Blackhawks, Browns, Naps: Sports Franchises Named After Actual People


How many U.S. pro sports franchises are named after an individual–an actual person? Two. Or one. Or maybe none, depending on who you believe and how you count.

I was wondering after watching the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. They'd be the first team I think of as being named after an individual, because they're indirectly named after a leader of the Native American Sauk tribe, Black Hawk (1767-1838); "indirectly" because the team's first owner reportedly named the team not after the chief himself, but after the U.S. Army's 86th Infantry Division, in which he had served in World War I. The 86th was known as the Blackhawk Division, the Army says, because it was originally drawn mostly from Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the Sauks' territory, in part, before Enlightened Democracy arrived with its plows, canals, and railroads to tame the prairie.

blackhawk2.gifThe Black Hawk image allegedly handed down from history (above, from a history of North American Indians by way of Wikipedia) is not as logo friendly as the one the Chicago National Hockey League franchise came up with (left); I will say, aware of the sensitivities involved and as someone annoyed by the Boston Celtics' leprechaun, that I think the Blackhawk logo is kind of cool. It is a little odd, though–the chief has been made to look rather calm and stoic, and the profile is reminiscent of a mugshot.

The second actual historical personage with a U.S. pro team named after him is Paul Brown, the first head coach of the Cleveland Browns National Football League franchise. In fact, the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, which claims to be an authority on the past of that remarkable city on the shores of Lake Erie, declares outright in its entry on the Browns that the original franchise "was named after its first coach, Paul E. Brown … 'the father of the modern offense.' "

But: The story is not that simple, and there is an alternative theory expostulated in an above-average Wikipedia entry and in a 1995 article in the Baltimore Sun (written about the time the Browns moved moving from east to become the Ravens). First, it appears that back when the franchise was approved, its owner hired Brown and told him he could name the team; he's said to have not liked the idea of naming it after himself. Later, a naming contest was held, which produced the name Panthers, the moniker of an earlier Cleveland football franchise. The owner rejected the Panthers name, perhaps because the guy who owned the rights to it tried to charge him for it, whereupon the franchise was name the Browns. But according to one account, the name referred not to Paul Brown but to heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, "the Brown Bomber," whose popularity the franchise sought to glom onto. (For what it's worth, Paul Brown apparently thought the team was named after him, Joe Louis or no Joe Louis; and in later years, I think Brown went on to help start another franchise, the Cincinnati Bengals.)

So those are my two. There must be others (one's eye is drawn to the American League's Cleveland Naps, which must have been a reference to the player Nap Lajoie). Anyone?

And by the way: Blackhawks win!

Home, Sunday Afternoon


Sunday afternoon activity: Sitting here wondering if it will really rain over the next couple of days, as the forecasts have suggested for a few days, or not. So far, we’ve had clouds and some drizzle. While I ponder the relatively unusual prospect of a late June rainfall in the Bay Area, I was looking at weather satellite pictures, and then at loops of satellite pictures made over the last few hours. I started to wonder whether I could find a full day’s worth of those looped images, or maybe a week’s or a month’s. I still haven’t found anything like that. But I did find plenty of versions of the the stock views from NOAA’s GOES West (GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite). No matter how many times I see it, the view of the full disk of the Earth (above, taken this morning; click for a larger image) evokes wonder. Below (click for much larger image) is the West Coast in beautiful enhanced infrared color, complete with the weather systems that could bring us rain.


West Oakland Roadside Attraction


Here’s a set of pictures that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while. Last fall, some creative folks–artists and performers and super-capable do-it-yourselfers–created a sort of carnival on a vacant lot in West Oakland. I had heard about it from a reporter of ours who did a little story on it, then Kate spotted a piece about it in one of the local papers. So late one afternoon in November, we drove over there–10 or 15 minutes from home–to see what was up.

The attraction was called Peralta Junction, and involved a sideshow, a calliope, a life-size version of the game Mouse Trap (a performance that happened well after sunset, and my pictures didn’t turn out well), and local artisans selling a range of old-timey clothing and other modern-antique wares. It was really fun.

Here’s the slideshow, below, mostly featuring the guy who did the sideshow act. He hammered a butter knife into one of his nostrils. He passed his body through a tennis racket. He lay on a bed of nails while a second bed of nails was placed on his chest and someone from the crowd stood on it. I don’t know the performer’s name and wish I did–it was a funny and thoroughly engaging show.

Doing Our Part


The backyard sprinkler is on this morning. Not on any planned basis; I just thought “why not?” while making the journey back into the house after dumping our weekly bag of trash in the garbage can. This little patch of lawn does not get a lot of water–we’re in the middle of our no-rain season, and that follows a very dry rain season, and it never seems responsible somehow to let the water just spray into the air like this when you know that somewhere far upstream, all our reservoirs are being drawn down while the suspense builds through the summer about whether next winter will bring rain. But still, you have grass, you like to see it green. So this morning, the lawn gets a little moisture. We’re doing our part to keep our local unnatural landscape verdant and to use up whatever water we’ve got stored.

