The Stand-up Goalie: What’s in a team name?


By Hans Eisenbeis

Years ago, I created a little tradition that’s a highlight of the year: The Squirt and I take a father-son trip somewhere north just before hockey season starts. The last time we made this trip, it was a chilly weekend of camping on the North Shore, where the father demonstrated how NOT to start a fire using two shots of whiskey, five wet logs and a half-gallon of stove fuel.

This year, we were planning to head up to Eveleth to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Normally it’s like dragging donkeys into the barn trying to get kids to your average museum, but the Squirt has been bugging me about the Eveleth trip for a couple of seasons now.

As it turned out though, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame has somewhat limited hours, and we couldn’t make the schedule work until next summer. Instead, we made a trip to what I guess you could call the Hockey Hall of Infamy – the Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, home of ... well, the University of North Dakota’s unnamed hockey team. Of course, as soon as you’re north of St. Cloud, you begin to see signage and logos indicating that you’re heading into Fighting Sioux territory.

The Ralph itself feels a bit like an defiant and extravagant last stand against all the “libiots” (a word I learned on our weekend up north; apparently a compound word constructed from “liberal” and “idiots”) who have forced UND to drop the “Fighting Sioux” moniker. Indeed, that defiant attitude has been embraced by about 99.9999 percent of all UND hockey fans. I believe the only people not wearing sweatshirts or jerseys with the officially discontinued phrase “FIGHTING SIOUX” emblazoned across the chest, arms, back and cuffs were me, the Squirt and about six Boston University fans.

UND fans are awfully proud and stubborn, a fact known to my family for at least three generations, since my grandfather emigrated to the Peace Garden State way back in the 1880s, my father studied there in the 50s and I spent a season there in 1984 as well. Having some expertise on the matter, then, and having spent many hundreds of hours staring out the windows of Brannon Hall thinking about this and other topics, let me offer an alternative view of the whole “Fighting Sioux” controversy. I believe they should be called the “Fighting Boredoms.”  It is odd to me that predominantly white, well fed, garrulous Northern European Americans insist on a team name like the Fighting Sioux. We’ve conquered and exploited many other races, cultures and nations in our time – even within the last 50 years. And yet there are not a lot of athletic teams called “the Fighting Japanese,” or the “Bellicose Germans” or even the “Vengeful Viet Cong.” 

True, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame don’t seem to mind – then again, their school is named after a church in France, so I’m not sure they know which way is up anyway. It’s beyond me why they passed up “The Hunchbacks” as a nickname, though the “Quasimodos” would probably make heads explode down in Indiana.

Of course, this is a contemporary problem that goes way beyond UND and college hockey. The Blackhawks, the Redskins and the Cleveland Indians are still on the hot seat with some Native American communities – the last holdouts in an era when everyone else, from Mankato State on up to Southwest Minneapolis and Grand Rapids have dutifully bowed out and taken up nicknames of non-human origin (unless you believe the Mavericks are named after John McCain, the Lakers are named after Kobe Bryant and the Thunderhawks are named after a cheesy Bloomington hotel).

Of course, in anticipation of emboldened animal-rights organizations like PETA, many teams are even avoiding animal names. The Wild, for example. By choosing an adjective that incorporates every living non-human thing on the planet, rather than a more specific noun, they seem to avoid the whole question nicely. Also, is that a feral hamster on their jersey?

The Miami Heat, too, is interesting to consider: Who’s going to protest that particular moniker? Global warming libiots like me?

Actually, the earliest generations of pro teams probably had it right by just sticking to something simple and inanimate. The Red Sox, for example, have a classic inoffensive name that merely says, “Hey, check out our dapper footwear.” The White Sox took up the challenge nicely. The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Reds took it one step further by just saying, “Hey, let’s cut straight to the chase here: Our color palette is better than your color palette.”

This past summer and fall, we had a similar controversy with the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. This year, the teams enjoyed more open-handed sponsorship which apparently led to colorful new uniforms (some described them as “Corporate Harlequin,” others as “Euro-trash Lite”) sporting the sublimated logos of TCF Bank, MSP Magazine, Luther Auto, Velocity, Muscle Milk and Starkey Medical Devices.  It was unclear what the teams should be called – their traditional names, Team NW, Team N, Team SW, etc., were already a bit too abstract, and probably got the lawyers at Google Maps a little itchy. I personally thought the Bankers, the Regional Magazines, the Cars, the Post-Work-Out-Beverages and the Hearing Aids made fine nicknames for each of these teams. Alas, my suggestions fell on deaf ears.

My own Squirt’s team has a fine name and logo. We’re the Minneapolis Storm, and storms being what they are thanks to global warming, it’s a fearsome name but not one anyone is going to take personally. We have, however, run into the problem of what our team nickname and logo will be, since a sort of swirling cloud or occluded weather front is kind of hard to capture on a jersey or a hat. (Calling Chaska/Chanhassen – you guys are the Storm too!)

So we ended up with “The Yeti,” a sort of bearded, enraged ape-like creature that certainly looks like he means business. And the beauty of this sort of mascot is that, being the stuff of conspiracy theories and urban myth, if the Yeti did come forward to protest he’d prove his existence and bring joy to many thousands of people. To that end, I think more teams should be called the Leprechauns, the Unicorns, the Chupacabra, the Big Foots (Big Feet?) or even the Gods.

University of North Dakota fans, don’t despair – there are libraries full of fearsome mythical and magical creatures. Why settle for the Flickertails, when you could be, say, the Moby Dicks?

The Fighting Libiots is taken, though.

Hans Eisenbeis played goalie back when the pads and gloves came in one color (leather) and butterfly goalies were called “floppers.”