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by Ryan Irwin

When creating a sports team, a lot of planning is involved. Where is the team located? Where is the team going to play? What are the team colors?  Above all, however, is the issue of the team mascot. The mascot’s purpose is twofold. First, it is a physical representation of your team, used to strike fear in the opponent’s hearts, or, at the very least, act as menacing as possible. Second, it represents the town or city the team plays in. Clearly, choosing a mascot that is both representative of the hometown team and/or intimidating?  Can be tough.

Enter the New Orleans Hornets. After relocating from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002, the Hornets played for about a decade as the vestigial moniker from Charlotte. But New Orleans needed its own animal, its own symbol, its own mascot. It needed more than just a bee, even if it was an angry bee at that. Therefore, on Dec. 4, the New Orleans Hornets decided it would change its mascot to a more noble, fierce, majestic animal: the pelican.

As early as the 2013-’14 season, the New Orleans Hornets will cease to exist, and the Pelicans will take reign over the Big Easy. Your first impression might be: “What a wimpy bird! A pelican is not intimidating at all!” And you’d be wrong. The brown pelican, the smallest of the eight living species of pelicans, has a wingspan of up to seven-and-a-half feet—taller than most basketball players (except Yao Ming, of course). Wikipedia describes the pelican as having a “large throat pouch,” which pelicans use to scoop up water and fish. If a large throat pouch doesn’t scream “terrifying aquatic bird” to you, than I guess nothing will.

Not only that, but pelicans have Christianity on their side. In medieval Europe, the pelican became the symbol for the Eucharist and the Passion of Jesus because it was believed that a mother pelican would give up her own blood, usually from her breasts, for food to her young in times of great need. An alternate myth has the pelican killing its young and then resurrecting them with its blood. Watch out,  Anthony Davis.

Other than being backed by God and the ability to scoop up two gallons of water in its beak pouch, why would New Orleans want to adopt this great creature as its mascot?  Funny enough, it turns out that Louisiana loves pelicans. Who knew? The state bird is the Eastern Brown Pelican. A pelican can be found on the seals of LSU and Tulane University. Want to feel like a local the next time you visit Louisiana? Just call it “The Pelican State,” and you’ll fit right in. Its state flag even depicts a lovely scene of a mother pelican feeding her young through the aforementioned breast blood. How marvelous.

When the Hornets revealed that they would be undergoing a name change to the Pelicans, there were the classic mixed overreactions. Half of fans loved the change.

“‘Pelicans’ really is the best team name for New Orleans’ NBA franchise,” wrote Alejandro de los Rios. Others, well, weren’t so fond of the decision.

“It doesn’t sound like a good nickname for a serious sports team,” said Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinal.

If the Hornets had to create their own unique identity—and let’s face it, they did—then the Pelicans are a great choice. My only question, and this is a minor one: Why didn’t they just ask to trade nicknames with the Utah Jazz?  Believe it or not, the Jazz began its playing days in New Orleans in the ’70s, but only stayed for five years, and the rest is history. They are a team with a nickname that doesn’t fit either city or state.

If the Hornets and Jazz switched team names,  so many issues would be solved. Utah, known as “the Beehive State,” would have a team name that is closely related to the state. They could even nickname their arena “The Hive,” because who doesn’t want to go play a basketball game in a beehive? It’s perfect. The newly-named New Orleans Jazz would have a name worthy of the musical renaissance the city became famous for.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Ryan, the Pelicans have got to be the worst team name ever, why couldn’t they be called ‘The New Orleans Brass’ or something awesome like that?”

Well, first of all, “The New Orleans Brass” would be an awesome team name, and I want to thank Drew Brees for coming up with it. Second of all, I will have you know that the Pelicans are not the worst team name ever.  What is, you ask? Let’s take a look.

Let’s keep with the basketball theme for a second. You have the Miami Heat, because…it’s hot in Miami?  Yawn. The Los Angeles Lakers moved from Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, to Los Angeles, land of nine lakes. And, as my good friend Frank Baratta jokes, the Clippers are aptly named because they play in the Staples Center.

Colleges are huge proponents of naming their teams something wacky. University of Santa Cruz named its team the Banana Slugs, which I think is awesome, but still strange. Stanford named its team “The Cardinal.”  No, not the bird, the color cardinal. The team name is so abstract the only way they can represent it is with a tree. Good going, guys. And, most importantly, when you aren’t sure what to call your school’s team, make something up. That’s what Saint Louis University did, and the team is now your Saint Louis Fighting Bilikins!

One of the worst team names I’ve seen comes from the MLS: the New York Red Bulls. It’s horrible because it doesn’t even try to cover up the corporate sponsorship.

If people don’t like New Orleans’ choice of name, that’s a shame. The pelican is a cool-looking bird, and it’s a unique deviation from the usual slew of predatory birds that has saturated professional and college sports. I, for one, can’t wait for the commemorative throat pouches.

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