Blue Jackets and Golden Knights – the day after

As of my writing this, we’re less than 24 hours out from the NHL’s newest expansion team being officially branded as the Vegas Golden Knights.  I’m not here to offer an opinion on the name, but rather to show how names have been reacted to over the most recent waves of expansion.  As a fan of one of these teams, I can also offer some anecdotal insight.

And since this is also being written during the height of Ohio State/Michigan week, I’ll begin there.

For those who aren’t residents or natives of Ohio, and specifically central Ohio, the only word that can be used to refer to Michigan is “loathing”, or at least some other synonym of the same.  It’s fanatical, and it’s been this way for a long time.  According to legend, the late OSU football coach Woody Hayes once ordered the team buses to stop in Sylvania, OH on their way up to Ann Arbor for the annual game because he refused to pay fuel taxes in Michigan.  Hayes also once had his team go for a two-point conversion late in a 50-14 win, and when asked why he did it, the response was a terse, “Because we couldn’t go for three.”  OSU gets into the act on an official basis, with every single letter “M” taped over on campus during the week.  And as social media has become more widespread, their Twitter account uses X’s in place of M’s during the week as well.  Everywhere you look will be red and gray (yes, I said “red” instead of “scarlet”.  Take that!), and nothing will be maize and/or blue.

Now consider our NHL team’s name…

Let’s go Blue! Let’s go Blue! The boisterous chant of the assembled multitudes at Michigan Stadium on a fall Saturday in Ann Arbor? Most of the time, yes. But evidently the National Hockey League expects folks in Columbus to start screaming for the boys in blue, too. Now that will be a tough notion to sell.

The owners of Columbus’s new NHL franchise, scheduled to begin play in 2000, announced this week the team will be known as the Blue Jackets. The mascot will be a ferocious bug with big eyes and an attitude.

The Blue Jackets? Who in the world thinks these things up anyway? The name evidently is intended to reflect Ohio’s substantial role in supplying men to the Union Army during the Civil War.

But even a modest amount of field research would have indicated to the organization’s brain trust that blue is a color that makes people in Columbus and Franklin County see, well, red.

One of the greatest rivalries in collegiate sports is Ohio State-Michigan. We remember the former Ohio state senator who named his daughter Scarlett Ann Gray. No joke. Now those folks have to root for a team that reminds them of that, uh, school up north?

“HEY, COLUMBUS … TURN BLUE!.” Blade, The (Toledo, OH) 16 Nov. 1997, PAGES OF OPINION: F4

The first reference I can find of any kind to the name “Blue Jackets” came shortly after the expansion team was actually awarded way back in June 1997.  And it was in the form of a letter to the sports editor, a section of which used to run on Sundays.

Editor: My suggestion for the name of our hockey team is the Columbus Blue Jackets, in honor of the great Shawnee war chief. If my suggestion is not used, I at least hope that the name has an “S” on the end. Names like Horizon, Chill, Crew, Magic and even Jazz sound dumb.

I also hope that our team is named “Columbus” something and not “Ohio” something. You would think, though, that we could come up with a name that has nothing to do with Christopher Columbus. He was never anywhere near Ohio, not to mention a little thing called genocide. We might as well call the team the Columbus Stalins.

Steve Campbell, Columbus

Strode, George. “COLUMBUS A HOCKEY TOWN? POLL INDICATED OTHERWISE.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 22 Jun. 1997, Sports: 03E

The name of that letters section had to do with a poll that the Dispatch had run previously, and the top letter questioned the methodology used.  It wasn’t actually a declaration of anything.

Fast forward into November, a day before the planned name reveal and announcement….

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The owners of the new NHL franchise in Columbus apparently will draw upon Ohio’s American Indian heritage and name the team the Blue Jackets, broadcast reports said.

Television stations in Columbus reported Thursday that the team will go by that name when it takes to the ice in the 2000-01 season.

Blue Jacket was a Shawnee leader in the early 19th century.

A telephone message left Thursday night at the home of Arthur Pincus, vice president of public relations for the NHL, was not immediately returned.

Wire Reports. “Reports pin Blue Jackets on Columbus franchise.” The Tampa Tribune 7 Nov. 1997, FLORIDA, SPORTS: 4

I’m going to take a moment to make it absolutely, 100% clear that the name “Blue Jackets” for our local team not only had nothing to with the great Shawnee leader, but that it was never part of it.  Yes, he was a legendary warrior and leader.  He also fought with the British and against the fledgling Americans in Dunmore’s War and in the American Revolution, then continued on with a pan-native confederacy against American settlers after the Revolution.  (The other leader of that confederacy was Little Turtle, whose name is used for a housing development and golf course in northeast Columbus.)

