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The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Three: They Just Didn’t Try

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Three: They Just Didn’t Try

We’re out of the realm of the truly objectionable now, and entering the territory of the generic and bland. In this part of the list are the team names that fail because they don’t stand out and try to distinguish themselves from the pack. None of these names have any aspects a fan can take any real offense toward, but that’s because the people who thought of them decided on the safest possible approach: Just think of something that sounds great or fierce, and fuck anything else that makes a team name good. No matter what can be said for the rest of the names on this list – including the ones in the lower tiers – most of them at least tried to take a risk or two, but that can’t be said for anything in this tier. Since the names here are mostly so generic that some of them actually cross sports, it’s safe to conclude the people who thought of them just weren’t trying.

90: Detroit Tigers, MLB
This one gets credit for not being a part of our XTREME!!! 90’s big cat craze, and for being an aesthetic delight – the strong O and the way it lights up the I in Detroit makes the long, hard I in Tigers a sort of natural vocal evolution. Unfortunately, Tigers is another one of those default terms used whenever it’s necessary to come up with something to try to market to a national audience you hope will be fascinated more with badass imagery than imagination or connection to the immediate fanbase you need to click with first. And before its sport was usurped by the panther during the 90’s, it was the tiger that every sports team on Earth turned to when they needed a strong, carnivorous animal to be presented at the last minute because someone in the naming group wasn’t from the area and couldn’t be bothered to do the research before pulling up a name they thought would be at least remotely likable. A generic big cat name is still a generic big cat name, no matter what city it’s attached to or how much you try to sell people on how proud and noble yet blah blah blah colloquial metaphor it is.

89: Cincinnati Bengals, NFL
The trouble with the alternative method of naming a team after tigers is that it’s exactly one letter away from being politically incorrect. A bengal is a tiger. A bengali is a person from Bangladesh. It’s pretty easy to use one in place of the other. I can give the Cincinnati Bengals credit for two things: One is trying to be slightly more original than the Detroit Tigers, and the other is trying to slightly honor the wishes of Paul Brown, who originally wanted his old team, the Cleveland Browns, to be called the Panthers and who was also the first coach of the Bengals (revenge for being forced out of the Browns) and instrumental in the team’s running until his death. But still, it’s another big cat. Another tiger, in fact.

88: Los Angeles Kings, NHL
Using our Stretch Armstrong powers of imagination stretching, twisting, and reinterpreting, Los Angeles has a handful of things which make it a strong applicant for royalty status: It’s the world’s most prominent entertainment producer. It’s also the largest city in California and the second-largest city in the United States by population, and first by size; and it’s the economic power center of California (although San Francisco will likely have a few words with me now). So at least it has that going for it. The trouble with calling a team the Kings, though, is they’re not going to be at the top all the time. While the Los Angeles Kings won two of the last three Stanley Cups, in nearly 50 years of existence, those are still the only two they’ve won. And let’s face it, Kings is not a good brand. Sure, there are those old expressions about how everyone wants to be the King, or how good it is to be the King, but there is so much ubiquity in trying to name yourself after such an old cliche….

87: Sacramento Kings, NBA
This team gets a hair ahead of their Los Angeles brethren by merit of the fact that first of all, Kings rolls better with Sacramento than it does with Los Angeles. Kings has a weaker sound than Los Angeles, putting the name way out of balance, but with Sacramento, the C and the short sounds surrounding it are a nice compliment to the K and the weak and rather common suffix following it. Also, while Los Angeles may be California’s economic powerhouse, Sacramento is its legitimate capitol, therefore making it the place where the governor lives. And if the governor abuses his power too much, the people will resort to calling him the King, possibly followed by other, considerably worse words. The Sacramento Kings are the oldest team in the NBA. They began as a factory team in Rochester, New York called the Seagrams, were the Royals through Cincinnati, and became the Kings in Kansas City before reaching Sacramento. Ironically, none of those locations are especially regal.

86: Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA
When you consider that Minnesota’s NHL team is called the Wild, you have to ask yourself: Are the Timberwolves the wild the name Minnesota Wild is referring to? The name itself gets a fairly decent sense of balance – Timberwolves has a few harder sounds that are equalized by Minnesota being one syllable longer. I don’t know if timberwolves are indigenous to Minnesota, though, but that hardly localizes the name. Besides, it’s hard not to notice that timberwolves is just a specification for the more common wolves name, which is found everywhere sports are played.

85: Atlanta Hawks, NBA
The trouble with a ranking list is that there’s only one spot per name, and every name I push into one spot pushes another name into another spot. After awhile, the spots seem to go by in chunks, and so there are names that will end up higher than they deserve. And with that, here we have the generic bird part of the list, which is arguably interchangeable with the cat parts. The hawk is a generic bird of prey, and is the mascot of Atlanta’s NBA team because it survived the longest: From Buffalo (where they were the Bisons) to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now the Quad Cities), through Milwaukee and St. Louis, where they became the Hawks. I appreciate the survival story, but that’s about the only thing the Hawks have going for them. Hell, the Hawks showed up around the time the Falcons did, and my god, how it must suck there for casual fans to try to tell them apart.

