If you ask meand I realize you didn’tthere was only one aesthetically suitable name, or maybe two, that could have given the Oilers an identity more aligned to our state’s sensibilities. Name One, which I’ve floated before without hooking any catfish, was the Tennessee Cousins. Now, to me, that name had everything. It’s perfectly (though not uniquely) Tennessee. It’s not overused, like Lions and Tigers and Bears. It promotes a sense of community togetherness. (The obvious team song, by the way, is that old Sister Sledge anthem, last borrowed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, “We Are Fa-mi-ly.”)
Unfortunately, the Cousins sounded a smidge too irreverent even for many of our local hipsters, much less our earnest Leadership 2000 types. But I could still fall back on Name Two, which I was certain would meet no objections among full-witted people: the Tennessee Studs. Now, has that got double entendre working for it, or what?
Of course, a name like Studs was bound to produce some clucking among the mullahs over at the Christian Life Commission. But I’m sure Vince Lombardi would agree with me that pro football is supposed to be a game that pushes the bounds of civility, lest it slide toward wussification.
(While we’re on this subject, I know some of y’all were holding out for the Tennessee Boogers, but I can’t stand with you on that one. If you consider how a name like that limits your team color and logo possibilities, well, ’nuff said.)
I have to make a little confession here to all of you suddenly disillusioned folks who’ve been eagerly sharpening your pencils for the big “Name That Team” contest. Even though I truly believed in both the “Cousins” and the “Studs,” I’ve known for a long time that this whole rechristening business was merely an exercise.
Back near the beginning of Nashville’s courtship of Bud Adams, he told me, “If we go to Tennessee and find a bunch of oil, we might just keep [the name] Oilers.” And by that time, Bud had learned that Jed Clampett wasn’t the only one to discover petroleum in these parts; he’d already sent some of his deal-makers up to poke around.
Tennessee Thunder, Tennessee Tuxedos, Tennessee Lightning: The prospect of a new team with a new name has spawned more baseless fantasies than the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. In case your bubble is still floating, the Scene Sports Department regrets to inform you that, before you see the Oilers change their name, you’ll see a Wal-Mart superstore going up on Belle Meade Boulevard.
Not that I think the Oilers were being dishonest when they held out the possibility of a name-generating contest. But Adams has always been sentimental about the “Oilers” name; after all, he coined it more than 35 years ago. What’s more, by the time the team was finally, officially, irrevocably cleared for takeoff from Houston, it was too late to go through the whole name-search shtick for this season. And, contrary to much recent carping, there’s ample precedent for illogical post-relocation name continuity. We submit Exhibits A, B, and C: the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the L.A. (Trolley) Dodgers.
So, for all of you feeling peevish and name-gypped right nowget over it. Quit your bellyaching. You get a new team in town, and then you start thinking of it as yours. (As a consolation, you might yet get to rename the Derrick Dolls.)
In the meantime, while you’re imbued with this spirit of wishful thinking, allow us to offer several equally salable, sports-scene-enhancing proposals on which to concentrate your intellect:
Magnet Sports Schools. With our community’s attention focusing on the influx of big-time professional sports teams, high school athletics might simply slide off the radar screen. Here’s a solution to that and a trailer-load of other civic problems: Create a series of magnet schools, each focused on a single sport. Hence, Hillsboro might become the Football Magnet, McGavock the Wrestling and Judo Magnet, Whites Creek the Cross-Country Magnet, and so forth.
Consider the cascade of potential benefits. First, we’d have a powerful new tool for accelerating the laudable magnet concept, desegregating public education, and promoting school choice.
We’d create centers of excellence across the system. No longer would our public schools have to retreat to their own cloistered leagues. They could return the regular hiney-kickings they’ve endured from their better-funded private counterparts.
By filling schools with motivated jocks and jockettes, we’d build pride and self-esteemwhich, as everyone now recognizes, are the foundation stones of educational achievement. And speaking of achievement, since basketball, say, would necessarily represent a core curriculum element in a Basketball Magnet, the potential for schoolwide grade improvement would be pretty much boundless.
As our schools become athletic powerhouses, local health care providers might even spring for some fully loaded new training facilities, as Baptist Hospital is doing for the Oilers.
And, best of all, the mayor could rejuvenate public education with minimal financial noodling, allowing us to prevent a future tax increase for funding a stadium for a major-league baseball team or a new basketball-only arena to hook an NBA franchise.
Designate the Gerst Haus the new State Capitol. Maybe this sounds a little flaky, but bear with me. To make way for our new East Bank stadium, the venerable Gerst Haus is scheduled to goalmost certainly to be replaced by something that can’t match the present establishment’s cheerfully decadent ambience.
Nobody wants to see thatleast of all our lobbyists and legislators, who conduct a lot of unofficial state business at the Gerst Haus as it is. So why not simply formalize things?
Once it officially houses the Senate and House, the Haus would have to stay. There it would be, just a drop-kick from the stadium. In one location we’d have a Nashville landmark, a monument to self-government in Tennessee, and an incredibly convenient spot for snagging an icy fishbowl of Gerst after we watch our Oilers rip Pittsburgh a new one.
A few steak dinners for the right people, with maybe some cash-lined envelopes here and there for good measure, and this little brainstorm becomes a bill. With any luck, the governor might not even read it before he signs it.
Two words: Arena Baseball. The big leagues snubbed us, partly because we didn’t want to build a new ballpark on spec. OK. So we’ll pioneer our own brand of baseball, adaptable to the facilities we have.
In arena baseball, hits caught on the carom off the wall would be outs. Teams could change pitchers only once per game. Managers would be confined to their dugouts. None of these sulky millionaires for us, and none of these everlasting, three-hour contests, either. The game would have a lot of fan appealespecially if players aren’t allowed to scratch themselves while on the fieldand we could tell everyone it started right here.
Start Working on Hockey Names. If you’re done with everything else, it’s not too early to begin scratching for names for our new NHL outfit. I already have my nominee: the Nashville Sling Blades.
The name alludes to hockey and fits the reputation, however undeserved, of our city. It suggests a tough, take-no-prisoners mind-set too. (“Check me against them boards lack that again, hm-m, and ah’ll kill ya, hm-m...”)
So start making your list now. And if the previous christening experience has left you skittish, don’t worry; you’re safe. In the NHL, the name Oilers is already taken.