RSS Feed

Tag Archives: New York Yankees

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

The Ultimate Ranking of Sports Team Names, Part Six: Built Strong on Solid Ground

These are the name that are good. Very good. Good as they are, though, they frequently lack a singular element or two which prevents them from ascending to the summit. Admittedly, there are times when that singular element or two isn’t resonating with me for some reason, but the point here remains: All of these names are excellent, and none of them have any major points of contention to concentrate on and single out. While one or two of them might not fit quite the right way, I would be vehemently opposed to any of them who tried to change their names in order to make them more fitting or appealing. These team names are so good that, in trying to change them to make them more appealing, they all run a very serious risk of coming out for the worse and disastrously backfiring.

39: Colorado Rockies, MLB
Yes, we all know by now how cliche it is to name a team in Denver the Rockies. The 1993 MLB expansion team here isn’t even the first team to try it; the NHL moved into the area back in the 70’s after the Kansas City Scouts had failed. The NHL Colorado Rockies also failed, and so they headed east to become the New Jersey Devils. Still though, while Colorado Rockies is weakly balanced, when it comes to the mountain states, every state has a prominent image attached to it. Wyoming has Yellowstone; New Mexico has the desert. Colorado has the most dominant images of the Rocky Mountains, including Pike’s Peak and the Grand Canyon. You can’t deny Rockies fits Colorado like it wouldn’t fit in Montana.

38: Minnesota Twins, MLB
The name Minnesota Twins was given to the state’s baseball team because the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have famously failed to apply the adage of Minnesota nice to each other. They’re serious rivals whose residents take pride in never visiting the other city from whichever one they live in, so in order to quell any fury that may trickle through state sports loyalties, all the teams in the Twin Cities area take the name of Minnesota. Major League Baseball took it a few steps further when they named their Minnesota team after both the state and the metro area. It makes a good way for the cities to call off the blood feud during the baseball season; yes, they may be at each other’s throats for all time, but god forbid another baseball team should come into town. Apparently baseball in Minnesota must be a way for the residents of those two cities to unleash their pent-up rage from being Minnesota nice all the time. Like most of the other Minnesota sports team names, the Twins have to make do with a weak region name, and Twins doesn’t do anything to strengthen it. Minnesota and Twins are almost rhyming first syllables off each other, and Twins doesn’t have the long O to make up any missing strength, so the name Minnesota Twins feels a little incomplete.

37: Tennessee Titans, NFL
It’s hard to believe this team first tried to form a connection to Tennessee’s football fans by keeping their old name, thus making them the Tennessee Oilers. But the fans requested a name change, and the team owner listened and came up with a very good one. One of the nicknames of Nashville, the home city of the Titans, is “The Athens of the South.” Ancient Athens today is seen as a birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and higher learning in general. Vanderbilt University and Tennessee State University are just two of the 24 places of tertiary education in Nashville. There’s also a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, adding a visual to the nickname. And hey, what was the highest level of god in ancient Greek mythology? Titan! The name also has a very easy roll to it, and titans is a very dynamic word which invokes strength and power. You know all those ferocious weather names from the 90’s I said I hated so much? The ancient Greek titans controlled all those elements. The downside is that the Titans nickname feels sort of secondhand. Accurate imagery with Greek myths? Greece and Tennessee are different places. It’s a nice allusion, but not exclusive to Tennessee.

36: Minnesota Vikings, NFL
Another one of those weird names which should be considered politically incorrect but somehow isn’t – viking wasn’t a title, after all, but a people who are still all over the world today. And one of the more popular locations for those of Scandinavian heritage is in the Twin Cities. Viking imagery isn’t even particularly nice to have – while Indian names try to honor the more positive aspects of Indian imagery like bravery, honor, and nobility, viking imagery honors savagery, a great disservice to people who were non-interventional explorers, great strategists, and inventive shipbuilders. However, we can give a pass to that because football is a violent sport. The name does suffer from the same fault of other Minnesota sports team names: It doesn’t balance. We might be tricked into thinking it does, with the “ing” suffix in Viking, but the long I sound and Vikings being two syllables aren’t very complimentary to Minnesota, a four-syllable word with virtually no long sounds.

35: New Jersey Devils, NHL
The name Devils comes across as generic, but it’s based in the popular legend of the Jersey Devil. That equals a nice bonus for regionalization, if not so much originality. The Jersey Devil is a popular cultural icon in New Jersey, and its legend is recorded in Indian folklore. It has appeared in different forms of media and a lot of supernatural buffs believe so much in its existence that some of them form groups which collect reports, visit historical sites, and set out on the occasional night hunts in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey to find anything they could take as solid evidence of its existence. There’s also the little matter of the name Devils probably working more than one church group into a froth – in 2005, a New Jersey state assemblyman tried to introduce a bill which would force the team to change its name to something less blasphemous. Branding like this can’t be bought.

34: San Antonio Spurs, NBA
Texas has a reputation as a big football state, but it seems to be missing out on its true calling. There are two professional football teams in Texas. While one is the immortal Dallas Cowboys, the other is a 21st Century expansion team with little following, and the NFL callously refuses to place a team in San Antonio – the eighth-largest city in the country – which has been clamoring for one for some time and even built the arena for one over 20 years ago. Fuck you, NFL. Fortunately, San Antonio can take solace in their beloved Spurs, the best of a trio of NBA teams that are all rewarding to follow. Originally slated to be the San Antonio Gunslingers, the name was changed at the last minute for no particular reason. It’s still a good name, though, because a spur is a well-known piece of cowboy equipment which people wore to control their horses during the days of the old west. And no state is more synonymous with the old west than Texas, which holds the imagery and continues to celebrate the old culture of those days. The one problem I have is that a spur is so inanimate and seems useless in this day and age, but I guess the name can be chalked up to a piece of historical equipment. San Antonio Spurs is a great name.

33: Philadelphia Eagles, NFL
You would think I’d have an unbridled hatred for this name. After all, it’s another one of those damned birds of prey, another testament to national appeal through vicious imagery rather than connection to local fans. Or is it? In this case, I can give the generic name a free pass because of what the city of Philadelphia represents in the historical context. Philadelphia is where the First Continental Congress met, where Thomas Paine published Common Sense, and where the national capitol was located until it was moved to Washington in 1800. Philadelphia played an enormous role in the American Revolution, and what is a popular symbol for American independence? The eagle, which was subsequently named the official national bird of the United States. Yes, it’s generic, but if any city has a right to regionalize the eagle, Philadelphia earned it, right along with the branding that goes with it.

32: New York Yankees, MLB
Speaking of American symbols. Here’s another team trying to take a spot as a blanket appeal to everyone by naming it after a generic term used by foreigners as a stand-in for Americans. In other words, Yankee is just another way of calling someone an American, and it gets crippled by the fact that in America itself, Yankee is regionalized depending on where you are and who you’re talking to. If you’re in the south, Yankees are northerners. In the north, they’re New Englanders, and so on. New York City is one of the most diverse cities on Earth, so while Yankees should be a generic name, what I like about it is that it presents the spirit of inclusion that appeals to people all over the world who visit or move there. It kind of says “No matter who you are or where you’re from, when you’re in New York City, you’re one of us.” And indeed, New York City has this history – it was the place where immigrants first left their ships, and around one in every seven Americans has a lineage that goes back through New York City. Yankees also has a cool ring to it, with two Y sounds and two K sounds in two back-to-back syllables. The Y is underutilized in nicknames, which also gives Yankees real distinction.

31: Los Angeles Clippers, NBA
This name would have a slightly higher rating had it stayed the San Diego Clippers, and a much lower rating if it had either stayed the Buffalo Braves or held on to the Braves nickname. Still, there’s not too much to complain about. Los Angeles is a giant port city, after all, with one of the largest port harbors in the world. The Clippers nickname is an allusion to a kind of cargo ship which was used in the days when giant canvas sails were the kings of the sea’s horizon. Clippers were known for being some of the fastest vessels available. None of the words in this name, though, come off as particularly strong, so I prefer the old San Diego Clippers name, where Diego is there to carry the weight of the weaker words surrounding it.

30: Indiana Pacers, NBA
Handicapped just because Indiana is a monster of a place name, but it fits because while Indiana is one of the basketball hotbeds of the United States, it’s best known for a whole other sport: Racing. Auto racing, to be exact, with the state’s greatest contribution to the sports world being the world-famous Indianapolis 500. Pacer most obviously is there to represent the pace car, a car which takes the race cars on a couple of slow laps around the race track just before the green flag. In a less obvious allusion, pacer can mean setting a pace, or creating and controlling the tempo for how a game plays out, which is probably what the team owners were hoping for when the Pacers were created. I’m awarding bonus points because Indiana Pacers has better balance than Indianapolis Pacers would have – next to a city name like Indianapolis, everything would look weak.