But consider that this was 1997, as dozens of teams were also moving against any type of native-related names and branding.  Miami University, the one that existed in Ohio before Miami was even incorporated as a city in Florida, had just changed their name from Redskins to Redhawks. And they were far from the only team that was going this way at the time.  The idea of an NHL team, in that atmosphere, thumbing their nose at this movement would have been a disaster.

Anyway, the Dispatch had the full story, with additional quotes.  On the front page, no less!

Try the Columbus Blue Jackets on for size.

That will be the name of the Columbus expansion franchise in the National Hockey League.

“It’s an insect with an attitude. That’s the best way I can say it,” a source close to the team said last night while confirming the club will be named the Blue Jackets and will have a jacket-wearing bug for a logo.

“A couple things have to be approved, but we’re 95 percent sure that it will be Columbus Blue Jackets,” he said, adding that all legal hurdles have been cleared. The primary team color will be blue; the exact tint has yet to be worked out.

There will be a news conference Tuesday to unveil the colors and logo. Blue Jackets items should be on sale Wednesday.

Speculation about the name has been rampant since Columbus was one of four cities awarded NHL franchises on June 25. The team is to begin play in October 2000.

A name-the-team contest sponsored by Wendy’s produced almost 13,000 entries. The source, as well as principal team owner John H. McConnell, said last night that Blue Jackets was among the names submitted.

“We got several suggestions for this name,” the source said of the contest. “We went down through the names that we felt were key to the team identity.”

The source said team and NHL officials worked to define Columbus’ image so they could flesh out a fitting logo.

“We’ve taken a name we thought we could bring to life with a character, one with an attitude that represents what we think our city stands for,” he said. “Those qualities include a city that is fast, aggressive, teamwork-oriented, industrious, hard-working, young.”

When asked, the source said the 18th century Shawnee war chief Blue Jacket never entered into the thought process.

“It’s Blue Jackets – s. This is plural, not singular,” he said. “There was no connection” with Blue Jacket the Indian warrior.

The logo will feature an insect with a hat on it, the source said. “It could be a ball cap, could be a Union Army hat.

“It’s part of its attitude. The cap’s on a slant. It looks like it has hockey attitude.

“There are yellow jackets. This will be an insect,” the source said. “We put a little Northern and Ohio pride in it in putting a jacket on it – portraying Ohio’s history in the Civil War. The jacket looks a little bit like a Union Army jacket.

“Ohio sent more people to the Union Army per capita than any state in the union. And now that hockey is penetrating the South, it makes for a little competitiveness between the North and South.”

The source said having blue as the primary team color is a tribute to Worthington Industries, founded by McConnell, and Nationwide, which is covering 90 percent of the cost of a Downtown arena for the team.

McConnell had stated on several occasions that blue would be at least one of the colors of the team. His Worthington Industries office and buildings feature blue prominently, as does the Nationwide logo.

The source acknowledged that the “insect with an attitude” was chosen to appeal to young people. He said the trend toward hip team names and logos in the NHL, such as the San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, helped influence the creation of the Columbus Blue Jackets insect.

Wright, Steve and Merz, Craig. “BLUE JACKETS WILL BE NAME OF NHL TEAM.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 7 Nov. 1997, NEWS: 01A

And from the story the next day:

At the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio, program manager Mark Welsh was breathing a sigh of relief that the team logo “isn’t an Indian.”

Welsh said when TV reports and wire service stories erroneously linked the team with the famous Shawnee chief, “We were afraid there’d be a big Indian logo, and we’re human beings, not mascots.”

Now that team officials have said the team is not named for the historic figure, Welsh said, “I don’t think the team will any have trouble with the ‘bug with an attitude.’ “

From the same story:

John S. Christie, president of JMAC, a venture capital firm owned by Worthington Industries founder and Columbus Blue Jackets principal owner John H. McConnell, is well aware of the early negative reaction to the team name.

“Our use of a bug has bugged some people,” Christie said with a laugh.

He said the negative reaction to the potential for hockey cheers of “Go Blue” in a Michigan Wolverine-hating football town is missing the mark.

“There’s five colors in the logo – it won’t look like Michigan,” Christie said. “Don’t people here root for high school football teams with blue on the jerseys?”

