It was hard to watch last night’s riveting duel between Tom Brady and Eli Manning without wanting to get back in the game. Enough already. The National Football League needs to come back home, to Los Angeles.
Football, the most spectacular of American sports, belongs in the city that built an industry out of spectacle. Los Angeles has been home to three current NFL franchises at various times (the San Diego Chargers, founded in 1960 by Barron Hilton, played their inaugural season here). The Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Bowl have hosted a combined seven Super Bowls, including the very first one featuring the University of Arizona and University of Michigan marching bands for halftime entertainment.
The NFL’s L.A. roots run deep indeed. The modern league’s founding father, longtime commissioner Pete Rozelle, was a graduate of Compton High and a successful manager of the Los Angeles Rams. The NFL Network is based here. So is the Fox Network’s weekly NFL coverage. Then there are lingering memories of Norm Van Brocklin, Merlin Olsen, Jackie Slater, Jack Youngblood, and Eric Dickerson–not to mention Joe Pendleton, the Rams quarterback played by Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait. The Rams, who played in the area for five decades between their Cleveland and St. Louis stints, fielded the first African-American players in the modern NFL, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, a year before Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It is only a matter of time before Los Angeles gets a franchise again, if not two, via further expansion of the league and/or the relocation of an existing team. Much thought and debate have gone into the question of venue. In which stadium should the new L.A. team play? Who pays for building or refurbishing the venue? And, of course, what will it mean for traffic?
Less thought and debate have gone into the important question of the team’s identity. What is a suitable name for an L.A. franchise? Great sports franchises, like all strong brands, bear names that trigger an emotional response, reinforcing a community’s sense of place and fans’ connection to it.
Think of such distinctive names as the Pittsburgh Steelers, rooted in that community’s industrial heritage, or the San Francisco 49ers, a nod to the Gold Rush that put that city on the map. These are not interchangeable names that could be transplanted elsewhere. The Green Bay Packers trace their name back to the team’s sponsorship nearly a century ago by the Indian Packing Co. More recently, when Baltimore re-entered the league, its franchise chose to become the Ravens, as a nod to a famous poem of Edgar Allen Poe, who died in Charm City. In baseball, the Dodgers’ name evokes a particular place’s narrative, even if the place isn’t Los Angeles, but Brooklyn, whose residents were once known as “trolley dodgers.”
The Vikings make sense in Minnesota, as would a team named the Lakers (as in “Land of Lakes”), had it not relocated to Los Angeles. The Bears sound like one of those works-anywhere, animal-as-mascot names until you learn that Chicago’s upstart football team renamed itself the Bears in 1922 to make clear that they would be larger than the Cubs.
Too many sports franchises, particularly newer teams, slap on any lowest-common-denominator name, or go to the trouble of market-testing potential mascots’ Q rating. Big felines: good; small rodents: bad. Los Angeles is no stranger to the danger of uninspired names–see “L.A. Express” of short-lived USFL fame.
Angelenos shouldn’t have to root for yet another team named by marketers or by people in some other city. But it is no small challenge to find a great name for a team that represents all of Los Angeles. So help us out.
Submit your suggestion for L.A.’s future NFL franchise name to NFLinLA@zocalopublicsquare.org along with your name, the city you live in, and no more than a 200-word explanation as to why this is the best name for an L.A. team. The deadline for entries is next Monday, February 13. We will publish your best entries the day before February 17’s Zócalo/UCLA event, “Is L.A. Ready for the NFL?” featuring Troy Aikman, Jim Mora, and others. We hope to see you there, and look forward to your suggestions.
Who knows? You may get credit for naming an NFL team without having to buy one.
*Photo courtesy of a.dai.geek.