29: Dallas Cowboys, NFL
This name just makes good sense. Dallas has a history as a wild west frontier city, and what image represents the wild west frontier more than a cowboy? Dallas also fancies itself a city long on fast, high-rolling excitement and action, and that’s the common movie image of the cowboy: Fast, exciting, shootouts with the black bandana-wearing villains who tied the girl up to the train tracks. That’s far from the truth of what being a cowboy was really like, but the team itself certainly tries to live up to that image.

28: Miami Dolphins, NFL
Hey, another marine team! Dolphins is probably the best marine-related name because, being sea mammals, there’s presumably plenty of them in and around the Miami area. While dolphins get a perception as fun, friendly creatures, when observed in their natural habitat, they’ve been seen to be real assholes. We know they’re known to get into fights with sharks and win; some of them do it for no reason. Dolphins can be friendly when bred in captivity, and part of the reason they can learn and perform tricks is because of their incredible intelligence. Dolphins score very high on the chart of animal intelligence, right up there with monkeys, and are the most intelligent animals after humans. It’s also theorized that the dolphin brain was fully developed long before the human brain, meaning dolphins were once the smartest animals in the world. That’s a hell of an image to carry, all wrapped up in a very unique brand because everyone else apparently thinks dolphins are too cutesy to be used as a team nickname.

27: San Diego Padres, MLB
San Diego was originally a mission founded by Franciscan priests, so this name has a historical regionalism which makes it stick out. It can also serve a double meaning: Military chaplains are also frequently known as padres, and San Diego is very well known for being a military base outpost among everything else. Padre is a Spanish word, and that means it goes very nicely with the name of the city itself, which is also Spanish, and it’s also a clever way to appeal to the Mexicans who regularly move in and out of San Diego, since San Diego has a very convenient spot right along the Mexican border, with Tijuana along the Mexican part of the border. Hell, the entire metro area is referred to as the San Diego-Tijuana Metropolitan Area. It’s a very fitting name for a city with such a strong Spanish and Mexican influence, and there’s no need to complain about it not being vicious.

26: Chicago Bulls, NBA
A lot of the appeal of the Bulls name is the same of the appeal of the Bears name: Short but powerful word for an animal with power and crunch. But whereas the Bears had a parallel to the Cubs as an advantage, the Bulls do something better: Chicago was a major producer in the meat industry for a long time, and that makes the bull a very strong allusion to the beef industry that made Chicago an industrial giant. If you’re a literary geek, the allusion is made even stronger through the fictional neighborhood of Packingtown, which was created by author Upton Sinclair for his famous novel The Jungle, about the life of factory workers in the fictional community. That makes the bull a nice secondhand reference to the book that got the government started in making sure our food was clean and, eventually, seeing to it that people who worked in factories got treated like human beings. Maybe it’s not obvious outright, but that’s good enough to be a literary reference, and that’s always worth a few points with me.

25: Charlotte Hornets, NBA
The Charlotte Hornets are back! The second-youngest name on this list, Charlotte’s NBA team finally got its original name back a couple of months ago when the New Orleans Hornets decided they were finally finished with it. That’s good for it in the standings, because if you haven’t figured it out by now, I would have viciously skewered this name had these guys still been the Charlotte Bobcats. The historical precedent comes from a quote by general Cornwallis in the American Revolution, who referred to Charlotte as “A veritable nest of hornets” after the city put up a hell of a resistance to them. Hornets is also very unique and original, because insects don’t tend to be used as nicknames very often. Hornets have very venomous and painful stings, swarm, and are crazily territorial, adding a nice dose of ferocity. But you know why everyone loves the name Charlotte Hornets so much? Say it, and check out that balance! Four syllables, the first in each word ending in a hard R, and the second ending in a short T. There are only a handful of other teams on this list which have such a balance, and of them, the Hornets definitely have the coolest sound. R can be a nasty letter when it’s used properly. Buzz City, on behalf of NBA fans everywhere, we’re glad you’re back!

24: Edmonton Oilers, NHL
The Oilers are the other team from the Canadian province of Alberta. While the Calgary Flames use a generic name which is also a useful adage for how oil is frequently used, the Edmonton Oilers are a lot more direct: Here’s Edmonton, in the province of Alberta, sticking up like a sore thumb in the middle of the Canadian desert, where they dig up oil. And here’s a team called the Oilers, which happens to play in Edmonton. The Oilers have a unique name these days, since the NFL’s Houston Oilers don’t exist anymore, so it’s almost impossible to forget who the Oilers are or where they’re from.

23: Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
Part of the reason I like this name so much – besides the fact that they’re, you know, my team – is the fact that it adds so much nuance to political correctness. Perhaps the Blackhawks could use it as an advertisement: The team! That was named after a restaurant! A restaurant that was named after an army battalion! An army battalion that was named after a person! Yeah, even tracing it back all the way, the Hawks were named after a person. It’s rather unfortunate that their nickname is another generic bird of prey, because I take points off for that. But there’s no denying that Blackhawks is a name with character, and it finds a nice balance in a three-syllable-two-syllable dynamic simply by making the middle sounds the same in both words. It’s just that in Chicago, the short C is a syllable all to itself while in Blackhawks, the CK comes at the end of the first syllable. The name has an history in Illinois, too; Black Hawk was a Sauk tribe chief who led raiding and war parties as a young man, fought in the War of 1812, and led the British Band in the 1832 war presumably named after him. The team itself spent most of its existence known as the Black Hawks, until the owner randomly decided to use the name written on the original legal documents – Blackhawks – sometime in 1986.

22: Boston Bruins, NHL
If this was a list I was writing up solely on balance, the Boston Bruins would win it with almost no competition. Both are two-syllable words, both start with B and end in N, both of them are breezy with hard sounds. In that regard, the Boston Bruins are absolutely unmatched anywhere on this list. That gives the name memorability and strong branding as well, because who could possibly forget a beast like this? The only qualm is that this name is more generic than it comes off at first; a bruin is a foreign word for brown bear. (I forget which language.) But even then, you have to give this name credit for not going with the name Boston Bears and using the Bruins name, which makes it stick out more.

21: Arizona Diamondbacks, MLB
Not all names rooted in our 90’s love affair with all things fierce and XTREME!!! turned out badly. The desert can be an inspiration for some awesome team names, because it’s such a unique environment which takes resourcefulness and hardness to live in. It’s an environment exclusive to some very unique species, and some very particular species of more common animals. Arizona’s sports teams play it safe by going with the latter three out of four times (the exception being the generic Cardinals NFL team), and while the originality mark suffers for that, this is by far the best of what Arizona offers in team naming. The diamondback is a type of rattlesnake which is found in a few environments, but is most noted for being a desert animal. It’s extremely venomous and deadly. They’re also survivalists that can go without two years without food. It’s important to note the team didn’t go a more common route by just latching on to the name Rattlers. While the longer name may be a bit much, it works in this case because with 90’s ferocity a dime a dozen in sports team naming, Diamondbacks is one of those pattern breakers that sticks out among all those cat and weather names.

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.

Renaming the New York Bulls of Buffalo Whatever the University is Called

Renaming the New York Bulls of Buffalo Whatever the University is Called

It’s ludicrous to suggest that the University of Buffalo is undergoing an identity crisis now. UB was founded in 1846 and taken over by the SUNY system in the 1940’s, during which it was given an apparently endless series of names. That means UB is closing in on almost half its existence going through an identity crisis. When the university gods were naming schools, they must have been drunk when trying to attach a permanent moniker to UB. After a century of being known as the University of Buffalo, in the 1940’s the university gods proved to be a gaggle of cruel drunks and UB suddenly found itself with so many names that we’re all a little bit confused as to what to call it: Buffalo University; SUNY Buffalo; University AT Buffalo; State University of New York at Buffalo; or just Buffalo. Most people just stick to referring to it by its old, given name, the University of Buffalo.

