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!

2 Replies to “Blackhawks, Browns, Naps: Sports Franchises Named After Actual People”

  1. Yes, the Blackhawks win and that is good for Chicago-ans everywhere, although I am not sure about how it is good. I saw a few stray Blackhawk jersies in Brooklyn last week but saw even more Chicago Bulls shirts, caps, etc. As for me I have also liked the Blackhawk stylized warrior profile which was around in the days of the howling Milwaukee/Atlanta Brave logo or the Cleveland Indian happy-go-lucky brave logo. And do you remember Chief Knock-A-Homa? I’m only sayin’. By comaprison, the Blackhawk logo is restrained.
    As for me, I’ll take the grumpy Notre Dame leprechaun. I guess he got that look from living under too many toad stools before moving to South Bend. If I had that guy around I could always count on getting a seat on subway.

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