a great name in their last home: They were the Hartford Whalers.

102: Brooklyn Nets, NBA
There’s no major city with a cooler name than Brooklyn. Brooklyn is amazingly cool to say and listen to; it feels and sounds smooth with the OO sound taking the stage, and the weird mashing of consonants on the end cause a sudden jump which comes on just when your tongue is getting comfortable, bringing in a gritty, urbane feel. If you have to create a team in Brooklyn, your work is basically done. All you have to do is attach the proper noun. (Brooklyn Kittens!) Good thing, because that’s basically all the owners of the Brooklyn Nets did. Yes, the name survived moves from New York City to New Jersey and back again, and yes, Brooklyn rolls pleasantly and easily into Nets. That’s good, because Nets doesn’t lend itself to branding very well. If meant in strictly a basketball context, it won’t transcend the sport and appeal to new fans. If used in other contexts, Nets are bits of rope that spend the vast majority of their existences hanging around lifelessly. You have to hand it to Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z – they did a hell of a job turning an unbrandable team name into the hippest team in the NBA.

101: Utah Jazz, NBA
If music genres translated to sports, Jazz is actually a perfect nickname. Jazz, like basketball, requires a lot of skill, as well as equal amounts of linear planning and improvisation. It’s not the nickname that’s the problem. It’s the location. There’s a team named after a fiery musical genre based in a state that hates music and fun altogether. Although they do get brand points, the brand is memorable mainly because it doesn’t make any sense. This team started out as the New Orleans Jazz, a damn near perfect name, and as little sense as Utah Jazz makes, I’m going to separate myself from the other writers who spend their team name lists by not calling for the name’s return to New Orleans. The New Orleans Jazz were formed in 1974 and lasted a short five years under terrible lease terms with two different home stadiums, never having a winning season. The Buffalo Braves lasted longer. As the Utah Jazz, they fielded four Hall of Fame players, a Hall of Fame coach, a two-time MVP, and won two conference titles. No matter how many arbitrary name lists the Jazz appear on, the name ain’t going nowhere with kudos like that.

100: New York Islanders, NHL
This name gets a few points for partial accuracy. New York City isn’t a real, honest-to-god city the way, say, Chicago is a real city, though. New York City is actually comprised of five different counties which consolidated their governments and therefore have no real power. Those counties became known as New York City’s boroughs, and of them, Staten Island and Manhattan are both legitimate islands. Brooklyn and Queens are both located on the west end of Long Island, while The Bronx is the only part of New York City on the US mainland. The problem is that even with such an unusual arrangement, New York City will never pass for a real island. It’s way too urbane, and the long I sound in the nickname adds the tropical tang we tend to associate with Hawaii or the US Virgin Islands. Therefore, the team name tends to be dominated by the I that starts off the nickname, which is the only real hard sound in it. Island imagery wallops this name, too – islands are seen as relaxed, laid-back places, whereas New York City is nicknamed The City that Never Sleeps.

99: Buffalo Bills, NFL
So are we talking about dollar bills, utility bills, duck bills…. While anyone who’s spent any length of time living in Buffalo knows how frightening those winter gas bills can be, all I can think of these days is that Snickers commercial where the St. Louis Rams got renamed the St. Louis Freds. The Buffalo Bills were named after an earlier team from the AAFC, an earlier competitor to the NFL, which in turn was named after a famous poacher. When your city’s name is Buffalo, you wouldn’t think there were a ton of options, but the city of Buffalo has a rich history as an industrial capitol for the entire world, an innovator in uses for electrical power, and an important location in early US wars and the Underground Railroad. Even with all that going for it, the team got named after the nickname of every Buffalo expatriate who was ever named William. Furthermore, Buffalo is a hard place with a real rough and tumble way of life – it’s a place where the word “buff” is perfectly applied, as are its close cousins “tuff” and “ruff.” And the NFL team still has the short, punchless, almost flighty Bills as a nickname. There’s no balance or heft there.

98: Cleveland Indians, MLB
This name has a unique and surprisingly effective verbal roll. Five syllables, all of them featuring either an N or an E. That’s about all it has going for it. Indians is a common name, so it has the feel of a massive cover-all in lieu of a more regional name related to the tribe which once populated the Cleveland area. (The Wyandot and Ottawa were the last two tribes to hold the area, moving in around 1740.) That doesn’t exactly lend it any originality, and the team compounds the flaw by claiming the name honors a former player, Louis Sockalexis, a great American Indian player who was frequently serenaded with war cries and whoops and slurs. When Sockalexis began to decline because of alcoholism, sports journalists nicknamed the disease the “Indian weakness.” That’s a bad enough legacy to hold, so in the case of The Tribe, it’s a very odd thing that the Indians stick to using that story over the true story of their name’s origin: They latched onto the idea of an Indian name, trying to rip off the Boston Braves after the Braves’ miracle World Series victory in 1914.

