There’s a lot of fussing and discussing these days about renaming sports teams. In baseball, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians are now seen as insulting to Native Americans.
In football, you’ve got the Kansas City Chiefs and, perhaps the worst example, the Washington Redskins. In ice hockey, there is the Blackhawks team, with an American Indian logo.
Philadelphia has been blessed with acceptable names through the years in professional sports. In football, the Frankford Yelllowjackets were early members of the National Football League, and when new owners took over in 1933, they changed the name to the Eagles.
College teams had usually picked names mostly from birds and animals. And still do. The most-used name for four-year college teams is Eagles.
In colleges, there are 76 Eagles teams, 45 Tigers and 40 Bulldogs. Of the next nine most popular names, six are animals.
In the earliest days of school football, the names often were not birds or animals. A notable local example is when students of Philly’s two high schools, Central High and the Northeast Manual Training School, played the first high school football game in history on Thanksgiving, 1892.
The idea of a nickname for football teams was new then, and animal names were not yet in vogue. Northeast called itself the Archives, and Central was the Mirrors; the names were the titles of the two schools’ literary magazines.
As college football grew in popularity, team names came along. The University of Pennsylvania became the Quakers, which seemed appropriate because Penn started out in the Quaker City in the 1740s and claims Ben Franklin as a founder.
LaSalle University’s team name is the Explorers, named for René-Robert seiur de La Salle, a French explorer who led an expedition down the Mississippi river in 1682.
He claimed all the region watered by the Mississippi for King Louis XIV of France, naming the area “Louisiana.” President Thomas Jefferson bought it all from France in 1803.
Temple University adopted the owl as a mascot because the institution was founded as a night school in 1884. Penn State’s symbol, the Nittany Lion, is the name of a critter that roamed the Nittany mountains around the school’s location a century ago or so.
Professional sports companies take their names a bit more seriously than most colleges. For professional teams, and colleges, too, there’s money to be made in souvenirs and such.
I confess that I wonder about some colleges’ mascot names. Holy Family University, a small school in Torresdale, doesn’t have a football team, but there are both men’s and women’s basketball and other varsity sports.
Their teams’ nickname is the Tigers. Somehow, the Holy Family Tigers doesn’t sound quite right.
But while giant universities have big stadiums and television coverage and all that, it is pleasant to see schools that don’t take it all that seriously.
Stanford University’s mascot is a tree; it’s a guy dressed up in a rather dopey tree costume. Delta State University in Mississippi has the Fighting Okra, a fellow dressed as that somewhat exotic vegetable.
The University of California in Santa Cruz calls its teams the Banana Slugs. The North Carolina School of the Arts is the Fighting Pickles (they have no sports teams.)
The Long Beach, California, State University baseball team is named the Dirt Bags.
And the varsity intercollegiate baseball team of Centenary College of Louisiana at Shreveport turns up its nose at the whole thing. They call themselves the Centenary Gentllemen.
Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.
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