Well, there is now a big ol’ monkey wrench being thrown into UB’s identity crisis, UB is setting out on a marketing program meant to re-spin the name of the place even more by emphasizing the part of the name that says “New York.” That means instead of being called whatever the hell it’s called now with “Buffalo” in the title, the university is going to be nationally known as the State University of New York. The University of Buffalo will become just a bit of a side name, even though it’s the flagship university in what’s really an overblown system consisting of 64 different schools of all tiers, from full blown university centers (University of Buffalo) to provincial university colleges (Empire State), technology colleges (Alfred State), and community colleges (Mohawk Valley). I can’t say I disagree with the naming, because if it works, people might begin to think of New York as something more than New York City, and UB will start to draw more students and better funding if said students are any good at football. Basically, it would give UB – by most accounts one of the best higher learning institutions in the country – more exposure and more national prominence. On the other hand, the city of Buffalo loses the claim to something which had, for the most part, been truly its own, and one of the big things it had to truly distinguish itself as someplace separate from New York City.

This semester is the official beginning of what people are commonly referring to the University at Buffalo New York Bulls Initiative marketing campaign. It’s starting through the athletic programs; the basketball court floor now has the title “State University of New York at Buffalo” embossed over an image of New York at center court, with the words “New York” the largest by a mile. The football team will be displaying the university name on its uniforms the very same way. Since that’s now set, there’s one important question I have: What the hell is up with that nickname? Bulls? Come on! That never made any sense as a name for a Buffalo team, and it damn sure doesn’t make sense for a team that wants to carry the name of the state – especially not with New York City’s Major League Soccer team wearing its corporatized nickname, the Red Bulls. So if the University of Buffalo wants to become the State University of New York, that nickname has to go. Here are some suggestions to replace it:

New York Buffaloes

What better way to appease everyone than by naming it after both the state and the city? The animal is already a very prominent symbol in the city, so the logo would design itself.

New York Orangemen

SUNY could win an enormous contingent of Syracuse fans with this one. Syracuse has been calling itself New York’s College Team forever, and after all the other college programs are out of the running for whatever prize they were in, most fans in the state rally around them. However, changing their nickname to the Orange didn’t go over very well. Many fans – myself included – still refuse to call them the Orange.

New York Canadians

There would be no mistaking this one. Living in certain parts of New York is being pretty much Canadian by default anyway.

New York Red Sox

While most New Yorkers who have nothing to do with New York City ARE Yankees fans, we detest being associated with New York City all the time by outsiders. The New York Bulls Initiative has the skunk of trying to ride New York City’s coattails, a fact that everyone knows. So hooking up with the title of the Yankees’ most hated rivals will make sure there’s distance between city and SUNY.

New York Fighting Irish

Same logic as above. If you’re trying to sponge off New York City, why not go for the deuce and hope your recruits will be sufficiently dumb enough to be tricked into thinking they’re playing for Notre Dame? Besides, Buffalo is a highly Irish and Catholic city.

New York Empires

It really is the perfect name for the flagship university of a state nicknamed the Empire State, which contains the World Capitol of Everything inside of its borders.

New York Staters

It’s the common lament of the expatriate upstate New York native that, upon telling people where they’re from, they always, unfailingly have to verbally place the addendum “the state, NOT the city!”

New York Nickels

Hey, if I can name the team after the city of Buffalo, I can create a nickname based on Buffalo’s own nickname, The Nickel City. (Again, I absolutely, positively refuse to recognize or acknowledge The Queen City as a nickname.)

The Levels of Losing: New York/Illinois Edition

The Levels of Losing: New York/Illinois Edition

Several years ago, a sports columnist named Bill Simmons decided to take a stab at the rather difficult science at quantifying sports pain. Simmons isn’t the strongest sports columnist out there – he has his flaws, but I generally enjoy his work, and his column about the Levels of Losing strikes a nerve with everyone who’s ever been a fan of any team. In it, he takes losing big games and turns 16 easily identifiable levels out of it. He’s also from Boston, which means the majority of his example were also from Boston. So I’m going to take a mighty stab at the Levels of Losing myself today, with New York and Illinois serving as my examples. Sit back, relax, read, and, depending on your loyalties and feelings toward professional sports, either enjoy or cry.

Level 16: The Princeton Principle
Definition: When a Cinderella team hangs tough against a heavy favorite, but the favorite somehow prevails in the end (like Princeton almost toppling Georgetown in the ’89 NCAAs). … This one stings because you had low expectations, but those gritty underdogs raised your hopes. … Also works for boxing, especially in situations like Balboa-Creed I (“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!”). … The moment that always sucks you in: in college hoops, when they show shots of the bench scrubs leaping up and down and hugging each other during the “These guys won’t go away!” portion of the game, before the collapse at the end.
2007 NBA Playoffs, Second Round: Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons
Yes, this was a disappointment, but at least it was a good one. The Bulls, you see, had no business even getting this far. A 3-9 start to a season is usually a written-off ticket to the lottery. Teams that start 3-9 don’t usually go 49-33 on the season and make the playoffs as the third seed. And even if they do, they don’t sweep out the defending Champions in the first round. In the second round, the Bulls reverted to their season-starter form when they let their archrivals, the Detroit Pistons, run them into a 3-0 hole. No basketball team ever came back from that, but that didn’t stop Ben Wallace, Luol Deng, and crew from throwing their best at the Pistons and forcing a sixth game, putting the pressure on the Pistons before finally bowing out. Those were the pre-Rose/Noah Bulls, and despite being in the insurmountable hole, they held on and, for a hot second, looked as though they might succeed in doing the impossible.

Level 15: The Achilles Heel
Definition: This defeat transcends the actual game, because it revealed something larger about your team, a fatal flaw exposed for everyone to see. … Flare guns are fired, red flags are raised, doubt seeps into your team. … Usually the beginning of the end. (You don’t fully comprehend this until you’re reflecting back on it.)
2011 NFC Championship
I was probably the only person in Chicago who wasn’t brazenly confident about the Bears’ chances in the 2011 NFC Championship. Sure they walked in with an 11-5 regular season record, and having plastered the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. But they had also been wearing charm bracelets all year, and their record could have easily been almost reversed had it not been for a bunch of breaks hinged on luck – not luck like defensive backs being out of position, but LUCK. Luck like the Green Bay Packers setting a record number of penalties, Calvin Johnson being robbed of an ironclad touchdown because of a little-known rule, and a number of good teams on their schedule falling to pieces. I caught the NFC Championship against the Packers from my laudromat at Chicago Avenue and Western Avenue. While I could barely hear anything, I could see the screen well enough, and the first thing I saw in the game was Green Bay’s opening drive. Aaron Rodgers took The Pack four plays for a touchdown. The Bears responded by taking four plays for a punt. Those two drives set the tempo for the game; the Bears were in for a long afternoon. The game revealed a number of things that I had been screaming all year, but other Bears fans ignored: The Packers were a better team. Aaron Rodgers was light years ahead of Jay Cutler. Lovie Smith wouldn’t be able to get away with putting his offense on the back of his return man, even if that return man WAS Devin Hester. Worst of all, Bears fans had found a backup quarterback who they hated more than the starter when a nasty injury to Cutler forced Caleb Hanie to finish the game. The 21-14 score was worse than it looked; that second touchdown was The Pack throwing the Bears a bone. While Lovie stuck around for a couple more years, this game pretty much signaled the end for him.

