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One Singular Sensation: What Ails Sports is Team Names like 'Magic'


So the new hockey team in town has chosen a nickname. And the choice should be applauded.

Not because Bandits is such an inspired name, something original, particularly evocative of Baltimore or uniquely suited to the sport. And not because of the fuzzy little raccoon that goes along with the name.

No, the great thing about the name is that it's a plural.

You know, something that ends in an "s." Something that accurately an be referred to as a "they." Something tangible.

Western civilization began its decline when musical groups on the top of the charts stopped having names such as the Coasters, the Platters and the Everly Brothers and started to bear names such as the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Jefferson Airplane and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. (And don't get me started on Moby Grape.)

Likewise, sports have changed for the worse ever since teams started giving themselves nicknames composed of singular nouns.

Remember the World Football League? It brought us such monstrosities as the Chicago Fire and the Philadelphia Bell. No wonder the WFL couldn't compete with the National Football League. People wonder why soccer hasn't made it big in the United States. Just look at what we've had here in Baltimore: the late Blast and the Spirit. Neither is a "they." Each is an "it."

Once upon a time, we had Colts and Bullets here. You could say, "They stink," a universal expression of fan displeasure. But if you don't like the soccer team's play, you have to say, "It stinks." Too nebulous. What is the "it"? The arena? The officiating? Having to spend each game seated next to a guy in a Moby Grape T-shirt? (You see, these things are somehow connected.)

Unfortunately, the singular name has gained a foothold in the National Basketball Association with the Utah Jazz, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic.

Now, it's bad enough that, in keeping the team name after moving from New Orleans, the Jazz created perhaps the most incongruous name in sports, but it (see, Jazz is an "it") also made the league safe for Orlando and Miami to take their horrible names. (The suggestion has been made that the Miami club more accurately could have been called the Humidity.) Worse yet, the Magic is threatening to become one of the NBA's powers (or is that, one of the NBA's power?).

Perhaps some of you are wondering about where the traditional college nicknames -- Alabama Crimson Tide, Cornell Big Red -- fit in this discussion. The answer is: They don't. (You've read this far, and you're still expecting logic?)

In closing, it's worth noting that the 1975 hit "Magic" (surely you remember; let's sing along: "Oh, oh, oh, it's magic, you know/Never believe it's not so") was performed by a group named Pilot.

I rest my case.


Ray Frager is an assistant sports editor for The Baltimore Sun.

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