84: Atlanta Falcons, NFL
What is it with Atlanta and birds of prey? From a city with a generic bird of prey NBA team comes a generic bird of prey NFL team. The Falcons get credit for being the team that showed up first – unless I’m confusing the two of them myself – but they are still another generic bird of prey, named for very generic reasons. The branding is trouble because they’re, again, in a city with another generic bird of prey name! Imagine the marketing: “We’re not the Other Guys!” At least the name has a better balance, with two long A’s in Atlanta and one in Falcons.

83: Arizona Cardinals, NFL
Another generic bird, another survival story, and it would have been worse had the Cardinals stopped at St. Louis, where the most popular team is a baseball team called the Cardinals. You wonder why they didn’t change their name to something more Arizona-esque: The Sidewinders or Roadrunners, maybe. But I guess there’s something to be said for hanging on to the only consistent element from your past. After all, no one remembers those championships these guys won way back when they were still the Chicago Cardinals. Yeah, the team branding has been simply disastrous, because for a full quarter century – as sportswriter and Cardinals fan Will Leitch so directly pointed out – these Cardinals weren’t even the most popular team called the St. Louis Cardinals. Since leaving St. Louis, it appears that all the Missouri transplants living in Phoenix and Tucson haven’t adopted what’s basically the other Cardinals team.

82: St. Louis Cardinals, MLB
The original Cardinals team still makes a lot more sense than the Arizona Cardinals. The cardinal isn’t indigenous to Arizona, but it’s indigenous to a lot of other places in the United States, including Missouri. It’s also the official state bird of Illinois, and the St. Louis Metropolitan Area encompasses a lot of suburbs in Illinois. That said, St. Louis Cardinals has a pretty, chirpy sound, but cardinals are just too common to be truly unique. At least they have their brand, going strong on a century, and surviving a challenge from a whole other team, also called the St. Louis Cardinals, which played in the damned NFL.

81: Kansas City Royals, MLB
I’m well aware of the fact that the Kansas City Royals were named after a highly respected livestock show that takes place in Kansas City every year, so it gets the essential regionalization points in that respect. But how many non-baseball fans and people outside Kansas City do you think would realize that upon hearing this name? Kansas City may have more fountains than any city in the world except Rome, and it may be the barbeque capitol of the United States, but it’s not exactly known for its royalty or regality. The team name does have a strong allusion to the greatest team from baseball’s old Negro League, the Kansas City Monarchs, so that’s to its credit.

80: Detroit Lions, NFL
The name of Detroit’s NFL team really doesn’t differ all that much from the name of Detroit’s MLB team. It even has a similar letter evolution from the OI in Detroit to the long I in Lions. My problem with the Lions name isn’t so much of a case of it being a misfit – lest you need reminding, neither Detroit nor the Lions have been the kings of much of anything lately – but more the choice of animal. It’s another big cat trying to cash in an image based on ferocity. To some extent, the branding works, but that’s mostly because the Lions have a history. They’re one of the oldest teams in the league, have two divisional rivals even older than they are, and their division has long been known as the Black and Blue Division, a nickname given to it because all three other teams in it – the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Minnesota Vikings – have all made their names riding defense to multiple championships, something the Lions themselves were familiar with way back when too. However, as far as the big cats go, in four leagues flooded with trendy big cats, Detroit chose to use the Lions as their mascot. No other team in major professional sports has tried that, so as far as generic big cats go, the Lions at least stand out.

79: St. Louis Rams, NFL
When a team has been as historically nomadic as the Rams, I guess it’s a big deal when they cling on to their old name. Formed in 1936 as the Cleveland Rams, the team bolted to Los Angeles in 1946, just after winning the 1945 title because the Browns were created and looking like they could easily take over the city. In the 90’s, after a long and productive stay in Los Angeles, the Rams moved to St. Louis. I’m not sure why rams were picked to represent the team, but the image certainly is unique – not many teams at the pro level use it. The name St. Louis Rams feels very awkward, and I can’t decide if it’s a powerful name or a weak one – the short A kind of cancels out the long R and M sounds, and the city name is tricky because the only unquestionably hard letter in it is the L.

78: Toronto Blue Jays, MLB
Are there blue jays in Toronto? Of course there are blue jays in Toronto! As far as bird mascots go, the blue jay is an underrated bird – they’re among the bird kingdom’s bullies and hoarders. Maybe we give the Toronto Blue Jays a lot of shit, but their name is more unique than it sounds. Unfortunately, there are still several other teams using names of birds – not even raptors, but regular birds you might find in your backyard – so it’s still easily lost in the shuffle of bird names.