Level 14: The Alpha Dog
Definition: It might have been a devastating loss, but at least you could take solace that a superior player made the difference in the end. … Unfortunately, he wasn’t playing for your team. … You feel more helpless here than anything. … For further reference, see any of MJ’s games in the NBA Finals against Utah (’97 and ’98).
Reggie Miller
The name Reggie Miller still causes longtime New York Knicks fans to fall into epileptic seizures. While my being a basketball fan didn’t happen until just after this era, it’s easy to understand the lingering frustration my chosen fanbase still has over the 90’s. The Knickerbockers drafted Patrick Ewing in the 80’s, easily their best big man since Willis Reed, surrounded him with a supporting cast that could smother any team in the league, and brought in Showtime Lakers coach Pat Riley. Fans from then will forgive the Knicks for forever getting pounded by the Jordan Bulls – who was expected to beat those guys? When it wasn’t the Bulls, though, it was the Indiana Pacers and Miller, who I swear spent his time before games sharpening a stake. Then he would take the hardwood and bomb the Knicks with about 765 points per game. From 1993 to 2000, the Pacers and Knicks met six times in the playoffs, and although they have an even record against each other, the repercussions are more severe than that implies because a team from midwest cowville had figured out how to skin the Big Apple and cut it into bite-size pieces. Three of their matches were conference finals; the Knicks won two of them, but were pushed so hard that one could argue it cost them the Finals. In any case, it was Reggie Miller who was the face of New York’s troubles. He was specifically the one nicknamed the Knick-Killer, the one who got into the fight with Knicks fan Spike Lee, and the one who, given any opening, could heave the necessary clutch shot from all the way across the court and have it go in. In 2010, a documentary was made about the rivalry called Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks. Got that? Not the Indiana Pacers, but Reggie Miller. MSG still likes to air these old playoff games sometimes.
Tom Brady
The Buffalo Bills’ rivalry with the New England Patriots has always been pretty wild, but it was rarely ever one-sided until Tom Brady was installed as New England’s starting quarterback in 2001. Since then, the Bills, still having never found their heir to Jim Kelly, have beaten the Patriots all of two times. The Patriots have beaten the Bills around 500 times by my count. Brady always finds the most humiliating ways to beat them, too: Games between Buffalo and New England always seem to polarize themselves at either massive blowouts or close nail-biters, and they’ll always end in favor of the Patriots. Even when the Bills are able to put up a significant lead on New England and trick the city into thinking they might have a chance, they always show they just don’t DO 60-minute football, especially not against New England. Tom Brady will inevitably lead the Patriots on a series of improbable drives with about three seconds left in the game, connecting on every improbable throw, leading the Pats to four late touchdowns and a victory. And sometimes, he doesn’t stop when the Patriots are squeaking by – he’ll launch a comeback from a 21-point hole to put 35 on the board, as if he was just fucking around with the Bills for most of the game. Watching him in those clutch moments, one gets the feeling he would connect even if he threw the ball backwards. What to do when one man – and particularly an All-American pretty boy like Tom Brady – keeps destroying your team? Well, obviously you can’t try feeding him to your team, because he’s been playing the part of the lion tamer. So when Tom Brady made an offhand comment about the quality of Buffalo’s hotels last year, Buffalo jumped down his throat like petulant children, burning his jersey and actively encouraging the city’s hotels to refuse to let him stay. This from The City of Good Neighbors.

Level 13: The Rabbit’s Foot
Definition: Now we’re starting to get into “Outright Painful” territory. … This applies to those frustrating games and/or series in which every single break seemingly goes against your team. … Unbelievably frustrating. … You know that sinking, “Oh, God, I’ve been here before” feeling when something unfortunate happens, when your guard immediately goes shooting up? … Yeah, I’m wincing just writing about it.
The Comeback
Let’s reverse things for a moment and recall a time where one of my teams actually CAUSED an excrutiating loss. More specifically, an NFL playoff game from 1993 between the Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills. The Oilers had managed to run up a 28-3 lead by halftime, which they pulled out to a 35-3 lead early in the third. On the ensuing kickoff after that touchdown, the wind caused the kick to squib, the first in a series of bad breaks which would destroy Houston. Buffalo took advantage of every Houston error, missed whistle, and weather gust to go on a splurge and score four touchdowns in about six minutes. In the fourth quarter they took the lead while the demoralized Houston offense couldn’t manage anything more than a field goal to tie the game by the end of regulation. In overtime, the Bills took advantage of an interception and Steve Christie booted the Oilers from the Playoffs. The 32-point comeback is still the largest in the history of the NFL. This game, the finest hour in Buffalo football history, was blacked out. I spent the day at McKinley Mall with my father and sister while the mall PA gave us periodic updates. Upon learning the score was 35-3, my immediate reaction was “good,” because I couldn’t take the Bills going to the Super Bowl (again) and losing it (again). Nor could I believe the increasingly narrow score as the PA kept giving it to us. There was absolute shellshock over this game, and everyone once again went right back to believing the Bills had a chance. The Bills made the Super Bowl that year, their third in a row. They also lost for the third year in a row. And they got their asses kicked for the second year in a row.

Level 12: The Sudden Death
Definition: Is there another fan experience quite like overtime hockey, when every slap shot, breakaway and centering pass might spell doom, and losing feels 10 times worse than winning feels good (if that makes sense)? … There’s only one mitigating factor: When OT periods start piling up and you lose the capacity to care anymore, invariably you start rooting for the game to just end, just so you don’t suffer a heart attack.
No Goal
Through most of their existence, the Buffalo Sabres have actually been very good… Just rarely when it counted. 1999 was the one year in my lifetime the Sabres didn’t perform a choke job at some point, but reaching the Stanley Cup Finals didn’t change the fact that they were outcasts and journeymen fighting the Dallas Stars, one of the most powerful and star-laden teams in the NHL. The Sabres did us proud by dragging the series out to six games. Game six went into a sudden death overtime, where Dallas’s league-leading defense kept canceling out Buffalo’s best goalie in the world. Every Dallas shot, breakaway, and visit to the attack zone felt like a heart attack. If I had a choice between a torture session at Guantanamo Bay and this, well, at least the Guantanamo session would end if I gave them information. This dragged on through what was basically a double-header of hockey before Dallas’s Brett Hull brought the axe down in the third overtime. It was both painful and frustrating because my team had just lost the Stanley Cup on a goal which was so badly disputed. The most important hockey game of the year was decided by an individual interpretation of the Crease Rule, which not only lent plenty of clout for missteps but made no fucking sense. Brett Hull defends the goal, and has very solid ground on which to do it, but even he admits it was grossly unfair to the Sabres. The NHL was finally embarrassed into repealing the Crease Rule the next year, and the vast majority of hockey fans reject the legitimacy of the goal. The hindsight, though, does very little to console the city of Buffalo, which to this day believes the Sabres were robbed of a chance to win – or lose – the Stanley Cup fairly. I learned that year that sudden death playoff hockey is only fun and exciting if you’re not emotionally attached to any of the teams playing the game. If you are, god help you.
2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game Six
As it happened, I was thrust into this situation again eleven years later when my team – the Blackhawks this time – made the Finals. Unlike the Sabres, who were a group of nobodies that prolonged a series they were supposed to lose, the Hawks of 2010 were a machine who stood a great chance of winning the Cup. Their offense was a galaxy of stars and their defense were hard fighters, but I had my suspicions about their goalie. While the Chicago media had been playing up substitute goaltender Antti Niemi as a great hero, I had seen more than enough hockey to see Niemi as what he was: A rickety man behind a well-oiled machine who was winning because he happened to be just a hair better than the other goalies when he needed to be. In game six, the Hawks carried a 3-2 lead into the third period which they surrendered with 3:59 left when Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell shoveled the puck behind Niemi. Being a Buffalo sports doomsayer and wanting to save myself the heart failure, I KNEW the Flyers would take the game into overtime, win it, and then win game seven, so I flipped the TV to that night’s rerun of The Office. I was still steaming when, about four minutes into the episode, the TV blacked out. Now I was REALLY pissed. I swore to myself for the next minute, wondering why both my hockey team and TV hated me when a giant Blackhawks crest suddenly flew across the dead air to the tune of “Chelsea Dagger,” an annoying song which, right then, was the most welcome song I had ever heard. The game HAD gone to overtime, but the Hawks emerged victorious. After watching the presentation of the Stanley Cup, I threw my street clothes back on – jeans and my Blackhawks sweater, I didn’t care that it was 80 degrees and humid – and rushed outside to find my fellow fans and celebrate.

Level 11: Dead Man Walking
Definition: Applies to any playoff series in which your team remains “alive,” but they just suffered a loss so catastrophic and so harrowing that there’s no possible way they can bounce back. … Especially disheartening because you wave the white flag mentally, but there’s a tiny part of you still holding out hope for a miraculous momentum change. … So you’ve given up, but you’re still getting hurt, if that makes sense. … Just for the record, the 2002 Nets and 2005 Astros proved that you can fight off The Dead Man Walking Game, but it doesn’t happen often.
2004 ALCS
The whole reason they play the games in the first place is because the anonymous paper standings the “experts” roll out at the beginning of every season can be so misleading. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox were looking like the superior team to the New York Yankees, only to blow their division and get into the playoffs on the wild card. In the ALCS, the Yankees ran up the big 3-0 hole, winning that third game in dominant fashion. Then the Red Sox decided to catch fire. After Curt Schilling’s heroic outing in game six, the Yankees’ talk about winning game seven was clearly feeding George Steinbrenner what he wanted to hear. When even Saint Jeter couldn’t hide the shock and uncertainty in his face, everyone across the Evil Empire got the message: Our Pinstriped Stormtroopers were now the dead man walking. The seventh game was just a formality, the ALCS was over, and Boston had won the American League Pennant. The only thing left to do was watch game seven, hoping the Yankees could shake their dead man stigma and put the Red Sox away. I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t.

