What's in a name?
By Lisa Fabrizio
Round about this season of the year, a few friends of mine and I get together to solve some of the weightiest matters of our time; the winners of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Now, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in the field of college hoops, but despite my best and well-informed efforts, I often finish out of the money in March Madness pools. So, out of the many sheets of paper I will fill with bracketed scribble, at least one of them will be determined by the team nicknames.
Now I know that others have suggested picking the winners by comparing the superior virtues and strengths of the of school mascots, but being a rigid and uptight conservative, my rules for deciding the outcomes are etched in stone: sometimes. For in mascot prognostication, unlike say, the U.S. Constitution, there are many gray areas as we shall see. Besides, as Rush Limbaugh says of the Democrat Party, we don't really have rules; just customs and traditions.
And, according to the dictates of my nickname-pool picking friends and I, there is a pecking order to be respected, which goes like this: animals beat other animals according to size and ferocity; most humans beat animals; armed humans beat all unarmed humans unless they are either vested with power (Colonels, Generals or Senators) or imbued with religious piety (Friars, Deacons or non-avian Cardinals).
Special status is also given to certain legendary warriors (Spartans, Trojans or Crusaders) when pitted against more well-armed opponents. After armed humans come mythical creatures (Demons, Devils or Wizards) who can only be overcome by what we call "forces of nature" (Hurricanes, Waves or Storms). All of this makes for fascinating debate especially when dealing with schools whose nicknames and mascots are different entities, like Stanford or Georgetown.
Causing further confusion are humans of undetermined defensive capabilities (Tarheels, Hoosiers or Hilltoppers) and ambiguously named teams like the Murray State Racers or the UAB Blazers. In 2004, when confronted with the prospect of the boys from Birmingham facing top-seeded Kentucky, we determined that they were merely an article of clothing; of course, the Blazers burned the Wildcats that year. Adjectives also lead to trouble, for example; should Iona College ever face Notre Dame, could the seemingly pacific Gaels defeat their brethren the ‘Fighting' Irish?
Of course this is a lot less fun than it used to be, with many schools bowing to political correctness to change their nicknames to be either ethnically correct; like Marquette whose Warriors became Golden Eagles; or gender neutral like the Syracuse Orangemen whose athletes are now known collectively as the asexual Orange; or both, like the erstwhile Redmen of St. John's who have blown into the Big East cellar as the Red Storm. Still, interesting contests remain. Let's look at some of this year's key match-ups.
The Midwest Region is a minefield for nickname controversies and upsets. Ripe with possibility is a first-round tilt between the Siena Saints and the Vanderbilt Commodores which could go both ways. You've either got a heavenly host outgunning mere naval officers, or some funky singers with bad afros taming Siena's cuddly St. Bernard mascot. Another intriguing contest would be between USC and the Cal State Fullerton Titans, whose mascot purports to be a huge elephant, but whose nickname just might refer to a certain race of Greek deities. Trojans beware!
The big game in the South Region will not, as many think, come down to a struggle between Memphis and Texas, but will pit the Stanford Cardinal against the Cornell Big Red, in what may seem like a mere contest between primary colors. But even though Ann Coulter is Cornellian, so are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann, which proves that the Ivy League champs are indeed bigger reds than the Stanford Tree huggers.
Out in the West, my UCONN Huskies don't stand a chance against the bevy of armed and semi-armed humans that await them, including the Xavier Musketeers, West Virginia Mountaineers, Purdue Boilermakers, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the San Diego Toreros. But, as it must, this bracket final will match the Duke Blue Devils against the Mississippi Valley Delta Devils; the only question being whether color or geographical formation will win the day.
In the East Region, those maddening Tarheels and Hoosiers would seem to be the marquee match-up, but a fascinating Eastern Region final might well feature the Tennessee Volunteers against George Mason's Patriots. As in our great country's military, these nicknames reflect the willingness to defend her against any and all comers; proving that in America, our volunteers are patriots.
The possibilities for mascot comparisons are endless and lots of fun to kick around. So get yourself together with a few friends who, like mine, have bizarre imaginations and keen debating skills, and fill out a nickname pool. It'll be the best few bucks you ever spent, and, should you once again finish last in your office, you can rightly claim that you picked the teams for entertainment, rather than monetary purposes.
Two teams to watch: Austin Peay's Governors, who, as we have recently discovered, wield all kinds of secret powers but may be susceptible to a full-court press, and the Mavericks of the University of Texas-Arlington; after all, 2008 could be John McCain's year.