Christie also dismissed reports that the team colors will be blue, gold and red. He said blue is the primary color, but there is no gold. He said that is all could confirm.

“I think any name thrown out would have been met with a negative reaction,” Christie said. “There were so many other names thrown around – it’s not Explorers, or Armada or one of the obvious names – this came to them out of the clear blue sky. It surprised a lot of them.”

Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, who said he took a few lumps for naming his NHL team after a storm that kills, has some advice for Columbus.

“If someone wins the presidential race 60 to 40 (percent), they call it a landslide. But that also means four out of 10 people didn’t like the winner, maybe hated his guts. You must remember, you generally hear from the most vocal people first.”

From his Detroit office, Karmanos delivered this endorsement of the much-maligned Blue Jackets name: “I didn’t shrink back and say, ‘Oh my God,’ and that’s pretty good – I usually hate everything.”

And:

Like a million-seller song without the lead vocals, a team name without the logo is only half the package.

So says David Haney, creative director of the National Hockey League and the man who helped forge an image, logo and colors for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Haney, reached by phone in New York, said he is aware that central Ohioans are having a hard time accepting the name of the NHL team that will start play in 2000.

Wright, Steve. “NICKNAME GOES WITH THE IMAGE.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 8 Nov. 1997, NEWS: 01A

What exactly was the word on the street?

Michael Scherl may not have spent as much time on the ice as a professional hockey player, but he thinks he knows a good hockey name when he hears it.

The Westgate Avenue man doesn’t think he heard it in Blue Jackets.

“A hockey team shouldn’t sound like a sports coat,” he complained yesterday as he waited for a valet outside the crowded Buckeye Hall of Fame Cafe, 1421 Olentangy River Rd. “Hockey is brutal. It should have a brutal name.”

Scherl wasn’t alone in his quizzical reaction to the name for the National Hockey League team that begins play in Columbus in 2000.

The name had just reached the ears of Jackie Hoover, a greeter at the restaurant and sports bar.

“Yuck,” she said, rolling her eyes. “No way. What kind of name is that?”

The name was the predominant table talk at the restaurant, where Bob Frecker of S. Dorchester Road was beginning to adjust to it.

“I’ll go with it,” he said. “I don’t like these insects and animals getting into our games, but I like Blue Jackets.”

“Not me,” said Wendy Dayton of Westgate Avenue. “I’d rather be called the Maggots. I’d prefer a name more animalistic.”

“It just seems like for a hockey team, you need something quick and zippy, something mean, not a Blue Jacket,” said Julie Contoveros of 13th Street.

Karen Vincent of Linworth Road said no one knows what a Blue Jacket is. “The first thing my son said is, ‘What does it mean?’ ”

A source close to the team has called it “an insect with an attitude.”

“I’m not sure the insect is the powerful NHL image we were looking for,” said Dave Redelberger of Westerville. “I just hope we don’t get squashed.”

The name is too long for Mollie O’Donnell of Bryden Road. “It’s got too many syllables,” she said.

“I just can’t figure out where they came up with it,” said Columbus Police Officer Jim Roberts as he directed traffic outside the restaurant.

“It just doesn’t have much pizzazz,” added Officer Craig Cutteridge. “But I’ll still go to their games, regardless of the name.”

Alford, Roger. “SOME BLUE OVER NAME.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 8 Nov. 1997, NEWS: 02A

And:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Love it or hate it, Ohio’s NHL franchise will be called the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The name began generating heat after it was leaked to reporters last week. Fans called radio stations to complain and write letters to the editor.

After it became official Tuesday, fans again hit the phones.

”The colors are ugly, the name is stupid. … I’m ashamed to be in Columbus, Ohio, right now,” a caller to a local sports-radio talk show lamented shortly after the announcement.

Joe Vowell of Hilliard was so disappointed with the name that he made a protest sign and marched outside the downtown building where John H. McConnell, the team’s principal owner, and others announced the name.

”Please, Mr. McConnell, reconsider. Listen to the fans. No to the Blue Jackets,” the sign said.

Vowell said he will still support the team, even though he’ll never understand why they chose the name.

”It’s not even an insect,” he complained. ”It’s like calling the team the White Shirts.”

The team’s owners said the name was chosen from among 14,000 submitted in a name-the-team contest.

”We wanted to have something with a patriotic feel that represented the heartland,” said John Christie, president of JMAC Hockey, created to serve as managing general partner for the team.