Level 10: The Monkey Wrench
Definition: Any situation in which either (A) the manager/coach of your team made an idiotic game decision or (B) a referee/umpire robbed your team of impending victory. … The Monkey Wrench Game gains steam as the days and months roll along. … The Patriots and Raiders deserve special mention here because they played two Monkey Wrench games 26 years apart — the ’76 playoff game (when Ben Dreith’s dubious “roughing the passer” call on “Sugar Bear” Hamilton gave the Raiders second life), and the infamous Snow Game (the Brady fumble/nonfumble). … Funny how life works out.
The Bartman Game
I’ve never liked the Cubs, but I never specified these had to revolve around teams I like. And this sucker was so nasty that leaving it off a list like this would have been as big a crime as Dusty Baker’s management during the game. Mainly I remember being impressed by onetime future legend Mark Prior as he efficiently mowed down the Florida Marlins for eight dazzling innings. Of course, Baker was never a manager known for paying mind to pitch counts, and with eight magnificent shutout innings and a 3-0 lead, it was a BAD time to be pitching for Dusty Baker. He was about to make history and apparently removing Prior before his arm fell off would jinx it. Prior was never baseball’s most durable pitcher, but after unleashing hell for the Marlins, he had that “stick a fork in him, he’s done” look all over his body. With exhaust fumes engulfing Prior, Baker left him in anyway, the Marlins started getting on base, and Alex Gonzalez bumbled a ground ball that would have ended the inning. The Cubs basically spent the inning playing Monty Python Does Baseball, and Baker didn’t take the hint and remove Prior until the Marlins had the lead. The Marlins scored all eight of their runs in the game during this fiasco. Again, I’m no fan of the Cubs, but holy shit. This game occurred before I had ever been to Chicago, and even I was completely shellshocked and screaming at my TV at the top of my lungs.

Level 9: The Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking
Definition: Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn’t your team’s day. … And that’s the worst part, not just the epiphany but everything that follows — every botched play; every turnover; every instance where someone on your team quits; every “deer in the headlights” look; every time an announcer says, “They can’t get anything going”; every shot of the opponents celebrating; every time you look at the score and think to yourself, “Well, if we score here and force a turnover, maybe we’ll get some momentum,” but you know it’s not going to happen, because you’re already 30 points down. … You just want it to end, and it won’t end. … But you can’t look away. … It’s the sports fan’s equivalent to a three-hour torture session.
1991 AFC Championship
I had trouble thinking this one up, just because there are so many I can think of off the top of my head. So I decided to go positive again! The Bills had spent 1990 playing the Team of Destiny. They had just beaten the archrival Miami Dolphins and their star quarterback, Dan Marino, in the playoffs. Going into the 1991 AFC Championship against the Los Angeles Raiders, the team was favored by seven. Well, they had that covered by the second drive. This game gave Bills fans absolute, complete belief in the whole Team of Destiny thing. Maybe it was the fact that Buffalo’s backup running back scored three touchdowns. Maybe it was the six total interceptions they pulled down from the hapless Raiders’ quarterbacks. Maybe it was the fact that the Raiders threw every defensive formation in their playbook at the Bills. Maybe it was the fact the Bills held Marcus Allen to all of 26 yards, or the fact that the Bills were up 41-3 at halftime. The stats are only part of the bottom line: By the end of the game, the Bills had destroyed the Raiders by a score of 51-3. It’s still the worst loss the Raiders ever suffered in their long history. I’m halfway convinced that Al Davis died because someone brought it up while he was in the room. It was also the first time I started to realize the kind of connection between the city and the team. I didn’t know anything about football except that my hometown had a team called the Bills, and they were now going to a game called the Super Bowl to crush the New York Giants! Victory was inevitable!

Level 8: The This Can’t be Happening
Definition: The sibling of the Full-Fledged Butt-Kicking. … You’re supposed to win, you expect to win, the game is a mere formality. … Suddenly your team falls behind, your opponents are fired up, the clock is ticking and it dawns on you for the first time, “Oh, my God, this can’t be happening.”
2007 Eastern Conference Finals, Buffalo Sabres vs. Ottawa Senators
Yes, the Ottawa Senators had just about had their way with the Buffalo Sabres over the course of the season. But it was Buffalo that brought home the Presidents’ Trophy, which is given to the regular season champions. More importantly, the Senators had a terrible history against Buffalo in the playoffs – 0-3 against the Sabres for a lifetime record, with the last loss coming the previous year, when the two teams also had similar records. Buffalo had won that series 4-1. But that was last year, and this was this year, and hell, the Sabres were known for being the team no one wanted to meet in the playoffs. That Prince of Wales Trophy was looking like a given, and while the potential Finals against the Anaheim Ducks gave Sabre Nation jitters, we still walked with swagger over Buffalo’s chances of finally winning the Stanley Cup. When the Sabres lost the first game, it was a setback. After the second, I got concerned. After the third, I was, just like a fan, still holding out for that miraculous comeback, because that’s what fans do. Even so, I knew that in this, the Sabres’ now-or-never year, the Sabres had stood up and, in a powerful collective voice, screamed “IT’S NEVER!” The Sabres did manage a save-face in game four, but I remember watching game five and feeling the doom harbinger hanging in my apartment. Even after NBC Chicago rudely cut off the overtime period to show a fucking horse race, I had Rob text me the gameplay over my cell phone. If NBC thought it was a mercy cutoff, it didn’t work. That overtime goal was less a stake to the heart than a bullet to the head – sudden, then… Just nothing, except the feeling the world had shut itself off.

Level 7: The Drive-By Shooting
Definition: A first cousin of The “This Can’t Be Happening” Game, we created this one four weeks ago to describe any college football upset in which a 30-point underdog shocks a top-5 team in front of 108,000 of its fans and kills its title hopes before Labor Day.
No Example
Simmons can stick this one where the sun don’t shine. He thinks up a very particular rule for a very particular situation and says it only applies to a specific sport at a specific level. While it wouldn’t bother me to apply it to anything else, I can’t think of anything it could be properly attached to!

Level 6: The Broken Axel
Definition: When the wheels come flying off in a big game, leading to a complete collapse down the stretch. … This one works best for basketball, like Game 3 of the Celtics-Nets series in 2002, or Game 7 of the Blazers-Lakers series in 2000. … You know when it’s happening because (A) the home crowd pushes their team to another level, and (B) the team that’s collapsing becomes afflicted with Deer-In-The-Headlitis. … It’s always fascinating to see how teams bounce back from The Broken Axle Game. … By the way, nobody has been involved in more Broken Axle Games than Rick Adelman.
2009 Winter Classic
The Chicago Blackhawks had languished in the NHL basement for years, but in the 2008 season, they suddenly came out screaming they weren’t the league doormat anymore. In the 2009 season, they had the chance to announce their grand return to the rest of the hockey world, and what better way to do that than playing in the 2009 Winter Classic? At storied Wrigley Field, no less? There was one thing that stood in their way: The Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks’ longtime tormentors and this year’s defending Stanley Cup Champions. The first period went swimmingly for the Hawks, as they rushed out to a 3-1 lead by the end. Then for whatever reason, they seemed to be the stationary cow on the train tracks. And when the Red Wings are equipped with power that approximates that of a train, that’s not going to end well for ANY team. The Red Wings scored the next five goals and dominated the Blackhawks for the rest of the game. A soft third period goal cut the score to 6-4 and allowed Chicago SOME dignity, but between Detroit’s dominance and the rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Denis Savard had sang in a hockey context, dignity became a concept as foreign as Norway. Fortunately, the Hawks recovered and had a spectacular season anyway, making a run to the Western Conference Finals. Detroit stood in their way there again, though, and left no doubt as to who was better. It was great that the Hawks were good again, but they clearly weren’t ready for the Detroit Red Wings just yet.

Level 5: The Role Reversal
Definition: Any rivalry in which one team dominated another team for an extended period of time, then the perennial loser improbably turned the tables. … Like when Beecher fought back against Schillinger in “Oz,” knocked him out and even pulled a Najeh Davenport on his face. For the fans of the vanquished team, the most crushing part of the “Role Reversal” isn’t the actual defeat as much as the loss of an ongoing edge over the fans from the other team. You lose the jokes, the arrogance and the unwavering confidence that the other team can’t beat you. There’s almost a karmic shift. You can feel it.
Chicago Bulls/Detroit Pistons
For most of their existences, the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls were a pair of middling-to-bad teams whose rivalry meant exactly nothing to anyone outside those cities. By the late 80’s, things had changed: The Pistons were arguably the best team in the NBA. The Bulls had Michael Jordan, arguably the league’s best player. Unfortunately for the Bulls – and as Isiah Thomas of the Pistons gleefully loved pointing out – one man does not a team make. So it was easy for the talented, dirty Pistons to create a series of simple defenses and turn them into psychological warfare just by giving them the name “The Jordan Rules,” which tricked everyone – including the Bulls – into thinking they were the vault combination at Fort Knox. From 1989 to 1991, the Bulls and Pistons played in the Eastern Conference Finals every year. The first two, the Pistons won, and went on to take the Championship. By 1991, Jordan finally had a good supporting cast and after years of being called a selfish player, was playing more like a team guy. Sweeping the Pistons this time, the Bulls won their first title and transformed the rivalry on the way to five more titles and dominance in the 90’s. Detroit slipped, bottomed out, and didn’t return to prominence until they won an unexpected third title in 2004.