97: Kansas City Chiefs, NFL
Slightly better than the Indians, because Chief is a title rather than a people. Still, it does nothing to quell the surge of generic Indian imagery, and so we get just another boring name that manages to draw attention to itself anyway. To think, all it would take to stand out is to change the imagery slightly: Instead of an Indian Chief, they could make a switch to, say, a Fire Chief. They have the colors to match already.

96: Atlanta Braves, MLB
This name goes a little bit further than even Chiefs. Brave is technically an amorphous concept, so I can’t figure out why we choose to keep slamming it with Indian imagery. (Creek and Cherokee owned the land in Atlanta.) I understand this is an old name which survived through Boston and Milwaukee before the team reached Atlanta, but in this day and age, Indian names are major wins for teams. Some people get pissed off about them, thus drawing attention to the team which otherwise may not be worth paying attention to. Then the reactionaries to the pissed off people become fans of the team just to goad everyone on the other side.

95: Minnesota Wild, NHL
You already know this one is from the 90’s, don’t you? Look at that name! That name looks like it belongs on the marquee sign of a small town midwestern strip club, and a rather low-end one at that. Wild is also about the worst amorphous concept you could give to a place like Minnesota. The term “Minnesota nice” exists for a reason. Being wild in Minnesota means staying out until 11 while leaving the kids to a babysitter. Of all the amorphous concept names, this is probably the toughest to brand, because there’s not even a particular base from which to build a vision of wild. Wild like a forest? Wild like an animal? Wild like an asshole frat boy?

94: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, MLB
The “of” just kills it. In some ways, it can create a name that makes perfect sense: The Los Angeles Angels of Glory? The Los Angeles Angels of God? The Los Angeles Angels of Light? No, they did something completely nonsensical and said these Los Angeles Angels are of a city 40 miles south of Los Angeles, in another county. Even God is confused. The Angels nickname does work, though; as well it should, because “Angeles” is just the Spanish word for “Angels,” and they create a nice roll together. Too many listers complain about the redundancy, but if they were that adamant about it, they would also be decrying the city’s nickname, the City of Angels. City name, followed by city nickname. it’s just that in this case, they’re in different languages.

93: Chicago White Sox, MLB
And here we have the literal definition of Jerry Seinfeld’s famous routine about how sports fans are just rooting for their laundry. Not just any laundry, mind you, but the article of clothing most likely to get punished, dirtied, and lost in the laundry. The white sock is one of the most ubiquitous of all clothing articles, which means it’s also one of the blandest. Also, the city of Chicago has a kind of crushing name in your mouth, but the team nickname is a pair of very short words which aren’t weighed down enough to match it. And how the hell do you create a brand out of something people wear on their feet? It’s no wonder Bill Veeck pulled all those weird stunts. I stand by the argument that the Cubs have a worse name, but there’s little wonder why they’re the darlings of the city’s baseball scene when the alternative is this.

92: Boston Red Sox, MLB
I would like to repost my last entry, but a couple of things give the Bosox an edge over the Chisox: Red socks are more unique than white socks, and they stand out more, and the name has a better rapport with its city. Boston is a syllable less than Chicago and a lot easier to say, which makes it a lot better weighted. The Boston Red Sox also have a stronger brand than the White Sox despite their World Series drought being two years shorter and replete with more good years. Of course, the Red Sox are the only game in Boston as well, so there’s that, and that bitter rivalry with the New York Yankees also helps.

91: Colorado Avalanche, NHL
Would it really surprise you by now to learn this is another piece of 90’s residue? I can at least give it credit for not basing itself on either fierce animals or fierce weather, despite it being a natural occurrence. Besides, Colorado is a mountainous state, so we can assume avalanches happen there from time to time. Still, there’s not enough difference between Avalanche are other names based in XTREME!!! 90’s ferocity to vault it above and beyond most of the other teams introduced during the decade. Bad as this name is, though, it beats the shit out of naming the team the Denver Avalanche, because Denver is a softer, shorter word which doesn’t carrying nearly as much weight as Colorado or avalanche.

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About Nicholas Croston

I like to think. A lot. I like to question, challenge, and totally shock and unnerve people. I am a contrarian - whatever you stand for, I'm against.

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