Why Blue Jackets?

The name is a bit of a takeoff on the yellow jacket, a wasp or hornet with yellow markings, which represents youth and the attitude, Christie said.

The Civil War cap and the blue jacket are symbols of local pride – Ohio had more soldiers in the Union Army per capita than any other state. The name is not, backers have said, a reference to Ohio’s 19th century Shawnee war chief, Blue Jacket.

This isn’t the first time a team name has bothered Columbus fans. When the city landed a new Major League Soccer team, backers named it the Columbus Crew. The name and logo – a muscled worker wearing a T-shirt and a hard hat – confused fans, who said it bore no obvious ties to the city.

Alden, Doug. “New NHL Team Announces Nickname.” Associated Press News Service, The 11 Nov. 1997, Sports.

In reference to that last line, the Columbus Crew just celebrated their 20th year in MLS.  The name has been only retooled slightly to reflect traditional soccer nomenclature (Columbus Crew SC), but the colors are still the same.

Stop snickering. In just two days, our new hockey team will get a name:

“The Blue Jackets – it’s an insect with an attitude,” a team source explained.

Have you practiced The Sting yet? It’s to the tune of Marvin Hamlisch’s hit movie theme. All together now:

Tuck thumbs under armpits. Wiggle elbows in a twittering fashion above the shoulder blades. Clench your jaw and hiss:

“Zzzzzzzz.”

Count 10. Turn iceward. Picture 20,000 posteriors bouncing in a sting-depositing motion.

No, we won’t look silly. We’ll look like an insect with an attitude.

The name is already an unqualified success. Everyone’s talking about it. OK, so I haven’t heard one person who loves it. But it’s got our attention.

“The Blue Jackets? What is that – a yellow jacket that’s frozen?” one sports fan asked me yesterday.

See, the name does reflect our city’s most identifiable quality: numbing weather.

I’ve heard lots of grumbling about copying the Charlotte Hornets NBA team. Insiders suggest the Blue Jackets mascot will appear as a waspy creature. This gives me visions of opponents brandishing cans of Raid on the ice.

Buckeye fans are bugged for another reason. They’re outraged at – perish the thought – having to shout “Go Blue!”

Ahh, kwit yer bellyachin’. Imagine the outcry if some slick marketer today had to sell us on Buckeyes. The Blue Jackets’ chief competition in town is a poisonous nut portrayed by a seed dancing around in stretch pants.

Clearly, those who ridicule Blue Jackets fail to grasp the big picture. Soon, we’ll see the beauty of owning such a distinctive name. (This is what girls named after great-aunts are told growing up).

Wait until we see the logo. Think of the merchandising prospects for a blue bug with moxie.

Carmen, Barbara. “SAY AGAIN? BUZZ OVER BLUE JACKETS BRINGS CITY TO FEVERED PITCH.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 9 Nov. 1997, NEWS: 01D

And let’s not forget about those letters to the editor.

Mr. Strode: In a city where we have traditionally been questioned as to our commitment to pro sports because of loyalty to Ohio State, it amazes me we are given an NHL team nicknamed the Blue Jackets.

The fans might be asked to cheer, “Let’s go blue.”

Chipp Krumm

Delaware, Ohio

Chipp: I prefer, “Let’s go sting.”

Sports editor: We’ve done everything right up until now. It took four months and two deadline extensions to come up with a lame name that needs far too many explanations and justifications.

Congrats to the commercial powers that be to burst the collective bubble of Columbus sports fans. If selling merchandise is a key to a successful franchise, Tuesday is not too soon to announce a nickname reconsideration.

Matthew Schutte, Columbus

Matthew: A reconsideration? Negatory.

Sports editor: I woke up this morning to your headline concerning the naming of the Columbus hockey team. My immediate reaction? Huh.

A bug with an attitude? Civil War attire? They’re kidding, right?

Nevin Longardner, Gahanna

Nevin: You wish.

Mr. Strode: They couldn’t do it, could they? They couldn’t give us a normal nickname like Cobras or Cougars. They had to be so clever, so unique and so idiotic that we now will be the laughingstock of the NHL.

Deep down, though, I knew they would not be able to resist the urge to pick a name that few even would understand.

Patrick O’Hara, Grandview

Patrick: You were part of an electronic storm that hit me, nearly everyone with the same message: Blue Jackets, no.

Strode, George. “‘BLUE JACKETS’ WEARS OUT WELCOME QUICKLY.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 9 Nov. 1997, SPORTS: 03E

And:

Did you say, ‘Go Blue!’?