Level 4: The Guillotine
Definition: This one combines the devastation of The Broken Axle Game with sweeping bitterness and hostility. … Your team’s hanging tough (hell, they might even be winning), but you can feel the inevitable breakdown coming, and you keep waiting for the guillotine to drop, and you just know it’s coming — you know it — and when it finally comes, you’re angry that it happened and you’re angry at yourself for contributing to the debilitating karma. … These are the games when people end up whipping their remote controls against a wall or breaking their hands while pounding a coffee table. … Too many of these and you’ll end up in prison.
The 2011 Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills can sell hope, if anything, and there are times they trick the city into thinking they’ll be good. 2011 was the most severe case: Halfway through the season, the Bills were cruising through the AFC East with a 5-2 record and a tie for the division lead. En route, they had clobbered the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins and come back from a 21-point hole to beat the hated New England Patriots for the first time since 2003. Their two losses had come by three points each. Although Buffalo was wildly suspicious throughout the good half, even the biggest doubters had let their guard down by now. Then Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo’s new magic man, signed what was apparently a magic contract, and not good magic. Suddenly he started making all those traditional Bills starting quarterback mistakes. We wrote it off after the Bills lost their next game to the New York Jets, but it began a seven-game losing streak which didn’t end until a face-save victory against the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos in the next-to-last game. To close the season, they received their customary beating against the Patriots again, who had written off their loss to Buffalo on the way to a 13-win year and an AFC Championship. Meanwhile, the city collectively groaned yet again for letting itself get caught up and invested in another terrible football team. The team was from Buffalo. The team was the Bills. It never could have ended any other way, and yet, we dropped our guard and were shocked when it happened.

Level 3: The Stomach Punch
Definition: Now we’ve moved into rarefied territory, any roller-coaster game that ends with (A) an opponent making a pivotal (sometimes improbable) play or (B) one of your guys failing in the clutch. … Usually ends with fans filing out after the game in stunned disbelief, if they can even move at all. … Always haunting, sometimes scarring. … There are degrees to The Stomach Punch Game, depending on the situation. … For instance, it’s hard to top Cleveland’s Earnest Byner fumbling against Denver when he was about two yards and 0.2 seconds away from sending the Browns to the Super Bowl.
2007 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres vs. New York Rangers, Game Five
My mother summed up this insane 2007 playoff victory in two words: Heart failure. With the series tied at two, the Sabres’ Ryan Miller and New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist went toe to toe, matching each other all the way in a goaltenders’ duel for the ages. When New York’s Martin Straka fired a rather innocent-looking shot which found its way over Miller’s shoulder and into the net with a little over three minutes left in regulation, it looked like the Rangers had Buffalo on the ropes. Figuring there was nothing left to lose, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff yanked Miller for the single-man advantage on offense. On a faceoff in the Rangers’ end with 15 seconds to go in the game, Chris Drury caught a rebound from Tim Connolly, and with Thomas Vanek creating a screen, Drury fired a shot past Lundqvist with eight seconds left in regulation. My big knock on Drury during his tenure in Buffalo was that he could never seem to close, but after this night, I had no complaints. The game went to sudden death overtime, where Buffalo’s Maxim Afinogenov, of all people, scored the game-winner just under five minutes in. Yes, the same Maxim Afinogenov who spent his Buffalo career failing to live up to his potential, and the very same Maxim Afinogenov who was scratched for the previous game due to his underwhelming playoff showing.

Level 2: The Goose/Maverick Tailspin
Definition: Cruising happily through the baseball regular season, a potential playoff team suddenly and inexplicably goes into a tailspin, can’t bounce out of it and ends up crashing for the season. In “Top Gun,” the entire scene lasted for 30 seconds and we immediately moved to a couple of scenes in which Tom Cruise tried to make himself cry on camera but couldn’t quite pull it off. In sports, the Goose/Maverick Tailspin could last for two weeks, four weeks, maybe even two months, but as long as it’s happening, you feel like your entire world is collapsing. It’s like an ongoing Stomach Punch Game. And when it finally ends, you spend the rest of your life reliving it every time a TV network shows a montage of the worst collapses in sports history. Other than that, it’s no big deal.
2006 Chicago White Sox
So the Chicago White Sox had fielded an awesome baseball team in 2005. That’s awesome as in “World Series Championship” awesome. And in 2006, they were bringing back most of the keystone guys from their first champion team since 1917. You would think these guys would be threats to repeat, and the White Sox were looking deadly through the All-Star break. Before the break, the White Sox were safely in front of everyone and soaring along with a record of 57-31. They needed an extra bus to fit in all their players who received invitations to play in the All-Star game. And immediately after the break, the White Sox inexplicably collapsed. They went 2-10 in their next four series, losing them all, and in fact even getting swept by the Yankees and, even worse, the Minnesota Twins. They posted a losing record for the month. While they did recover in August, their recovery wasn’t enough to make up the space they had lost to the Twins and Detroit Tigers, so another losing record in September just sealed it. The White Sox had a pretty good year, winning 90 games, but they had no excuse for blowing it the way they did. Instead, they were leapfrogged by both the Twins and Tigers, both of whom made the playoffs. Just to rub it in, the Tigers won the Pennant.
2007 New York Mets
I’m quite squarely a Yankees fan, but the New York Mets’ unbelievable collapse in 2007 was just too awful to not mention. After coming within a whiff of the Pennant in 2006 before Yadier Molina did them in, the Mets were an easy favorite, and they had their division well in hand going into August. Then in the last five weeks, they were swept twice by the Philadelphia Phillies, the team gaining on them from directly behind. During a stand at Shea, the Mets started losing to bad teams. They went 5-12 in the final couple of weeks in the season, and the Phillies caught fire in the meantime to jump them on the last day. If they had beaten the Phillies just once or twice in those series sweeps, it wouldn’t have mattered. I kept up with the baseball news in New York, but living in Chicago, where the city has a firm dividing line between White Sox and Cubs territory, made me a little oblivious. Of course, I made sure to watch the Yankees whenever they dropped by, but they were on the wane and it was tough to not see the Mets grabbing the headlines that year. By the time of the collapse, the Mets had turned from a sideshow into the most morbidly interesting team in baseball. The local station even cut away from the end of a Cubs game to give us the news about the Phillies and Mets.

Level 1: That Game
Definition: The only game that actually combined The Guillotine and The Stomach Punch. No small feat. Let’s just hope we never travel down that road again.
Wide Right
The setup was almost too perfect. After over 30 years of life among the NFL’s dregs, the Buffalo Bills had finally reached the Super Bowl. They had the best offense in the league, a revolutionary version of the no-huddle called the K-Gun which ran roughshod over every other team. Their defense had a cast of All-Stars which had elevated their unit into the top ten. They had blown out the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship, and now they stood face-to-face with the New York Giants, who represented the arrogant bullies from downstate. They were favored by a significant line. Now, finally, was a chance for little Buffalo to finally rise up and sock New York City in the mouth! This was a full-on failure on the part of the Buffalo Bills, who planned and played as if the Super Bowl was a formality. By all accounts, the Bills should have dropped at least 17 points on the Giants in the first quarter alone, forced them into passing on every down, and hit cruise control. Instead, they got caught up in a big game of tag in which they were always it. That they got trapped in a situation in which their victory relied on a last-second field goal was inexcusable. “Wide right.” No matter how often Bills fans replay it, this game always ends the same way: With Scott Norwood’s kick sailing just right of the post, and the fans being brought back to the harsh reality that their team is from Buffalo. As if to rub it in, then-Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick admitted years later that the Bills’ passing attack terrified him, so he designed a game plan in which his top-ranked defense would loosen up and let the Bills think they had a chance with the run. The plans he drew were so brilliant that the NFL placed them into the Hall of Fame. Bills fans, by the way, have no hate for the New York Giants; they’re accepted as a fact of NFL life and even cheered for at times. Wide Right, though, is still a raw nerve in the collective psyche of longtime fans. Visitors to Buffalo would be wise to never, ever bring it up.

