There are very few cool team names. Which is curious, since there are mucho thousands of teams requiring names. Consider the needs of elementary schools, junior high schools, senior highs, colleges, company teams, adult league teams, semi-pro teams, professional teams, prison teams, plus everything in between and on either side. From big-deal, big-money pro teams, down to the Telescope Lanes Bowling League in Elko, Nevada.
We are awash in Eagles, Tigers, Lions, Cougars, Hornets, Vikings, Rams, Mustangs, Falcons, Rockets, Spartans, and Jaguars. Team names rarely impart a sense of place, nothing to connect Tigers to San Diego, Portland, or Elko. You’d think, if only by accident, somebody would come up with a name that matched team with community.
Okay, some few somebodies have. The gold standard for what a team name should be is the Green Bay Packers. The Packers were playing Midwest semi-pro football in 1919. Co-founder Curly Lambeau worked as a shipping clerk for the Indian Packing Company. He asked his employer for a handout in order to purchase equipment and uniforms. Five hundred bucks was dealt on condition Lambeau’s team be named after its benefactor. Ninety-six years later, team name emerges triumphant. Say “Packers” and people think Green Bay. Say “Green Bay” and people think Packers.
Chargers is a typical generic name. It works as the Los Angeles Chargers, San Diego Chargers, and back to Los Angeles Chargers again. Would also work as Pyongyang Chargers or Johannesburg Chargers. In one version — there are many — Chargers was selected by way of a “name-the-team” contest. The public (read: prospective customers) was invited to submit a name. For the record, Gerald Courtney of Hollywood, USA, took home the gold. I don’t know how many others suggested Chargers or, for that matter, how many others there were. In this version, Mr. Courtney was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico City and Acapulco. We’re talking 1959 money, plus the blessings of then-owner Barron Hilton. Gerald Courtney, we will never forget you.
Padres embodies a team name with ties to the community in a rehabilitated sort of way. The original minor league San Diego Padres franchise was formed in 1903 as the Sacramento Solons. The Solons moved to Tacoma the next year, then back to Sacramento the following year, played in San Francisco for the 1914 season, then Salt Lake City, then L.A., then, in 1936, on to San Diego to claim the Padres name.
When San Diego was awarded a major league franchise in 1969, the Triple A team name was passed to the big-league club, which wasn’t complicated since C. Arnholdt Smith owned both teams. Smith folded the minor-league Padres and it’s been one World Series after another ever since.
We cannot pass this way without paying our respects to the University of Akron Zips. Regard, Pilgrim, the evolution of greatness. Zips is a modern variation tacked on in 1950. The 1925 original name, a much better team name, was Zippers. That name, Zippers, went through the kind of democratic process only a great public university would put up with. Students, alumni, faculty, the whole gang, submitted suggestions: Golden Blue Devils, Hillbillies, Kangaroos, Chevaliers, Rubbernecks. Although some names had panache (Hillbillies, Rubbernecks), we must bow to the towering originality of Zippers. A freshman, Margaret Hamlin, received ten dollars in cash, plus a six-dollar pair of rubber overshoes for her inspiration. We will never forget you, Margaret Hamlin.
Finally, let’s end with a team who left a city but kept the city’s name. You’ll need a little background. SF, Oakland, and San Jose abut San Francisco Bay. San Jose is the largest, counting over 1,000,000 San Josians. And, as befitting the recently arrived largest city in Northern California, San Jose has been on the make for professional sports franchises. They already have the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose functionaries have been hustling the Oakland A’s for years. The city and A’s have a downtown parcel of land set aside for a stadium needing only permission from MLB for Oakland to move in. Permission has not come, so San Jose sued MLB, challenging baseball’s antitrust exception. The case is ongoing.
Now, back to the 49ers and San Jose’s franchise acquisitions. What happened was, the San Francisco 49ers moved to San Jose, in essence, but kept the San Francisco name because there’s money in that. The team moved to a perfect site in Santa Clara, perfect because nobody knows where the fuck Santa Clara is. The 49ers’ $1.2 billion stadium is two long blocks from San Jose’s city line.
It’s the new thing: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. San Francisco 49ers of San Jose. San Diego Chargers of Los Angeles.