Is this really Columbus?

Oh yes, I can hear it now.

Twenty thousand screaming fans chanting loudly and clearly after the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets score a goal in the brand spankin’ new Nationwide Arena.

“Go Blue!”

What was the marketing division of this fledgling franchise thinking?

Edward J. Plunkett, Columbus

“‘HEY, VOTING IS NO BIG DEAL – RUN ALONG NOW’.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 12 Nov. 1997, EDITORIAL & COMMENT: 10A

But there’s always a mascot.

Nice to meet you, Stinger.

An angry lime-green bug – wearing a blue Union Army jacket and cap and wielding a hockey stick – will be the symbol of Columbus’ first major-league sports franchise.

The enlisted insect was unveiled yesterday as owners of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets officially announced the team’s name, character, colors and logos during a news conference at the team’s seat-licensing headquarters on Nationwide Boulevard.

The team will begin play in 2000 in Nationwide Arena, to be built on the north side of Nationwide Boulevard west of Front Street.

The Blue Jackets name drew a largely negative reaction when it was leaked last week, but team officials said they hope the criticism will subside with the release of the team’s colors and logos.

LaLonde, Brent. “IT’S OFFICIAL: WE’RE THE BLUE JACKETS – A LIME-GREEN BUG IN UNION ARMY ATTIRE IS HOCKEY MASCOT.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 12 Nov. 1997, NEWS: 01A

There was a bit of humor as well.

Some Civil War buffs had a chuckle when they first got a load of the Blue Jackets logo pictured on the front page of yesterday’s Dispatch.

“My phone began to ring at 7 a.m.,” said Michael Bergman, a writer for Blue and Gray Magazine, a Civil War publication with offices in Columbus.

“The bug is wearing the uniform of a Confederate major,” Bergman said.

“A star on the collar is the rank of a Confederate major,” he explained.

The hockey team’s logo clearly shows a bug with a star on each side of its jacket collar.

“The federals wore their rank on their shoulders. They wore shoulder straps,” Bergman said.

Perhaps the logo designers thought that by putting a star on the collar it would make the mascot a general. A single star on the shoulder would be the rank of a Union brigadier general.

Bergman said a Confederate general’s insignia would be three stars encircled by a wreath; it also would be attached to the collar.

The color of the uniform jacket in the logo is a bluish gray, which also was a common color for Confederate officers’ uniforms, he said.

“Maybe they should change the name to Morgan’s Raiders and play Dixie when they score,” he said.

David Roth, the editor of Blue and Gray, said it didn’t matter what kind of uniform the bug is wearing.

“It’s a sport’s logo. It’s not a big deal,” he said.

“The typical Ohio soldier in the Civil War also didn’t have bulging red eyes and a stinger on his butt,” Roth said.

Switzer, John. “AT LEAST WE KNOW STINGER’S ON COLUMBUS’ SIDE.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 13 Nov. 1997, NEWS: 16C

And from the “WE can trash our own, but YOU can’t!” file:

Not everyone is thrilled with the Blue Jackets moniker and the mascot Stinger.

From the Toronto Sun: “It’s bug-ugly. And as pests go, someone should make this thing dead before it breeds. Of course, Mighty Ducks and grown men skating out of a Shark’s beak leans to the silly side, too.”

The Toronto Star said Blue Jackets sounds like “a softball team with a beer sponsorship.”

Consider the source. Toronto has an NBA team called the Raptors with a dinosaur mascot.

Merz, Craig. “NHL LIKES SOUND JACKETS MAKE AT CASH REGISTER.” Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) 23 Nov. 1997, SPORTS: 12E

In the name of something resembling brevity, I’ll stop here.

It’s been 19 years since the team name, colors, and mascot first came out to this type of reaction.

Nineteen years.  The player who currently leads the NHL in goals (Patrik Laine) wasn’t even born yet.

Nineteen years later, the base colors are still the same, although the green accent was phased out in 2007.  Stinger is still the mascot.  The team is still the Blue Jackets, and the widespread initial backlash faded pretty quickly.  The fears of yelling “Go Blue!” turned out to be misguided; the preferred chant at home games is “LET’S go JACK-ets”.

Nineteen years, and all the disasters that were predicted have not come to pass.  Yet we have people who are already prepared to write off the Vegas Golden Knights nineteen hours after its release.

So let’s take a break and calm down a bit.

Please.

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