The Yankee Automatons are Boring and Unwatchable

“I laugh out loud when (my agent) relays the news, loving the Yankees’ interest and shaking my head in disbelief that George Steinbrenner, billionaire owner of the New York Yankees, has taken it upon himself to endure lunch at a burger joint and check me out in person. THIS is an owner who gives a shit. THIS is why the Yankees are THE YANKEES. Granted, a hundred-million-dollar payroll can make a contender out of any team, but there’s more going on here. For all his faults, you can’t deny that George Steinbrenner, the man, not just the wallet, is a tangible, positive factor in the Yankees domination of baseball.”
-David Wells, Perfect I’m Not

Most of my friends met me during my years in Chicago, and to a person, many of them swear they can’t see me being the angry, distrustful, depressed, guarded, sour kid who once chased off potential friendships out of fear. Others might today say they see the occasional trace of that old person but can’t imagine me being the full-blown critter in his reverse glory. Most of them also know that I credit my interest in baseball as part of how I was able to change my character. It created a focal point in my baseball-crazed junior college, so when stuck in conversation, it became one of our go-to topics. I got into baseball during the 2000 season, during the tail end of the Yankee dynasty of the 90’s, and in a year which concluded in a subway World Series between the Mets and Yankees.

By all means, I’m a Mets fan who happens to not cheer for the Mets. All the circumstances I was born into should have tattooed “Mets” onto every available space of my body when I was launched into this world. I’m an underdog as a person, originally born into the working class in one of the poorest cities in the United States. My parents proudly proclaim the Mets as their own team, and it was the Mets who dominated the New York baseball scene in the 80’s. As a baseball fan, I prefer the National League’s style of play. As a team, the Mets are more privy to rolling out the red carpet to the common man than the stoic, corporate, stuck-in-their-ways Yankees. So it comes across as very unusual to any sports-minded friends that I chose the Yankees over the Mets when I began watching baseball. (I rectified this mistake upon my move to Chicago when I chose to support the White Sox over the Cubs, who are basically the Yankees without the titles.) But understand that when I began watching baseball during that 2000 season, the robot drone version of the Yankees wasn’t the team I was seeing, at all.

Often forgotten about those dynastic Yankee teams was that their core was a cohesive, tough, punchy unit which the team had raised and promoted through their farm system. They were a team of underdogs themselves, either raised on the Yankee farm or cast off from other teams for bad play or behavioral problems, and led by a manager who was doubted from the start and expected to become George Steinbrenner’s latest casualty. No one, least of all Yankee fans, expected them to win, and if anything they were expected to go into a severe regression after all the progress they had made in the previous couple of years through Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter. When I began tuning into ballgames regularly, the Yankees weren’t winning because of George’s payroll; they had the best, most cohesive, and most exciting team in the league. Their talent was merely the help and not the entire lineup, and their lineup didn’t believe in no-win situations. The Yankees weren’t always the best team in the league, but they were an emotional squad that left everything they had out on the field. Those Yankees were Andy Pettitte calmly confusing opposing batters and David Wells attacking with the ferocity of an angry grizzly bear. They were Jason Giambi punishing pitchers who dared throw inside while Derek Jeter made every big play that needed making; Jorge Posada calling the best-pitched games in the league and Alfonso Soriano morphing into a human light whip and Bernie Williams patrolling the outfield like a rottweiler. Mariano Rivera slamming the door against star batters who only went to the box out of obligation: Just go up and strike out so they can get drunk before the bars close, it’s not like Mo is going to give them a chance.

I loved watching the team from the 2000 title to the first few years afterward, and I suffered through the disappointments: The weird bloop against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, the implosion against the Los Angeles Angels in 2002, the axel wear-out against the Florida Marlins in 2003, and (god, this is so painful that my fingers hurt typing it out) that dumbfounding, godawful, embarrassing, nightmarish meltdown against the Boston Red Sox in 2004. But still, I loved those Yankee teams – the 2003 Yankees in particular have a special piece of my heart, and I’ll always look at them as the grand finale of the dynasty. The team won plenty afterward, and I always cheered them on, through their beating at Detroit in 2006 to screaming at my screen during the 2009 title whenever Girardi played Phil Coke. Still, it’s that 2003 Pennant which stands as the last testament to true Yankee greatness. That team could have beat the hell out of the decade’s later Yankee teams, including the 2009 team. They would barely have broken a sweat doing it, too.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Bronx Bombers, but the teams they’re fielding now are difficult to take. New York’s current ace, CC Sabathia, is one of the most boring players in the league. I could conclusively disprove Saint Augustine’s proofs of God in three languages between each and every one of his pitches. I was embarrassed by the Red Sox meltdown in 2004, but the Yankees managed to top that a couple of years later when they yanked Roger Clemens out of his 783rd retirement. That they were so desperate for pitching help said everything. Their games are now crawling by at the pace of a snail swimming through a tar lake. I’m an adult. I have things I would prefer to be doing rather than watch the Yankees play a three-and-a-half hour marathon that doesn’t even go into extra innings. That seems to be the length of a normal, everyday game these days when I happen to watch, and it’s inexcusable. It’s also not likely to be fixed anytime soon, not with a commissioner who apparently believes his league’s biggest problem is that the playoffs don’t run long enough. I’m flipping on Mets games more often now whenever I need a baseball fix. While the Mets aren’t threatening to replace the Yankees, they play baseball in lieu of standing there scratching their asses, even though Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes both walked out the team’s front door.

The most interesting aspect of the Yankees’ morph into robot automatons in my sports viewing has been the way its affected my view of the NBA. The NBA is a league I only began paying attention to because I wanted to support Damone Brown, the bigshot jock from my high school who led the Seneca VHS basketball team to an undefeated 1997 championship season. After a spectacular career at Syracuse, Damone was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the league’s most storied teams. In 2003, I watched the entirety of the NBA Finals and decided there was no way I was ever going to fully understand basketball. That was a slow, dreadful series between the New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs, who won it in six games. That fifth game stands among my all-time nadirs of sports-watching, and the only reason I kept tuning into the league after seeing it was to try to get any word on Damone’s career.

Since Damone was an inconspicuous player who put up career grand totals of 108 points in the only 39 games he played in, I had no idea he was out of the league by 2005, so I continued to watch. Fortunately, the 2003 Finals turned out to be a fluke perpetrated by the NBA version of hockey’s New Jersey Devils (the boring, BORING Spurs, who have since topped my list of basketball teams I hate). I became more of a casual watcher, but as the Yankees got more boring, I started watching more basketball. Soon I found myself becoming more invested in the outcomes of certain games, from supporting the Boston Celtics in their last couple of title runs to hating LeBron James after The Decision. Finally, just a couple of years ago, I got interested enough to end my casual team drifting and adopt the teams of my two life localities for better or worse. I started to care about the Chicago Bulls just in time to see Derrick Rose lead them in one of NBA history’s legendary postseason series against the Celtics in 2009. And, going against the grain for NBA fans in Buffalo, I also adopted the New York Knicks over Buffalo’s most common municipal basketball loyalty, the Celtics. The Knicks and Bulls are now my teams, for better or worse.

The robo-Yankees have pushed me into watching the basketball season more closely than I ever have in my life, and I’m watching the NBA playoffs with greater interest than ever. When I watched my first basketball Finals in 2003, I assumed that the NBA had been playing out in the same way as the NHL. When the New Jersey Devils began employing the Trap, other NHL teams followed because of the great success the Devils had employing it. (They won the Stanley Cup three times.) It ruined hockey until the NHL finally rid itself of the two-line pass rule in 2005. In the NBA, that wasn’t the case. The slow pace of the San Antonio Spurs was something radical, but teams weren’t following them, so it happened to merely be the style that worked for a very deep and talented Spurs team. The Spurs these days aren’t quite so boring either, now that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have reached their full potential. This is the first year that I’m actually looking forward to the NBA Finals and watching the preceding rounds. Just in the past couple of days, I watched two epic comebacks, one by the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Los Angeles Lakers, the other by the Sixers over the Celtics. I’m caught up, and past the event horizon. There’s no going back from here.

As for the Yankees, they’ll have to get used to the backburner for now. I’m waiting for them to play the White Sox, a team that still plays exciting baseball. Otherwise, go Knicks, go Bulls.