77: New York Football Giants, NFL
A generic name with pretension! I understand the New York Giants originally needed the Football pretense in order to keep themselves distinguished from the MLB New York Giants, who moved to San Francisco in 1958. That sort of eliminates the need for the moniker, but the organization and fans both insist on using it. There’s no reason for this anymore. The San Francisco Giants aren’t the San Francisco Baseball Giants. You don’t hear New York Football Jets. The Cardinals used a similar distinguisher back in their St. Louis days, being the St. Louis Football Cardinals, but they’ve since moved, and are not the Arizona Football Cardinals. That doesn’t even cover the geographical inaccuracy in the name. If the team is in a suburb, despite my nuclear hatred of suburbs, that’s a need I understand – it’s still in the metro area. But when you’re placing the team in a whole other state, demanding the taxes from a whole other state, and the fanbase is mostly in that whole other state, don’t try to leach off the glamor city across the border out of convenience. Have a little fucking honesty about it.

76: San Francisco Giants, MLB
Funny how these guys ended up with this name in San Francisco. Isn’t giant politically incorrect? Don’t they like to be called big people or large people or something? The name doesn’t sound all that unbalanced, mainly because San and Giants play off each other in a decent manner while the Francisco dominates the name. I like this name a lot more than I like New York Football Giants. If we expand the meaning of Giants, we can get a nice allusion to San Francisco’s stature – the city is, after all, the economic giant of the Bay Area, of Northern California, and possibly California itself. As far as being the economic giant of California itself goes, it provides an unintentional but very cool parallel to the NHL team in Los Angeles, the Kings. Los Angeles and San Francisco are raging rivals in cultural and economic power in California, competing to be the state’s king power center or giant power center.

75: Pittsburgh Pirates, MLB
This team was named after stealing a player from an opponent, in a move the opponent said was “piratical.” The name Pirates itself is actually unique, and has a nice balance and heft to offset Pittsburgh – both two syllables. Unfortunately, the name’s uniqueness isn’t enough to offset the common imagery and branding. Pirates are the mascot for two NFL teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, both of which found ways of calling themselves pirates without actually calling themselves pirates.

74: Golden State Warriors, NBA
This name is officially the place where I finally put my foot down in regard to the PC crowd’s arguments about Indian imagery. This team started out using a very racist caricature of an Indian, but that was removed so long ago that the Warriors have ceased to have any real connection with American Indians in their name. That hasn’t stopped the screaming. The last Warriors logo was a faceless blue guy which PC people claimed was racist, and they claim a team name which has been associated with literally every kind of soldier from ancient Roman centurions to modern snipers is stuck with Indian imagery. The problem with the Warriors isn’t some form of imagined racism. It’s that it’s one of those generic names used at every level of sports, and is often a stand-in name for teams in sports movies, which renders it very ineffective. Also, I hate it when teams try to take general regions as their official play area. I actually had to look up just what the hell Golden State is and where the Warriors actually play. That’s not what you think of as a favorable position when it comes to regionalizing the team.

73: Indianapolis Colts, NFL
Teams trying to name themselves after horses are funny to me. Everyone loves the imagery of horses, and who wouldn’t? Horses are as beautiful and graceful as they are fast and powerful – that’s a damn perfect combination of everything you could ever ask a professional sports team to be. But naming a team the horses just doesn’t work because the word “horses” doesn’t roll especially well with a strong city name, so everyone has to use synonyms: Mustangs, stallions, broncos, and so forth. But that doesn’t explain why anyone would name a team after a baby horse. Granted, Colts is a nice, punchy term, but it’s also weaker than it sounds and reliant strictly on the long O. The name is a move remnant – these guys had a long life as the Baltimore Colts, a name given because of Baltimore’s rich history in horse racing. Granted Indianapolis is also a famous racing city, but that fame isn’t from horses. I’ll grant that if you want to stretch the imagination a little, you could point out that those cars in the Indianapolis 500 race on horsepower, but that doesn’t work for me. Especially not when you’re hitching up a name like Colts to that six-syllable mouthful of a city name.

72: Calgary Flames, NHL
Canada is an odd place to put a team called the Flames, and hockey is a strange sport to see a team called the Flames playing. The name is another holdover, which is too bad because the team’s original city gave them one of the all-time great names – the Atlanta Flames. I’ve read an exploration of the idea that Flames is a very cloaked allusion to the Canadian oil industry, which is dominantly in the Calgary’s province, Alberta, but I wonder how many people would accept that explanation, since oil and fire don’t have anything in common except very nasty chemical reactions. In any case, it doesn’t work out very well because there’s another city in Alberta called Edmonton, and they have a team that has a much more direct name in relation to oil.

71: Denver Broncos, NFL
Now this is a horse name! Unfortunately, that doesn’t equal an especially high rank because it’s still just a generic horse name with generic branding, but damn. If you’re going to be generic, this is the best example there is of how to be generic and pull it off. First, you make sure your horse name is in a nice Rocky Mountain city with a history as a frontier outpost. Then you make sure your favored synonym has two beginning consonants which make it rugged, and two hard O sounds – including the end – to give it weight and power. Make sure the city and name are both two syllables, giving the entire name punch, and hopefully both city and team name will both have a short N sound in the middle for a nearly unmatched balance. There’s generic, but there’s also generically awesome.


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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