A Long Walk

Last Saturday, the 1st of June, I skipped my usual weekend sleep-in and got up at dawn to go on a walk. OK, nothing terribly unusual there. But this wasn’t just going to be a stroll out for morning coffee, or even a hike in the hills. I needed to be over at Candlestick Point in San Francisco–yes, where the stadium is–to start an all-day hike around the San Francisco shoreline. The entire San Francisco shoreline, all the way up the eastern bayside, past landmarks like the old Hunters Point naval base, Phone Company Park, the Bay Bridge, and Fisherman’s Wharf, then across the northern shore past Fort Mason and the Marina and the Golden Gate Bridge, then south past Land’s End and Cliff House and along the beaches all the way to Fort Funston.

That’s 23 or 24 miles, depending on detours along the way. Molly Samuel, a colleague and friend at the Public Radio Station where I work, dreamed up the project and scouted out the route and then walked it last June with about 15 people. (Another Public Ratio Station in town actually did a cool little feature on the event afterward.)

I think the best reason to take a hike like this is no reason at all–because it’s there, because you can. But for me, there was something else: There are big slices of the city I’ve never really seen, especially its southeast corner, where we started–Bayview and Hunters Point–and this was a way of starting to stitch together pieces I know with new pieces I don’t really have a sense of. I’m pretty confident we may have walked adjacent to one of the poorest census tracts in the city–the Double Rock housing project, out by Candlestick Park–and through the wealthiest–the Seacliff neighborhood between Baker Beach and Land’s End. And walking along Ocean Beach is always a little bit of a surprise: a magnificent strand that seems to stretch forever into the mist fronted by a diverse collection of neighborhoods, some blocks looking pretty affluent, some looking pretty hard-scrabble. It was a trip I wanted to record; the result: lots of pictures.

The biggest surprise of the walk for me: Although it took eleven and a half hours to complete, including stops for lunch and snacks and regrouping along the way, I never felt fatigued and the day never dragged. I don’t really think I looked at the clock once except out of curiosity. I think one reason, maybe the main one, was that the group was so sociable and comfortable and there was interesting conversation every step of the way, or engaged silence if that was what you wanted.

Molly said she noticed last year that you see certain landmarks ahead of you for a long time and they sort of work their way into your consciousness as a way to mark your progress. And that was true: the Bay Bridge was out there in front of us for a long time. Then the Ferry Building. Then the Palace of Fine Arts and the Golden Gate Bridge, until you arrive at the top of the bluff at the northern end of Ocean Beach with those miles of sand spread out forever. You’d see those sights, gain slowly on them, then be slightly amazed that you’d already arrived at them and then surprised again to take a glance back to see them disappear.

That’s it, except to say thanks to Molly and everyone else for a fun day out of doors.

Here’s the slideshow.

Guest Observation: Colum McCann

The other morning, the soon to be late and already lamented “Talk of the Nation” featured the Irish novelist Colum McCann. He was talking about a new work, “Transatlantic,” which features fictional stories of historical figures who made the crossing, one way or the other, between Ireland and the New World. (One story involves a historic adventure I’d never heard of before, the first aviators to fly nonstop across the Atlantic: Alcock and Brown, eight years before Lindbergh (who made the first solo nonstop flight).

Former Maine Senator George Mitchell and his role in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland is one of the other “Transatlantic” subjects. McCann read a brief, poetic passage of the Mitchell section of the book:

“This is a section where I just wanted to create a myth for the idea of what he was doing, which was receiving all the words.

“It is as if, in a myth, he has visited an empty grain silo. In the beginning, he stood at the bottom in the resounding dark. Several figures gathered at the top of the silo. They peered down, shaded their eyes, began to drop their pieces of grain upon him. Words. A small rain at first, full of vanity, and history, and rancor, clattering in the emptiness.

“He stood and let it sound, metallic, around him, till it began to pour, and the grain took on a different sound, and he had to reach up and keep knocking the words aside just to get a little space to breathe, dust and chaff in the air all around him. From their very own fields, they were pouring down their winnowed bitterness, and in his silence, he just kept thrashing, spluttering, pushing the words away, a refusal to drown.

“What nobody noticed, not even himself, was that the grain kept rising, and the silo filled, but he kept rising with it, and the sounds grew different, word upon word falling around him, building beneath him, and now, at the top of the silo, he has clawed himself up and dusted himself off, and he stands there, equal with the pourers, who are astounded by the language that lies below them.

“They glance at each other. There are three ways down from the silo. They can fall into the grain and drown. They can jump off the edge and abandon it. Or they can learn to sow it very slowly at their feet.”

Neil Conan’s interview with McCann, embedded below, is a good one. His reading of the passage above takes place after the 12:00 mark in the audio.

Bird vs. Reptiles, the Sequel


Last week, I wrote of the tragic disappearance of one of our three small red-eared slider turtles in the beak of a local scrub jay. However, I did wonder if I was justified in blaming the jay. I mean, there was a chance another bird could have grabbed the hapless turtle or that the reptile might have self-levitated and escaped the box we set up .

A couple days after the presumed turtle-napping, we put the turtles back out on the patio again so they could get some sun. This time, we put some light netting over the box to foil any nearby predators. Less than an hour after we put the box the out, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a jay–the same one, I’m pretty sure, that I had seen the day of the turtle disappearance–standing on the edge of the box and trying to peck its way through the netting. (That’s him–why do I think it’s a him?–or her or it up above.)

That settled it for me–that bird is guilty as charged. Also, we need to figure out something more discouraging than some butterfly netting if the turtles are going to get to hang out there.