Monday, December 7, 2009

What's In a Namath?

My wife Claire is from London, and baffled by American football. Why, she wonders, must they wear helmets and all that padding when English (and other) rugby players wear none, and are no less intent on dislodging one another’s internal organs? Why, more annoyingly, do they keep interrupting the game to show Budweiser commercials?

During our recent excursion to Cape Cod, I tested her knowledge of the NFL, and found it predictably scant. But in the course of seeing how many teams she could identify by nickname, she came up with some sensational new names for several of them. Instead of the Jacksonville Jaguars, for instance, she suggested the Jacksonville Fives. The Miami Dolphins, rather less inventively, became the Miami Vice, and the Denver Broncos the Denver Colorados. My two favorites are the Tennessee (presently Titans) Williams and the Houston We-Have-a-Problems, followed closely by the Dallas Shoulderpads, which I gather is a reference more to what Joan Collins and Linda Evans wore in the 80s TV series than what the current Cowboys wear to preclude shattered clavicles and what-not. For the country’s biggest city’s NFC entry, she suggested the New York, New York, and the New York, New York (with the New Yorks in different order, you see) for the AFC entry, presently known as the Jets.

Trying to get into the spirit of the enterprise, I came up with the Detroit Alarming Crime Statistics, which I readily acknowledge has little of the panache of the Tennessee Williams. I suggested further that, rather than the Tornados, the Kansas City Chiefs consider renaming themselves the Dorothies, though Claire’s idea would probably be slightly more intimidating to opponents.

What the heck. While we're here, how about the Seattle Coffeebeans, the Oakland Theres (honoring Gertrude Stein's famous putdown of the place, you see), the San Diego Illegal Aliens, the Arizona Cacti, the New Orleans Flood, the Atlanta Humidity, the Washington Special Interests, the Cincinnati Inbreds, the Minnesota Hypothermia, and the Buffalo Boredom.

I have in the past bored Claire to tears marveling at how several professional sports teams over the decades have moved to different cities without changing their names. For every Baltimore Ravens (wonderfully renamed in honor of the Edgar Allen Poe poem after they fled Cleveland, where they’d been the Browns, in the dead of night), there is, for instance, a Los Angeles Lakers. Lakers made a world of sense when the team originated in Minneapolis, the biggest city in a state with more lakes than people, but makes no sense at all in my semi-native LA, where there are no lakes whatever, unless you count the fantastically hip Silver Lake, which is actually no lake at all, but a man-made reservoir.

The city’s baseball team, the Dodgers, were originally the Trolley Dodgers, but by the time they relocated from Brooklyn before the 1958 season, there were no trolleys left in Los Angeles, the public transit system having been effectively dismantled at the behest of the oil and rubber companies and automobile manufacturers who stood to profit from its dismantlement. But my favorite absurd holdover is the Utah Jazz, who came from New Orleans, where the music was born, to the unfunkiest state in the country, one in which 1.32 percent of the population is black. It’s like having a team called the Las Vegas Understatements or the Tuscaloosa Urban Sophisticates.

In the UK, football (that is, soccer) teams wear jerseys that have their sponsors’ logos on the front. Thus, a fan (or, as they prefer it in the UK, supporter) of Chelsea, say, will pay bucks galore (all right, pounds aplenty) for the privilege of walking around with the Samsung logo across his chest. I can’t imagine why this concept hasn’t caught on yet in America. Just give it a couple of years.

[From the blog For All in Tents and Porpoises. Enjoy the archive and subscribe at]

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