Damone Brown, by the way, was quickly put into Philadelphia’s d-league system. When the Sixers decided they couldn’t get anything else out of him, he also played briefly for the Toronto Raptors (where he once put up 13 against Michael Jordan), New Jersey Nets, and Washington Wizards before the NBA let him go. His life since must have taken a couple of wrong turns, because the last I heard of him was on a local news broadcast earlier this year, when he was going to jail for a year due to involvement in a drug ring. I sincerely hope he gets his life rebuilt afterward, because while his career never reached the great heights of Bob Lanier or Clifford Robinson – two Buffalo natives who went on to long, immensely productive careers in the NBA – Seneca alumni will always regard him as our school’s conquering hero.

What Your Favorite Sports Teams Say About You

As Rob pulled up to my little haven in West Seneca to pick me up on St. Patrick’s Day, I threw on my Buffalo Bisons jersey. My Bisons jersey is one of my better togs because it can give a sleek sheen to an otherwise somewhat frumpled outfit. It was also St. Patrick’s Day, and the jersey’s green sleeves and piping and orange lettering met my immediate need for Irish colors. Rob, being a close follower of professional sports, didn’t take long to spot it and ask “Oh, are you re-establishing your loyalties now?”

“Hey, you did catch the Bears shirt I’m wearing under this, right?” I asked him. It certainly sounded natural as a response, and as a follower of professional sports myself, I did feel a bit defensive.

“Oh, so you’re saying you’re a Buffalo guy on the outside, but true Chicago on the inside,” he concluded. I flashed him my piratical half-grin half-sneer which I reserve to tell people to go to hell in the most affectionate way possible.

This is something sports fans who move from one metro area to another struggle with, and they all find different solutions. It’s said that a real fan never leaves his team, but in reality, many do. Some of the ones who don’t simply adopt the more geographically convenient team while continuing to cheer for the team they watched and loved since childhood. My mother took this route; she grew up on Long Island, embracing the hot new teams in town when they arrived: The New York Jets in football and the New York Mets in baseball. Since Buffalo’s baseball team is the minor league Bisons, she didn’t have to worry about turning her back on the Mets. But she also adopted the local NFL team, the Buffalo Bills, and she supports both the Bills and the Jets. This drives a lot of locals crazy because the teams play in the same division. My situation was different in some ways and similar in others, but here is my ultimate analysis and the rationale behind it. I love all of these teams, but if you wonder who I would cheer for when they play against each other (and people do) these are my choices.

Hockey: Buffalo Sabres/Chicago Blackhawks
I adopted the Blackhawks upon my move to Chicago in large part because I had no major reason to hate them, and the Sabres and Blackhawks play in different conferences. It was a little unusual because the Sabres were in the first of their two best seasons, both of which culminated with conference finals appearances with one President’s Trophy, while the Blackhawks were deeply mired in the basement and weren’t looking like they could so much as reach the bottom step to begin the ascent out. They clearly weren’t going anywhere quickly, and indifference and contempt for the team’s mismanagement had reached such a level that Chicago’s minor league hockey team, the Chicago Wolves, were outdrawing their NHL brothers. (The Wolves, by the way, won the Calder Cup, their league title, in 2008) Despite their ineptitude, I was attracted to their storied history, colorful look, and hard-hitting image. Being a naturally jaded Buffalo kid, I could take more hockey ineptitude and looked forward to watching my newly adopted team lose.

Then in late 2007, something unexpected happened. Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz died. Bill’s business methods were aged, and he went as far as to black out the team’s home games. His position as the team’s owner was taken up by his son Rocky, who gave the Blackhawks a major overhaul which resulted in a sudden turnaround. In 2008, the team was a potential challenger. In 2009, the Hawks were serious contenders. And in 2010, I saw them do in just a few years what I am spending my life still waiting for the Sabres to do: Drink beer from the Stanley Cup. It helped that their star player, Patrick Kane, was raised in Buffalo. But I never played little league hockey on the ice of United Center, which I’ve done on the Sabres’ home ice. I’ve never yelled and screamed and felt frustration with a bad season in Chicago, which becomes indifferent instead of frustrated with bad hockey.

Decision: Sabres. I love the Blackhawks to death. I wholeheartedly support them and wear their crest with pride. But my family and friends all share my favorite hockey memories with the Sabres, not the Blackhawks.

Baseball: New York Yankees/Chicago White Sox
That I – or anyone in Buffalo, really – cheer the Yankees makes no sense whatsoever. They’re an uber-rich global team from the part of the state that no self-respecting Buffalonian can stand. They prefer offensive flair to gritty, dirty hands scrapping and defense, hire reputed cheaters without a second thought, and require their players to be faceless monoliths. But the Yankees played a big role in my social development when I started trying to crawl out of my social hole in college. Yes, folks in my college fought over traditional issues – the abortion debate was starting to crack under extreme pressure, and George W. Bush was fighting to rally support for an invasion of Iraq. One of the other hot issues, however, was the fight over whether MLB should instate a salary cap. The Yankees were the team most of us worshipped, and knowing the summer escapades of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and the rest allowed me access to a lot of pre-class conversations that otherwise would have flown over my head. When I worked for PBS, my team bonded over the Yankees. They were the one thing we all had in common.

When I moved to Chicago, I knew I wasn’t going to cheer for the cutesy frat boy Cubs on the North Side. Their image wasn’t befitting of a rust belt factory kid. In the White Sox, I discovered the grit, passion, character, and underdog flair the Yankees lacked. I loved that the players could be themselves and yet play a win or die style of baseball. I loved that the peoples’ promoter, Bill Veeck, had once owned the team. I loved the exploding scoreboard and the doomed promotions and the overall hard rock band edge of the team. I cheered them hard, and occasionally against the Yankees, as they marched to their 2008 division title in the most thrilling fashion possible.

Decision: Way too close to call. I clung to the Yankees as a link to Buffalo when I was in Chicago, and I’m doing the same with the White Sox now. It’s as equal as it gets, and placing one above the other will depend on my mood when they meet on the baseball diamond.

Football: Buffalo Bills/Chicago Bears
Buffalo Bills is a stupid name, and the team itself still loses for winning. The arguable greatest running back of all time, the first man to ever rush for 2000 yards in a single season (and still the only one to do it in 14 games) is a murderer. No other team ever made it to four straight Super Bowls, and I guarantee that if that ever happens again, that other team isn’t going to lose all four. These I can handle. I draw the line at the Toronto series, which robs the team of a home game and puts them into what is considered enemy territory in a sports context. I cheer for the Bills, but if you come to Buffalo and suggest the team is purposely tanking to squander any goodwill toward it to make moving easier, we’ll actually agree.

The Bears were one of the founding members of the NFL. They won their division when I first came to Chicago, and during their Super Bowl season, they were just a joy to watch. They made everything they did look easy. Then they lost the Super Bowl, but gee, it isn’t like I hadn’t watched my home team do THAT before! Even so, it’s a reputation thing: The Bills garner laughs and contempt everywhere, even when they’re doing well. The Bears garner admiration and respect from everyone, except maybe Packers fans.

Decision: You’re best off asking me this again once the Bills move out of Buffalo.

Basketball: New York Knicks/Chicago Bulls
Basketball is the sport in Buffalo that’s more chosen than inherited. I chose the Knicks simply for my state loyalty – in other words, it’s just easier. Most basketball watchers here align themselves with the Boston Celtics. But as my understanding of the sport grew, I began to appreciate the mental toughness of the team. They could never beat the Bulls during my lifetime, but they were a hard playing team that, after those tough, heartbreaking losses, would get up and fight again. Also, even during the doomed Isiah Thomas days, they were entertaining. But they have two major strikes against them: First of all, most people in upstate New York believe they have more in common culturally with the midwest, so being in the most overhyped section of New York City isn’t considered a good thing. Second, the Knicks share an arena with a hockey team I hate – the New York Rangers.

With the success of the Bulls in the 90’s, it’s easy to forget they weren’t always a glamor team. They were the scrappy little team that could. Like the Knicks, they always got back up after falling repeatedly to Detroit in the 80’s, and 1991, they got back up and went all the way. Then they did it again five more times, and in doing so, they became one of the great success stories in sports. The Bulls were never supposed to contend, but not only did they completely reverse their fortunes, they did it in a way which made them popular throughout the world. They were Chicago’s third attempt at a basketball team, and they were destined to be doormats forever. But they became a team synonymous with the sport they play, and the greatest player of all time.

Decision: Bulls. I don’t want Michael Jordan to kick my ass.

Ultimately, though, I’m like my mother, a fan of them all, even through rivalries. But my bandwagon is now full, so this is it, no matter where I go from here.